By Rob Bolton, PGATOUR.COM Fantasy Columnist
The secret to success at the Humana Challenge in partnership with the Clinton Foundation is, well, no secret. Birdies are bountiful in the Coachella Valley. Last year, the event was changed to a 72-hole format, down from 90 holes, and only three courses were utilized. They're among the easiest on the PGA TOUR. The 54-hole cut at 6-under 210 proved it.
Champion Mark Wilson held a three-stroke lead entering the final round. His score in relation to par at the time -- 21 under -- was the season's lowest at the same juncture.
When a shootout is expected, some will label it a putting contest. I'm not completely sold on that, however, since shootouts require birdie opportunities before putting enters the formula. Therefore, greens in regulation weighs heavier.
Since La Quinta Country Club was reintroduced as part of the rotation in 2010, two of the three champions ranked inside the top three in GIR. Bill Haas led the field in 2010, hitting 75 of 90; Wilson 58 of 72 to tie for third in the stat last year. (Jhonattan Vegas ranked 19th in greens hit in 2011.)
By comparison, looking at the strokes gained-putting splits of all three winners, only Wilson made noise, ranking fourth, and that included no credit for the bunker shot he jarred on the 12th hole in the final round. Haas finished 18th in strokes gained-putting in 2010; Vegas checked in at 20th a year later.
Returning to the theme of the week -- converting on birdie opportunities -- it then comes as no surprise that, in par breakers, Haas ranked second, Vegas first and Wilson fourth during their victories.
No one carded higher than a 67 on PGA West's Nicklaus Private, which ranked as the easiest track on TOUR in 2010 and 2012. Haas' 68 on La Quinta was the highest of the threesome on that course. And since PGA West's Palmer Private is host, everyone that makes the cut plays it twice. Of those six rounds among the champions, both Vegas and Wilson closed with 69s but the trio averaged 65.67 overall. Haas carded a 64 in his fifth round, while Vegas opened with a 64 in 2011 and Wilson crafted a career-low 62 in his second round.