Entering the third week of the PGA Tour season, golf fans have already been treated to compelling victories by Dustin Johnson at Kapalua and Russell Henley at the Sony Open at (easy to say, difficult to spell) Waialae Country Club in Honolulu.
Beyond whether or not there will be a let down for Henley after a defining victory in his first PGA Tour start, there are a number of other storylines at the first pro-am event of the year.
With a dominant performance at last week’s Sony Open, Russell Henley won his PGA Tour debut by a three-stroke margin. Entering the final round, two PGA Tour rookies, Henley and Scott Langley, were tied for the lead. Both players broke the previous three-round scoring record en route to different fortunes in the final round.
Both rookies are teeing it up again this week at the Humana Challenge.
One of the storylines entering the 2013 PGA Tour season was the strength and relative youth of the rookie class (14 of the 30 are under 25). Henley’s victory, as well as Langley’s strong play, are an early indication that the 2013 PGA Tour rookies will continue to make headlines.
Other notable rookies in the field include: Luke List, James Hahn, Luke Guthrie and Patrick Reed—who without his card last year Monday-qualified an astounding six times.
As the tour comes to the contiguous United States with its third event of the year, several players of note are making their 2013 debuts, including Charley Hoffman, Robert Karlsson, Geoff Ogilvy, Camilo Villegas, Gary Woodland, Aaron Baddeley and the new Nike staffer Seung-Yul Noh.
Additionally, David Lynn and Ross Fisher, formerly of the European tour, will be playing in their first event as members of the PGA Tour at the Humana.
Former UCLA standout and amateur sensation Patrick Cantlay will play on a sponsor’s exemption. Ryo Ishikawa, who has rather failed to launch since joining the tour last year, will also make his 2013 PGA Tour debut.
One of the major storylines leading up to the opening round on Thursday is the Humana Challenge itself. Formerly the Bob Hope Classic, the struggling event (famously never played by Tiger Woods) now has an entirely different feel to it as it enters its second year.
Hope passed away in 2003. The tournament, which he hosted for 30 years, with its celebrity pro-am (featuring the likes of Frank Sinatra and Kirk Douglas), has now turned into something of a healthy-living summit.
Former President Bill Clinton—whose foundation partnered with Humana to host the event— presides as the informal master of ceremonies over the pro-am and the Health Matters conference which opens the week.
The Humana is a tournament on the mend with a newly-cast identity. Additionally, it's the only PGA Tour event where, amongst other things, attendees can make their own smoothies—on a bike.
Now number 19 in the world, Phil Mickelson starts his 2013 season at the Humana Challenge this week. After a lackluster 2012, Mickelson has lingering health issues under control. Phil’s history at the Humana is distinguished. He’s won the event twice and is the all-time leading money winner at the tournament.
Along with Brandt Snedeker and Matt Kuchar, Mickelson is one of the favorites to win this week, according to several oddsmakers. With other big names absent from the field, Phil is the brightest (professional golfing) star in La Quinta this week.
Surely, Phil is looking to start his year with a victory. Given the relative weakness of the field and his previous quality play at the tournament, the left-hander has a good shot at winning.
The truly disturbing thing about David Duval not getting a sponsor’s invite is, as Chris Hibler of GolfWRX writes:
In 1999, Duval made golf history when he shot a 59 to win the event. Prior to that year, all past champions were offered lifetime exemptions. But in 1999, the sponsors of the tournament changed the policy to offer just a 10-year exemption for winners.
In other words, if Duval would have shot his historic 59 in 1998, he wouldn’t have needed to hope for an exemption in recognition of the significant role he played in the tournament’s history.
Also, tournament organizers should have been astute enough to realize the following:
A. The decision to not invite Duval could be unpopular in light of the above.
B. Duval was expecting to start his season at the tournament, as per his Twitter account.
C. Although new to the medium, Duval has proven himself to be very outspoken on Twitter and would likely mention that he didn’t get an invite
D. Golf fans might not be too happy about Double D getting snubbed.
When the Humana let Duval know he wasn’t getting an invite, he tweeted the following and set the predictable course of events in motion.
“So it’s official. I will not get a spot at the Humana. I guess having the defining moment in the history [of] the event doesn't matter.
It’s likely the tournament organizers want a mulligan.