Who's playing, what the courses are like, what the odds are, and, of course, who is going to win. 

By Daniel Rapaport
January 16, 2019

After a two-week soujourn in Hawaii to bring in the new year—a stretch that saw an all-time final-round performance and a spicy caddie pay scandal—the PGA Tour moves back to the Lower 48 this week for the Desert Classic. The event, staged in the Coachella Valley in California, is the tournament formerly known as...deep breath...the CareerBuilder Challenge, the Palm Springs Golf Classic, the Bob Hope Desert Classic, the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic and the Humana Challenge. 

The first three rounds will be played on three different courses—PGA West Stadium Course, PGA West Tournament Course and La Quinta Country Club—with the cut taking place after the third round. Sunday's final 18 will take place at the Stadium Course, which typically plays as the most difficult of the three. And while it's not indicated in the name, this week is a Pro-Am, meaning you'll see some CEOs and celebrities play alongside pros for the first three rounds. 

World No. 1 Justin Rose will make his first start using his new Honma sticks this week, while Phil Mickelson will tee it up competitively for the first time since beating Tiger Woods over Thanksgiving weekend. It should be a fun week. Here's everything you need to know. 

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The courses 

Again, three courses in the rotation this week. The PGA West Tournament course is a Jack Nicklaus design, measuring just over 7,200 yards and playing as a par 72. Lying on flat land nestled between the San Jacinto Mountains, it features some significant mounding, a bunch of elevated greens and a number of water hazards. La Quinta Country Club is a bit shorter at 7,000 yards—also par 72—and, unsurprisingly, is a tigher track with narrower fairways. These two courses are significantly easier than the Stadium Course—La Quinta played as the easiest par 72 track on the PGA Tour last season with a scoring average of 68.831. Second easiest? The Tournament Course, at 69.445. 

The Stadium Course will be the challenge this week. It's a Pete Dye design, like other Tour venues such as Harbour Town and TPC Sawgrass. Like those tracks, it requires a good deal of strategy, with trouble lurking on nearly every hole. In typical Dye fashion, water comes into play on nine holes. There are signficant similarities between PGA West and TPC Sawgrass; the 17th at PGA West features an island-type green similar to the iconic penultimate hole at Sawgrass. 

Getty Images

The definining feature of the Stadium Course might be its bunkers, which are as deep as you'll find anywhere. The face of the one guarding the left side of 16 green is a solid 20 feet high. 

The field

This is actually the second-best tournament field this week, as the European Tour's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship offers 49 world ranking points to its winner, compared to 42 for the Desert Classic. World No. 2 Brooks Koepka and world No. 3 Dustin Johnson are playing over there this week, but the world's top-ranked player, Justin Rose, is in the desert. This will mark his first tournament start with new Honma clubs in the bag, after he made the surprising decision to leave Taylormade after 20 years on staff. Jon Rahm is back to defend his title, which he won in a playoff over Andrew Landry that stretched to four holes. Phil Mickelson will make his 2019 debut, as will Patrick Cantlay. Other notables: Last week's runner up Andrew Putnam, Kevin Kisner, reigning rookie of the year Aaron Wise and Charles Howell III. B-, C+ field overall. 

Tee times

Here are some notable pairings. It's twosomes this week due to the players having amateur partners in the group. All times EST. Here's a full list of tee times.

Justin Rose, Zach Johnson - 11:40 a.m. Thursday (LQ)/1:20 p.m.* Friday (TC)/12:50 p.m. (SC)
Phil Mickelson, Aaron Wise - 12:10 p.m. (LQ)/11:40 a.m.* (TC)/1:20 p.m. (SC)
Patrick Cantlay, Patton Kizzire - 1:20 p.m.* (TC)/12:50 p.m. (SC)/12:20 p.m.* (LQ)
Jon Rahm, Chez Reavie - 1:20 p.m.(LQ)/12:50 p.m.* (TC)/12:20 p.m. (SC)

Past Champions

2018- John Rahm (-22)
2017- Hudson Swafford (-20)
2016- Jason Dufner (-25)
2015- Bill Haas (-22)
2014- Patrick Reed (-28)
2013- Brian Gay (-25)
2012- Mark Wilson (-24)


Via Oddsshark.com:

Jon Rahm +650 - Defending champion has top 10s in last three starts, including a W
Justin Rose +900 - World No. 1 makes his Honma debut
Patrick Cantlay +1600 - California native has three straight top-seven finishes
Charles Howell III +2000 - Enjoying a late-career resurgence of sorts
Adam Hadwin +2500 - Tied for third at this event last year
Andrew Putnam +2500 - California native finished solo second at Sony
Aaron Wise +3300
Abraham Ancer +3300 - One of the best short games on Tour
Chez Reavie +3300
Hudson Swafford +4000 - 2017 winner of this event tied for third last week
Luke List +4000
Patton Kizzire +4000
Phil Mickelson +4000 - Two-time winner of this event, most recently in 2004
Scott Piercy +4000
Kevin Kisner +4500
Lucas Glover +4500
Sungjae Im +4500 - Last year's Web.com Tour moneyleader 
Brian Harman +5000
Daniel Berger +5000
Peter Uihlein +5000 - Feels like first PGA Tour win is only a matter of time

The pick

We are riding some momentum after nailing Matt Kuchar at 40-1 last week and also highlighting Andrew Putnam, who finished second, at 75-1. Let's keep it going. I'm going with Patrick Cantlay, who jumps off the page at 16-1. He has three-straight top-seven finishes and has blossomed into one of the most consistent players in the world (his last missed cut came in May 2018, 15 events ago). All three courses this week, but especially the Stadium, put a premium on ball striking and hitting greens. That's what Cantlay does best—last season, he finished seventh in GIR percentage and 10th in strokes gained tee-to-green. He's only played this event once, missing the cut way back in 2013, but he'll feel at home under the California sun. Other guys worth a play: Hudson Swafford, who won this event in 2017 and finished third last week. Love him at 40-1. I also like Peter Uihlein, who finished seventh in his last start and tends to play well on desert-style courses. 

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