This week, the PGA Tour heads to California for the CareerBuilder Challenge. Who will follow in defending champion Jason Dufner’s footsteps and come out on top?
With the Aloha Swing behind us, the PGA Tour will make its 2017 mainland debut this week. Formerly the Bob Hope Classic, the CareerBuilder Challenge will present golf fans with a variety of different California courses to go along with a variety of different players, so it isn’t one to miss.
Last year’s CareerBuilder Challenge was a nightmare to project, owing mostly to the reintroduction of the Stadium Course at PGA West, which hadn’t been featured at the Hope in nearly 30 years. This year, it’s back again, along with the Nicklaus course at PGA West and La Quinta Country Club just down the road. While we have more information this week than we had last year, we’re still trying to figure out which players can consistently deliver at this course, so buckle up.
With so many familiar faces from the PGA Tour to sift through, there’s no time to waste, so let’s get to it. Here are ten of the best bets for success at the CareerBuilder Challenge.
Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Bill Haas’ experience at the CareerBuilder should do wonders for him this week.
No. 42, Four straight top 20 finishes
This Wake Forest product’s last PGA Tour win came at the 2015 CareerBuilder Challenge, so he’s picked a good time to snap back into form. Haas has been on a nice run over his last few starts — he’s posted four consecutive top 20s, including a tie for fourth at the WGC-HSBC Champions last fall. While his two CareerBuilder victories came before the reintroduction of the Stadium Course last year, he shot a pair of 66s and fared pretty well overall in 2016. Going up against a relatively weak field, he should be on the first page of the leaderboard.
California native Jamie Lovemark is heating up at the right time.
No. 85, Back-to-back top 10 finishes
Plagued by inconsistency during the latter half of last season, Lovemark is back on the rise. The former world No. 1 amateur is on an impressive streak of back-to-back top 10s, highlighted by his tie for fourth at last week’s Sony Open in Hawaii. He was extremely impressive at Wailele, firing twin 65s on the weekend and ranking fourth in the field in strokes gained: putting. With that kind of momentum, there’s no reason he won’t be able to have another good week at the CareerBuilder Challenge — he had a chance to win the event last year before a final round 73, eventually settling for a tie for sixth.
An unknown among casual fans, Luke List has been playing solid golf for weeks now.
No. 184, Five straight top 15 finishes
This Vanderbilt product is quietly enjoying the best stretch of his career. List has found the top 15 in five consecutive starts dating back to last October; notable finishes over that period include a tie for second at the Sanderson Farms Championship, a tie for seventh at the OHL Classic and a tie for 13th at last week’s Sony Open. He also tied for sixth at last year’s CareerBuilder Challenge, so converging trends are definitely in play. With a ton of length off the tee and a surging short game, he has everything he needs to make a run at the trophy this week.
This week, Phil Mickelson will emerge from his winter hibernation to try and pick up his first PGA Tour win in more than three years.
No. 21, Tied for third at last year’s CareerBuilder Challenge
At 46 years of age, he’s not getting any younger, but Mickelson has nevertheless managed to keep up an impressive level of consistency. Last year, he found the top 20 in 13 of his 24 worldwide starts, so he’s still making adjustments and getting comfortable with whatever comes his way. One of his highlights from 2016 was a tie for third at the CareerBuilder Challenge, so he’ll roll into PGA West with plenty of positive memories in tow. While he hasn’t made a start since his tie for eighth at the Safeway Open last October, a golfer of his age can always stand to take a few more rest weeks.
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Thanks to his final round 61 at the Sony Open, Chez Reavie will bring plenty of momentum into this week.
No. 118, Back-to-back top 10 finishes
This Arizona State product wasn’t set to appear on this list before Sunday, but an incredible final round 61 at the Sony Open in Hawaii put him on everyone’s radar. The incredible performance allowed Reavie to surge from a tie for 48th into a tie for eighth, giving him back-to-back top 10s, as well as four top 25s in his last five starts, as he heads to the CareerBuilder Challenge. His track record at this event isn’t fantastic, but he did seem to take to the Stadium Course last year, ending up in a tie for 17th.
Patrick Reed couldn’t get the job done at last year’s CareerBuilder Challenge, but his talent makes him a permanent threat.
No. 9, Two top 10s in last three starts
The winner at the CareerBuilder Challenge three years ago, Reed’s first look at the Stadium Course didn’t quite go according to plan — despite solid form entering the week, he managed only a tie for 56th in last year’s edition. However, he’s proven himself enough to earn the benefit of the doubt, especially with this week’s field being on the weak side. He ranks in the top 30 on the new season in strokes gained: putting and he tied for sixth in his last start, so there’s definitely reason to expect a turnaround. If he can’t deliver this week, then we’ll know to bump him down on our list in future years.
The consistent Charles Howell III is like the Energizer Bunny — he just keeps going and going and going.
Charles Howell III
No. 97, Four straight top 15 finishes
This Georgia native continued one of his trademark early-season surges at Wailele last week, firing four rounds in the 60s en route to a tie for eighth. It was his fourth consecutive top 15 finish, so there’s plenty to like about Howell’s form as he prepares to make his eighth consecutive start at the CareerBuilder Challenge. On the whole, his track record at the event is somewhat uneven, but he did tie for 11th last year while taking his first look at the Stadium Course; he also tied for second in 2013, losing a playoff to Brian Gay. There’s no reason to start doubting him now.
Zach Johnson hasn’t been at his best over the past few months, but a great week in Hawaii has him back on our radar screens.
No. 37, Tied for sixth at last week’s Sony Open
2016 was a bit of a trying season for this Georgia resident, but he’s definitely started this year off on the right foot. At last week’s Sony Open in Hawaii, Johnson was among the most solid players in the field, ranking in the top 20 in three different strokes gained categories and firing four rounds in the 60s, including a second round 61, en route to a tie for sixth. While his track record at the CareerBuilder Challenge is uneven (it includes a missed cut from last year), his sudden surge at Wailele was too impressive to ignore. Will we see Johnson further reestablish his form this week?
Adam Hadwin won’t draw the biggest crowds, but converging trends mean that he’s worthy of our attention this week.
No. 196, Three straight top 30 finishes
The No. 3 Canadian in the world ranking, Hadwin was playing pretty well at the end of 2016. He’s already picked up a trio of top 30s on the new season, including a tie for 10th at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba, his last start before shutting it down for the winter. While others in the field are in better form, Hadwin notched a tie for sixth at last year’s CareerBuilder Challenge, so we know he’s comfortable with the courses. He also ranks in the top 50 in both scoring average and birdie average, so he should be able to hold his own in a shootout.
After tying for third at last year’s CareerBuilder Challenge, Kevin Na would love to take that next step and pick up his second career PGA Tour win.
No. 47, Tied for third at last year’s CareerBuilder Challenge
He’s off to an inconsistent start this season, but perhaps a return to familiar stomping grounds can light a fire under Na. After all, he tied for third in his first look at the Stadium Course at last year’s CareerBuilder Challenge, so he has a better idea of what it takes to contend than most in this week’s field. What’s more, he ranks in the top 50 on the new PGA Tour season in strokes gained: tee-to-green, and he won’t be facing an especially strong group of competitors this week. Call it a hunch, but this looks like as good an opportunity as any for Na to start heating up.