The Desert Classic
It was nearly a fantastic week for us in Honolulu with Andrew Putnam in the hunt right down to the wire before coming up just short to Matt Kuchar.
Still, it was a profitable week with a nice e/w return so whilst it was disappointing not to get the win we can’t complain too much.
So 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.
When considering selections this week it’s worth considering 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!
The field is headed up by world No 1 Justin Rose who has chosen to add this event to his schedule for the first time since 2010, defending champion John Rahm, Patrick Cantlay and Phil Mickelson who is making his first competitive appearance since ‘The Match’
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 fourth 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 years 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 three 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 three editions from 2016 have been won by Jason Dufner, Hudson Swafford and Jon Rahm.
With limited data to go on it is perhaps too early to say whether patterns in relation to these three winners are coincidence, however it is noticeable that all of these three winners had performed well on their previous start, which was their first one of the new calendar year.
In Dufner and Swafford’s case they had finished 9th & 13th respectively at the Sony Open the week before, whilst in Rahm’s case he finished 2nd at the Sentry ToC last year before skipping the Sony Open.
The other trend, which has developed since the change in course roster in 2016, and which I can’t help thinking is not a coincidence, is that since the introduction of a Pete Dye course as the host course we have seen two of the best ‘Ball strikers’ on tour, in Dufner and Swafford, walking away with the trophy over the three years.
In addition whilst last year’s winner Rahm is not quite as renowned in that department as the aforementioned two, he did rank 27th in that stat last season.
Whilst the addition of the Stadium Course to the rota has toughened things up slightly in terms of scoring this event is still basically a birdie fest and this can be seen by the fact that the winning number over the past three years has been -25, -20 & -22 respectively.
Cooler, damp conditions are expected to greet the players when they arrive in the La Quinta area at the beginning of the week, and this will last through until Thursday, with showers expected on and off all through the first day of tournament play and temperatures in the mid to low 60s.
From Friday onwards things are set to improve with sunshine and temperatures in the mid 70s the order for the rest of the week.
Wind does not look to be a factor all week with nothing more than 8-10mph currently in the forecast.
Combine this with the softer conditions the rain earlier in the week will bring and the courses should be ripe for low scoring.
As I always so though this could all change!
I have gone with 5 players this week as follows;
COREY CONNERS – 66-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 FINISHED 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 players who are particularly noted for their ball striking and who played well at Waialae.
The first name that stood out for me on this basis is 27yr old Canadian Corey Conners.
A rookie on the PGA Tour last year Conners made his first big splash on the tour when he held the lead for the first three rounds at the Valspar Championship in Florida last March.
Understandably Corey faded in the heat of Sunday that week, however next time he was in serious contention later in the year at the Sanderson Farms he hung on to the coat tails of Cameron Champ fairly impressively before finally submitting.
During his first season on the tour Conners quickly became established as one of the best ball strikers out there and he finished the 2017/18 season ranked 9th in this stat.
As pretty much always tends to be the case with really strong ball strikers his weak spot is most definitely on the greens.
Having said this though his best performances last year most definitely came on Bermuda greens, which are in play at both the Sanderson Farms and the Valspar and this is what he faces again this week.
In addition of course he was on the Bermuda last week at Waialae and putted solidly to finish 27th For the week in SGP.
In fact All of Corey’s game was in great working order last week as he ended the week 14th for SGOT and 3rd for SGATG.
Conners is undoubtedly an improving player who I expect to win on the PGA Tour eventually and on courses, which have been shown to suit strong ball strikers over the last few years I can see him building on his great week in Honolulu and making a very bold showing for that first win this week.
HUDSON SWAFFORD – 45-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 FINISHED 65th
When looking for strong ball strikers, who performed well at Waialae and fit the mold of a Swafford or Dufner, you can’t get a much closer fit than Swafford himself! [ or Dufner of course!]
Just like Conners, Swafford closed with a round of 64 to take a share of 3rd place at Waialae and again just like the Canadian he flourished in his ball striking from tee to green all week, whilst holding his own with the customary ‘ball strikers nemesis’ the flat stick.
After landing his first PGA Tour win in this event two years ago many expected the 31yr old to push on to greater things however it didn’t quite happen for him, with the remainder of 16/17 seeing him lose his week in week out consistency, which had previously been a trademark of his.
17/18 was even more disappointing with no finish higher than an 11th place at the Barracuda to his name all season, and without the final year of his exemption to call upon for his win in this event he would have been facing a trip to the Web.com finals.
Buoyed by his two higher finishes at the end of the 17/18 season Hudson now seems to have started 18/19 by returning to his old ways of steadily making cuts week in week out.
In fact his form leading in this week is almost identical to that, which he showed in 16/17 before winning here, a bunch of made cuts in the fall before starting the new year in fine fashion in Hawaii.
Swafford reminded us when posting his 11th place in Reno last August that he enjoys his time in the desert on a Jack Nicklaus design so I am sure that he will be happy to get back this week to a combination of a Desert/Nicklaus course and a Pete Dye course, which rewards his ball striking.
We know that Swafford is capable of getting the job done in this event and based on his form coming in to the week I am more than happy at the price on offer to side with him to get his second PGA Tour win this week, at the site of his first.
