The 2016 CareerBuilder Challenge in partnership with the Clinton Foundation is next up on the docket, and there is a change in the course rotation to note as we dive into this week’s research. It is also worth mentioning that this tournament features a pro-am format, meaning play is spread across three different courses for the first 54 holes before everyone still remaining comes together on one course for the final round. While Bill Haas is defending, only 18 of the holes will be familiar.
TPC Stadium Course will serve as the host, with those vying for the title lapping it once during the first three rounds and a second time in Sunday’s finale. This is the first time since 1987 that TPC Stadium Course has been in the rotation. Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course joins it for 2016 as the other newbie. The only venue returning from 2015 is La Quinta Country Club. Typically, this tournament has been known as a birdie fest. Worth watching for 2016 is if it remains that way.
Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course and La Quinta Country Club are both par-72 layouts of under 7,200 yards that each feature the full bevy of four par 5s, four par 3s and 10 par 4s. Expect the field to torch these two, with scoring averages in the upper 60s or very low 70s and multiple sub-65 scores on each.
TPC Stadium Course is a different animal. It requires a little more time and effort to properly research. The stats are innocent enough. Only 7,113 yards and playing to a par of 72 with four par 5s, it would seem on paper to be just as much of a birdie fest as the others. Not so on this Pete Dye design. There is water everywhere, including just in front of three of the four par 5s, bringing risk and big numbers into play on multiple holes.
While Nicklaus Tournament and La Quinta are yielding birdies and eagles, don’t be surprised if the TPC Stadium Course looks more like TPC Sawgrass. That could make this a very bipolar tournament, with certain guys shining on one type of course, while others step up on the other type. That also presents us with a research nightmare.
Yahoo! gamers would be wise to make sure and avoid TPC Stadium Course in each of the first three rounds at almost any cost.
Breaking it Down
While course history can’t be completely thrown out the window, it’s not nearly as relevant as in past years. That pushes the edge to current form and statistical fit.
It’s very likely that the winner of this tournament will be somewhere in the 10- to 13-under-par range following two rounds on the Nicklaus Tournament and La Quinta courses. In all likelihood, there will be roughly a dozen players who can pull this off. The difference is that the eventual winner will figure out a way to get another five-to-seven-under over the 36 holes at TPC Stadium Course.
Because of the discrepancy between courses, the class of the field is more likely to rise to the top this week than in previous editions of this tournament.
There’s no way around it. Birdies need to happen in bunches in certain segments of this event, so par breakers must be considered. Since there are 16 par 5s to be contested, par 5 scoring average is much more in play this week than in the average week. The edition of TPC Stadium Course probably shifts the strokes gained metric from putting to tee-to-green. Throw in the need for proximity due to the water around Pete Dye’s test, and you have your stats cocktail.
To switch things up a bit, let’s take this on as a power ranking. To throw a disclaimer out there, this is not a predicted order of finish. Rather, it is a valuation of each golfer relative to a wide range of games.
Here we go!
1 Matt Kuchar – There are several things lining up well for the veteran this week. For starters, he played last week in the Sony Open and posted a respectable T13. It also helps that he has twice been a runner-up in this event, ironically to Bill Haas on both occasions. Perhaps the biggest ace in his deck is his ability to adapt to all types of courses and play well on both tough and easy layouts.
2 Patrick Reed – He checks all of the boxes as well. One only has to look back to the Hyundai Tournament of Champions to see a solo-second finish. After skipping the Sony Open, he turns his attention to an event where he is a past champion. His ability to navigate TPC Stadium Course is the only concern, as we know he can take it deep on the easier courses.
3 Bill Haas – This is his second time defending at the CareerBuilder Challenge, with the first coming in 2011 where he lost in a playoff. Clearly the pressure of a title defense isn’t a problem. He is not in excellent form, but his affinity for golf in a dome at this particular event is impossible to ignore.
