Humana Challenge Preview

Frazzled looks ahead to the start of the West Coast Swing and the traditional birdie blitz which is the Humana Challenge from La Quinta, California.

Event:

The West Coast swing commences this week after the first two events of the 2015 calendar year have, as usual, been held in Hawaii. Jimmy Walker was the story over the course of these events, as he emulated Kyle Stanley (most recent) in winning the week after he suffered a playoff defeat.

Walker is absent this week as the Tour commences a 5 week stint in California and Arizona, but it is quite a strong field that has assembled for the event formerly known as the Bob Hope Classic.

The event is played on 3 different courses on the first 3 days of the event.  These are the following:

  • PGA West (Palmer Course)
  • PGA West (Nicklaus Course)
  • La Quinta Country Club

There is a cut after the third round and the final round will played on the Palmer Course. The final round will also just be the professionals, as after 3 days it can be quite tiresome viewing with celebrities playing alongside the pros.

Courses:

All 3 courses are very easy coastal venues and in 2014 they continued to rang among the easiest on the PGA Tour with each course set up to cater for the amateurs. They have actually ranked as the Top 3 easiest courses for the past 3 PGA Tour seasons and Patrick Reed took the venues apart last year on his way to a 28 under total of 260. With sunshine and almost no wins forecast again this week, the scoring will be very low once again, although it will take a superb effort to equal last year's winning score.

The generous fairways and lack of significant punishment for errant tee shots mean that the players can attack the course, but while the power hitters will be able to unleash their full force with the driver, it will be hitting GIR and having a hot week with the putter that should ultimately decide the winner.

Reed ranked 4th in Putting Average last year and 4 of the Top 5 players were in the Top 10 for this category, so a very good week with the flat stick is essential. Reed also ranked 1st in Par 4 Scoring and is the 3rd winner in the last 4 years to do so (Mark Wilson ranked 4th when winning here in 2012).

In terms of useful guides to the event, the Pebble Beach Pro-Am can provide a clue in the sense that it is also played with amateurs and we can determine what players are suited this format, as many find it a strain and it breaks their concentration. In addition some courses have proven to be a good guide to this venue in the recent past and form at both the Sanderson Farms Championship at Annandale Golf Club and the Waste Management Phoenix Open (another birdie fest with generous fairways)  seem to correlate well here.

When assessing a player's chances this week, it is not essential to see a history of solid performances in this event in the recent past. Reed had a patchy record here before his win last year and while solid course form is useful, we are looking for players that will be suited by the test and have form in similar types of events, but could be overpriced as a result of not necessarily having a string record here or some very solid recent form.

These Pro-Am formats do not suit everyone and the event has thrown up some shock results in the recent past with the last 6 of the last 7 years providing winners from 66/1 – 300/1. Reed might have seemed a little easier to find last year after his solid end to the previous season, but he still went off at a 3 figure price and the higher prices is where we are keen to focus this week. The low key atmosphere can help the younger players or players that have not succeeded at the highest level flourish and 5 of the last 6 winners were either first (3 times) or second time winners (twice).

An interesting stat is that the last 6 of the last 7 winners have played in the Sony Open the previous week. Brian Gay was the first winner in the past 6 renewals to have actually made the cut at Waialae. Therefore a big week in the Sony Open is not important, as they are vastly different tests anyway. However blowing away the cobwebs looks to be crucial as your game will need to be sharp to find a birdie total of 25 or more in order to post a score on Sunday that will have you in contention. Patrick Reed may not have played the Sony, but he did warm up the previous week in the Hyundai and this seems to be a positive trend, although at the prices, we have allowed one of our selections to fall outside of this criteria.

Jason Kokrak:

Jason Kokrak is our first selection this week and this very powerful driver, who is also a very solid putter, fits the mould of a player that could take a leap forward this week and shoot some very low scores. Kokrak missed the cut last year, but his 8th place in 2013 shows that this is a venue that he can excel on.

He had a very solid start to 2014 with 7 Top 20 finishes before the end of March, highlighted by a 4th in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, before injury issues curtailed him and he went into a slump until he was 16th in the Deutsche Bank in September. However he has bounced back in this new wrap around season with 3 very solid finishes on his last 3 starts, including 20th in the Sanderson Farms, 16th in Mayakoba and a 17th last week in the Sony Open, which could have been higher but for a closing round of 70. That effort last week will have primed him for this test and the layout at the Humana should be much more up his street that the short tight track at the Sony.

Kokrak looks a perfect fit for this venue, ranking 14th in Driving Distance last year, 23rd in Birdie Average, 19th in Par Breakers, 20th in Par 4 Performance and 54th in Strokes Gained Putting. He has improved in some of these key areas this season and is 22nd in Strokes Gained Putting. He is also 16th in Round 1 Scoring Average, which is vital at this venue and while his driving accuracy is not where it should be, this is not punished at such an easy venue.

At 66/1 he is our first pick this week and this is available with BetVictor, Sportingbet and Boylesports.

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Scott Piercy

Scott Piercy is our second pick this week and he is another player that we will be hoping will have a big season, after injury also interrupted his 2014 campaign. Piercy is a very powerful driver and a brilliant putter at his best. He also has some outstanding results on desert tracks and while again, he has not produced the good here, other than a decent 18th in 2009, he could easily leave that form behind him this week.

Piercy had to play on some injury exemptions last year, but recorded some very solid finishes including a 12th place finish at the Wyndham, just before the Fedex Cup Playoffs. However his card is now secure for the 2015 season and he has already produced some excellent displays, including 7th in the Shriners Hospital for Children Open on the TPC Summerlin low scoring Desert Track and 2nd last week in the Sony Open, at a venue that would not jump out as one that really suits him.

Piercy has a superb record on these easier Desert Style venues, with 3 Top 10 Finishes in the Phoenix Open, including 3rd in 2013.  He also performed brilliantly in the Accenture World Matchplay in 2013 when he was -7 in his last 16 match with Steve Stricker, but just ran into an inspired opponent on the day.

Piercy hits the ball a mile and he ranks 35th in Ball Striking this season and 43rd in Total Driving. He is also 13th in Scoring Average and 54th in Par Breakers. He is a player that can go very low when he hits his stride and after showing such excellent form last week, the 66/1 available with Coral is surprisingly big and is worth getting involved in.

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Martin Laird:

After mulling over whether to include Brendan Steele, given his brilliant record in Phoenix and strong displays at the Montreux Golf Club (correlates well with here), we have settled on MARTIN laird as our final pick and we will follow him in two markets.

Laird is a multiple PGA Tour winner who has some excellent form on Desert Tracks, but after winning the Texas Open in 2013 and finishing 5th in the Players Championship, he endured a very patchy run of form. However he really came good again towards the end of 2014 with a 6th place finish in the Barracuda Championship at Montreux and also 14th in the Wyndham. He has followed that up this season with a 3rd in the Frys Open and also 18th in the Shriners Hospital For Children Open. He has taken a break since disappointing last time in the Sanderson Farms at its new venue so there is a slight concern about rustiness, but this low scoring venue is one that really should fit his eye and a big week is very possible.

Laird has won at TPC Summerlin which is a relatively similar test and he has also been 2nd and 5th in the Barracuda Championship, which we have alluded to as a good guide to La Quinta. He has also performed very well in the Accenture at Dove Mountain and these types of venues are the ones that we like to support him at, especially when 3 figure prices are available. Therefore he is our final pick at 100/1 with Boylesports and also 10/1 with Stan James to be Top European Player.

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