COMMENTARY | If there is one number you must know prior to tuning into the Humana Challenge in Partnership with the Clinton Foundation, it is this: 10, the amount under par that served as the cut during last year's tournament.
The event is a pro-am, and the cut is made after 54 holes rather than the standard 36, which played a part in the swollen cut number. But regardless, imagine finding yourself sitting at 10-under-par in beautiful California, and then being told you have to go home, because 10-under-par isn't up to snuff at the Humana these days.
It's a birdie-fest. Always is, probably always will be. That's the way the Tour seems to like it.
Brian Gay, Charles Howell III, and David Lingmerth all broke the 72-hole record last year, finishing with a 25-under 263, and Gay went on to outlast the other two by birdying the first two playoff holes. He made 27 birdies to just two bogeys en route to his record-setting year, and I wouldn't be surprised if that record is seriously threatened again by the 156-man field making its way to PGA West and La Quinta Country Club this weekend.
The PGA West's Arnold Palmer Private and Jack Nicklaus Private will serve as hosts again alongside La Quinta -- three of the easiest course of all used in 2013. They're all short -- La Quinta is the only one to eclipse 7,000 yards -- especially for par-72s. With that in mind, it should come as little surprise that the three finished inside the top seven in greens in regulation percentage, setting itself up for lengthy birdie runs and under-par rounds.
As I wrote in last week's preview of the Sony Open, if you like birdies, tune in. If not, I hear there are some pretty good football games this weekend, too.
My pick: Webb Simpson.
It's killing me not to side with Harris English in this one. The guy has been sizzling lately, his worst round in the last seven tournaments being a 71. In the 27 rounds he's played this season, he's broken into the 60s 16 times, the 50s once (he shot a 58 at the Franklin Templeton Shootout, which, it should be noted, is not an official event), and hasn't caught a glimpse of the 70s since Jan. 5 when he shot 70 on the number.
But that's why I'm a little hesitant. He has to cool off at some point, right? Maybe I'm too skeptical, but I couldn't bring myself to pick against Webb Simpson. This is, after all, a test of who makes the most birdies, and nobody in the field does that at a higher rate than the 2012 U.S. Open champ.
He's leading the Tour in scoring average with a 67.08, thanks in large part to a 5.58 birdie average, which ranks second on Tour. And it's not just the fact that he makes birdies -- he gets birdie looks more than anyone not named Dustin Johnson, who is hitting 84.03 percent of greens compared to Simpson's 82.41, and Dustin Johnson is not in the field.
My dark horse: Brendon Todd
The 28-year-old out of Georgia is 5-for-5 in cuts made this year, and 13 of his last 17 rounds have dipped into the 60s. As noted before, the two most important assets at the Humana are hitting the green, and only taking one stroke to get home from there. Todd has proven he can go low, and do it consistently; he just hasn't gone "Humana low" quite yet.
He's currently tied for 15th in GIR on the year (76.11 percent) yet is way back at 61st in birdie average (4.05), so his putter hasn't done him too many favors, though he's averaging north of a 33-foot putt with every green he hits. That doesn't mean he can't get hot, though -- he just hasn't yet, which is why I like him. It's only a matter of time before the putts start falling. Maybe it's here.
The Golf Channel will again have coverage Thursday-Sunday.
Travis Mewhirter has been working in the golf industry since 2007, when he was a bag room manager at Piney Branch Golf Club in Carroll County, Maryland, and has been involved, as a player, since 2004. Since then, he has worked at Hayfields Country Club, where the Constellation Energy Classic was formerly held, and has covered golf at the high school, college, and professional levels. He has been covering the PGA Tour as a contributor for Yahoo Sports since March.
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