Humana Challenge experts' picks

January, 14, 2014

Each week of the season, our experts share their insights into which players fit the criteria for our four categories: Horse for the Course (a golfer who knows the track inside and out), Birdie Buster (a guy who could take it low this week), Super Sleeper (a player who could unexpectedly contend) and Winner.

This week's tournament: the Humana Challenge at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif.

Horse for the Course

Michael Collins, senior golf analyst:  Pat Perez. He won here in 2009 and, although I realize he missed the cut last year, Pat has two things that make for success at this pro-am-style tournament. First, his attitude with amateur partners is perfect. Second, he has figured out the subtle breaks on greens that can seem tricky to read.

Farrell Evans, senior golf writer:  Webb Simpson. The former U.S. Open champion is first on tour in scoring average (68.343) and second in strokes gained putting. To win the birdie-laden Humana Challenge, the 28-year-old former Wake Forest star will need to continue his high marks in these statistical categories. Simpson might have missed the cut here last year, but he won in October in Las Vegas, another tour event notorious for yielding low scores.

Bob Harig, senior golf writer:  Charles Howell III. A playoff loser here a year ago, Howell is also off to a strong start in the 2013-14 season, with four top-10s, including a tie for eighth last week in Hawaii.

Kevin Maguire, senior golf editor: Keegan Bradley. He has played the event only once, but his T-7 finish in 2011 should give him some good vibes as he makes his first start in 2014.

Birdie Buster

Collins:  Ben Crane. What's the perfect venue for a guy who can be deliberately slow? A pro-am that takes five-and-a-half hours to play per round. Plus, when he makes this tournament his first start of a season, he does not play well. This is his fourth start of the season, so you should expect a top-10 finish.

Evans:  Charles Howell III. With four top-10s in his first six starts in the new wraparound season, the 34-year-old Augusta, Ga., native leads the PGA Tour in top-10s. He had a tie for eighth last week at the Sony, where he shot two 66s on the weekend.

Harig:  Harris English. The two-time PGA Tour winner won the last event of 2013 and contended again last week at the Sony Open, finishing fourth.

Maguire:  Pat Perez. Coming off his first top-10 finish since July, Perez is a past champion at the Humana Challenge, having won the event in 2009 for his lone PGA Tour victory.

Super Sleeper

Collins:  Aaron Baddeley. Last year was the first time since 2005 that he teed it up in the tournament, and he finished 27th. This season, Badds already has a top-five finish in his pocket (CIMB), allowing him to play pressure-free as he starts his West Coast swing.

Evans:  Jerry Kelly. At 47, the Wisconsin native is nearing the end of his stellar regular tour career, but he's still one of the game's fiercest grinders. At the Sony, he had a third-place finish, his best showing on tour since a third at the 2011 Honda Classic.

Harig:  Kevin Na. He missed a good chunk of last year to injury but has rebounded nicely, with a couple of top-10s in the start to the new season, including a tie for eighth last week at the Sony Open.

Maguire:  John Daly. Fashion-challenged Daly showed he can still put up a few good numbers with his T-32 last week at the Sony Open, where he went 66-73-64-70 on the par-70 layout. If he can gain any measure of consistency and avoid the doubles and triples that plagued him in Hawaii, a top-20 finish isn't out of the question.


Collins:  Jeff Overton. Talk about taking full advantage of the new wraparound schedule! Overton has played six events, missing only one cut with two top-10s, two top-20s, and a top-25. I'd say that puts him in midseason form and in prime position to get his very first PGA Tour win.

Evans:  Harris English. The lanky 24-year-old Georgia native, in his third year on tour, is a rising star on the PGA Tour. Much of the conversation on the young guns has been about Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler, but English could turn out to be the best of them all by the end of his career. Last week at the Sony, English had a fourth-place finish. In November, he won at Mayakoba.

Harig:  Bill Haas. The 2010 champion is an annual participant in the Humana tournament and also has a playoff loss in 2011. Over his past 27 rounds at the three venues used for the tournament, he has been under par. He is making his first start in 2014 and looks to win for the sixth time in his PGA Tour career.

Maguire:  Hudson Swafford. With all the talk at the Sony Open about the Georgia stars (such as top-four finishers Harris English and Chris Kirk), it's recent Bulldogs standout Swafford who nabs that first PGA Tour win this week in the desert.





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