After two weeks in Hawaii, the PGA Tour up sticks and moves to Coachella Valley, in California, in what is the first event in mainland America in 2014. This is one of the more unique tournaments on the PGA Tour schedule, as it is played on three separate courses, therefore providing players with separate challenges through the first three days.
This event requires players to go low, and birdies will be going in from everywhere, over all three courses. Last year’s winner Brian Gay had 27 birdies, and just 2 bogeys en-route to his play-off victory last year, and a similar feat will be required from this year’s victor.
The three courses used for the Humana Challenge are, La Quinta, PGA West Nicklaus Course, and PGA West, Palmer Course, with the latter being the more involved. Players will play all three during the pro-am format, however once the 54-hole cut is made, the final round will be played at PGA West, Palmer Course.
The three courses are set-up to see low scoring, and this is possible thanks to generous fairways and easy greens. What is important however is putting this week, as players will need to convert on every possible opportunity this week to stay ahead of the field. If you like a player this week, that you know can get on a hot streak, do not think twice about backing him, go with it.
Players can come from nowhere to win this event, with course form prior to their wins often not a clue. Last year Brian Gay won, but 12 months previous he finished 42nd at these very courses. Mark Wilson, another previous winner won here in 2012, despite finishing 61st in 2011 and then goin on to miss the cut in 2013. Of recent winners Bill Haas has proved the more consistent, and the 2010 champion will like his chances again this week.
After winning in 2010, coming off the back of some great previous finishes, Haas then went on to come 2nd in 2011, proving you can constantly feature here. Haas finished 24th in 2009 and this is by far the best result a year before getting the victory, amongst the previous winners in the field this week.
What this does prove is that the door is open for a new champion every year, as no one man can honestly say they dominate this event. There has not been a single multiple champion of this event, even going back to the inaugural staging of this event in 1960, when it was known as the Palm Springs Desert Classic
With all this in mind, I have taken the opportunity to speculate on some long shots this week, due to the nature of the event, and I am really happy with some of the value I think I’ve found.
Here are my four selections for the 2014 Humana Challenge.
Billy Horschel 28/1 (ToteSport, Betfred) 1.5pts e/w: I am a massive fan of Billy Horschel, and not just because of his taste in trousers, nor his eccentric behaviour on the course, but his all-round golf game, that to me will continue to improve.
Yes Horschel came to prominence, not after his win at the Zurich Classic, but during this U.S Open, where he finished in a tie for 4th, despite donning octopus trousers in the final round. He shared the half-way lead with Phil Mickelson in the U.S Open last summer, and was just one of two players under par at that stage, and this was thanks too hitting all 18 greens in regulation during the 2nd round.
That was in his very first appearance in a major as a professional, and it certainly made the golfing world take notice. Since that great U.S Open week, Horschel has also finished in the top-10 in two very good tournaments, the season-ending Tour Championship, and the Hyundai Tournament of Champions just two weeks ago. He finished T7 and T6 respectively in these events, and he reminded everyone he’s here to stay, something I hope he continues to prove this week.
Why do I rate Horschel’s chances as a 28/1 shot? Simply put, he knows how to make birdies, and when hot can make a lot of putts, and that will be key here. In his first and only tour win, Horschel had to shoot -20 to take the title, and he will need to better that score to win here, something I think he’s fit to do.
Horschel has had four cracks at this event, missing his first two cuts, and then placing 4th and 10th in his last two efforts, so he’s obviously sorted out his game plan here in California.
He currently sits 9th in Birdie Average in the early stages of this 2014 season, however he ranks just 68th in Strokes-Gained Putting, and this is something he will have to address in order to get the win here at the Humana Challenge. He can do that, the ability is there, and I am more than happy to take a chance on him in this field, at a decent price considering the strength of the field.
Kevin Chappell 80/1 (Boylesports & Ladbrokes) 1pt e/w: This Californian born golfer, who still lives in the sunny state, will be keen to get his 2014 off to a fast start, in what could be a big year for the youngster.
