The PGA Tour returns to the mainland with the CareerBuilder Challenge in La Quinta. The tournament is utilizing three courses for the third straight season: the PGA West Stadium Course, PGA West Nicklaus Tournament Course and La Quinta CC. It was at La Quinta where Adam Hadwin dropped a 59 last season, a week after Justin Thomas did the same at the Sony Open.
Hadwin's feat, coupled with winning scores of 20 and 25 under under the current setup, promotes a belief that the CareerBuilder is a walk in the park. There's some truth to this: La Quinta ranked as the second-easiest course on tour last season, while the Nicklaus Course wasn't far behind. But the Stadium, though not as hard as years past, can still pack a punch, with its finishing holes up there with some of the toughest on tour.
To win the CareerBuilder, a sound short game and aggressive mindset in approach are needed. Attributes illustrated in past champions like Bill Haas, Patrick Reed, Jason Dufner and Pat Perez.
In one sense, Professor Lou taps into these traits by giving the nod to Dufner and Reed, along with Brandt Snedeker and Austin Cook (although Cook has appeared at the top three straight weeks and didn't crack the top 15 in either Hawaiian stop). The Model also likes Jon Rahm, the highest ranked player in the field, and Phil Mickelson, a two-time tournament champ.
But the forecast, in our estimation, goes a bit off track with Bubba Watson. Though Bubba should bounce back to some degree after last year's struggles, this venue doesn't seem to be conducive to his "bombs away" style. And, while we're all for wild cards, Seamus Power and Ryan Armour haven't done anything to suggest they're worthy of a gamble.
For us, the lock of the week is Brian Harman, who's posted four top fives and another top 10 in his last five outings. Not only does he rank 12th in strokes gained: putting and sixth in strokes gained total on the young campaign, but the 30-year-old finished in a tie for third at last season's CareerBuilder. Look for another top-10 display this week.
Bud Cauley also merits your attention. The Alabama product tied Harman for third last year, and already has two top 10s on the season. Throw in a strong strokes gained figure (2.862, third best on tour) and a general sense around golf that Cauley's in for big things, don't be surprised if his breakthrough comes in La Quinta.
If you're looking for dark horses, second-shot savants like Chris Kirk and Kevin Chappell should be in the running, and stand to capitalize if wind becomes a factor this week. And don't sleep on Beau Hossler. He put together one of the better performances on the Web.com Tour last season. Fully recovered from injury, he's got a bit of pop back, and his putter will keep him competitive on any track.
Check out the projections from the professor and expert, and play with the tool below to make your own picks for the 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge!