Let’s go with the good news first.
For last week’s Sony Open, the final PGA Tour stop in Hawaii, I recommended three longer shots to take a look at: defending champion Mark Wilson at +4000, Steve Marino at +3500 and Charles Howell III at +2000.
Because I try to be a glass half-full guy, I will point out that Chucky Three Sticks nearly did win, finishing in a four-way tie for second, two shots behind winner Johnson Wagner. But I suppose I should also point out that Wilson and Marino both missed the cut. But so did David Toms, and at least I didn’t fall into that trap again.
So not a great start for my picks two tournaments into the season. But perhaps a return to the mainland U.S. is just the answer as the PGA Tour visits Palm Springs this weekend for the Humana Challenge in partnership with the Clinton Foundation over three courses at PGA West and LaQuinta Country Club.
This had been the Bob Hope pro-am tournament for nearly 50 years. But last year event organizers signed an eight-year agreement with Humana and the William J. Clinton Foundation to emphasize wellness. And not long after that agreement was announced, officials said that what was a 90-hole tournament since its inception in 1960 will be reduced to a traditional 72-hole competition beginning on Thursday.
The number of courses hosting the tournament also was dropped from four to three. Look for low numbers this week as the two PGA West courses, Palmer Private and Nicklaus Private, and LaQuinta CC are among the easiest on Tour. David Duval’s memorable 59 in 1999 was shot at Palmer Private. Last year, Jhonattan Vegas won in a three-way playoff with Bill Haas and Gary Woodland. None of the three had a round over 69 and they finished at 27 under.
This year every pro plays one round on each of the three courses -- with the final round Sunday being held at Palmer. Look for the first three rounds to take forever because each group will include two amateurs. The final round will be pros only.
The big news this week is the season debut of Phil Mickelson, who almost always plays well on the West Coast/California Swing. Lefty has won here twice, is the all-time money leader in the event and is playing it for the first time in five years. Also playing, although highly unlikely to contend, is fellow Hall of Famer and International Team Presidents Cup captain Greg Norman, who tees it up here for the first time since 1986. He’s a friend of former President Clinton.
PGA Tour Golf Odds: Humana Challenge Favorites
Four players in the Top 25 of the world rankings and 10 of the Top 50 are in the field, so it’s fair to call this the best tournament so far. Matt Kuchar, who is a Top-10 machine but never seems to win, opened as the +1600 favorite on BetOnline. He is making his 2012 debut and has a good record here: T7 and T2 the past two years.
Almost every “expert” loves reigning FedEx Cup winner Haas (+1800) this week. In 2010, Haas won here by shooting a whopping 30 under (again, though, for 90 holes) and last year probably should have won but ended up losing in a playoff to Vegas. Plus, Haas plays here every year and, thus, will know the layout as well as anyone.
Mickelson and Dustin Johnson, who makes his 2012 debut off November knee surgery, are also the second-favorites with Haas at +1800. Mickelson's 37 birdies over 90 holes in his 2004 win here is tied for the tournament record, and his four-shot rally to win the 2002 event is tied for the second-biggest comeback in event history. His average finish in the event is 12th place. Oh, and in Lefty’s first tournament of the year since 2002, he has two wins (both here) and six Top-10 finishes.
Johnson, my pick to win the money title this season, has only played here twice and not since 2009. Not a good choice this week as he shakes the rust off.
Golf Odds: Humana Challenge PGA Tour Predictions
How can you not look at Harrison Frazar at +4000? He started the year with a T5 at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and T2 at the Sony Open. But it’s not exactly easy to finish in the Top 5 three weeks in a row – Frazar has only one stretch of three Top-10 finishes in his career and that was back in 2005.
Brian Gay at +3500 is probably my best value pick this week. He finished T6 with four rounds in the 60s last week at the Sony Open, ranking T10 in greens hit. He was T5 at this tournament a year ago, leading the field in fairways hit, ranking third in putting and T4 in birdies. Gay has played this even the past seven years and has improved his finish each of the past five.
I think Haas wins, honestly, but I would throw a few long-shot bucks on Gay.