4 Zach Johnson – The putter let ZJ down over the weekend at the Sony Open. That must improve if he is to hoist the hardware this week. It would seem that he is one of the players with a shot to make up some ground on TPC Stadium Course by keeping it in play off the tee and wedging it close on the par 5s. The Pete Dye layout won’t intimidate him.
5 Charles Howell III – CH3 is quietly hot. This is the player we’ve seen so many times this time of year, as he’s logged five top 20s in six starts to begin the 2015-16 season in what is the most forgettable part of the season. He also has two top 10s in this event, with a P2 in 2013 the clear highlight.
6 Daniel Summerhays – He’s going to pop soon, and this is a place where it could happen. His T13 at the Sony Open last week is one of three top 20s to start the season. He tied for 11th here back in 2011, but that is now ancient history. Stats line up pretty well.
7 Jason Dufner – Back-to-back PGA TOUR top 10s, with a T9 at Sea Island preceding his T9 at the Sony Open. If ball-striking proves to be a premium, he should be right in the mix.
8 David Lingmerth – A really intriguing player this week, as he lost in a playoff in this event his first time back in 2013 and also lost in a playoff at TPC Sawgrass. Success on both of those layouts could be a lethal combination. Posted a pair of top-15 finishes in Hawaii the last two weeks.
9 Ryan Palmer – Gamers should feel pretty good after watching him post a T13 in the Sony Open. He has five top 10s in 11 trips to the CareerBuilder Challenge, including a couple of top fours, making him a tempting option.
10 Kevin Na – Another guy with a good mix of Pete Dye success at Sawgrass and the ability to take it low, expect Na to improve on a history that’s seen him nab just two top 25s in 11 previous stops in this event.
11 Si Woo Kim – While he struggled on the back nine on Sunday at the Sony Open, eventually finishing fourth, Kim is inching his way into the conversation for bigger and better things. He’s earned top 20s in each of his last three PGA TOUR starts.
12 Charley Hoffman – Current form isn’t what one would hope entering the event, but a great history in this event that includes a win in 2007 and top 10s in his last three trips (P2 last year) makes him impossible to fade any further until he proves otherwise.
13 William McGirt – Strong current form meets rather average course history in this one, but we’ve already established that course history requires an asterisk anyway. McGirt’s T13 last week was the worst of his last three finishes. He was tops in this week’s statistical analysis for those that made it through the early research cuts, with solid marks in strokes gained: tee-to-green, proximity, par breakers and par 5 scoring average.
14 Webb Simpson – Big check mark when it comes to excellent ball-striking, but his putting is a major question mark. He has two top 10s and four top 25s in six previous stops at the CareerBuilder Challenge. His T13 at the Sony Open last week was enough to vault him into the top 15.
15 Graham DeLaet – The Canuck has cashed in all three of his events here, with a T18 the best, and enters off a T7 in last week’s Sony Open. The change in course rotation could play right into his hands.
Phil Mickelson – Lefty makes his debut in the 2015-16 season in an event where he is a two-time winner. He could make it three this week, or he could miss the cut. That’s just the deal with him these days.
Francesco Molinari – Narrowly missed the top 15, and would have made the cut if his Sony Open would have produced something better than a T33. He’s second in par 5 scoring average, but that only includes his eight attempts on short par 5s at Waialae CC.
Kevin Chappell – Owns a top 10 in this event back in 2013 and makes his first appearance on TOUR since a runner-up at Sea Island at the end of 2015.
Harold Varner III – The rookie continues to put himself in position for good things, bagging a T13 in Hawaii last week. It’s too early to tell if this event will be a great fit for him, but when he finds that right layout he will be dangerous.
Robert Streb – Off to a slow start in 2015-16 compared to an awesome beginning to 2014-15. Worth watching closely to see if he rebounds now that the eyes are off him.
Check out Playing the Tips later this week for a look all of the Rotoworld staff picks for the CareerBuilder Challenge.