This article is part of our DraftKings PGA series.
Winner's Share: $1.062M
FedEx Cup Points: 500 to the Winner
Location: La Quinta, Calif.
Courses: PGA West (Stadium Course, Nicklaus Tournament Course), La Quinta Country Club
Yardage: 7,113 (Stadium)
2018 champion: Jon Rahm
With the PGA Tour calendar condensed by a month from prior seasons, it's logical to think that some of the lesser tournaments could get a bit of a boost to their fields. And the whatever-it's-called-now Desert Classic is certainly a lesser tournament. Last year, it featured three players in the top 25 in the world rankings. This year, it features, um, three players in the top 25 in the world rankings. But tournament organizers no doubt are smiling because this year, one of those three players is world No. 1 Justin Rose. He is joined by defending champion and No. 7 Jon Rahm and up-and-coming Patrick Cantlay. Of course, the biggest star power still comes in the form of tournament "ambassador" Phil Mickelson. Unfortunately, Mickelson spent more time ambassadoring than playing last year thanks to a Friday night trunk-slam. With little opposition from top players a year ago, Rahm emerged the winner, though he did face a pesky challenge from Andrew Landry in a playoff.
The tournament that will always be known as "The Hope" for people of a certain age is turning 60 (just like many of those people!). Besides facing a tough time attracting and holding on to a sponsor – as you saw, there is no title sponsor this year – the Desert Classic has always had a hard time adding big names to its 156-man field. It follows Hawaii and begins the West Coast Swing, with Torrey Pines, Pebble Beach and Riviera coming up in short order. But the toughest hurdle probably stems from slogging through three days of eternal rounds because of the 54-hole pro-am component. At least it's good for DFS play, as the cut comes on Saturday. The top 70 and ties still play on Sunday, though if that number is 78 or more, then the cut would shift to the top 60 and ties. Regardless, those golfers who would be left out still get a check and FedEx Cup points.
In 2016, they introduced two PGA West tracks – the Stadium Course and the Nicklaus Tournament Course (par-72, 7,204 yards) – to go along with venerable La Quinta (par-72, 7,060). Golfers will play each of them over the first three days before it's just the Stadium on Sunday. We have three years of this exact course rotation to consider when formulating lineups. Last season, Nicklaus and La Quinta were the two easiest tracks on Tour, while the Stadium ranked 16th of 51. Each of the past three years the winning score has been at least 20-under – birdies will be mandatory, as we'll examine the key stats and Champion's Profile below.
Weather-wise, a lot of rain will have fallen by the time Thursday rolls around, and even more was in the forecast for a chilly Round 1. You'll want to check closer to Thursday to whether there are advantages to early or late tee times. After that, the rest of the tournament should be warmer and mostly rain free with little wind.
Key Stats to Winning at the CareerBuilder
Note - The most important indicators every week are current form and course history. "Key stats" follow in importance.
• Ball striking/Strokes gained: off the tee
• Greens in regulation/strokes gained: approach
• Putting average/strokes gained: putting
• Birdie-or-better percentage
2018 - Jon Rahm
2017 - Hudson Swafford
2016 - Jason Dufner
2015 - Bill Haas
2014 - Patrick Reed
2013 - Brian Gay
2012 - Mark Wilson
2011 - Jhonattan Vegas
2010 - Bill Haas
2009 - Pat Perez
There's little mystery this week. Getting on the green in short order will provide plenty of birdie of opportunities on some of the simplest greens the golfers will see all year. Last year, Rahm made 27 birdies and one eagle, but it's kind of hard to figure out how he did it; he was T20 in greens in regulation and T28 in strokes gained: putting. It's likely at least partly related to the extremely weak field. Two years ago, Swafford was first in greens in regulation. Three years ago, Dufner didn't stand out in either GIR or strokes gained: putting, but he balanced that by ranking top-15 in both categories. For what it's worth, eight of the past nine winners have played at least one of the two Hawaii stops before coming here – there's something to be said for getting in some tournament rounds after the long winter break. As the week progresses and the weather forecast becomes more clear, we might want to pay closer attention to 2017. It was uncharacteristically cool and rainy in the California desert, and Swafford's winning score (20-under) was the highest under this current course rotation.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS (Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap)
Tier 1 Values
Justin Rose - $11,000 (Winning odds at golfodds.com: 8-1)
It was a surprise to see Jon Rahm as the top guy on the DK board, ahead of Rose by a pretty fair amount ($600). Rahm won last year, but we feel he took advantage of a pretty weak field. The field is still pretty weak, but it now includes the No. 1 player in the world. Rose hasn't played here since 2010, and is likely doing so just to fulfill a PGA Tour requirement. But he rarely has an off-week anywhere, and was in action well into December so there shouldn't be any much rust.
Charles Howell - $10,300 (20-1)
We're going to bypass the No. 3 guy on the DK board, Patrick Cantlay, who has been idle since the Hero World Challenge, and go with an ol' reliable. Howell has a strong history here – T20-T12-T11 the past three years, and even has gotten in more reps this season than usual. That's because he qualified for the TOC, then finished T8 last week at the Sony Open. Howell had a great week on the greens at Waialae, finishing seventh in the field in strokes gained: putting.
