LA QUINTA, Calif. – Sure, Abu Dhabi was the big event this week, but that event’s already over (congrats to Martin Kaymer on his big win). Here’s what to watch for you as you channel surf between the Bob Hope Classic and NFL conference championship games:
1. The NFL is doing all it can to discourage big hits. The powers that be at the Bob Hope Classic are encouraging them. Light rough will allow co-leaders Jhonattan Vegas and Gary Woodland, both of whom stand more than 6 feet tall and weigh more than 200 pounds, to attack PGA West’s Palmer Private course. Woodland (315.1 yards) and Vegas (312.9 yards) were second and third in driving distance on last year’s Nationwide Tour. Click here for more of their impressive driving stats.
2. Vegas and Woodland will have to make plenty of birdies if they want to win today. Having the lead is nice, but you can’t play safe at the Hope. Palmer Private has played to a 68.9 scoring average this week, lowest among the Hope’s four courses. Defending champion Bill Haas shot 62 there Saturday. Anyone at T-9 or better seems to have a chance to win if they can post a similar score. Remember, this is the course where David Duval shot a final-round 59 to win. Of course, that could all change if the wind picks up. It’s a bit breezy this morning. The forecast calls for 13 mph winds, according to weather.com.
3. Martin Laird is quietly becoming a world-class player. Laird, No. 49 in the Official World Golf Ranking, is two shots off the lead, and will be in the final group with Vegas and Woodland. You may remember Laird as the guy who three-putted from 20 feet on the final green of the Barclays, then lost a playoff to Matt Kuchar. Laird responded by closing 2010 with a second-place finish at the Justin Timberlake and a T-3 at the PGA Tour’s CIMB Classic in Malaysia. Laird was No. 104 in the world to start 2010.
4. Haas is trying to become the second player to defend his Hope title (Johnny Miller, 1975-76). Haas is starting to emerge from the shadow of his father, Jay, but a scoreboard this week displayed his picture with the caption, “Defending champion: Jay Haas.” In his past five PGA Tour starts, Haas hasn’t finished worse than 26th and has three top-10s. He started the year with an eighth-place finish at Kapalua.
5. This is a young leaderboard. The top seven players are all in their 20s. Laird and Haas are the only two players among the seven with a PGA Tour victory. Four of the top seven graduated from last year’s Nationwide Tour – Vegas, Kirk, Haas and Summerhays. A look at the ages: Gary Woodland, 26; Jhonattan Vegas, 26; Martin Laird, 28; Chris Kirk, 25; Bill Haas, 28; Daniel Summerhays, 27; Keegan Bradley, 24