Since coming T3 in the U.S Open back in 2011, and 10th the year after, the spotlight was starting to focus on Chappell, however he is still looking for his first tour win. I believe it can come here, at a venue not far from home, and he can start to fulfil some of that huge potential.
Chappell made his 3rd appearance at this event last year, and finished an impressive 8th place, after efforts of 30th and 48th before. To finish 8th last year Chappell had to shoot -22, a great score, and one I fully believe he can repeat this time around.
He made a lot of his shots up on the par 5s this time last year, shooting -14 on those holes over the four days, and taking advantage of those very same holes will be important for him again this year. If he can find a good putting stroke, that sometimes deserts him, he will be there, or thereabouts come the weekend, and hopefully he can shoot right to the top of the leaderboard come Sunday.
His form so far in this wraparound 13/14 season has not been spectacular, but at the same time he has made all three cuts and it shows his game is in good shape to play in, what must be an event he anticipates greatly.
Chappell has had two runner-up finishes since joining the tour, and he will be keen to get in the winners circle, sooner rather than later, and with home-field advantage, this could be one of his better chances. At 80/1 I thought he was fairly priced for someone of his talents, and his form here definitely appeals.
Patrick Reed 100/1 (General) 1pt e/w: Patrick Reed will look to start his 2014, as he finished 2013, in red-hot fashion and he could do that here.
Reed really turned his season around in 2013, after making such a poor start he made the bold decision of changing manufacturer’s, especially as he made it mid-way through the season.
Since moving to Callaway from Nike, Reed became a regular feature on the weekly leaderboards and got his just reward, when beating Jordan Spieth in a play-off, to win the Wyndham Championship.
Apart from his win, Reed finished in the top-10 at the John Deere Classic, the RBC Canadian Open, the FedEx St.Jude Classic and the AT&T Pebble Beach, all very good results, and he should be ready to do just the same in 2014.
Reed is without his wife on the bag this week, as she takes a break whilst being pregnant, and you do not know how it is going to effect his game. They made a formidable duo at the tail-end of last season, and she genuinely got involved in the decision making, as well as the putting.
Despite missing the cut in his only effort at this event in 2013, we do have some form to go by, as Reed played here in 2011, during the PGA Tour Qualifying. In that event he shot -17 which was only good enough for T22, but it was a more than respectable score, and I ma can see him improving on that this week.
Reed finished the year 34th in Strokes-Gained Putting, and 50th in Birdie Average, even after his dismal start to 2013 campaign, but if he can continue to progress, as he did towards the tail-end of the last season, he will no doubt improve on these too.
Richard H Lee 250/1 (Coral) 0.5pt e/w: Richard H Lee takes up the role of “surprise package” this week, but I feel his odds are extremely generous, and I hope you feel the same way after I justify my case.
Lee came 4th here in PGA Tour qualifying in 2012, and then built on that success a year later, when finishing 10th in the actual Humana Challenge.
With a combined score that adds up to 44 under par over these two weeks stated, he is a superb price at 250/1 and I am hoping he can keep up the good play.
Lee is still yet to place in the top-5 in any event on the PGA Tour, but this one I am certain he can feature during the week, and hopefully Sunday at a very appealing price
Points staked on the PGA Tour this week: 8
Total Points staked (inc. European Tour): 16
Profit/Loss for 2014: +4.75
This is an exciting event, and it’s nice to see some big faces making the effort to tee it up here. We were extremely unlucky last week not to get a winner at the first time of asking, as both Harris English and Brian Stuard were tied for the lead mid-way through the round. English did finish in the places, as did Branden Grace in the European Tour event, so it wasn’t all bad, I am just keen to build on that, straight away here at the Humana. Many thanks for reading and best of luck with all your bets this week.
If you have any feedback, or questions, please do not hesitate to get in contact via Twitter @TJacobsGolf