The Humana Challenge in partnership with the Clinton Foundation is the first of three consecutive tournaments on the PGA TOUR schedule played over multiple courses. All three will be contested in the next four weeks, so I'll be breaking down the scoring averages for gamers that compete in formats where this information is valuable.
Each of the 156 golfers in the field will play PGA West's Palmer Private, PGA West's Nicklaus Private and La Quinta Country Club one time. Once 54 holes are complete, the cut of low 70 and ties will play only Palmer Private in the final round.
Analyzing only the first three rounds on all courses since 2010 -- that encompasses the last two years when the tournament went 90 holes and the two years since it's been reduced to 72 -- creates a sample size of 36 rounds, 12 for each course (or three per year for four years). Of this lot, nine of the rounds at Nicklaus Private rank inside the top-third lowest scoring averages. (On the other three occasions, it was still either lowest or second-lowest by a fraction of a stroke as compared to the other courses in the same round.) Nine of the 12 at La Quinta rank inside the top-half highest averages. Palmer Private fills in the gaps evenly as it populate each half six times.
When comparing overall scoring averages (which include the final rounds at Palmer Private), Nicklaus Private has ranked easiest three times. On the occasion it didn't, Palmer Private clipped it 69.09-69.21 in 2011. La Quinta checked in comfortably in third, at least one-half stroke higher than the second-ranked course in each edition.
There are two lessons within. Lean on either Nicklaus Private or Palmer Private, that much is obvious. However, keep in mind that these courses were the three easiest on the PGA TOUR in 2013, so you're going to see low scores everywhere.
You can find my selections for PGATOUR.com's fantasy game in Expert Picks.
Power Rankings Wild Card
Pat Perez ... The 2009 champion arrives having spanned the holiday break with a T16 in Mexico and a T8 in Hawaii. Since his breakthrough victory, he's added a T14 in 2012. Currently 12th in scrambling an 18th in putting inside 10 feet.
Brian Gay ... It wouldn't be a stretch to suggest that he was trending toward the victory here last year what with top 20s in three of his previous four trips, but while the horse-for-course angle works, he's also rekindled some of that form to open 2013-14. He's survived his last six cuts and ranks sixth in strokes gained-putting, 11th in scrambling and second in one-putt percentage.
Boo Weekley ... With a 5-for-5 start to the season, he finds himself among the lions, or shall we say the pride of those riding notable consecutive cuts made streaks. He's linked 14 in a row, good for seventh-longest with Webb Simpson. Weekley's tiptop ball-striking have paved the way to the weekend, thus increasing the chances for a sudden low number. It was at Palmer Private in the third round in 2008 when he carded a 62 that remains his career low. In addition to a T8 that week, he has a T13 in 2011.
Matt Every ... I love his documented honesty about not caring if he misses a cut because all gamers want their investments to have no memory of the negative, it's just that he hasn't missed a cut in eight consecutive starts, half of which have led to top 10s. Tied for eighth at Waialae where he ranked 10th in strokes gained-putting, a position inflated by 13 conversions outside 10 feet.
Chris Stroud ... Course-history buffs will frown after seeing only one cut made in his last four trips (T68, 2011), but they will be overlooking the corner he turned midseason in 2013. And with a pair of T3s and a T20 in his last four starts entering this week, he has momentum. A shrewd possibility.
Sang-moon Bae ... Last week's opening-round leader chased that 63 with 70s the rest of the way to finish T32. He's 2-for-2 at this event with a T14 in his debut in 2012. Currently 13th in strokes gained-putting and has survived eight consecutive cuts worldwide, a streak that includes a victory in his native South Korea.
Scott Stallings ... Back to settle the score after a share of fourth place last year when he led by five entering the finale. We've come to learn a couple of things from the two-time PGA TOUR winner. First, he's streaky, really streaky. Second he loves himself a shootout. Sometimes those two facts converge as they did here in 2013. Because he'll be off most radars having gone 11 consecutive starts without a top 30, it's all the more reason to play for the flier.
John Peterson ... His sick run through the Web.com Tour Finals is no longer the barometer. Instead, we've settled for a pair of top 25s to bracket two missed cuts. If there's one certainty on the Web.com Tour, it's that birdies are bountiful. His aggressive style plays right into the objective. The first-time TOUR member led the field at Waialae in proximity to the hole and ranked 14th in scrambling and T5 in par-4 scoring.
