As it does on the third week of every January, the PGA Tour heads back to the U.S. mainland, following back-to-back events in Hawaii, with the Desert Classic in La Quinta, California.
Well-known in the past for its ties to the legendary Bob Hope, the Desert Classic utilizes three picturesque courses in what is always one of the Tour’s lowest-scoring affairs. A solid field at La Quinta includes the World No. 1 and the second-most popular player in the sport.
There are a lot of great players here, but we like a few of them just a little more:
15. Beau Hossler
Career victory No. 1 for Hossler feels inevitable to anyone who has watched him play over the past few years. A recent collegiate star at the University of Texas, the 23-year-old had a stellar first full season on the PGA Tour in 2018, twice finishing runner-up.
His short game is well ahead of his long game, but he appears close to becoming a consistent all-around threat. A T20 at La Quinta last year included a first round 64.
World Rank: 91
Field Rank: 27
Last Six: MC, 23, 18, 30, MC, 33
14. Joaquin Niemann
One of the most exciting young talents in the game, the 20-year-old was an instant fit in his first try at the PGA Tour last year, with four top-10s in his first eight events. He went on to hit the rookie wall… badly, but he has an absurdly good iron game and has won all over the world.
We believe it will be just a short amount of time before he re-establishes himself as one of the sport’s top up-and-comers. Expect to see his name on many leaderboards in 2019.
World Rank: 155
Field Rank: 49
Last Six: 65, 60, 10, 36, 83, 33
13. Zach Johnson
The two-time major champion was a very surprising missed cut at last week’s Sony Open, but his game is so solid and consistent that it should not cause anyone to write him off at La Quinta. He finished off a T3 in 2014 with a Sunday 62, and a T20 effort last year included a 67-64 start.
Even with his general lack of length, Johnson finished 19th on Tour in scoring average last year, which bodes well for his chances to get himself in the mix yet again.
World Rank: 69
Field Rank: 19
Last Six: MC, 7, MC, 33, MC, 40
12. Danny Willett
Could it be? Is former Masters champion Danny Willett actually… good again? Injuries sapped the game of the 31-year-old Brit, turning his last two years into an unequivocal disaster, but after a few promising results late in the year, Willett returned to the winner’s circle when he took the Dubai Desert Classic in November, a difficult event with a strong field.
Could that have been a fluke? Hard to say for sure, but he finally looked healthy. Willett has not played “lesser” events in the U.S. much, and La Quinta should provide an excellent barometer of where his game is.
World Rank: 79
Field Rank: 23
Last Six: 1, 50, 7, 23, MC, MC
11. Abraham Ancer
Ancer appears to be closing in on the first victory by a native Mexican on the PGA Tour in decades. His last six starts worldwide include three top-5s, and even though his T29 at last week’s Sony Open does not jump off the page, he did finish each round in the 60s.
Ancer’s short game eluded him last week, but that is not common for him, and he did lead the Waialae field in both strokes gained: off-the-tee and driving accuracy.
World Rank: 57
Field Rank: 10
Last Six: 29, 1, 21, 4, 73, 5
10. Chez Reavie
The 37-year-old Arizona State product has a tendency to run hot-and-cold, and he appears back in hot form after a T3 at last week’s Sony Open, where he led the field in strokes gained: tee-to-green.
Reavie’s second round at Waialae included three eagle-2s, one of the most conspicuous statistical anomalies seen in recent years, but even outside of those three holes, he was a birdie magnet. Two of Reavie’s last three starts at La Quinta resulted in finishes inside the top 17.
World Rank: 54
Field Rank: 8
Last Six: 3, 26, 35, 7, 43, 33
9. Charles Howell III
As he approaches his 40th birthday in June, CH3 is showing some of the best form of his 19-year PGA Tour career. A victory at November’s RSM Classic snapped a decade-long drought, and he has followed that up with two quality starts since, a T14 at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and a T8 at last week’s Sony Open in Hawaii.
As he seems to everywhere, Howell III has a handful of strong showings at La Quinta, with the best being a playoff loss at the hands of Brian Gay in 2013. His recent weekend at Waialae included hitting 30 of 38 greens in regulation. Similar competency with his irons, should lead to another phenomenal payday.
World Rank: 55
Field Rank: 9
Last Six: 8, 14, 1, MC, 61, 5
8. Luke List
A bomber who finished 7th on Tour last year in strokes gained: tee-to-green, List might top the list of best PGA Tour players without a victory.
He came close several times last year, and has looked especially determined early in the new season, as two of his last three starts have resulted in a T4. List is an excellent fit for this course, which was most on display three years ago when he finished T6.
World Rank: 60
Field Rank: 13
Last Six: 4, MC, 4, 45, MC, 24
7. Andrew Putnam
Career victory No. 2 nearly came last week in Hawaii for the 29-year-old Putnam, who held a front-nine lead on Sunday at the Sony Open. Putnam stagnated on the back-nine while Matt Kuchar exploded into the lead, but a solo runner-up tied his best result in a non-opposite field event.
