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|
|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 Frys.com 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.
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