After it’s two week stint in Hawaii the PGA Tour moves across to Palm Springs California for the start of the traditional ‘West Coast Swing’ played at this time of year.
This event is the first of two Pro Am events in a 4 week stretch [The other being the AT & T National]. Both of these events are played across three courses.
The field is headed up by John Rahm and the event also sees Phil Mickelson making his 2018 debut.
When considering selections this week it’s worth remembering the challenges the players face of playing near 5hr rounds in a pro-am event. This event isn’t for everyone and you’ll see certain players never touch either this event or the AT & T. Equally some other players love the laid back atmosphere that comes with this style of event and love the opportunity they get of playing with relatives or friends. It helps to have a laid back temperament in this format!
As noted above the event is played across three courses all in the Resort of La Quinta, which is situated in the Coachella Valley in the Palm Springs area of California. The courses used at present are as follows;
The Stadium Course
The Nicklaus Tournament Course
La Quinta Country Club
The Courses used for the event have changed over the years and the current rotation has been in play for the last two editions.
The Stadium Course is the current host course and having had a brief stint in the rotation in the mid 1980s was reintroduced in 2016, so this will be its third year in use of late.
The Stadium Course is a Pete Dye design so it is certainly worth looking at form across other Pete Dye courses used on tour with TPC Sawgrass being an obvious point of reference.
The Nicklaus Tournament Course was also added to the events course rotation in 2016 replacing the PGA West Nicklaus Private Course.
La Quinta Country Club has been the staple diet of the event for 50 yrs and has been used with no breaks since 2010.
All players get to play one round on each course over the first three days before a 54 hole cut is made. The players who make the cut then play the final round at the Stadium Course.
Those betting in running should note that of the 3 courses La Quinta yields the lowest scoring average whilst The Stadium Course is the toughest nut to crack.
The greens on all 3 courses are Bermuda.
Whilst the current course rotation has only been in play for the last two editions of the event it is worth noting that the now defunct PGA Tour Q School used to be played at the Stadium Course every other year and it is certainly worth cross referencing results from this event which was last played in 2012.
With the courses used for the event having undergone such a radical overhaul since 2016 it is probably not worth looking back further than that year.
The last two editions have been won by Jason Dufner with a score of -25 and last year by Hudson Swafford with a score of -20. Looking at these scores it is obviously clear that making birdies and going low is still the order of the day, however I can’t help thinking it is no coincidence that since the introduction of a Pete Dye course as the host course we have seen two of the best ‘Ball strikers’ on tour walking away with the trophy.
For the third week running of the new year on tour we look set for dry sunny conditions. At the time of writing the wind does not look to be an issue apart from on Friday when gusts of 20mph + are in the forecast. This could mean there is an element of ‘luck of the draw’ with regards to who is playing where on Friday.
I have gone with 5 players this week as follows;
CHRIS KIRK – 60-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/4 odds 1st 5 Finish MC
As I mentioned above since the introduction of the new courses to the rotation in 2016 the two winners, Dufner and Swafford, would be two players who would be right at the top of your list of ‘ball strikers’ on the PGA Tour. In addition both of these players had played the week before in the Sony Open and had produced high finishes of 9th & 15th respectively.
Therefore following this theme my first two picks this week are both players who are noted for their ball striking and who played well at Waialae.
The first of these Kirk had a poor year in 2017 by the standards he sets however he showed a return to form with a 4th placed finish at the RSM, the last event of the 2017 calendar year.
Picking up where he left off the Atlanta native had a great start to 2018 and was in the hunt all week before stalling slightly on Sunday for a 10th place finish.
Interestingly other than the 4th at the RSM Kirk’s best two 72 hole stroke play finishes of 2017 on tour came at this event where he finished 21st [on the back of a missed cut at the Sony] and at Sawgrass where he finished 18th. Kirk also has two other top 15 finishes at Sawgrass to show his liking for a Pete Dye design.
Finally another point that caught my eye is that Kirk has a top 5 finish at the Nicklaus designed Muirfield village host of the Memorial, an event which has been won by Dufner and Lingmerth over recent years, who finished 1st & 2nd in this event respectively in 2016.
