Brian Gay won last year's Humana Challenge in a three-way playoff.
With its illustrious history of champions, plethora of birdie opportunities across three different courses and some amateur celebrity participants, there is always a palpable buzz surrounding the Humana Challenge.
One of the most exciting events to open the 2013-14 PGA Tour's West Coast swing, the tournament has also become known for its partnership with the Clinton Foundation.
A star-studded field of both big-name golfers and several others with alternative claims to fame ensure that this year's edition won't be short on excitement, despite it being simultaneously scheduled with the European Tour's marquee Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.
Here is an overview of the basic information regarding the tournament, including when and where to catch the action, along with the top pairings to watch for throughout the first 54 holes.
When: Thursday, Jan. 16 through Sunday, Jan. 19
Where: Host course is PGA West's Arnold Palmer Private Course in La Quinta, Calif.
Tee Times: For a complete list of tee times for the first three rounds, visit HumanaChallenge.com.
|Thursday, Jan. 16||3-7 p.m||Golf Channel|
|Friday, Jan. 17||3-7 p.m||Golf Channel|
|Saturday, Jan. 18||3-7 p.m||Golf Channel|
|Sunday, Jan. 19||3-7 p.m||Golf Channel|
Pairings to Watch
Brian Gay and David Toms
Starting with the defending champion in Gay is wise, because none of these three courses—the Palmer, the PGA West's Jack Nicklaus Private Course or La Quinta Country Club—are particularly long at all.
That plays into Gay's hands. Few on the planet can putt better than he can or get the ball in the fairway with more consistency off the tee. The problem is always his length, which won't be an issue here.
Gay made a whopping 27 birdies to just two bogeys in emerging victorious last year in a playoff over Charles Howell III, who has four top-10 finishes already this season and is a force to be reckoned with, and David Lingmerth.
The win was huge for Gay's confidence after a rough 2012 season, and he discussed the momentum it gave him moving forward, per Larry Bohannan of the Desert Sun on Jan. 11:
I guess the biggest thing was just winning so early and how it set everything up and winning before the Masters. So it got me back there, which was my favorite tournament, (a) tournament I dreamed about my whole life of winning. And I was looking forward to getting back there and trying to do that again. But being player of the month (for January for the PGA Tour), it was just a lot of buzz early in the year, which was different. It was really cool.
Only one top-25 finish followed for the rest of the season after Gay was named the tour's player of the month last January, but he did tie for fourth at the McGladrey Classic in November.
Toms has a very similar type of game to that of Gay. Despite approaching the end of his career at age 47, he should be refreshed for his first event on the 2014 calendar, coming out firing at flags and rolling the rock well.
Harris English and Bill Haas
Winning the OHL Classic at Mayakoba gave English his second victory in what looks to be a promising career for the second-year sensation.
English bombs it off the tee and has been in great form as of late, tying for fourth in last week's Sony Open to add to his prior win, a tie for 11th at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and a tie for seventh in his second start of 2013-14 at the CIMB Classic.
That puts the 24-year-old third in the FedEx Cup standings behind only leader Jimmy Walker and Chris Kirk—an ideal start for the fledgling star.
Playing alongside him this week for the first three rounds will be Haas—the 2011 FedEx Cup champion and co-owner of most top-10 finishes last season with Brandt Snedeker and prodigy Jordan Spieth.
Four top-25 finishes to begin the current campaign hint that Haas isn't quite in midseason form so to speak, but that he is on the cusp of something special. With how stellar his iron play is, it would be no surprise to see Haas hold the trophy by week's end.
Zach Johnson and Keegan Bradley
Precision is the name of Johnson's game, and it's served him well already this season with a triumph at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and a follow-up tie for eighth at the Sony Open.
Following his win, Johnson expressed what kept him composed in the heat of contention, per Alan Shipnuck of Sports Illustrated: "What I've learned from the times that I haven't come through is that I didn't do what I had done to get into contention. So, in other words, just keep doing what you're doing. Try not to make the shot any more or less relevant than the next or the previous one."
All the experience Johnson has in big moments as a Masters champion, multiple Ryder Cup team member and 11-time PGA Tour winner has now made him a perennial favorite anytime he tees it up.
From the John Deere Classic through the end of last season, Johnson had just one finish outside of the top eight.
Along with the current fine start he's enjoying, his No. 6 spot in the world rankings is better than that of studs such as Rory McIlroy and other world-class players that rely more on their power to get by.
One of those is the 22nd-ranked Bradley, who hasn't tailored his game to weather elements just yet. However, he did finish No. 2 on tour in total driving in 2013 and should have plenty of short clubs in his hand to attack pins this week.
Brandt Snedeker and Rickie Fowler
Four top-three finishes kicked off an amazing first five events in the 2013 season for Snedeker, but his one lackluster finish in that stretch was a tie for 23rd at the Humana Challenge.
Who will win the 2014 Humana Challenge?
A two-month hiatus ended when he placed tied for 11th in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, suggesting that his health is restored. When Snedeker is on and his sometimes quick swing is in rhythm, the rest of the field is in serious danger due to his lethal putting ability.
As for Fowler, the pressure is on for him in 2013-14 to really break out. Now that he's 25, the 2010 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year is past his grace period for not winning more often than the one time at the Wells Fargo Championship in 2012.
This could be a case of the youngster quietly plotting his massive emergence, and he certainly has the explosiveness to get it done.
One major issue has been big numbers that even a birdie machine like Fowler can't compensate for often enough to get the results he should.
Fowler's Puma attire and precocious skills have garnered widespread recognition, but he's in line to take a big step under the tutelage of renowned swing instructor Butch Harmon. Golf Digest's Tim Rosaforte reported on Jan. 7 that Harmon has liked what he's seen from Fowler thus far:
Harmon said to expect a different takeaway, with Fowler's arms more in front of his body, and less rerouting of the club on the downswing. But what has Harmon excited has been Fowler's work ethic and attitude.
"I love the kid," Harmon said. "The thing I like is he's been saying 'I want to be known more for my golf than my clothes and my hat. I want to contend in majors."
If last season's big improvement with the flat iron (24th in strokes gained, 14th in total putting) can be complemented with a tighter swing and better approach shots, Fowler may make a lot of noise and win multiple times in the next several months.
A birdie-fest like the Humana Challenge may be just the place to start, but how his reworked swing holds up in his first competition will be a compelling storyline to monitor.
Note: Stats and information are courtesy of PGATour.com.