Jerry Kel ... Defied my reasoning to jump off last week as he extended his love affair with Waialae, finishing alone in third place. At the same time we're reveling in his success set up by a T5 in the all-around ranking at the Sony Open in Hawaii, we have to respect the absence of a similar diet of impressive numbers at the Humana Challenge. He's 14-for-16 overall, but has only one top 40 in his last six showings (T13, 2011).
Mark Wilson ... Winner of this tournament just two years ago, he's since fallen 174 spots in the Official World Golf Ranking to 214th. Only two cuts made in his last six starts, neither of which going for a top 45.
Bo Van Pelt ... Finds himself here again after fulfilling last week's fade at Waialae where he missed the cut on the number. Conventional wisdom suggests endorsing a birdie-maker this week, but he has only one top 25 in eight appearances (T5, 2009). He's also gone 15 straight starts worldwide without a top-15 finish.
Nicolas Colsaert ... Making his debut at this event. Only two top 20s in his last 10 starts worldwide. His relative slump has allowed him to drift outside the top 60 in the Official World Golf Ranking.
Keep an Eye On
Rickie Fowler ... While I've always ridden his bandwagon, I'm more bullish than ever this season since he corrected his putting in 2013. Closed out the year with a solo second at the Australian PGA Championship and a T8 in Thailand. He lands here because he missed the cut in his only previous appearance in 2010.
Roberto Castro ... Giving him another week to marinate in this section. Co-led here after 18 and 36 holes and sat T2 entering the final round a year ago before disappearing to T37 with a closing 72. With only a T35 at the CIMB Classic and a missed cut last week in Honolulu, he's off to his third slow start in as many seasons on TOUR. In fact, none of his five career top 10s have occurred from January-June.
Robert Allenby ... Energized for a comeback season, the Aussie has top 20s in his last two starts on the PGA TOUR. That's a trick he hadn't turned since the fall of 2010. And he had just one top 25 in all of 2013. What's more, while only one event, we can't ignore his 1.713 strokes gained-putting clip at Waialae, good for third in the field en route to a T20. He also ranked first in conversion percentage inside 10 feet (62-for-64). For a veteran never known for his flat stick, those facts belie logic.
Returning to Competition
John Mallinger ... First start since the 2013 RBC Heritage. Had surgery on his left shoulder for which he's on a Major Medical Extension affording 13 starts. Tied for second at this event two years ago, but expect him to be rusty with his touch on the greens.
Dudley Hart ... Back injuries and surgeries have derailed the 45-year-old for the better part of four years now, but he tested the waters in starts on the PGA TOUR Canada and NEC Series-PGA TOUR Latinoamerica in the last four months of 2013. Still has 12 starts on a Major Medical Extension. This is his first appearance in a PGA TOUR event since his only attempt during the 2013 season at Pebble Beach.
Tim Clark ... Withdrew on Tuesday. Suffering from tendinitis in his left elbow that forced him to withdraw during his second round of last week's Sony Open in Hawaii.
You don't have to remind me that the Humana Challenge in partnership with the Clinton Foundation will feature a haphazard leaderboard after all of the dust settles. A champion will still be crowned and there's still going to be a top 10, forever my target in this format. I open with that defense mechanism because I'm burning Webb Simpson.
I'd plug in Harris English, who sits atop my Power Rankings, but I exhausted him at The McGladrey Classic. Simpson is No. 2 in the feature and can do no wrong of late. He's finish no worse than T7 (McGladrey) in his last five starts. That stretch includes a victory in Las Vegas -- by six strokes -- so we know he has no problem in the desert.
The other tipping point is the fact that he's remained committed to the tournament despite the personal challenge of his caddie, Paul Tesori, whose newborn son, Isaiah, required treatment in intensive care. The Tesoris are still addressing health issues with Isaiah, so Simpson will remain inspired. Sold.
If not for the combination of those factors, Gary Woodland would have been the pick. He's No. 7 in the Power Rankings and nearly won this event just two years ago. I took a look at Jason Kokrak, but he's a more worthy complement in two-man formats.
Sony Open in Hawaii: Charles Howell III; T8; $119,000.00; 63.500 FedExCup points
Overall Record: 7-for-8
FedExCup points: 497.333
Top 5s: 1
Top 10s: 4
Top 25s: 5
Missed Cuts: 1