The First Look: CareerBuilder Challenge

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Phil Mickelson gets his post-holiday slate underway in his usual desert locale at the CareerBuilder Challenge, joined by Jon Rahm and reigning champ Hudson Swafford to headline the traditional first stop on the U.S. mainland after the calendar turns.

Adam Hadwin, whose third-round 59 wasn’t enough to avoid getting pipped down the stretch last year, returns to take another run. Ditto for David Lingmerth, who lost playoffs in both 2013 (to Brian Gay) and 2016 (Jason Dufner).

FIELD NOTES: Two-time Masters winner Bubba Watson ends a six-year hiatus in the California desert, where he shared runner-up honors in 2010. … In all, PGA West is anticipating five of the FedExCup’s current top 10 and five of the top 30 in the world rankings. … Corey Pavin, twice a winner when the event was Bob Hope’s court, is set for his first PGA TOUR start since Colonial in 2015. It’s been 31 years since his first Hope victory. … John Daly, Mark Brooks and Lee Janzen make it a quartet of PGA TOUR Champions entrants. … Local high schooler Charlie Reiter is in on a sponsor invite, the first time the tournament has given a professional spot to an amateur. Reiter won Southern California’s individual title two years ago. … Former Stanford star Maverick McNealy also got an exemption.

FEDEXCUP: Winner receives 500 points.

STORYLINES: Mickelson, who also serves as a Challenge ambassador, seeks again to end a winless spell now reaching nearly five years since the 2013 Open Championship. He notched a pair of top-15 finishes during the fall schedule, including third at the Safeway Open. … Rahm has top-2 finishes in his past two starts bridging the holidays. His runner-up at the Sentry Tournament of Champions was preceded by a win in the European Tour finale. … 13 of the past 14 Challenge winners have been U.S.-born champions. The exception: Venezuela’s Jhonattan Vegas (2011). … La Quinta Country Club marks its 47th year in the rotation, missing only eight editions since its debut in 1964. That’s a longer tenure than all but four PGA TOUR venues.

COURSE: TPC Stadium Course at PGA West, 7,113 yards, par 72. Three decades after a dubious first impression, Pete Dye’s vexing design now seems entrenched in its originally intended role as host. The Stadium course was unveiled at the 1986 Skins Game and joined the Hope rota in 1987, but lasted just one year when players petitioned for its removal. Charged with building golf’s toughest venue, Dye sculpted a bumpy moonscape with deep bunkers, pushed-up greens and plenty of water. The Skins Game stayed five more years, and the course later staged six editions of the TOUR’s qualifying finals. 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: Swafford stared down his demons from a day earlier with three birdies in his final four holes, overtaking Hadwin and Bud Cauley for his first PGA Tour victory. After seeing his third round spoiled by playing Nos. 16 and 17 in bogey/double bogey, Swafford two-putted for birdie at the par-5 16th and ripped an 8-iron inside 2 feet for birdie at No. 17. A closing par left him with a 5-under-par 67, enough to hold off Hadwin’s closing flourish. Hadwin, whose Saturday 59 at La Quinta CC matched David Duval’s tournament mark, made only two birdies in the final day’s first 15 holes.

HOW TO FOLLOW

TELEVISION: Thursday-Sunday, 3-7 p.m. ET (Golf Channel).

PGA TOUR LIVE: Thursday-Friday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. (featured groups), 3-7 p.m. (featured holes).

RADIO: Thursday-Saturday, 1-7 p.m.; Sunday, 2-7 p.m. (PGA TOUR Radio on SiriusXM and PGATOUR.com).
 

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