ANDREW PUTNAM – 35-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 FINISHED 34th
The third player to make our team this week who was in the field last week is the man who came so close to victory for us, Andrew Putnam.
I have highlighted above when talking about Hudson Swafford how he performed well in the Desert last summer on a Nicklaus layout and of course the man who took home the silverware that week was Andrew Putnam.
Whilst Putnam was unable to quite finish the job at Waialae his 2nd place finish there was his third consecutive top 15 finish and his 13th consecutive cut made.
Quite simply Putnam is in the form of his life at the moment.
Andrew putted exceptionally well over both events in Hawaii and of course it is debatable that he can keep that form going with the flat stick.
However throw in the fact that he finished 8th and 1st in consecutive weeks on Nicklaus designs last year, with the second week being in the Desert, and that by far his best performance in a mediocre first half of 2018 came when he finished 17th here, and I am more than happy to keep his ‘hot hand’ on side this week.
ADAM HADWIN – 28-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 FINISHED 2nd
Next up for me this week is a player who has served me well at this event over the past couple of years, Canadian Adam Hadwin.
Long term followers will know that we have been on Hadwin in the California Desert for the past two years and he has rewarded us with a place at good e/w odds on each occasion.
Firstly in 2017 Hadwin notably shot 59 at La Quinta before going on to finish 2nd, whilst last year four really solid rounds saw him finish 3rd.
It should also be noted that in 2016 he finished 6th in this event, so that’s three consecutive top 6 finishes.
In each of these years the pattern was the same. The 31yr old started his new calendar year with a sluggish, down the field performance in Hawaii [Twice in the Sony and once in the Sentry ToC] before springing to life the following week in the California Desert.
On this basis I am naturally not bothered by his sluggish, down the field finish of 57th in the Sony over the weekend…
Last year Adam arrived here with nothing better than a 13th place finish in his previous nine starts stretching back to August of the previous year, yet he was still able to deliver right on cue on what must be arguably his favourite week of the year.
This year whilst struggling at the Sony we have the extra comfort of knowing that Hadwin was in good solid form at the end of 2018 with two top 10s in four starts in the fall series events, as well as a 4th place at the ISPS World Cup team event.
As well as clearly loving the courses in play this week Adam also notched his first win on the Mackenzie Tour of Canada in the Desert Dunes Classic in Palm Springs back in 2010 so this is clearly an area of the world he has huge positive vibes with and I think Adam has a great chance to notch his second PGA Tour win this week.
BEAU HOSSLER – 80-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 7 FINISHED MC
For my final selection of the week I can’t resist throwing a dart at Beau Hossler at the enticing 80-1 on offer in the hope that a return to his native California will see him spring back to life.
Hossler is a huge talent who will undoubtedly become a regular winner on the PGA Tour and whilst we all know how hard it is to win on the tour I would be surprised if he does not notch his first win this year.
Beau was in the hunt in this event for the first two rounds last year before fading over the weekend.
In addition he has performed well two years running at the Shriners event in Vegas so desert golf is clearly to his liking.
From a Pete Dye point of view Beau finished 2nd at TPC River Highlands last year, 16th at Hilton Head and played solidly enough at Sawgrass, whilst from a Nicklaus point of view he opened up his week at the Memorial with a 66 before producing another solid week.
Hossler is the only member of our team this week who is making his first outing of the calendar year and there is always a risk there may be some rust, however at the prices on offer I am happy to take a chance that Beau will be fast out of the blocks for 2019.
UPDATED 16th JANUARY
TRADER - DOMINIC BOZZELLI FINISHED 5th - LOWEST PRICE TRADED 25
For this weeks trader I have chosen to run with a player who was in the spotlight on the PGA Tour last week in Hawaii as he battled to save his playing privileges, Dominic Bozzelli.
Having performed solidly for the last three weeks of 2018 culminating in an 11th place finish at the RSM Classic 27yr old Bozzelli found himself needing a big top 5 finish at Waialae to take care of business on his Medical Extension.
To the Auburn grads credit after a slow start on Thursday he performed superbly on Friday and Saturday to shoot back to back rounds of 64 to leave him right where he needed to be going in to Sunday.
Unfortunately, however Sunday didn't work out for Bozzelli as he would have hoped, and after he a disappointing 73 he fell back to 33rd place.
Whilst this wasn't the result Dominic needed to lock up his full card he had done enough prior to the Christmas break to earn conditional status and he will now play out of no worse than Category 32 on the tour through this season, meaning in effect he is ranked between 125-150 and will therefore still get to play in several events.
The first such start comes this week as Dominic has got in to the field as an alternate.
My thought now is that, whilst of course he still needs to take advantage of his opportunities when they come along, without the immediate pressure of a 'must produce or else' week Bozzelli can continue his recent good form and put another strong performance together.
In addition to his really solid recent play one other big positive is that Bozzelli showed in 2017 when finishing 5th here, that his strong ball striking skills are a good fit to the test the courses offer up.
As I said at the beginning Dominic was much talked about in the lead up last week, however he has slipped in to the field far more under the radar this week, and at the price on offer I am more than happy to roll the dice with him as our trader pick.
CURRENTLY TRADING @ 340+