Jason Dufner: With a par on the second hole of sudden death, Jason Dufner won the 57th playing of the CareerBuilder Challenge in Partnership with the Clinton Foundation, prevailing over Sweden’s David Lingmerth in a two-man playoff after the pair had matched 72-hole aggregates of 25-under 263.
Playing in the penultimate threesome one group ahead of the would-be-champ, Lingmerth was first in the clubhouse on that mark following a bogey-free 7-under 65. He had a chance for one better in regulation, but his 20’5” birdie putt on the par-4 18th missed right (barely). Dufner, who led or co-led after all four rounds, had a chance to win on the 72nd hole as well, but missed a 19’1” birdie chance. The duo headed back to the 18th and Lingmerth recorded a routine two-putt par while Dufner scrambled for a one-putt version, calmly ramming-home a seven-footer.
The script was flipped on the second playing of the hole, with Dufner’s two-putt par eliminating the Swede, whose approach from the rough bounced off the rocks and into the water. For Dufner, it marked a return to the winner’s circle for the first time since the 2013 PGA Championship (48 events ago) and was his fourth TOUR title in his 241st career start. He improved his record in playoffs to 2-3, having also won the 2012 Zurich Classic of New Orleans in extra time.
Dufner, whose previous best in six CBC appearances was T12 in 2012, co-led with three others after a first-round 8-under 64 and led outright after 36 and 54 holes, respectively. He entered the finale with a two-shot lead over playing partner Jamie Lovemark, and by three over Canada’s Adam Hadwin, who completed the final threesome and would eventually finish T6. The 38-year-old was shaky from the outset, playing his first nine holes in a birdie-less 1-over, but fought back with four birdies against one bogey on his inward half, including three straight on Nos. 10-12 to wrap with a 2-under 70.
As is the case with just about every tournament winner, there’s typically an instance where luck plays a part and Dufner’s came at the par-3 17th on Sunday. His tee shot to the island green came to rest amongst the rocks but as fortune would have it, he had just enough room to get off a clean shot. With bogey staring him in the face – and a seemingly more likely result – he instead nearly holed-out for birdie and the stress level quickly evaporated with just a 13-inch tap-in for par.
With the win, Dufner leaps from No. 120 in the Official World Golf Ranking to 60th; posted his third straight top-10 finish for just the second time in his career (2012); jumps from 30th in the FedExCup standings to 8th with 700 points; and converted a 54-hole lead/co-lead for the third time in six tries, joining his wins at the 2012 Zurich Classic and the 2012 AT&T Byron Nelson.
What We Learned:
David Lingmerth: After opening in 68-68 and a career-tying low 62, Lingmerth recorded his second straight blemish-free round with 7-under 65, erasing a five-stroke deficit and forcing the playoff with 54-hole leader Dufner. The hard-charging Swede circled seven birdies in his final frame, including four over a six-hole stretch on the back nine, but ultimately would lose a playoff here for the second time, having also come up short in his 2012 tourney debut where he closed in 10-under 62. Incidentally, his 72-hole aggregate that year was the exact 263 that it was this year. The 28-year-old’s record in playoffs drops to 1-2 after overcoming a three-stroke deficit in the final round of the 2015 Memorial Tournament to force sudden death with Justin Rose. His subsequent par on the third extra hole at Muirfield Village was enough to claim his lone PGA TOUR title in his 68th start. Lingmerth’s runner-up this week is his third on TOUR in 83 career events and was his fourth top-15 finish in six events in 2015-16. It also moves him from 62nd in the Official World Golf Ranking to 36th and vaults him from 49th in the FedExCup standings to 13th.
Andrew Loupe: Interestingly enough, all three of Loupe’s cashes this season have gone for top 10s, while his other three starts resulted in missed cuts, so it’s feast-or-famine with the 27-year-old. Making his second CB Challenge appearance after a missed cut in 2014, Loupe opened with twin-66s and 67, and entered the finale six-adrift of Dufner in a five-way tie for fifth. He closed with 4-under 68 to move up two places into a three-way tie for third (Phil Mickelson, Kevin Na). As mentioned above, his T3 was his third top 10 of the season on six events, joining a pair of T10s at the Frys.com and the Sanderson Farms, and is also a career best on TOUR in 43 professional starts.
