Our golf scribe gives his tips for the 2017 Career Builder Championship which gets underway this Thursday.
Formerly known as the Bob Hope Classic, and then by the rather unfortunate incarnation - The Humana Challenge - the Career Builder Challenge is a Pro-Am event that forms part of the early season West Coast Swing. It used to be played over five rounds, that seemed to dissuade the top players from participating, and it was chiselled down to a four round tournament in 2012. Arnold Palmer won the event five times, leading a certain pathos to this year’s event.
The first three days sees three courses rotated. The La Quinta course is generally considered the easiest, despite it having narrower fairways than the Nicklaus Tournament Course. They are both considered extremely playable, with birdies to be had everywhere. The host course - The Stadium Course - is inundated with water and will require some more accuracy from the ball-strikers. One thing that remains consistent is the greens, which reward players with a high GIR consistency and proximity to the hole.
Justin Thomas has clearly decided to perhaps enjoy an extra weekend in Hawaii following his back-to-back successes there. I went in last week with certainty and stated that he wouldn’t win in Waialae- a call that was validated by him breaking the 72-hole PGA tour record. There is actually a surprisingly good field here considering the event taking place in Abu Dhabi. Perhaps it would be best from a spectating perspective to skip the first three rounds, which generally operate at a snail’s pace due to the frolicking of the amateurs.
The Career Building Challenge | Thursday 19 January - Sunday 22 January | The Stadium Course, La Quinta, California
2016: Jason Dufner (-25)*playoff | 2015: Bill Haas (-22) | 2014: Patrick Reed (-28) | 2013: Brian Gay (-25)*playoff | 2012: Mark Wilson (-24)
To Win Outright:
Patrick Reed (14/1) | Francesco Molinari (18/1) | Phil Mickelson (18/1) | Zach Johnson (22-1) | Bill Haas (22-1)
Zach Johnson To Win 22/1 & To Place 48/10
Apparently, weather conditions could pervade the tournament, which should suit the wily Zach Johnson to a tee. The former Masters and Open Champion has shown his proclivity to master the weather in his numerous positive showings at the Open Championship. He also sits ludicrously long at 22/1. Last year he missed the cut, but did play the tougher course in rotation on Saturday and shot a five under, bogey-free 67. He shot a 61 on Friday last week en route to 6th place finish.
Charley Hoffman To Win 35/1 & To Place 15/2
I’m rather flummoxed by this price. Hoffman won this tournament in 2007 and was runner-up in 2015. He is an excellent ball-striker whose propensity for good par-4 scoring perfectly suits this golf-course. Phil Mickelson, Mark Wilson and Kenny Perry have all won this event and the Phoenix Open. Both are low-scoring, desert courses, and thus a correlation is present. Hoffman was beaten by Kenny Perry in a playoff in Phoenix two years after winning here.
David Lingmerth To Win- 60/1 To Place 13/1
David Lingmerth is a terrific ball-striker who came so close to having a real breakthrough season last year. So to see him at 60/1 here, after finishing as a runner-up here in both 2013 and 2015, seems completely out of touch with his prospective chances here. His recent form has been scratchy, but I think he needed some time to decompress following an arduous season last year. He made eight top 25’s last season and is, in my opinion, a future Ryder Cup player.
The Man to Beat
Patrick Reed To Win 14/1 - To Place 3/1
It’s yet another example of an unsexy option, with Reed going in as the bookies’ favourite this week. But at 14/1, it still doesn’t seem quite short enough to discount. Reed was apparently not feeling well when he last teed up at the Tournament of Champions. So his sixth-placed finish there was hardly disgraceful. But he is a birdie machine and few will forget his 2014 performance here. He shot three consecutive 63’s in the first three rounds, breaking the all-time PGA scoring record for the first three rounds.