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Michelson Uncertain but Field Still Strong for CareerBuilder Challenge

Most golfing eyes will be on Abu Dhabi this week as the biggest names tee off in the European Tour. All the other golfing eyes are still probably stretched apart in shock still, reeling at the impressive Justin Thomas and his dismantling of Hawaiian golf courses and fellow PGA Tour pros over the last two weeks.

If you can look away from the European action for a second, or recover from the surprise of Thomas, the CareerBuilder Challenge still has an excellent field to follow. Let’s check out the key talking points from this week’s PGA Tour action:

The Course

The PGA West TPC Stadium course is an absolute brute. Long, difficult and once described by golf columnist Jim Murray as needing “a camel, a canoe, a priest and a tourniquet to get through”. The Pete Dye-designed golf course is over 7300 yards from the championship tees and is often ranked as one of the best courses in America. It often also features in lists of the most difficult courses in America. A stadium course because of the naturally sculpted spectator seating, the course is used to grandstand finishes as the venue for PGA Tour qualifying school tournaments every other year. The reason for the excitement? The island green on the 17th, nicknamed Alcatraz, and the difficult water-logged 18th.

The event’s pro-am format also will utilise PGA West’s Nicklaus Tournament course (7,159/72) and La Quinta Country Club (7,060/72) in the first three rounds.

The Defending Champion

Jason Dufner ended a victory drought of nearly 2 ½ years and notched his fourth career victory (and first since winning his sole major at the 2013 PGA Championship at Oak Hill) when he won here last year. His win is largely remembered for the miraculous par he made on 17, known now as an escape from Alcatraz.

Dufner tugged his 8-iron right and instead of having his ball bounce hard off the rocks protecting the green, his ball nestled into a sandy area from which he was able to save par from (almost made two as his chip shot lipped out).

In the end, Dufner won on the second playoff hole, beating Sweden’s David Lingmerth who caught a bad break on the second playoff hole. Dufner’s at $34 to go back-to-back.

The Contenders*

Phil Mickelson $21

Lefty makes his traditional start of the year after a three-month layoff. Phil’s last tournament was the Safeway Open in October, where he earned a share of eighth. Mickelson has both familiarity and history on his side at this course, he’s won the tournament twice and he managed to tie for third here last year. He looks a great option in a relatively weak field. Note, Phil is still recovering from a sports hernia injury and could be in doubt to tee up.

Patrick Reed $12

Reed hasn’t hit anywhere near the form that made him become a Ryder Cup icon late last year – quite simply the putts have stopped rolling in for the feisty American. However, he’s still a threat at a tournament he’s won before (in 2014). Shared sixth place at Kapalua recently despite admitting to feeling “80 percent” after a recent illness.

Hudson Swafford $54

Tied for 13th last week after an opening 62 but a disappointing closing 71. Hits it long and has a nice touch to be able to cope with less than perfect ball striking. Hasn’t missed a cut this season and seems to be popping up on the first page of the leaderboard more often than not recently.

Zach Johnson $21

A 61 in the second round in Hawaii showed he’s on the right track, where he ultimately finished 6th. Johnson has four top-25 finishes in the tournament amongst two missed cuts. Doesn’t need much to get himself going, so his inclusion here is essentially down to the confidence boosting 61 at the Sony Open.

Bill Haas $21

A compelling record at the CareerBuilder, two-time champion (2010, 2015) and the tournament’s all-time money leader, puts Haas near the top of the rankings this week. Boasts an unbelievable thirty-nine consecutive red numbers here since 2008. Record here is also well supported by his start to the season that has seen him go T20-T4-T13-T13.Ready to win this week – a big chance.

Jaime Lovemark $34

Lovemark has picked up in 2017 where he left off in 2016. A tie of fourth last week at Sony followed up a tie for 6th in the RSM late last year. Was leading this tournament last year after round two (ultimately finishing 6th) but has become a much more complete golfer since then. Good all round game suited to the new layout of the CareerBuilder.

*Odds from Sportsbet.

The Winner

We really like Haas this week. An exemplary record at the CareerBuilder and despite a change in venue has the consistency behind him this season to manage the unsettling layout changes.

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