LA QUINTA, Calif. (Swing Update) – Timing could not be better for Justin Rose or the Desert Classic.
Rose played so much golf towards the end of last year that he was not quite ready to leave his home in the Bahamas to travel to Hawaii in 2019 against a pitch reserved for winners in Kapalua. Instead, he decided to start the Desert Classic, an event he has not participated in since 2010.
Because of the tight race at the top of the rankings, Rose returned to world rank two weeks ago. This gives the Desert Classic the # 1 player in its field for the first time since the start of the standings in 1986.
"My initial plan was to play Maui and keep up the momentum, and then take a break in February," said Rose. "But it was too fast. … I also thought that it was important for me to play before arriving in San Diego. So, that fits perfectly. "
This is a new start for Rose, who won last year at Colonial and won the FedEx Cup at the end of the season.
He signed a new equipment contract with Honma, based in Japan, which could include a new putter. He will also start the year with a new cadet, at least temporarily, as long-time looper, Mark "Fooch" Fulcher, must undergo a heart attack Thursday.
Rose will use Gareth Lord, a major cadet on the European tour who recently worked for Henrik Stenson. It's a natural fit, Rose and Stenson being close, they played Ryder Cup games and even last year's team event in New Orleans.
"I've always felt that my couple with Henrik was not just a couple of two men, but a couple of four men with Henrik, with Fooch and Gareth Lord, too," Rose said. . "So it's a guy I'm very comfortable with on the golf course and a great friend of Fooch, and I'm glad he's doing us a favor, Fooch and myself."
The reigning champion is Jon Rahm, who made four more holes last year before beating Andrew Landry in the playoffs.
Rahm started his year two weeks ago with a tie for eighth place at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. His previous start was a win in the Bahamas at the Hero World Challenge, which seems like a long time ago.
Rahm returned home to Spain and rarely touched a club. "So that cancels out a bit of what I did to Hero."
"My swing has not changed for so long," he said. "I have not changed my game plan or anything in my game, so it does not usually take too much time to get back to a good level. But fortunately, that's enough. I feel good. Swing feels good. Hopefully, I can show it again. "
Nobody has successfully defended since Johnny Miller in 1976.
Phil Mickelson made his debut in 2019 at the tournament he has won twice, but not since 2004. The Desert Classic dates from 1960 and, with perfect ideal conditions in the California desert, is known for its low scores.
It's the only PGA Tour event to have produced two races under 60 – Adam Hadwin shot 59 years ago two years ago, and David Duval was also victorious with a win of 59 when he won the tournament 20 years ago.
Rose, meanwhile, will have to play well to stay in first place. The player he replaced, Brooks Koepka, will play against a stronger pitch this week in Abu Dhabi.