Bob Hope Classic: 10 Golfers Guaranteed To Be on the Leaderboard

Will Leivenberg@@will_leivenbergFeatured ColumnistJanuary 20, 2011

Bob Hope Classic: 10 Golfers Guaranteed To Be on the Leaderboard

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    HONOLULU, HI - JANUARY 15:  Matt Kuchar plays a shot on the 6th hole during the second round of the Sony Open at Waialae Country Club on January 15, 2011 in Honolulu, Hawaii.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    Between David Duval’s sizzling Sunday 59 in 1999, Phil Mickelson’s record 37 birdies in 2004, and the unbelievable eight hole in one’s carded in 2009, the Bob Hope Classic never ceases to astonish.

    This week will be no different. Expect a birdie rampage with the winner at 30 or more under par by Saturday.

    Unlike any other event on the PGA Tour, the Bob Hope began Wednesday and takes place over four days on four different courses in Palm Springs, CA: Silver Rock Resort, La Quinta Country Club, Palmer Private at PGA West and Nicklaus Private at PGA West.

    The desert courses are notorious for their Pete Dye-esque design with elevated greens, numerous water features, deep and dramatic sand traps and narrow fairways hugged by treacherous hazards. All the courses are set against the backdrop of the Santa Rosa Mountains of the Coachella Valley.

    Pummeling drives and hitting precise iron shots will not be enough to take home the glory this week. Players will need to hone in on their accuracy on every level of the game, especially with the most decisive element—putting. These desert putting greens have a reputation for severe slopes and quickness.

    While each of the courses put a premium on accuracy and shot-making abilities, only those able to decipher the speedy, puzzling putting greens will be propelled to the top of the leaderboard come Saturday.

Ricky Barnes

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    Ricky Barnes opened his 2011 season with eight birdies and a single bogey en route to a terrific seven-under-par 65. 

    Currently two shots of the lead, Barnes has the kind of precision with his irons and meticulous nature on the greens that could deem him a factor down the stretch of this tournament. Last season, Barnes ranked fifth in putting between five and 10 feet, which indicates how deadly Barnes can be if he finds his groove with his irons.

    Considering Barnes has never been the longest off the tee, averaging just 285 yards in 2010, he will need to keep it in the fairway and play aggressively with his irons to set up his rhythmic putting stroke.

    Though Barnes has never won on the PGA Tour, he had a magnificent showing two years ago at the US Open, where he finished tied for second at Bethpage behind Lucas Glover. He officially entered the spotlight when he won the US Amateur in 2002 over Hunter Mahan.

    Don’t rule out the hard-swinging Barnes for a high finish at the Bob Hope.

JJ Henry

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    Imagine beginning your first tournament of the new season with an eagle. Well that’s just what JJ Henry did before carding seven more birdies and a single bogey for an opening round eight-under-par 64.

    To be blunt, such a low score seems a bit unexpected out of Henry, who ranks outside the top 50 in most stats and finished in the top 10 just twice last season in 19 of 27 cuts.

    But as unlikely as his score may have been, he had everything going his way Wednesday and is currently just one shot off the lead. Other than winning the Buick Championship in 2006, Henry has basically fallen off the radar until now. He proved Wednesday that he’s still got the game to be a threat to his competition, and after such a solid start he may the potential to make some noise this week.

Boo Weekley

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    Nicknamed Boo for Yogi Bear’s sidekick, Boo Boo Bear, Weekley caught fire in the opening round with eight birdies and a single bogey for a seven-under-par 65.

    Boo’s advantage this week, and almost every time he steps onto a golf course, is his striking precision with his irons. Last year he ranked 17th in greens in regulation, sixth in ball striking and seventh in approaches from 75 to 100 yards on Tour.

    Though some perceive him as an inconsistent putter, Weekley is a two-time PGA Tour winner (Verizon Heritage ‘07, ’08) and has proved his short-game prowess under pressure. Weekley performed consistently last week at the Sony Open, shooting rounds of 68-66-69-70 en route to finishing tied for 27th.

    Between his momentum from last week and his jovial, give-it-all attitude, this may be Boo's week.

Kevin Na

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    Aside from his short temper and rather arrogant personality, there’s no doubting Kevin Na’s exceptional putting skills.

    In 2010, he ranked 21st in putting average and eighth in putts per round, letting his putter do the talking in one of his most successful seasons as a professional yet. 

    Last season at this event, Na finished tied for eighth after four brilliant rounds of 66-67-69-66. He began this week with a three-under-par 69. While Na does not clobber the ball off the tee like a Phil Mickelson or Dustin Johnson, he relies on his craftiness on and around the greens to generate birdies.

    After his solid finish last season at the Bob Hope and promising start this week, Na may grab another top-10 finish at this illustrious event.

