The First Look: Desert Classic
January 11, 2019
By Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM
- January 11, 2019
- Jon Rahm is the defending champion of the Desert Classic. (Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
Reigning FedExCup champion Justin Rose returns from his holiday break to the California desert, as does Phil Mickelson to challenge Jon Rahm’s title defense as the TOUR makes its traditional first stop on the U.S. mainland in the new calendar year.
It’s the 60th edition of what was once Bob Hope’s grassed stage. Celebrities who have passed through the Classic’s pro-am have ranged from Frank Sinatra, Jackie Gleason and Phil Harris to George Lopez, Alice Cooper and Samuel L. Jackson to U.S. presidents Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
FIELD NOTES: Danny Willett tees it up for the first time since ending his 2018 with a victory at the European Tour’s season finale. The English pro, forced to rebuild his swing after back woes, has revived his PGA TOUR membership after a year away. … PGA West is anticipating 12 of the current top 30 in the FedExCup standings. … Charlie Reiter, who opened 68-70 in last year’s event as a high schooler, is back on another sponsor exemption. The two-time Southern California prep champion now is a freshman at USC. … John Catlin, a two-time winner on the Asian Tour last year, also got an exemption.
FEDEXCUP: Winner receives 500 points.
STORYLINES: Rose tees it up on U.S. soil for the first time since he took home the FedExCup trophy at East Lake, making his first Desert Classic visit since 2010. After three top-4 finishes in the FedExCup Playoffs, he took third at the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions in October and won the European Tour’s Turkish Airlines Open the following week. … Mickelson, who also serves as a Classic ambassador, seeks a third crown for his portfolio to go with wins in 2002 and 2004. It’ll be his first competitive round since beating Tiger Woods in “The Match” over Thanksgiving weekend. … Rahm arrives off a share of eighth at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, his third straight top-10 finish worldwide. That includes a win at the 18-man Hero World Challenge. … Adam Hadwin, who shot 59 two years ago but was chased down by Hudson Swafford on the final day, takes another shot at desert glory. … Rahm’s victory made him just the second international winner in the past 15 Classics. Jhonattan Vegas (Venezuela) was the other, prevailing in 2011. … La Quinta Country Club is in the rotation for the 48th time, missing only eight Classics since its debut in 1964. That’s a longer run than all but four PGA TOUR venues.
COURSE: TPC Stadium Course at PGA West, 7,113 yards, par 72. Now in its fourth year as host, Pete Dye’s 1986 design finally fits into the role for which it first was envisioned. Given the task of testing golfers to the utmost, Dye built a layout featuring deep bunkers, pushed-up greens and plenty of water. The course made its debut for the 1986 Skins Game and joined the Classic rota in 1987. The Skins Game stayed five more years, with six editions of the TOUR’s qualifying finals later held at the Stadium course. The event’s pro-am format also will utilize PGA West’s Nicklaus Tournament course (7,159/72) and La Quinta CC (7,060/72) in the first three rounds.
72-HOLE RECORD: 260, Patrick Reed (2014). Note: Steve Stricker shot 255 through his first 72 holes in 2009, when the Hope was a five-round tournament.
18-HOLE RECORD: 59, David Duval (5th round, 1999 at PGA West/Palmer), Adam Hadwin (3rd round, 2017 at La Quinta CC). Stadium Course record: 63, Jonathan Fricke (2nd round, 2008 Qualifying Finals*), Whee Kim (2nd round, 2012 Qualifying Finals*). Nicklaus Tournament record: 59, Harrison Frazar (4th round, 2008 Qualifying Finals*). Note: Q-School does not count as an official PGA TOUR event.
LAST YEAR: Rahm beat back Andrew Landry’s playoff challenge – not to mention impending darkness – with a birdie on the fourth extra hole, notching his second TOUR victory and fourth worldwide in a 51-week span. Rahm began his week with a 62 at La Quinta CC, but began the final day two shots off Austin Cook’s pace before posting a 5-under-par 67. Landry forced extra holes with a birdie on the final hole of regulation, and they matched pars on the first three holes before Rahm found the touch from 11 feet in fading light. It was Rahm’s second win in three starts bridging the holidays.
HOW TO FOLLOW
TELEVISION: Thursday-Sunday, 3-7 p.m. ET (Golf Channel).
PGA TOUR LIVE: Thursday-Friday, Broadcast time: 11:30 a.m. ET - 7:00 p.m. Twitter Window: 11:30 a.m. ET – approx. 12:30 p.m.
RADIO: Thursday-Saturday, 1-7 p.m.; Sunday, 2-7 p.m. (PGA TOUR Radio on SiriusXM and PGATOUR.com).