Stat attack!: Humana Challenge statistical preview

By John AntoniniJanuary 15, 2014, 2:30 pm

When the stars are away, the rookies make hay. At least that’s the way it has been at the Sony Open and the Humana Challenge the past several years. Last week at Waialae CC, Will Wilcox burst onto the PGA Tour scene with a T-8 finish (after a third-round 64 got him and his yellow ball within one stroke of the lead). Although he failed to match 2012 Sony winner Russell Henley, who won in his third start on the PGA Tour, Wilcox will get another chance this week as his top-10 on Oahu puts him into the field at Palm Springs. While in the desert, he’ll try to become the latest first-year player to excel at the Humana Challenge, as one rookie in each of the last five years has performed beyond expectations.

Recent notable rookie performances at the Humana Challenge

2013 David Lingmerth Finished T-2 in second PGA Tour start with final-round 62
2012 Harris English Contended early with second-round 62, but stumbled to a T-19
2011 Jhnottan Vegas Became first rookie to win at Palm Springs, winning in a playoff
2009 Alex Prugh Tied for the lead after 54 holes; shot 67 Sunday to finish fifth
2008 Webb Simpson Finished T-5 for first career top-10

The relative lack of star power at Sony and Humana, as well as the ease of the venues, provide newcomers a chance to get off to a fast start in their first season before the more rugged venues - and the Tour’s superstars, who are much more familiar with the nuances of the tougher tests - return en masse. Last year, Waialae ranked 33rd on Tour in scoring average in relation to par and the Humana trio was 41st, 42nd and 43rd among the 43 courses the Tour visited.

Course (2013) Par Scoring To Par
Waialae 70 68.901 -1.099
La Quinta 72 69.487 -2.513
PGA West (Palmer) 72 68.924 -3.076
PGA West (Nicklaus) 72 68 -4

The final-round scoring average at the Palmer course was just 67.802, more than four strokes below par, making it the lowest Sunday scoring average on Tour regardless of par. For the week, the scoring average at Palm Springs was 68.821, also the lowest figure on Tour in 2013.

The wrap-around schedule in 2013-14 provides rookies with a few more chances to start their season strong than in the past, but history shows the Humana Challenge is a ripe place for someone to breakthrough. Ten of the Tour’s 14 rookies are in the field this week (and Kevin Foley is high on the alternate list). In contrast, only one player in the top 10 on the world ranking (No. 6 Zach Johnson) is playing and only nine players in the top 50 are in the field.

A year ago, Brian Gay, who won the playoff over Lingmerth and Charles Howell III, finished T-2 in driving accuracy and T-4 in greens in regulation and missed only one putt from inside 10 feet all week. That’s good enough to offset a driving distance that saw him finish 60th in the field in all drives and 75th in measured drives. Like Gay, 2012 winner Mark Wilson is a short hitter who hit plenty of greens and putted well (fourth in strokes gained-putting), but don’t be fooled into thinking long hitters can’t get it around PGA West and La Quinta. In the past several years many bombers have had success there.

Year Player Finish Distance (event rank)
2013 David Lingmerth T-2 301.2 (T-22)
2012 Robert Garrigus T-2 309.6 (T-2)
2011 Jhonattan Vegas Won 308.7 (3rd)
2011 Bill Hass* T-2 301.8 (10th)
2011 Gary Woodland T-2 312.9 (1st)
2011 Ryan Palmer 4th 303.2 (9th)
2010 Bubba Watson T-2 305.7 (2nd)
2009 Pat Perez Won 303.8 (14th)
2009 John Merrick 2nd 308,8 (5th)

*In 2010, Haas won averaging 292.8 yards off the tee, fifth in the field.

Lingmerth and Vegas, of course, were rookies, which brings us back where we started. Here are the rookies (plus alternate Foley) in the field, and how they’ve fared so far in 2013-14.

Kevin Foley Fifth alternate at Humana was T-72 in Tour debut at Sony Open
Bryce Garnett Has made four cuts in five starts in first Tour go-around
Chesson Hadley T-5 at Shriners has him 83rd in FedEx Cup points
Bronson La'Cassie Got in when Steve Jones withdrew; hasn't made a cut on Tour
Andrew Loupe John Peterson's roommate at LSU; hasn't made a cut in three starts
Peter Malnati T-15 a Mayakoba and T-38 at Sony, in three starts
Wes Roach T-23 at Mayakoba in his only cut made in three starts
Hudson Swafford T-8 at Sony; matched Wilcox for low rookie last week
Kevin Tway Bob's son was T-40 at Open
Tyrone Van Aswegen Has made four cuts in five starts
Will Wilcox Third-round 64 at Waialae had him one shot off the 54-hole lead

ONE FINAL NOTE: Although John Peterson is a first-year PGA Tour player, he is not considered a rookie and is ineligible for the Rookie of the Year award because he played more than seven tournaments in the 2012 season.

If you haven’t already done so, please follow me on Twitter at @johnantoninigc.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.