Humana Challenge: Preview and Predictions

First and foremost, let’s observe our results from the Sony Open:

PGATour.com: Jimmy Walker (1st/500 points), Chris Kirk (T26/44 points), Charles Howell (T26/44 points), Tony Finau (Cut/0 points)

Golf Channel: Jason Day (T17), Brendon Todd (T44), Charles Howell (T26), Jeff Overton (T37) Total earnings: $151,332.

While we did correctly add Jimmy Walker to the list, these results leave a lot to be desired out of the gate. Charles Howell III had a poor finish by his own standards on this golf course. We picked the wrong rookie, as Finau failed to get it going, but Justin Thomas shot the low round of the tournament and finished in a T6. Every golfer picked for the Golf Channel disappointed, and we missed some safe bets in Matt Kuchar (T3), Harris English (T3), and Webb Simpson (T13). But it is just the first week, we gotta get back into our rhythm!

Defending champ Patrick Reed, coming off a win in Hawaii, would be the hottest player in golf with a successful defense this week. Photo courtesy of golfcanada.ca.

Defending champ Patrick Reed, coming off a win in Hawaii, would be the hottest player in golf with a successful defense this week. Photo courtesy of golfcanada.ca.

The Humana Challenge presents a difficult task to get things on track, though. It is a tricky little tournament to predict, because it is played on three different courses, and is well-known as a complete shoot-out, with winning scores like -28, -25, and -24 posted in the past three years. The tournament is played in La Quinta, Cal. and stems from the Bob Hope Classic, which used to actually be played in five rounds instead of four.

All sorts of players in the field have had success here, including big names like Phil Mickelson, who won the Bob Hope twice (albeit early in the 2000s), Bill Haas, who ranks third among the all-time money earners here,  and of course there is Patrick Reed, coming off the win in Hawaii, and who is the defending champion after opening with three 63s last year. There are also lesser-known names like Ryan Palmer, who has three top 10 finishes – including a runner-up last year – in the past four years, Brian Gay, who finished in the top 15 three times between 2010-2013 (including a playoff win in 2013), and  Charley Hoffman, who has grabbed several top 10s and a win in 2007, and who is currently in great form, already earning a win on the wraparound season.

As for our picks, we’d like to make it a little more interesting, and perhaps adopt more of an against-the-grain strategy that will hopefully provide better results. In the first week, we went all chalk – combining the best of course history and current-form – and yielded mediocre results. This week, we are looking at talented players, but not necessarily players who make logical sense for this tournament. Golf is an unpredictable sport, and sometimes you just have to make decisions on a whim. Here are our teams for this week:

The Bradley stare was not an intimidating force in 2014, but we think he will find a way back to golf relevance in 2015. Photo courtesy of theaposition.com.

The Bradley stare was not an intimidating force in 2014, but we think he will find a way back to golf relevance in 2015. Photo courtesy of theaposition.com.

PGATour.com:

Keegan BradleyFinished in a T18 last year, including a Friday hole-in-one, and is making his first start in 2015. We expect Bradley to have a bounce-back year with at least one win and at least one strong major performance. The Humana Challenge is a good tournament, with a lot of birdies to be made, to help someone like Keegan get back into a comfortable zone.

Matt KucharThis is almost a defensive pick, as Kuch is one of the clear favorites and will be commonly picked in this format. He has been playing so solidly this season (including a T3 last week), and has a good history in this tournament (skipped last year, but no worse than a 25th finish since 2009, including a runner-up in 2010 and 7th place finish in 2011). Hard to bet against these steady hands.

Cameron Tringale. Tringale is a name that’s been floated out there as a good bet to be a first-time winner on tour this year. While it is still early to expect a win, we do think this tournament sets up nicely for Tringale to start working his way up the leaderboard.

Charley HoffmanSort of a ‘horse for the course’ pick, the aforementioned Hoffman has been solid in this tournament over the years. In fact, Hoffman has been solid overall in January/February golf throughout his career. In a format where you only get to pick a golfer 10 times, you have to pick guys like Charley Hoffman, Charles Howell III, and Pat Perez when they are consistently on the top of their game early, but fall off when the majors start coming around.

Golf Channel:

Patrick ReedWhile there are several great picks in the top tier (Phil Mickelson, Matt Kuchar and Zach Johnson among them), we are wondering whether this could be the year of the defending champ. Is it possible that the first two tournaments of the year could be successfully defended? Each by the two players who battled it out in the playoff of the Tournament of Champions? When the latter title is being defended by Patrick Reed, you better believe it. After the way he played in the Ryder Cup, and the way he came back to steal the TOC from Walker, it seems like Reed is at his best when the most pressure is on him. If not a win, we’d be surprised if Reed wasn’t at least in the mix.

Bill Haas. We’ve already said what we needed to say on Haas. He’s the ultimate ‘horse for the course.’ and he was picked by us to be one of the most underrated draft picks in fantasy this year. Why not get things going in one of his best tournaments?

Stewart CinkThe third tier might have been the trickiest to pick, and there were certainly more logical picks out there than Cink. Scott Stallings, Boo Weekley, Charles Howell III, and Nick Watney would probably all be considered safer picks. But the Stewart Cink of new (not the Cink who won the Open Championship in 2009) is also in the category of golfers who start the year strong, before fading into the summer. A strong surprise pick here, we think.

Robert Garrigus. That guy is still playing golf, you ask? After being a recognizable, winning golfer earlier in his career, the long-hitting, weirdly putting Garrigus has fallen out of favor with the golf gods recently. But like we’ve said before, the Humana Challenge is a great place for ailing golfers to get back into a rhythm. And does Garrigus have any history in this particular tournament, you ask? Well, he did tie the Nicklaus course record with a 61 en route to a runner-up finish in 2012. For the bottom tier, he is not a bad flier pick.

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