10 Players to Watch: CareerBuilder Challenge
- Patrick Reed, United States — Coming off a tie for sixth in the SBS Tournament of Champions two weeks ago despite fighting an illness, Reed returns to the California desert where he won what was then the Humana Challenge in 2014. He started with three straight scores of 63, setting a PGA Tour record of 27-under-par for 54 holes, to build a seven-stroke lead. Even though he didn’t have the same stuff in the last round, he closed with a 71 that was highlighted by a 15-foot birdie putt at the 15th hole and held off Ryan Palmer by two strokes. Reed, the highest-ranked player in the field this week at No. 9 in the world, is playing in the old Bob Hope Classic for the fourth time and a tie for 24th as defending champion two years ago is his second-best result.
- Bill Haas, United States — It’s safe to say that this probably is Haas’ favorite regular-season event on the PGA Tour since two of his six victories on the circuit have come in the California desert. He won what was still the Bob Hope Classic, a 90-hole event, for his first title in 2010 by closing with a 64 that beat Tim Clark of South Africa, Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar by one stroke. Two years ago, Haas shot 63 in the second round and eventually held off five players by one shot, saying he surprised himself since he was coming off a broken wrist that hampered him in 2014. He is playing in the event for the 13th time and also lost in a playoff to Jhonattan Vegas in his title defense in 2011, tied for sixth in 2014 and tied for ninth last year. Haas has finished in the top 20 in all four of his starts in the new season.
- Jason Dufner, United States — The defending champion in the CareerBuilder Challenge, Duf claimed his fourth PGA Tour victory last year with a five-foot par putt on the second playoff hole to turn back David Lingmerth of Sweden. He claimed his first title since the 2013 PGA Championship thanks to a remarkable save from the rocks after nearly hitting into the water on the 17th hole while closing with a 70 (after he started 64-65-64), and then stayed alive with an 11-foot par putt on the first extra hole. Dufner is playing in the tournament for the eighth time and his best previous finish was a tie for 12th in 2012, when he shot 63 in the second round. He is playing for the third time this season, having finished 21st in the WGC-HSBC Champions, where he opened with 68-68 but played the weekend in 72-75, and he shot 65-73 to miss the cut last week at the Sony Open in Hawaii.
- Phil Mickelson, United States — Lefty has been on the commitment list for quite some time, but he didn’t confrim until Wednesday that he will play in the tournament because he is coming off two hernia surgeries in recent months. He was going to be on the scene for one of his favorite tournaments one way or the other because he now is the CareerBuilder Challenge’s ambassador, a position formerly held by Arnold Palmer and former President Bill Clinton. Mickelson has played in the tournament 13 times previously and won it in 2002 in a playoff over David Berganio Jr., and in 2004 in a playoff over Jeff Sluman, for two of his 42 PGA Tour victories. He tied for third last year, tied for fifth in 2006 and tied for sixth in 2003. In his only start of the new season, Mickelson tied for eighth in the Safeway Open in October before the first of his surgeries.
- Francesco Molinari, Italy — Making his first start of 2017 on either major tour, Molinari hopes to continue riding the hot streak he has been on since he captured the Italian Open by one stroke over Danny Willett of England in September for his sixth professional victory. He later tied for sixth in the WGC-HSBC Champions in China and tied for fourth in both the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open and the DP World Tour Championship-Dubai. Molinari’s finish in the European Tour finale left him 19th in the Race to Dubai standings and he was the only player in the top 20 to compete in fewer than 10 events. He played eighth, while Rory McIlroy, who played 14, finished fifth. Molinari will tee it up for the third time in the CareerBuilder Challenge and he was in the hunt much of the way two years ago after opening with 64 on his way to a tie for 10th, but he managed only a tie for 62nd last year.
- Zach Johnson, United States — Following what was a down year for the two-time major champion, Johnson got 2017 off to a strong start last week when he tied for sixth at the Sony Open in Hawaii, highlighted by a 61 in round two. He posted only five top-10 finishes last season and really hasn’t played his best golf since he won the 2015 Open Championship at St. Andrews by beating Marc Leishman of Australia and Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa in a four-hole aggregate playoff. His only sustained run of success last year came when he posted four straight top-20 results, highlighted by a tie for eighth in the U.S. Open at Oakmont. Zach is making his seventh appearance in the CareerBuilder Challenge and he missed the cut the last two years after posting his best result in 2014, a tie for third. He closed with a 62 that year and wound up three strokes behind winner Patrick Reed.
- Emilano Grillo, Argentina — The PGA Tour’s Rookie of the Year in 2016 will tee it up for the first time this year and is making his debut in the CareerBuilder Challenge. He started the new season with a solid run late last year, as after tying for 26th in the Safeway Open, he tied for 17th in the CIMB Classic in Malaysia, finished solo 11th in the WGC-HSBC Champions and tied for 10th in the CIMB Classic at Mayakoba. In his first PGA Tour event as a full-fledged member, Grillo beat Kevin Na with a three-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole of the 2015-16 opener, the Frys.com Open. The Argentine got into the playoff by sinking a 25-foot birdie putt on the final hole of regulation to close out a 69. He nearly became a two-time winner in his first season on the circuit, but Alex Cejka of Germany beat him and two others with a birdie on the first extra hole at the Puerto Rico Open.
- Jon Rahm, Spain — The Spaniard earned his PGA Tour card in only five starts after coming out of Arizona State last year, most notably tying for second in the RBC Canadian Open and tying for third in the Quicken Loans National, where he impressed tournament host Tiger Woods. Rahm joined Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth and only five other players in history to earn their PGA cards on the course right out of college. He started his first full season on the circuit with ties for 15th in both the Safeway Open and the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open last fall. He showed he could play with the big boys when he tied for fifth in the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open and tied for 10th in the 2016 OHL Classic at Mayakoba, before tying for 23rd in the U.S. Open last June to finish as low amateur.
- Charles Howell III, United States — Even though Howell hasn’t won since his second PGA Tour victory in the 2007 Nissan Open, he continues to put up good results and started the new season with four finishes in the top 25, including a tie for seventh in the OHL Classic at Mayakoba and a tie for eighth last week at the Sony Open in Hawaii. He is making his 12th appearance in what is now the CareerBuilder Challenge and came close to breaking through for another victory in 2013. Howell closed with a 64 to land in a playoff with David Lingmerth of Sweden and Brian Gay, who won with a five-foot birdie putt on the second extra hole. Howell’s only other top-10 finish in what was then the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic was a tie for sixth in 2002, the first year he played in the California desert.
- Jamie Lovemark, United States — The 2007 NCAA champion from USC might finally be on the verge of the stardom that was predicted for him when he turned pro and was the 2010 Nationwide Tour (now Web.com Tour) Player of the Year before a back injury derailed him. He started the year with a tie for fourth last week at the Sony Open in Hawaii after tying for sixth in his previous start at the RSM Classic in November. Lovemark, who won twice on the Nationwide Tour, still has not claimed a victory on the PGA Tour, but twice has lost in playoffs, including last year to Brian Stuard on the second extra hole at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. He is making his sixth start in what is now the CareerBuilder Challenge and his best previous result was a tie for 48th in 2009 before he made a run for the title last year. Lovemark opened with three 65s, but a 73 in the final round left him in a tie for sixth.
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