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2014 Humana Challenge

PGA.com

The PGA Tour is on the U.S. mainland for the first time this calendar year for this week's Humana Challenge in partnership with the Clinton Foundation at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif.

As we've often seen in the California desert, it's like playing golf in a dome. What do we mean by that? Typically, conditions are absolutely perfect. Couple that with the best players in the world attacking the courses and that means one thing -- you're going to see birdies and eagles in bunches.

Since this tournament is a pro-am for the first three days, the cut doesn't come until after 54 holes, when each competitor has played each of the three courses: PGA West Palmer, PGA West Nicklaus, and La Quinta Country Club.

SCORES: Follow the Humana Challenge all week with PGA.com's leaderboard

Brian Gay is the defending champion. He defeated Charles Howell III and David Lingmerth in a playoff after the trio all recorded 72-hole totals of 25-under 263.

We can't state this enough -- birdies are a must in this tournament. With that, here are five players you'll want to keep an eye on:

5. Charley Hoffman Best finish in 2013: Tie for third in the Valero Texas Open Reason to watch: Why do I like Hoffman? He's gotten it done here before, winning the tournament in 2007, along with top-10 showings in 2008 and 2010. In 2013, Hoffman was ranked 11th in the Tour's birdie average stat at 3.92. Birdies are going to drop for Hoffman, especially in ideal scoring situations.

4. Keegan Bradley Best finish in 2013: Second at the HP Byron Nelson Championship & WGC-Bridgestone Invitational Reason to watch: This will be Bradley's first start on the PGA Tour since the beginning of November when he tied for 11th at the WGC-HSBC Champions. Sure, he might have a little rust that needs to be shaken off, but at the same time, Bradley is one of those players who's always itching for competition. He can make buckets full of birdies and that will serve him well at PGA West.

3. Brian Gay Best finish in 2013: Won the Humana Challenge in partnership with the Clinton Foundation Reason to watch: Well, for starters, how about a little respect for the defending champ? Plus, I'm not sure there's a player on Tour who has played more in this new wraparound season than Gay thus far. There have been eight events played in the new season and Gay has played in seven of them. Unlike a lot of guys, there's not much rust for him to scrape off. Over those seven starts, Gay's lone missed cut came in the first event he played -- the Frys.com Open in October.

2. Harris English Best finish in 2013: Won the FedEx St. Jude Classic (also won the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in November, part of the 2014 schedule) Reason to watch: English has made six starts in the new season. Three of those were top 10s, highlighted by his win in Mexico and last week's fourth-place finish at the Sony Open in Hawaii. I'm riding the hot hand here.

1. Brandt Snedeker Best finish in 2013: Won the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and the RBC-Canadian Open Reason to watch: It feels strange to write this about a guy who is a six-time PGA Tour winner, won the 2012 FedExCup and finished third in the 2013 FedExCup, but I'm going to write it here about Snedeker -- I'm still waiting for him to have a monster year. A monster year is defined by winning a major. This guy contends almost every time he tees it up. I think 2014 -- if he can stay injury-free -- is going to be huge for Snedeker (yes, bigger than a FedExCup victory). That starts this week at PGA West.

Follow T.J. Auclair on Twitter, @tjauclair.

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