Expert Picks: Humana Challenge

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 18, 2012, 3:07 pm experts offer up their fantasy choices for the Humana Challenge. Each week a panel of experts will offer up their picks from four groups of players based on Golf Channel's new fantasy game, Fantasy Challenge. We will also keep track of their scores and standings. The panel consists of: senior writers Rex Hoggard, Randall Mell and Jason Sobel; contributors John Hawkins and Win McMurry; editorial director Jay Coffin;'s Rob Bolton; 'Morning Drive' hosts Gary Williams and Erik Kuselias; and Golf Talk Central contributor Ryan Ballengee.

Rex Hoggard

Group 1: Bill Haas: Coachella Valley is like a second home for the FedEx Cup champion, having finished 2-1 in consecutive years at the Humana Challenge.

Group 2: Ryan Palmer: Has a solid record at the Humana having finished fourth last year and a fairways-and-greens game that fits this year's rotation.

Group 3: Brendon de Jonge: Sunday 71 derailed his chances at the Sony Open, but could give Virginia Tech back-to-back winners if he continues to putt like he did in Hawaii.

Group 4: Brendon Todd: Different courses, same golf in a dome. Todd took medalist honors in December at Q-School and finished T-13 in his debut last week in Hawaii.

Gary Williams

Group 1: Matt Kuchar: Finished runner-up here in 2010 en route to the PGA Tour money title, and finished T-7 here last year. Kuchar has showed that he can play well in the desert and I think he will do so again.

Group 2: Charles Howell III: Following his runner-up finish last week in the Sony Open, he seems ready to play strong this week at an event where he finished T-6 in 2002 and T-13 in 2011.

Group 3: Kyle Stanley: Finished 34th on the 2011 FedEx Cup points list in his rookie year. After a T-23 last week he comes in a little under the radar, but that is not a bad place to be.

Group 4: Brendon Todd: Got off to a great start in 2012 last week with a T-13 finish and is making his first appearance in the Humana Challenge.

Erik Kuselias

Group 1: Matt Kuchar: Over the last two years, Kuchar has played well here as he finished runner-up in 2010 and T-7 in 2011. After a consistent but winless 2011, would love to start his year off with a win.

Group 2: Charles Howell III: Got off to the start that I thought he would last week - well, almost. I think his strong recent play will push him up the leaderboard this week as he seeks his first win in five years.

Group 3: Brian Gay: Has improved his finish here over each of the last five years, going T-53, T-38, T-19, T-15 and T-5. At the Sony Open last week, he finished T-6 for his first top-10 on Tour in six months.

Group 4: Vaughn Taylor: 6 Humana Challenge starts, 6 cuts made with a pair of top-10 finishes. He is motivated after returning to Q-School in 2011 to get his Tour card back.

Ryan Ballengee

Group 1: Bill Haas: In the last two years, Haas was a winner (2010) and a playoff runner-up ('11).

Group 2: Charles Howell III: Finished T-2 last week and was T-8 in greens in regulation and in strokes gained putting.

Group 3: Kyle Stanley: Hits the ball long and makes a lot of birdies. Young guns are on a roll in winning here.

Group 4: Chris DiMarco: He was T-13 at Waialae and I've got an inkling on him.

Jay Coffin

Group 1: Matt Kuchar: My hunch is a lot of people will take Bill Haas, but Kuchar has been on fire here the last two years.

Group 2: Charles Howell III: Name jumped out at me in this group. He's going to win this year at some point.

Group 3: Ricky Barnes: The dude makes a ton of birdies, which is what you need around here to hang.

Group 4: Briny Baird: No real reason. In this group you're just looking for someone to make the cut.

Win McMurry

Group 1: Bill Haas: The FedEx Cup champ tied for second last year in his title defense in La Quinta. He tied for 20th at Kapalua, but is the early Tour leader in driving accuracy AND greens in regulation.

Group 2: Charles Howell III: Couple the fact he's coming in hot off a T-2 at the Sony Open with his T-13 last year, and this could be the sight of his first win this decade.

Group 3: Brian Gay: His game looks good after tying for sixth last week in Hawaii. He also has finished inside the top-20 here for the last three years, including T-5 last year.

Group 4: Vaughn Taylor: He's a recent newlywed which, for Bill Haas, worked out quite splendidly last year on Tour. Taylor has been consistent here in the past with top-25s in three of his last four starts.

Rob Bolton

Group 1: Bill Haas: One of those times when I'm forced to play defense. Haas has been a monster at PGA West.

Group 2: Charles Howell III: He continues to thrive after a runner-up finish at the Sony.

Group 3: Kyle Stanley: Too many great fits to mention but I'm thrilled that he's in Group 3.

Group 4: Bill Lunde: Going for value here. Lunde makes tons of cuts and has two top-15s in three starts here.

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DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.

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Hot Seat: Rory jumps into the fire early

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 2:11 pm

The world’s top tours head to desert regions this week, perfect locales for The Hot Seat, the gauge upon which we measure the level of heat the game’s top personalities are facing ...

