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Desert Classic Preview, Picks & Analysis

By: | Mon 14 Jan 2019 | Comments

THEY used to call it the Bob Hope Desert Classic and they used to play it over 90 holes. Now it is played over the standard 72 holes and the defending champion is Jon Rahm. Call it what you like - and this year they are calling it the Desert Classic to mark the 60th anniversary of its first playing - it is a great event at La Quinta in California. And like every one that has gone before, it is going to take some low scoring to win. It was won in 2011 by Jhonattan Vegas, in 2012 by Mark Wilson, in 2013 by Brian Gay, in 2014 by Partrick Reed, in 2015 by Bill Haas, in 2016 by Jason Dufner, in 2017 by Hudson Swafford and 12 months ago by Rahm, for whom it was a second PGA Tour title at the age of 23. 

At the time, the victory took Rahm to second in the world rankings, and he struggled to get his head around it. "It's hard to believe, to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth, three-time major champion," Rahm said. "I only have two wins and he's got 10-plus, right? I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm beat Andrew Landry with a 12-foot birdie putt on the fourth hole of a playoff Sunday in the CareerBuilder Challenge. In fading light on the Stadium Course at PGA West, Rahm finished off Landry for his second PGA TOUR title and fourth worldwide victory in a year. 

Rahm overcame surprising par-five problems in regulation to shoot 5-under 67. Landry, playing a group behind Rahm in the final threesome, forced the playoff with an 11-foot birdie putt on 18th for a 68. They finished at 22-under 266.

"Tournaments like this build character," Rahm said. "I'm just proud of myself to hit what's probably my least favourite club, which is the three wood, three times in a row dead centre on my line on 18 — four times if you include the regular play. To be honest, I was really happy it happened the way it did and really proud of the way I played. I hit a lot of bad putts, hit a lot of edges, but lucky the one I needed to make went in.”

Rahm’s rise has been nothing short of sensational. He is surely destined to top the rankings and start winning majors. He has taken to tournament golf like a duck to water, winning on both the PGA and European Tours and starring for Europe at last year’s Ryder Cup. The Stadium Course is a bomber’s paradise featuring plenty of wide fairways, and Rahm will definitely be heading back there believing he has a superb chance of making a successful defence of his title. He is a remarkably consistent player. His first full season was 2017, during which he recorded one victory, two runner-up finishes, two third places, 11 top 10s and 14 top-25 finishes - and that was just on the PGA Tour. And so it continued last season.

He finished off 2018 by winning the Hero World Challenge and has already enjoyed yet another top-10 finish at the Tournament of Champions at Kapalua. The Spaniard is a machine and he has some great memories of this tournament. He started 12 months ago with an opening round of 62 at La Quinta, shot 67 on the Friday on the Nicklaus Course and a 70 at the Stadium on the Saturday. How interesting, though, to learn that he is not a fan of the three wood - it is Henrik Stenson’s favourite club, and the go-to club from the tee for most top pro.

The tournament has a long and colourful past. In 1962, Bob Hope teamed with Arnold Palmer to win the pro-am portion of the Palm Springs Desert Classic. Three years later, the event was re-named the Bob Hope Desert Classic and the legendary performer became the indelible master of ceremonies for what would become one of the most beloved events in golf.

From 1965-2011, Hope's named graced the tournament and attracted some of the biggest celebrities, politicians and professionals, with a huge emphasis on enjoyment. In 2012, the tournament struck new sponsorship deals with a pair of new partners and evolved into the Humana Challenge in partnership with the Clinton Foundation. In May 2015, human capital solutions global leader CareerBuilder assumed title sponsorship from Humana and entered into a six-year deal with the PGA Tour to have the tournament renamed the CareerBuilder Challenge in partnership with the Clinton Foundation.

Hope's iconic image can still be seen throughout the tournament's facilities. The winner receives the Bob Hope Memorial Trophy, fans coming through the main entrance at PGA West walk into Bob Hope Square, the tournament's fan gathering place and social hub. The iconic Bob Hope Classic golf cart can still be seen shuttling around the PGA West grounds during tournament week. The Bob Hope Club sits around the 18th green at the TPC Stadium Course at PGA West and offers some of the best seating for the event. The TPC Stadium Course clubhouse entrance has been redesigned to feature the tournament's history as a tribute to Bob Hope. The Clinton Foundation continues to display an exhibit of Bob Hope-related tournament artefacts in Bob Hope Square during tournament week.

But perhaps the greatest legacy left by Bob Hope is the event's continued charitable contributions to the Coachella Valley. It funded the Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, and the tournament office remains on that location to this day. Since 1960, Desert Classic Charities, the non-profit entity that organises the event, has donated more than $57m to Eisenhower Medical Center and many other charitable organisations within the valley. It is an astonishing legacy.

This may well be a fun golf tournament but it is deadly serious for the guys who compete in it. For the rookies in the field it could be a life-changing four days, and for others it is a chance to get careers back on track. The one thing thing they can just about guarantee is that it will be played in glorious weather, with temperatures in the 80s, blue skies and next to no wind. 

But if you are looking for somebody to have a punt on then you do a lot worse than investing some money on Adam Hadwin, who shot a 59 at La Quinta in the third round of the 2017 event and played in the final threesome on Sunday in both 2016 and 2017. The Canadian is a sweet swinger of the club and is due another big week. Past champions Dufner and Vegas are also back and looking to make their mark, along with the volatile 2009 champion Pat Perez. And there will be huge support for local boy Phil Mickelson, who is making his first competitive start of the season and is one of the event’s ambassadors. 

To Win:

Jon Rahm. Loves California

Each Way:

Adam Hadwin. Has great memories of this part of the world

Fantasy Picks:

Jon Rahm. He’s a winner

Adam Hadwin. Beautiful golf swing

Jason Dufner. Looking to get things back on track

Phil Mickelson. Has Lefty still got what it takes?

Bill Haas. Past champion in need of a big week

Kevin Kisner. Looking to rediscover some consistency

Kevin Na. You either love him or you hate him

Patrick Cantlay. Hugely underrated

Charl Schwartzel. Really should win far more often than he does

Image Credit: Kevin Diss Photography

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