Phil Mickelson (pictured) is playing for the first time this season in the Humana Challenge, a tournament formerly known as the Bob Hope Classic. This is a pro-am event played over three courses at the La Quinta resort in California. Mickelson is generally at his best in tournaments leading up to the US Masters in April and is a worthy favorite.
Russell Henley is playing again, despite the mental demands of winning last week’s Sony Open in his first start as a member of the PGA Tour. Henley was tied for low amateur in the 2010 US Open and is one of the hottest players in the world.
Henley won two tournaments on the Web.com Tour at the back end of last season. He has now played his last 20 rounds of competitive golf under par. He birdied the last five holes in Hawaii last Sunday to clinch his first win on the main Tour.
The win takes Henley into the top 50 of the world rankings, gives him an exemption of almost three years and earns an invitation to the Masters. He has a game ideally suited to Augusta and could well contend. In any case even at this early stage of his career he looks a future major champion.
Each pro plays with a team of three amateurs over the first three days in California. The leading pros then play the final round at the PGA West Palmer Course on Sunday. The three host venues are relatively easy desert resort courses. Pin placements over the first three days are easy to help the amateurs.
The event is rather like an athletics race in that the stagger often means it can be difficult to see who is really in front. Only when every golfer has played each of the courses does the tournament take shape.
The La Quinta named course is the hardest of the three, the Nicklaus course is second hardest while the PGA West host course is the easiest, statistically by about two shots. The playing schedule for players over the first three days can be used to assess the potential for improvement relative to the rest of the field.