The PGA Tour parks up in California this week for the CareerBuilder Challenge and our man fancies the favourite, Jon Rahm, to go well. Read his comprehensive preview here...
"What Jon Rahm achieved in his first full year on both main tours last year was sensational but who's to say there isn't more to come? Debutants don't have a great record at the Plantation Course so his second placed finish there two weeks ago was impressive enough and the world number three is a great price to claim his first victory in 2018."
After two weeks in Hawaii, the PGA Tour moves on to California for the CareerBuilder Challenge.
The CareerBuilder Challenge began life in 1960 as the Palm Springs Desert Golf Challenge - a five-round pro-am won by Arnold Palmer. Between 1965 and 2012 it was known as the Bob Hope Classic before Humana took over sponsorship and revived its fortunes.
The tournament had been failing to attract quality fields and the perception was that the five-round format had much to do with its demise. It was reduced to the conventional four rounds in 2012 and it's been a much better received event as a result.
The tournament is a Pro-Am staged over three different courses (listed below) in rotation over the first three days with the host course, the PGA West TPC Stadium Course, staging the final round and that's the best time to watch.
With amateurs in attendance, the first three days are fairly slow and the coverage can be a bit dull but the pro-am aspect of the event finishes on Saturday and the professionals are left alone to fight for the title on Sunday.
The Stadium Course, La Quinta, California
PGA West (TPC Stadium Course), par 72, 7,300 yards -Stroke Index in 2017 - 71.59
PGA West (Tournament Course), par 72, 7,204 yards -Stroke Index in 2017 - 70.74
La Quinta Country Club, par 72, 7,060 yards -Stroke Index in 2017 - 69.63
The Pete Dye-designed PGA West Stadium Course was used for the first time two years ago and, as demonstrated by the averages above, it's the hardest of the three used.
La Quinta was the easiest of the three courses used last year but there have been some changes to the track since we last saw it.
Fairway bunkering at the par four first and the par four 17th holes have been updated, around 50 trees have been planted to create new sightlines as targets the green at the par three 15th hole has been rebuilt entirely.
For more on the three courses, check out this page here on the PGA Tour's website.
Live on Sky Sports all four days. There is some featured groups coverage on Sky from 16:00 GMT on Thursday and the full coverage begins at 20:00.
Last Five Winners
2017 - Hudson Swafford -20
2016 - Jason Dufner -25
2015 - Bill Haas -22
2014 - Patrick Reed -28
2013 - Brian Gay -25 (Playoff)
What Will it Take to Win the CareerBuilder Challenge?
All three courses are set up fairly generously, so as not to embarrass the amateurs, and as a result Driving Distance and Driving Accuracy are not stats to get hung up on. This is basically a low scoring birdie-fest and it's a question of who holes the most putts.
The winner nearly always makes more birdies than anyone else. In slightly tougher conditions than the norm last year, the winner, Hudson Swafford, notched the most but he 'only' recorded 26. Jason Dufner made 30 on his way to victory 12 months prior, and so as did the 2014 winner, Patrick Reed.
The last eight winners have had an average Putting Average ranking of 18.88 and an average Greens In Regulation ranking of 7.5 and they're clearly important stats but which is more important is very hard to gauge...
In the five years between 2005 and 2009, four of the five winners ranked first for putting, with Chad Campbell (who ranked 6th) the odd man out but we've seen a few players win with poor Putting Average stats of late. Dufner ranked fifth in 2016 and Reed ranked fourth when he won in 2014 but Swafford only ranked 24th last year and Brian Gay and Bill Haas managed to win recently with Putting Average rankings of 38th and 39th.
Swafford ranked first for GIR last year so that's why he was able to overcome the relatively poor Putting Average stats (he was the only player in the top-four to rank worse than seventh) but given the last seven winners have played the par fours better than anyone else, Par 4 Scoring is arguably the best stat to look at.
Is There an Angle In?
The Sanderson Farms Championship was played at Annandale Golf Club between 1994 and 2013 and during that time, D.J Trahan, Chad Campbell and Bill Haas all won both that event and this one. And Scott Stallings really should have done so, too. He won the SFC in 2012 and traded heavy odds-on here before blowing a five-stroke final round lead, so, although it's a little old, Annandale form is most definitely worth close inspection but of more relevance now is form at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
Phil Mickelson, Mark Wilson and Kenny Perry have won both this event and the Phoenix Open fairly recently and a number of players have come close to winning both. Dufner was beaten in a playoff there by Wilson in 2011, Charley Hoffman was beaten by Perry in extra time in Phoenix, two years after he'd won here, and Justin Leonard is another to win here and finish second in Phoenix. Jesper Parnevik, John Rollins and Ryan Palmer have all finished runner-up at both events.
Both are low-scoring events in the desert so it's not a surprise that they correlate nicely.
When Bill Haas won here in 2015 it was his first start in nearly three months and Reed took the title after finishing 16th at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in 2014 but an outing at the Sony Open last week looks a plus.
The last two winners have finished 13th and ninth in the Sony but a high finish isn't essential. The 2013 winner, Brian Gay, only finished 31st at Waialae and all five winners before him had missed the cut in the Sony the week before they won this.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
The CareerBuilder Challenge is a difficult event to weigh up, with all types of characters winning at various points in time.