Phil Mickelson: The two-time CBC winner (2002, 2004) was making his 2016 debut having not played since going 3-0-1 at the Presidents Cup 15 weeks ago. In total, this was his 13th visit to La Quinta, but his first since splitting with eight-year coach Butch Harmon. The 45-year-old summed up his break from Harmon by stating, “I’ve learned a great deal from him… it’s just at the moment I need to hear new ideas from a different perspective.” The Hall-of-Famer showed no signs of rust or uncertainty this week, posting back-to-back bogey-free loops on Saturday and Sunday, both on the TPC Stadium Course, to share third on 21-under 267. He finished T25 for the tourney in greens in regulation (53/72) but holed-out four times for par breakers in true Phil-the-Thrill fashion.
Kevin Na: Playing in his 305th career TOUR event and sixth of the season, the 32-year-old birdied his final three holes on Sunday to join a three-way T3. It was his fourth podium of the season and moved him to No. 3 in the FedExCup standings. The Las Vegas resident was making his 12th CBC appearance and highlighted the week with a bogey-free 10-under 62 in R3 at the Nicklaus Tournament Course, matching Lingmerth for low 18 on day three and low round of the tournament. He played his final seven holes on Saturday in 8-under (B-B-B-B-E-B-B) for an inward 28. Na now owns 16 career runner-up or third-place finishes, but still has just the one win at the 2011 Shriners.
Surprises and Disappointments:
Luke List: The biggest surprise of the tournament had to be List. The Web.com Tour grad made his way back to the big stage for just the second time (and first since 2013) by finishing 22nd in the WCT Finals. He entered the week at No. 707 in the Official World Golf Ranking and catapulted to No. 497 after a career-best T6. It was his first top 10 on TOUR in his 37th professional start. The 31-year-old, who celebrated his birthday on Jan. 14th, posted rounds of 68-68-66-66 and on the two rounds of the week where it was tabulated (TPC Stadium Course), he finished first in the field in strokes gained: tee-to-green with a cumulative 6.859 mark. List toured the host course in bogey-free 10-under in rounds two and four.
Si Woo Kim: The 20-year-old entered the week off a career-best solo fourth at last week’s Sony Open where he took top honors of 21 first-timers. He chased with T9 this week and once again took the top spot among 24 debutantes in La Quinta. The Web.com Tour grad, making just his 15th career start on the PGA TOUR, posted rounds of 67-71-64-67. He heads to Torrey Pines for this week’s Farmers Insurance Open where he’s making yet another tournament debut.
Bill Haas: The defending champ and two-time CBC winner (2010) lost in a playoff here in 2011 in his first title defense. The 33-year-old put up a spirited fight this year, but alas, did not have enough firepower to contend. His 19 birdies on the week ranked just T40 in the field, but he secured a two-way T9 with two eagles and just four bogeys. It was his fifth top-10 finish at the CareerBuilder in 12 appearances.
Ryan Palmer: After opening in 67-66-66, Palmer played out of the penultimate threesome on Sunday and entered the finale T5. He closed in a disappointing 1-over 73, while his two playing partners, Lingmerth and Na, raced into contention. The 39-year-old had put up three straight top 10s at the CBC and four in his last five visits, including runner-up in 2014, but he ended down 12 spots on the day to T17, erasing four birdies with three bogeys and a double in the finale.
Bud Cauley: Playing this season on a Major Medical Extension – out of the Web.com Tour reshuffle – Cauley posted a T14 on rounds of 72-65-66-68. It was his first top 25 on TOUR since T4 at The Greenbrier Classic in 2014. The 25-year-old, who didn’t play any TOUR events in the 2014-15 season after shoulder surgery, had entered the week with two missed cuts in his only two starts thus far in 2015-16.
Jamie Lovemark: Lovemark celebrated his 28th birthday (Jan. 23rd) and entered championship Sunday in solo second, two adrift of Dufner. After opening in 65-65-65, he fell apart with 1-over 73. Looking for his first win in his 63rd professional start, Lovemark swallowed three doubles over his final 12 holes after finding water hazards on each, eventually settling for T6. His consolation is his third straight top-10 finish after posting back-to-backs already for the first time in his career. Prior to his final-round debacle, he had posted five consecutive 65s dating back to the Sony Open.
The PGA TOUR stays in California for this week’s Farmers Insurance Open where World No. 2 Jason Day defends his title after winning last year’s edition in a four-man playoff. Stay tuned to this space for all the latest player news and opinions as the TOUR readies for its 11th tournament of the season.