Matt Kuchar

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    Betting that Matt Kuchar will finish in the top 10 has become almost as common as Kobe Bryant hitting the game-winning shot or Rafael Nadal whipping a backhand ace to clinch the match.

    He's that good.

    After leading the PGA Tour with 11 top 10 finishes last season, he began 2011 at Kapalua tied for sixth and then made the exhaustive journey to Maui, where he finished tied for fifth.  He’s two-for-two thus far in 2011 and after his opening round 66 at the Bob Hope, the chances of another top-10 finish are more than in his favor.

    While Kuchar continues to rack up top-10 finishes like the Fed acquires debt, Kuchar has a better chance than almost any other player in this field to hoist the trophy under the desert sun on Saturday. Oh, and by the way, Kuchar finished tied for second in this event last season, shooting four consecutive rounds in descending order, 69-67-65-63.

Ryan Palmer

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    Unfortunately, in 2010 Ryan Palmer ranked 152nd in a stat you’d really prefer to do well in—scoring average before the cut (71.26). Ironically, Palmer seems to find his groove if he does enter the weekend, ranking 11th in round three scoring average (69.13) and second in final round scoring average (68.71).

    Now that the 2011 season has begun, maybe Palmer will start anew, which he seems to have already done after his blistering opening round five-under-par 67.

    This week, Palmer has a lot of ammunition: 295 yards off the tee, 10th in putting average and a 3.92 birdie-per-round average last season, which bodes well on these vulnerable desert courses.

Kevin Streelman

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    Riding the momentum of finishing tied for 10th at last season’s Bob Hope Classic as well as a string of seven consecutive cuts made at the end of 2010, Kevin Streelman is one of the most underrated players in the field this week.

    Currently three-under-par after his opening round, Streelman's depth off the tee and precise iron play fits this course well.

    In each of the last four seasons, Streelman has continued to evolve, improving various elements of his game from shot-making to driving accuracy. Last season he earned a career high five top-10 finishes, highlighted by a sensational finish at the Barclays, where he was tied for third.

    This week, Streelman looks primed for a high finish, but it will all depend on the flat stick. In 2010, his putting was a bit erratic, ranking 31st in putting average and 58th in putts per round. While he’s reliable off the tee and solid with his irons, the only way he will enter the top 10 this week will be if he can harness his touch on the greens.

Bubba Watson

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    In 2010, Bubba Watson broke through into the upper echelon of the PGA Tour with his victory at the Travelers Championship, second place at the PGA Championship, effective role on the American Ryder Cup Team and overall consistency throughout the season. 

    The man who clobbers the golf ball over 315 yards on average proved in 2010 that he was also a force to be reckoned with on the putting greens, creating a new form of intimidation for his competitors. He rose to prominence in 2010 with an early, sizzling start at the Bob Hope, finishing tied for second after rounds of 62-68-69-66.

    Yesterday, he began the same event in the new year with a six-under-par 66, looking close to flawless except for a single bogey. Watson’s gargantuan length off the tee provides an overwhelming advantage, especially at the longer courses featured for this event, which span more than 7,500 yards.

    If Watson can avoid big numbers, remain consistent with his driver and play aggressively with his irons, hopefully his putter will do the rest and earn him the victory he came so close to last season.

Mark Wilson

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    After Mark Wilson’s sensational victory last week at the Sony Open, it’s hard to imagine that he doesn’t feel an extra pep in his step that may once again propel him up the leaderboard at this week’s Bob Hope Classic.

    Wilson shot a three-under-par 69 Wednesday, currently six shots off the leader Derek Lamely.

    Wilson looked unflappable last week in Maui, carding rounds of 65-67-65-67 en route to his third PGA Tour victory of his career. This week, Wilson’s main objective is to find the fairway because it will set up clean, comfortable iron shots, which has been the most effective element. In 2010, he ranked 12th in greens in regulation and second in the same category with the 150-175 yard range.

    Hopefully he can channel his touch from last week on the putting greens, where he averaged just over 27 putts per round. For Wilson to continue his surge of momentum, he must emphasize his strengths and minimize mistakes in the volatile areas of his game.

Bill Haas

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    Not only does Bill Haas have the momentum from winning the Bob Hope Classic last year, but he’s coming off a terrific eighth place finish at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions two weeks ago at Kapalua.

    In his opening round of the 2011 Bob Hope, Haas made just four birdies and a bogey for a three-under-par 69. Similar to his play at Kapalua, where he had just four bogeys over the four days, Haas showed once more yesterday that he is a player who doesn’t make a whole lot of mistakes.

    His accuracy off the tee fused with his accurate iron play and rhythmic putting stroke make this 28 year old a threat to the field because he won’t make many big numbers.

    This week, make no mistake, it will be all about birdies. Hopefully Haas can hark back to his play last year, when he won the event with four rounds of 66-66-66-64.