Sahara sizzle: Rory McIlroy

McIlroy won’t have to look far to see how his form measures up to world No. 1 Dustin Johnson at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

McIlroy will make his 2018 debut with Johnson in his face, literally.

McIlroy will be grouped with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood in the first two rounds.

Players like to downplay pairings early in a tournament, but it’s hard to believe McIlroy and Johnson won’t be trying to send each other messages in this European Tour event in the United Arab Emirates. That’s the alpha-dog nature of world-class players looking to protect their turf, or in the case of McIlroy, take back his turf.

“When you are at the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Trevor Immelman said about pairings during Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge last month.

And that was an offseason event.

“They want to show this guy, ‘This is what I got,’” Immelman said.

As early season matchups go, Abu Dhabi is a heavyweight pairing that ought to be fun.

So there will be no easing into the new year for McIlroy after taking off the last three months to regroup from the stubborn rib injury that plagued him last season. He is coming off a winless year, and he will be doing so alongside a guy who just won the first PGA Tour event of 2018 in an eight-shot rout. Johnson’s victory in Hawaii two weeks ago was his fifth since McIlroy last won.

“Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place, and that was because of where I was physically,” McIlroy said of 2017. “I feel prepared now. I feel ready, and I feel ready to challenge. I feel really good about where I’m at with my health. I’ve put all that behind me, which has been great.”

Sonoran Smolder: Phil Mickelson

Mickelson will turn 48 this summer.

His world ranking is sliding, down to No. 43 now, which is the lowest he has ranked in 24 years.

It’s been more than four years since he last won, making him 0 for his last 92 starts.

There’s motivation in all of that for Mickelson. He makes his 2018 debut at the CareerBuilder Challenge in the Palm Springs area this week talking like a man on a renewed mission.

There’s a Ryder Cup team to make this season, which would be his 12th straight, and there’s a career Grand Slam to claim, with the U.S. Open returning to Shinnecock Hills, where Mickelson finished second in ’04.

While Mickelson may not feel old, there are so many young stars standing in his way that it’s hard not to be constantly reminded that time isn’t on his side in these events anymore.

There has only been one player in the history of the game to win a major championship who was older than Mickelson is right now. Julius Boros won the PGA Championship when he was 48 back in 1968.

Campaign fever: Jordan Spieth

Spieth’s respect in the game’s ranks extends outside the ropes.

He was just selected to run for the PGA Tour Player Advisory Council’s chairman position. He is facing Billy Hurley III in an election to see who will succeed Davis Love III on the Tour’s Policy Board next year.

Spieth, just 24, has already made Time Magazine’s list of the “100 Most Influential People.” He made that back in 2016, with the magazine writing that “he exemplifies everything that’s great about sports.” Sounds like a campaign slogan.

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CareerBuilder Challenge: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 1:10 pm

The PGA Tour shifts from Hawaii to Southern California for the second full-field event of the year. Here are the key stats and information for the CareerBuilder Challenge. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch (all rounds on Golf Channel):

Thursday, Rd. 1: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Friday, Rd. 2: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Saturday, Rd. 3: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Sunday, Rd. 4: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Purse: $5.9 million ($1,062,000 to winner)

Courses: PGA West, Stadium Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,113); PGA West, Nicklaus Tournament Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,159); La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,060) NOTE: All three courses will be used for the first three rounds but only the Stadium Course will be used for the final round.

Defending champion: Hudson Swafford (-20) - defeated Adam Hadwin by one stroke to earn his first PGA Tour win.

Notables in the field

Phil Mickelson

* This is his first start of 2018. It's the fourth consecutive year he has made this event the first one on his yearly calendar.

* For the second year in a row he will serve as the tournament's official ambassador.

* He has won this event twice - in 2002 and 2004.

* This will be his 97th worldwide start since his most recent win, The Open in 2013.

Jon Rahm

* Ranked No. 3 in the world, he finished runner-up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

* In 37 worldwide starts as a pro, he has 14 top-5 finishes.

* Last year he finished T-34 in this event.

Adam Hadwin

* Last year in the third round, he shot 59 at La Quinta Country Club. It was the ninth - and still most recent - sub-60 round on Tour.

* In his only start of 2018, the Canadian finished 32nd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Brian Harman

* Only player on the PGA Tour with five top-10 finishes this season.

* Ranks fifth in greens in regulation this season.

* Finished third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T-4 in the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Brandt Snedeker

* Making only his third worldwide start since last June at the Travelers Championship. He has been recovering from a chest injury.

* This is his first start since he withdrew from the Indonesian Masters in December because of heat exhaustion.

* Hasn't played in this event since missing the cut in 2015.

Patrick Reed

* Earned his first career victory in this event in 2014, shooting three consecutive rounds of 63.

* This is his first start of 2018.

* Last season finished seventh in strokes gained: putting, the best ranking of his career.

(Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.)