Humana Challenge experts' picks

January, 17, 2012
01/17/12
12:33
PM ET

The PGA Tour has returned to the mainland after two weeks in Hawaii. The Humana Challenge replaces the old Bob Hope Classic. This tour stop has a new name and a new format.

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

This week's tournament: Humana Challenge in Palm Springs, California

Want another opinion? Check out ESPN.com's FOREcaster page.

Horse for the Course


Michael Collins, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Kevin Streelman
He combines the three things you need to be successful at this tournament. First, he's sneaky long. Other than Pat Perez in '09, every winner since 2007 has been a guy who can get it out there off the tee. Second, he's not scared to go low: In his past 10 rounds, he's 39 under par at this tournament. And most importantly, he's good with amateurs. Three out of four rounds will be with hacks who need your attention. Streelman is great with them, and it helps his game, too.

Farrell Evans, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Bill Haas
In 2010, the 29-year-old former Wake Forest star won the Humana Challenge by shooting 30 under par for what was then a 90-hole event. And last year on his way to winning the FedEx Cup playoffs, he lost in a playoff to Jhonny Vegas. Jay's son shouldn't be slowed down this year by the tournament's being slimmed to 72 holes and three golf courses.

Bob Harig, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Bill Haas
The reigning FedEx Cup champion has played this tournament every year since 2005, having won it two years ago with a playoff loss last year.

Kevin Maguire, ESPN.com senior golf editor: Phil Mickelson
In nine career starts at the Humana, Lefty's average finish is 12th, which is helped by two career victories in the event. He's making his PGA Tour season debut a little early this year, so it'll be interesting to see how fresh his game is after the offseason layoff. But Mickelson is never one to shy away from going low, which is interesting because his best round in the event is 63 on courses that routinely surrender lower numbers and where a 59 watch seems to be a daily occurrence.


Birdie Buster


Michael Collins: Matt Kuchar
Making his 2012 PGA tour debut, he didn't play in the event last year but tied for second in 2010. He's infamous for starting the year off fast, so expect him to do the same this year.

Farrell Evans: Harrison Frazar
The 40-year-old Texan has been rock solid so far in 2012 with a T-5 at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and T-2 at the Sony Open. Frazar, who finally got his first PGA Tour win last year at the FedEx St. Jude Classic after 355 starts, has a chance this week to tie his career best of three consecutive top-10s, a feat he accomplished in 2005.

Bob Harig: Charles Howell III
A cash machine, Howell continues to rack up high finishes without victories. He is coming off a tie for second at the Sony Open, where he finished 2 strokes behind winner Johnson Wagner.

Kevin Maguire: Matt Kuchar
In five starts at the Humana Challenge, Kuchar has earned nearly $600K, which isn't a bad average yearly salary, much less for one PGA Tour stop. He starts off his 2012 PGA Tour season hoping to get that first victory out of the way early, but a top-10 is more like his style of late.


Super Sleeper


Michael Collins: Vaughn Taylor
"The Ninja" is coming off his quietest year on the PGA Tour, and he had to return to Q-school to get his PGA Tour card back. But he got married this winter and has the game to do well at an event where he's never missed a cut in all five times he's played.

Farrell Evans: Briny Baird
At the beginning of last season, Baird didn't have full playing privileges on the PGA Tour. By the end of the year, on the strength of a second at the Frys.com Open, the 39-year-old Valdosta State grad had secured his card and new confidence headed into 2012. No one in PGA Tour history has made more money than Baird without a win. His $12.4 million in career earnings ranks him 87th on the all-time money list.

Bob Harig: Justin Leonard
He is coming off a disappointing season, but Leonard loves the desert, having played this tournament every year going back to 2000 and 14 times total. He won it in 2005.

Kevin Maguire: David Duval
Don't be fooled by Jhonny Vegas' victory here last year. He was the first rookie to win this event in the past 52 years. Experience plays a big key, and Duval has teed it up in the desert 16 times in his career, including a T-25 last year. That, unfortunately for Duval, was one of his better finishes of 2011.


Winner


Michael Collins: Bill Haas
Well-rested after skipping the Sony Open, he won in 2010, lost in a playoff to Jhonny Vegas last year. Even with winning more than $12 million last year, he has the Ryder Cup on his mind this year and knows a win might just shore up his spot.

Farrell Evans: Dustin Johnson
The laid-back 27-year-old Myrtle Beach resident has rehired his caddie, Bobby Brown, after firing him last year to hire Joe LaCava, who dumped him for Tiger Woods. The Humana Challenge, where birdies will be aplenty, will be Johnson's first event of the season. In 2011, Johnson was fourth on tour in birdie average with 4.20 per round.

Bob Harig: Phil Mickelson
We'll see how active Lefty has been in the offseason, but he's won this tournament twice, including 2004, and that jump-started a great year.

Kevin Maguire: Bill Haas
He lost in a playoff last year and won this event in 2010, so it's fair to say he's taken a liking to desert golf. Haas has broken 70 in each of his past 20 rounds in the event, which is important because this week stands out as the birdie fest of all birdie fests. It might be the only tournament on the PGA Tour where you can shoot a 68 and lose ground to the field.

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