Adam Hadwin - $10,000 (25-1)
Seeing that the 70th-ranked golfer in the world had five figures next to his name was a bit jarring. But shooting a 59 two years ago and finishing top-6 three years running justifies it, especially in this weaker field. The Canadian had only a so-so week at the Sony Open, tying for 57th, but he's shown signs of coming back from a sub-par 2017-18 season. Hadwin had two top-10s in the fall season after notching only three altogether last season.
Tier 2 Values
Phil Mickelson - $9,500 (30-1)
Mickelson has been off since "The Match" against Tiger Woods just before Thanksgiving. But he's performed well recently with even longer breaks. Mickelson missed the cut a year ago, though before that finished T21-T3-T24. It wasn't a good look for the tournament's de facto host to miss the cut last year, and we suspect Mickelson is taking extra steps to ensure it doesn't happen again.
Aaron Wise - $9,400 (30-1)
Wise is definitely a golfer who likes to "go for it." It's early, but he leads the Tour in birdie or better percentage. Wise closed last season with a pair of top-20s in the final two playoff events, then opened this season with two more. He played the Sentry two weeks ago, then was in the minority among golfers who skipped the Sony. But Wise has gotten four rounds in already in 2019. He has played here the past two years, tying for 34th and then improving to T17 last year.
Luke List - $9,000 (30-1)
The darling of fall seasons past didn't play so much this past autumn. But when he did, he was awesome, notching two T4s in three starts. List has been getting better for a few years now, and he must feel confident in his game that he doesn't have to make hay before the fields get stronger. List is an elite golfer off the tee, and he's even been putting much better of late. List missed the cut here last year, but tied for sixth in 2016. Lastly, he did get in some golf last month in the unofficial QBE Shootout, helping to shake off some of the rust.
Patton Kizzire - $8,700 (40-1)
Kizzire has opened 2019 with a flourish, continuing a resurgence that began during the fall season. He tied for 13th last week at the Sony Open after a T8 at the TOC. Kizzire had a pair of top-25s in the fall. It all adds up to a Tour ranking of 24th in strokes gained: putting. Kizzire hasn't cracked the top-40 in three visits here, but he's made the cut every time. Obviously, we expect more of him this time around.
Sungjae Im - $8,100 (50-1)
If not for Cameron Champ, Im would be the most talked about rookie this season. He turned in another good effort last week at the Sony, tying for 16th while ranking third in the field in strokes gained: off the tee. The one thing that gives us pause is that Im hasn't played here before, and it surely takes some getting used to playing alongside an amateur for three days. Some guys handle it, some don't. Im has handled most of the situations he's faced so far as a Tour rookie.
Tier 3 Values
Beau Hossler - $8,000 (40-1)
We'd feel better about Hossler if he had played more recently than two months ago. But he is a California guy and he did tie for 20th here last year in his tournament debut. And he is an elite putter (sixth in strokes gained: putting last season) while also a good driver (top-50 in strokes gained: off the tee).
Peter Uihlein - $7,700 (50-1)
Uihlein tied for 17th last year in his maiden visit to the California desert. He's been idle since November, but he did tie for seventh in his last start at the RSM, and was top-25 the start before that. Uihlein is not elite in any of our key stats, but's he's decent in all of them.
Bud Cauley - $7,400 (80-1)
Cauley has been off since October, which isn't ideal. But he followed a similar path to this tournament two of the past three years, and he tied for 14th both times. In between, with the Sony under his belt, he was even better, tying for third in 2017. Cauley showed he has recovered from a major car accident last June, making three of four cuts during the fall season, one of them a top-10.
Pat Perez - $7,300 (60-1)
Right around this time a year ago, Perez set off on an Asian cash grab at the expense of his wheelhouse, the West Coast Swing. It was a disaster and wrecked his season. This event has not been his strongest, but Perez played very well in the fall, was putting extremely well and got back in action last week at the Sony, though he played only two rounds. At this price, we think Perez is a bargain.
Jhonattan Vegas - $7,100 (100-1)
The long-ago winner here (in 2011, when it was still a 90-hole event) tied for 11th a year ago and 34th the year before. Vegas is very good at the beginning of a hole – ranked 20th in strokes gained: off the tee – and then, well, things get worse on the green. But Vegas is capable of good weeks out of the blue, such as his T15 last year in the Northern Trust playoff event.
Scott Langley - $6,900 (Field, 10-1)
The 29-year-old Illinois native is back on Tour after a year on the Web. He's played this event five times, with three missed cuts but also two top-20s. Langley hasn't been here since 2016, but he's gotten off to a decent start this season. He tied for 43rd last week at Waialae, giving him four cashes in six starts, one of them a top-25. It's early, but Langley is ranked 14th on Tour in strokes gained: putting.
Adam Schenk - $6,800 (Field, 10-1)
Schenk missed the cut last year as a Tour rookie, when he totaled only three top-25s all season to finish 157th in the point standings. This season has started out far better, as Schenk already has three top-25s. He missed the cut last week at the Sony, but at least he got back in action. Schenk is putting far better than he did last season, about a half-stroke better, good for a ranking of 45th in strokes gained: putting.
Nick Taylor - $6,500 (200-1)
Way down here, we find an enticing option. Taylor tied for 20th last year and 34th the year before, both under the present course rotation. He's also been in action, impressively tying for ninth at the Australian PGA last month before missing the cut last week at the Sony – hey, it's two more rounds of tournament golf. There are a lot of Canadian snowbirds in the California desert – maybe that's why Taylor does well there.