Dave Tindall's in-depth preview and best bets for the Humana Challenge in La Quinta, California.
By Dave Tindall
Last Updated: 16/01/13 1:50pm
After the two-week Hawaii Swing, the PGA Tour arrives on the US mainland for the first time in 2013 as La Quinta in California stages this week's Humana Challenge.
The name still sounds unfamiliar despite the new sponsors being unveiled ahead of last year's tournament but when you say this used to be called the Bob Hope Classic the lights of recognition come on.
However, as well as the new name there was also a new format brought in 12 months ago with the event being cut from 90 holes to a traditional four-round tournament, although played over three different courses.
Phil Mickelson, who makes his seasonal debut, is the star name on show although he's only third favourite.
As usual, Sky Sports have live coverage for all four days, with the action starting each evening at on 9pm on SS3.
California is eight hours behind the UK so the first shots on each course (there's a two-tee start) will be struck at 0830 local and 1630 UK.
The three tracks used this week are all par 72s - the 6,950-yard PGA West (Palmer Course), the 7,060-yard La Quinta Country Club and the 6,924-yard Nicklaus Private at PGA West. The field play 18 holes at each venue before those who make the cut return to the PGA West Palmer for the final round. Another new move brought in last year was that the pro-am element ends after round three so it's only the pros who tee it up on the final day. All three courses are amongst the easiest on the PGA Tour so expect a barrage of birdies and eagles on these bermudagrass greens.
To increase further the chances of low scores this week, the forecast says the players will have ideal conditions. Temperatures will be in the high 70s, the sun will be out and the wind will be a modest 5-6mph.
Last year - Mark Wilson
The under-rated Mark Wilson registered his fifth PGA Tour win and third in just over 12 months with a two-stroke victory over a trio of US colleagues - Robert Garrigus, John Mallinger and Johnson Wagner. Remarkably, he became the fifth successive winner of this event to have missed the cut in the previous week's Sony Open. Wilson's winning total of -24 included a second round 62.
The leading contenders (and Sky Bet odds)
Tim Clark (12/1): The South African could consider himself a tad unfortunate last week. His 21-under was four shots better than everyone in the field apart from remarkable rookie Russell Henley who fired three rounds of 63. That second place followed on from a fourth in the Nelson Mandela Championship before Christmas so the former Sawgrass winner is clearly back in fine form again after injury. His tournament form is just as eye-catching and the last three times the Palmer has played host he's recorded two second places and a fifth. On those stats he's a deserved favourite.
2013 form: 2
Tournament form: 2-5-62-2
California form: MC-MC-6-12
World ranking: 55
Brandt Snedeker (14/1): Last year's FedEx Cup winner has already got 2013 off to a bright start with a third place finish in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. He likes this event too which comes as no real surprise given how many birdie putts he sinks. Snedeker was second with a round to go here last year before finishing eighth while he also came tied 10th two years earlier. He likes to get on with it so the lack of an amateur partner in the final round should work in his favour.
2013 form: 3
Tournament form: 8-MC-10-60
California form: 17-1-8-MC
World ranking: 8
Phil Mickelson (16/1): It's unusual to see Mickelson only third favourite in a modest field like this - especially as it's in his native California where he's won 13 of his 40 PGA Tour titles. Two of those wins came in this event in 2002 and 2004 although he looked rusty when making his seasonal bow here last year. The left-hander, whose last two regular strokeplay starts in the Golden State produced a win at Pebble Beach and a second at Riviera, had a fine Ryder despite the result and also finished runner-up in the HSBC event in China shortly after.
2013 form: n/a
Tournament form: 49-45-12-1
California form: 65-2-1-MC
World ranking: 19
Matt Kuchar (16/1): Kuchar makes a bucketload of birdies so this is an event where he usually thrives. The American Ryder Cup ace was runner-up in 2010 after finishing with a 63 and also seventh the following year. Add in top 25s in 2009 and 2012 and he boasts the best scoring average (67.26) of anyone who's played here in all of the last four runnings. Kuchar finished fifth (Sony) and ninth (Hyundai) in the two Hawaii events so is showing plenty of good early season form too.