It used to be a good event for the older, experienced players who could cope with the longevity of the rounds and the idle chatter with all the amateurs and plenty of event experience was important. Between 1984 and 2006, on average, the champion was playing in his seventh Bob Hope Classic but then that all changed.
Between 2007 and 2011, four of the five winners were winning on the PGA Tour for the first time and the odd man out, DJ Trahan in 2008, was only winning his second PGA Tour title.
Big-hitting rookies were seemingly taking control but five years ago it was all change again, when the experienced Mark Wilson took the title in testing windy conditions before Brian Gay beat tour rookie and pre-event event [100.0] shot, David Lingmerth, and perennial bridesmaid, Charles Howell III, in a playoff.
Having had only one win under his belt - the Wyndham Championship five months earlier - Patrick Reed was still up-and-coming when he won four years ago and having been matched as high as [140.0] before the off, he was the seventh winner in-a-row to trade at a triple-figure price prior to kick-off but the last three haven't been quite so outlandish and all three were trading at a double-figure price before the off.
Swafford was winning his first PGA Tour event when he took the title 12 months ago but he was the first first-time PGA Tour winner in five years, so we have a mixed bag of results and it looks hard to predict.
Arnold Palmer loved this event and he won it five times between 1960 and 1973 and Bill Hass became the seventh player, other than The King, to win it twice when he took the title in 2015 so multiple winners are fairly common.
Prior to the last four renewals this was an event in which several winners recovered from relatively slow starts. Haas won from five back with two rounds to go when winning the first of his two titles eight years ago and three years before that, Justin Leonard was eight back at the same stage and a number of winners have been four, five, six and even seven back with two rounds to go. That's all changed of late though...
Having sat second after round one, first at halfway and third after round three, Swafford was never outside the first three places last year and that's fairly typical now. Four of the last six winners have been in front at halfway and four of the last six were leading with a round to go. Being up with the pace is the place to be now but it's still worth looking for an odds-on shot to take on in-running if recent results are anything to go by.
In eight of the last 11 renewals, at least one player has traded at odds-on but ended up losing on a Sunday. Chad Campbell dipped to [1.75] last year, David Lingmerth was matched at just [1.14] in 2015 and in 2013 there were two to trade really short and get beat. Stallings hit a low of [1.14] and Charles Howell III was matched at [1.4] before Brian Gay went on to win the title.
Jon Rahm didn't play in the Sony Open last week and he only finished 34th on debut 12 months ago but they're the only slight negatives and he's far and away the best value at the head of the market.
Logically enough, the results suggest this low-scoring birdie-fest isn't a great place to turn up to without a recent outing so the fact that he hadn't played for two months prior to last year's renewal probably accounted for his lowly finishing position and his ropey statistics.
Rahm didn't play in the Sony Open last week but he finished second to Dustin Johnson at the Sentry TOC the week before so rustiness shouldn't be an issue this time around. He ranked fourth for Par 4 Scoring on the PGA Tour last year and he loves desert golf so they're two huge pluses. He finished fifth in the aforementioned Phoenix Open and he won the DP World Championship in his final outing of 2017.
Including his maiden win at the Farmers Insurance Open (next week's event) in the same state, Rahm won three times last year altogether (a strike rate of 11.5% in his first full season), he's the third best player in the world on current rankings and he's by some distance the best player in the field. Favourites don't have a terrific record of late in this event but Rahm is value to buck that trend at around the 9/1 mark.
Brian Harman has course form figures reading 8-54-MC-82-11-3 and current form figures (since October) reading 5-8-4-3-4 so his chance is fairly obvious but he was poor over the weekend at the Sony Open and he'll need to overcome that disappointment. He led by three strokes at halfway before rounds on 68 and 70 saw him drift out of contention for the title and (especially compared to Rahm's price) I can't see that there is any value in him here.
Patrick Reed has been disappointing over the last couple of years and he makes no appeal either and Kevin Kisner has only ordinary event form.
Webb Simpson ticks a lot of boxes. He was the runner-up in Phoenix last year, he was ranked sixth for Par 4 Scoring in 2017 and only the runner-up, James Hahn, outscored him over the weekend at the Sony Open. I can see him going well but at around the 25/1 mark, I can't see any juice in the price.
What Jon Rahm achieved in his first full year on both main tours last year was sensational but who's to say there isn't more to come? Debutantes don't have a great record at the Plantation Course so his second placed finish there two weeks ago was impressive enough and he's a great price to claim his first victory in 2018.
James Hahn played superbly over the weekend at the Sony Open and I thought he was worth chancing here at [65.0]. It's going to be hard to pick himself up after the disappointment of defeat but his hot form at Waialae isn't the only reason I liked him.
Many will remember his Gangnam Style dance at the Phoenix in 2013 (see below) but more importantly, he led there after two rounds in 2016 (before finishing 17th) and he also led this event on debut before finishing fourth in 2013. And, like Rahm, he's also a winner in California. Hahn won at Riviera in 2015.
Jon Rahm @ [11.0]
James Hahn @ [65.0]
I'll be back on Thursday with the In-Play Blog.
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