The man who currently leads the PGA Tour in strokes gained: putting, put up a good performance in his La Quinta debut last year, posting three 69s and a 66 to finish T17. A similar effort this week could mean four straight top-15 finishes.
World Rank: 45
Field Rank: 6
Last Six: 2, 14, 17, 4, 29, 50
6. Aaron Wise
The 22-year-old former NCAA Champion Wise has a game well beyond his years, and at times, looked downright dominant in 2018, with the acme of his first year on Tour being a stellar victory at the AT&T Byron Nelson.
After that maiden win, Wise was extremely boom-or-bust, but that is not shocking to see in a young star. His second year on Tour should be much more consistent, and he has to like his chances at La Quinta after opening up with a 64 last year on his way to a T17. He struggled at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii two weeks ago, but has as much ability as anyone in the field to go low.
World Rank: 52
Field Rank: 7
Last Six: 27, 10, 15, 15, 16, 69
5. Phil Mickelson
The 48-year-old might be the most intriguing name in this week’s field at La Quinta. Phil was on fumes late into the FedExCup, and he was a disaster at the Ryder Cup, but after a huge rebound season, it was not shocking that he got fatigued down the stretch.
The last time we saw him was when he defeated Tiger Woods one-on-one Thanksgiving weekend, but does that really mean anything going into the new PGA season. What could mean more is that Phil is a two-time winner at this event, but there’s a caveat with that too: those were in 2002 and 2004 respectively.
More recently, he missed the cut last year, while finished T21 the year prior, and an impressive T3 to open his 2016 season. The field has a few good names, but is not overwhelming, so assuming Phil is rested up, we like him to do well in one of his favorite events.
World Rank: 34
Field Rank: 4
Last Six: 17, 30, 58, 12, 15, MC
4. Adam Hadwin
Nobody has been better recently at La Quinta than the diminutive Canadian, one year after posting a T6 in 2016, Hadwin dazzled with a third-round 59 in a runner-up effort in the 2017 version, and played four great rounds last year on his way to a T3. He clearly likes the event and the course, but as it always seems to be with the notoriously-streaky Hadwin, how he has played lately should decide how much confidence he should engender in his fans.
How has he been? That is kind of inconclusive. A T57 at last week’s Sony Open is nowhere near what he is capable of, but he did shoot a second-round 65 and a Sunday 67.
A final-round 64 in South Korea let him barely inside the top 10 at the CJ Cup, and more recently, he also posted a T10 at the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Mexico. Hadwin hits fairways and is stellar around the greens, which plays greatly into why he has found so much success here in recent years.
World Rank: 70
Field Rank: 20
Last Six: 57, 10, 30, 10, MC, 19
3. Patrick Cantlay
A former amateur heavyweight who took the circuitous route to PGA Tour stardom, Cantlay’s breakthrough 2018 season included an impressive 21 made cuts in 23 events. He had one victory, but more seem inevitable given his skill level.
He was blazing hot going into the December break, going T7-2-T5 in his final three events of 2018. Cantlay has not played this event before, but he possesses an elite iron game with well-above-average distance. He has the mental makeup of a champion, and it would be shocking if he did not finish this weekend high on the leaderboard.
World Rank: 19
Field Rank: 3
Last Six: 5, 2, 7, 17, 21, 55
2. Jon Rahm
The defending champion, the 24-year-old Spanish prodigy has the looks of a 20+ time PGA Tour winner, including multiple majors. As great as he has looked, however, and as great as he appears destined to be, Rahm’s 2018 was shockingly ordinary.
He appears to be coming back around though, as he killed it at the Ryder Cup, notching the first Sunday singles win against Tiger Woods in ages. Then, not done showing up one of his childhood idols, Rahm won the Hero World Challenge, Tiger’s unofficial annual event in The Bahamas.
More recently, he finished T8 in the 32-man Sentry Tournament of Champions two weeks ago in Hawaii. Rahm is the best talent in the field, and reached 22-under in last year’s playoff victory; it seems unlikely that he will not flourish again. In a guaranteed score-fest, putting faith in the man who finished third in birdie average last year is a smart decision.
World Rank: 7
Field Rank: 2
Last Six: 8, 1, 4, 22, 11, 24
1. Justin Rose
The World No. 1 is in the field this week, as he opens his 2019 calendar year at the Desert Classic. The defending FedExCup Champion has not played La Quinta is some time, but his scorching form makes that recent inexperience irrelevant.
Twelve of Rose’s last 15 starts worldwide have resulted in top-10s, with two victories and three runner-ups in that span. If there were any doubts about Rose’s ability to go low at La Quinta, he finished 2nd on Tour last year in both scoring average and birdie average. He is as sure of a thing as there is in this field.
World Rank: 1
Field Rank: 1
Last Six: 17, 3, 1, 3, 8, 4
Five More: Corey Conners, Harold Varner III, Patton Kizzire, Bud Cauley, Russell Knox