The PGA Tour heads back to the mainland this week for the Humana Challenge in La Quinta, Calif. The event is known under its previous name, the Bob Hope Classic, but has recently gone through a sponsor change and gotten a face lift in the past few years with the help of Former President Bill Clinton.
The Humana Challenge is the first Pro-Am style event on the 2013 Tour schedule, with amateurs and celebrities alike going step for step with Tour stars. Much like the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro Am, the Humana is held at three different venues — The PGA West Palmer and Nicklaus courses and La Quinta Country Club. Sunday’s final round will be held at the host course, the Palmer Course.
Historically, the Humana is a very low scoring event with the winners carrying a 66.29 stroke average over the past 12 years. Mark Wilson is the defending champion, coming off a 2012 victory in which he fended off Johnson Wagner, Robert Garrigus and John Mallinger with a winning score of 24-under. It was the first Humana Challenge in over 50 years with a 72 hole format, which previously had been a 90-hole event.
This event has always been entertaining to watch, not only for the low scoring but also for the impressive celebrity draw it brings. Some of the biggest names in Hollywood, music and business will converge on the desert this week. As of Monday, notable committed names included Anthony Anderson, Michael Bolton, Alice Cooper and Palm Desert native Carson Daly.
Players to Watch
A good portion of the field is making their 2013 debut, including former champion Phil Mickeleson, as well as U.S. Open winner Lucas Glover, Japanese sensation Ryo Ishikawa and PGA Champion David Toms. But with the low scoring nature of the tournament, it should favor the player who has one or two starts under his belt. Unless of course you are former champ Phil Mickelson, who has won this tournament twice and has had four top 10’s straight out of the winter hiatus.
Charles Howell is coming off a strong debut at the Sony Open where he made 16 birdies and two eagles against only three bogeys for a T3 finish. Former champion Pat Perez is also a name to watch this week, coming off a top-10 finish at the Sony. The often combustable Perez is armed with a new, calmer attitude going into 2013 that could put the 36-year-old’s name on more leader boards in 2013.
“I’m just trying to look at things in a positive way,” Perez said in a recent interview with Golf Digest’s Dave Shedloski. “Not a fake positive, but just not getting down, not getting negative.”
Yardage: Palmer Course at PGA West — 6,950 yards (par 72)
- Lowest score: David Duval blistered the Palmer Course for a 59 in the final round in 1999.
Yardage: Nicklaus Course at PGA West — 6,924 yards (par 72)
- The course was built to host the 1987 Ryder Cup, but the event was moved to the East Coast to better accommodate television
Yardage: La Quinta Country Club — 7,060 yards (par 72)
- La Quinta CC has been part of the tournament’s rotation since 1964.
Keys to Victory
The Humana has always been a shoot out, favoring the player that is white hot with the putter and the wedges. It doesn’t necessarily favor a big hitter, as the longest course maxes out at just under 7100 yards. It’s a 72-hole free for all with the winner usually making in excess of 25 birdies.
Mark Wilson torched the desert last year hitting almost 90 percent of the greens and 76 percent of the fairways. That along with a hot putter resulted in a total score of 24-under and Wilson’s fifth career victory. The key to victory is simple — go as low as you possibly can and hope for the best. The only X Factor is the unpredictable desert wind that has blown the field around in past years. Charley Hoffman’s won in 2007 with a score of 17-under in the old five-round format.
My pick to win?
Winner: Charles Howell III
Coming off his T3 at Sony Open, I think it’s time that Charles Howell breaks out and wins for the third time on Tour. His putter has been his Achilles’ heel in past years, but if the Sony was any indication it seems that his confidence has been restored and I look for him to go really deep this week.
Golf Channel — Thursday through Sunday, 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. EST