2013 form: 5-9
Tournament form: 22-7-2-25
California form: 27-24-22-35
World ranking: 22
Webb Simpson (20/1): Simpson's last appearance in California saw him take victory in the US Open in San Francisco although, on that occasion, birdies were at a premium and it was ability to find them in the final round which made the difference. He's done well in this event too with a fifth on debut in 2009 and a 13th in 2011. Simpson is nicely into the groove in 2013 with an 11th in the Hyundai being followed by a 20th in the Sony Open, where he closed with a 66.
2013 form: 20-11
Tournament form: 13-33-5
California form: 1-MC-13-44
World ranking: 15
Robert Garrigus (22/1): The big-hitting 35-year-old finished 11th in Birdie Average and 7th in Par Breakers (birdies and eagles) last year so should do well here. And that's very much the case. Last year he shot 22-under to finish joint runner-up while he also showed his liking for resort courses by adding another second place in October's Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic at Disney, an event he won in 2010. As well as his near miss 12 months ago, Garrigus has made the top 20 in two of his other three previous starts here.
2013 form: n/a
Tournament form: 2-14-MC-19
California form: MC-WD-20-MC
World ranking: 40
Bo Van Pelt (25/1): BVP has missed as many cuts (three) as he's made here in the last six years so doesn't score as many course form points as some of the other market leaders. But he does a have a fifth place here to his name in 2009 and, despite being 37, he also has the look of a player about to hit his peak. The son of NFL star Bob Van Pelt finished 2012 with a bang after a pair of top 10s in the final two FedEx Cup play-off events, a win in the Perth International in Australia and a second in the CIMB Classic in Malaysia. His seventh in Birdie Average last year also bodes well.
2013 form: n/a
Tournament form: 54-MC-26-5
California form: 60-8-MC-54
World ranking: 23
Best of the rest
Pat Perez (40/1): Perez has played some extraordinary golf in this event and a check through his round scores reveals a couple of 61s! The first, in the second round in 2003, helped him finish sixth while his second 11-under effort helped him take victory here in 2009. Last year he closed with a 63 to finish tied 14th. Perez also threw in a 63 on day two of the Sony Open which helped him to a ninth-placed finish.
Jeff Overton (50/1): The 2010 Ryder Cup star produced bookend 65s in last week's Sony Open to finish eighth. It suggests his recent trip to Italy where he proposed to his opera singer girlfriend Christina Zimmer has put him in a good place and perhaps finally in position to gain that long overdue first Tour win. His form here is modest - three midfield finishes - but you can only think that his aggressive play will be rewarded here soon.
Casey Wittenberg (175/1): Like last week's winner Russell Henley, Wittenberg was a two-time winner on the Web.Com Tour last year and those victories in March and June, along with a second place in October, helped him top the Money List. He also found time to mix it with the big guns and finish a very impressive tied 10th in the US Open in San Francisco. Back in 2004 he finished 13th in The Masters as an amateur. Nine years on, after a stalled career, perhaps he's ready to flourish.
After a massive improvement on the greens (he went from 144th in Strokes Gained-Putting to 11th in 2012), I think Bo Van Pelt can continue the hot form he showed at the end of last year.
The fifth place here on his CV is enough to make us think he can turn on the style again and this could be the start of a big season for the American, who scored more top 10s than anyone in 2012 apart from Rory McIlroy.
With conditions looking perfect, the stage could also be set for Pat Perez to go birdie crazy again.
When PP gets on a roll here he doesn't stop (he's twice shot 61) and, as this is the scene of his only PGA Tour victory, the return will fill him full of good vibes.
He looked in fine fettle in the Sony Open last week when ninth so the 40/1 is well worth taking.
With two twenty-somethings winning the first two events, perhaps another of the young guns will be inspired this week.
Casey Wittenberg may well be that man after topping the Web.com Tour Money List last year. His one start here produced a decent 34th (including a third round 64) and last year he was eighth in Birdie Average for the year while his two victories were achieved with winning scores of -24 and -18.
Oh, don't worry that he missed cut last week. As mentioned earlier, the last five winners here had all missed the cut at the previous week's Sony Open.
For a 'Mr Reliable' type punt, also invest on Matt Kuchar, who ticks all boxes this week.
An each-way finish for 'Kooch' will see us break even but hopefully last year's Players Championship win can help the process of turning him into a more regular winner and he can do the business here.
1.5pts e.w. Bo Van Pelt at 25/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
1pt e.w. Pat Perez at 40/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
0.5pts e.w. Casey Wittenberg at 175/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
2pts e.w. Matt Kuchar at 16/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)