RUSSELL KNOX – 66-1 - 1pts E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 6 Finish 25th
My second ‘Ball Striker’ who played well last week is Russell Knox.
Very similarly to Kirk, Knox had an ‘of the boil’ year in 2017, however in almost identical fashion to Kirk he showed signs of life towards the end of 2017 before starting 2018 with a 10th place at the Sony Open.
In fact I could almost copy and paste my above thoughts on Kirk and run with them again for Knox!
He has form a plenty on Pete Dye courses and I’m not at all surprised to see him now adding this event back on to his schedule after missing it the last two years.
I was expecting to see Knox around the 40-1 mark this week so I am delighted to be able to take 66s on this proven winner.
BUD CAULAY – 45-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 6 Finish 14th
Caulay has been knocking on the door for a while now and surely it only has to be a matter of time until he finally gets his head over the line for the first time.
Bud had 7 top 10 finishes in the calendar year of 2017 including a 3rd place finish here and his first win can’t be very far away.
I also like the fact that Bud is a resident of Jacksonville so I am sure he has spent plenty of time working out the nuances of Pete Dye designs at Sawgrass.
His stats for the 2017-18 season to date are very solid and he sits 16th in Ball Striking at present which will serve him in good stead here and I can see him starting of his 2018 campaign with a big performance.
ADAM HADWIN – 66-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/4 odds 1st 5 Finish 3rd
I will finish my picks this week with two players who have served me well at this event over the past couple of years.
Firstly Hadwin who of course notably shot 59 at La Quinta last year before finishing 2nd.
It was a big ask for the Canadian to close out the event last year for his first win on the back of a 59 on Saturday and so it proved. However with his 6th place finish at the event in 2016 Adam has shown that he has a big liking for all the courses in the rotation now not just La Quinta.
Since this event last year Hadwin has shown he has what it takes to win on tour closing out the Valspar championship in impressive style so there are no concerns now that he can get the job done if he finds himself in the hunt.
True, his form has gone slightly off the boil since his win last year however he was in no sort of form when he finished 6th here in 2016 so this does not overly concern me. In addition of course it means we are getting 66-1 about a player who clearly loves the event and I’m happy to take a chance at that price that the return to La Quinta will reignite his game.
DAVID LINGMERTH – 66-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 6 Finish 57th
Finally I will close my selections for this week by weighing in with David Lingmerth in this event for the third year running.
I still wake up with the occasional nightmare about ‘Duf’s shot of the rocks here in 2016, which basically cost me a 66-1 winner on Lingmerth! I’m happy though to continue backing him here for the very same reasons that I did in 2016.
These reasons are the obvious correlations between his win at Memorial on the Nicklaus designed Muirfield Village, his second place finish at Sawgrass and his liking for the courses used in this event.
His form through 2017 was quietly impressive with only one missed cut from the end of April to the end of the 2017 PGA tour season and after a couple of poor performances to start the 2017-18 season he signed of the 2017 PGA tour year with a 17th place at the RSM.
As with Hadwin I feel the price on offer of 66-1 is more than fair.
UPDATED 16th JAN
TRADER [S] Finish Hossler 20th - Lowest price traded 21
In a departure from the norm this week I am going to put forward 2 players as traders this week instead of the normal one. In all honesty this is simply because I can't decide on one of them over the other!
The two players I have gone for are Beau Hossler [again after last week] & Stephan Jaeger.
Those who read my blog just before Christmas of players to follow in 2016 will know that both of these players are in my 6 to follow. In addition in my blog in the 'events most likely to' I highlighted this event for both players as one to watch them in.
My logic for Hossler was that as a native Californian this could well be the start of a good stretch for him and his agressive style should suit this low scoring event.
With Jaegar again it was a case of his ability to go low should suit this event and I was also mindful that one of his wins on the Web.com last year came in a pro am event.
Unfortunately the exchange market is fairly weak in this event at the moment so neither players exchange price are quite where I'd hoped for at this stage, but both are still worth supporting..Hossler has also been strongly tipped elsewhere.
Hossler is currently trading at 200+ whilst Jaeger is at 250+