LA QUINTA, Calif. – Patrick Reed left everyone behind last year in the Humana Challenge. This year, he's trying not to get too far ahead of himself.
''That's one thing I'm going to do, hopefully, different this time than I did last time defending,'' said Reed, set to begin his title defense Thursday.
In his first career defense, Reed tied for 24th in the Wyndham Championship in August.
Last year in the desert, Reed shot three 63s to open a seven-shot lead and closed with a 71 for a two-stroke victory. He admitted he was too conservative in the final round after breaking the PGA Tour record for relation to par for the first 54 holes at 27 under, and becoming the first player to open with three rounds of 63 or better.
''Instead of attacking flags like I did the first three days, I started to play to the middle of greens,'' Reed said. ''You need to stick to your game plan and keep firing hard.''
The 24-year-old Reed is coming off a playoff victory over Jimmy Walker two weeks ago in Hawaii in the Tournament of Champions. Reed has four victories in his last 35 Tour starts.
''The confidence is growing and growing,'' Reed said. ''If I have a bad round or if I'm struggling, I still have that confidence level to keep going and turn a 75 into a 72 or a 71.''
He and wife Justine stayed at Kapalua last week for a vacation.
''Worked on my forehead tan,'' Reed joked. ''Seemed like that got more attention than the actual golf game. ... Played like 13 holes, that's it – through the whole week.''
Phil Mickelson is back, too, after skipping the event last year.
Making his first start since the Ryder Cup in September, Lefty stayed away from the three tournament courses before the first round and wasn't available for comment. He played in Ben Crane's charity event Tuesday at the nearby Madison Club and practiced there Wednesday.
Mickelson worked with trainer Sean Cochran during his long offseason.
''I'm getting lighter, developing more core strength and speed and increasing my ball speed,'' Mickelson said on his website.
The 44-year-old Mickelson, the 2002 and 2004 champion, is winless in 27 PGA Tour starts since the 2013 British Open.
''Not winning made it the worst year of my career,'' Mickelson said on his website. ''It was a bad year statistically in all areas.''
The tournament, long known as the Bob Hope Classic, is in the midst of more sweeping changes. Humana is in its final year as the title sponsor and PGA West's Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus private layouts also are dropping out after the event.
''That's a bummer,'' Keegan Bradley said. ''There's a lot of history on those two courses.''
The tournament was shortened from 90 to 72 holes in 2012 and the celebrity portion of the pro-am field was dropped last year, with only a few ''special guests'' left.
The perfect conditions, mountain views and low scores remain, though wind could be a factor.
Temperatures are expected to reach 73 the first two days, with wind at 7-15 mph Thursday and 5-10 mph Friday. Forecasters expect a high of 80 on Saturday with wind gusts of 20 mph, and a high of 83 on Sunday with wind at 7-15 mph. Morning frost is a slight possibility Friday and Saturday.
DIVOTS: Reed and Mickelson will open Thursday at La Quinta Country Club. Reed is paired with Matt Kuchar, and Mickelson will play alongside FedEx Cup champion Billy Horschel. ... Kuchar is the highest-ranked player in the field at No. 11 in the world. Horschel is 14th, Reed 15th, Mickelson 16th and Zach Johnson 20th. ... Tim Clark withdrew Wednesday. He was replaced by Tyrone Van Aswegen.