By Tom LaMarre
After opening 2019 with the Hawaiian two-step, this week the PGA Tour hits the mainland for the West Coast Swing, tournaments that will be played over the next five weeks in California and Arizona.
It starts on Thursday with the 60th Desert Classic, which was first played as the Palm Springs Desert Golf Classic in 1960 with Arnold Palmer as the inaugural champion, and had comedian Bob Hope serve as tournament host for nearly 50 years.
Leading the field in the California Desert are defending champion Jon Rahm of Spain, top-ranked Justin Rose of England, the 2018 FedExCup champion, and Phil Mickelson, who will make his 2019 debut in a tournament he won in 2002 and 2004.
Lefty, a tournament ambassador for the Desert Classic, will be trying to increase his record total of 19 victories on the West Coast Swing and his PGA count of 43 wins.
The tournament is known for its pro-arm format that has drawn celebrities from Frank Sinatra to Alice Cooper, plus Presidents Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
The event will be played at the TPC Stadium Course (the host course) and the Nicklaus Tournament Course, both at PGA West www.pgawest.com in La Quinta, and La Quinta Country Club www.lqcc.org—which is part of the tournament rotation for the 48th time.
Last year, Rahm opened with a 62 at La Quinta CC and closed out his second PGA Tour victory with an 11-foot birdie putt in near-darkness on the fourth playoff hole to turn back Andrew Landry.
Palmer won the tournament a record five times and the impressive list of champions also includes Jack Nicklaus, Billy Casper, Johnny Miller, Tommy Jacobs, Doug Sanders, Hubert Green, Craig Stadler, Lanny Wadkins, Corey Pavin, John Cook, Tom Kite, Fred Couples, David Duval and Justin Leonard.
- Justin Rose, England – The top-ranked player in the world captured the FedEx Cup in October and capped his year by successfully defending his title in the Turkish Airlines Open a month later. Rose (pictured) has not played the Desert Classic since 2010, when he missed the cut, but he finished third in 2007 and tied for 10th the year before.
- Jon Rahm, Spain – The 24-year-old Rahm, ranked seventh, has recorded top-10 finishes in last three tournaments around the world, including a tie for eighth in the Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua two weeks ago. In addition to winning the Desert Classic last year, he captured the unofficial Hero World Challenge in December.
- Phil Mickelson, United States – Lefty, playing for the first time since beating Tiger Woods in “The Match” on Thanksgiving week, makes his 16th start in the Desert Classic. His victories in 2002 and 2004 are among nine top-25 finishes in the event. Mickelson ended a five-year victory drought by winning the 2018 WGC-Mexico Championship.
- Charles Howell III, United States – Playing some of the best golf of his career, Howell won the RSM Classic in November to punch his ticket back to the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he tied for 14th before tying for eighth last week in the Sony Open in Hawaii. Has six top-20 finishes in the Desert Classic, including a tie for second in 2013.
- Danny Willett, England – The 2016 Masters champion, after a two-year slump caused at least in part by injuries, rallied late last year and won DP World Championship-Dubai to cap the European Tour season after also tying for seventh in the Turkish Airlines Open during the Race to Dubai. He is making his first start in the Desert Classic.
- Andrew Putnam, United States – After opening 2019 with a tie for 14th in the Sentry Tournament of Champions, Putnam was second behind Matt Kuchar in the Sony Open in Hawaii last week. He also tied for fourth in the WGC-HSBC Champions in October. Putnam missed the 54-hole cut in the 2015 Desert Classic, but tied for 17th last year.
- Aaron Wise, South Africa – The 2018 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year tied for 27th in his first appearance in the Sentry Tournament of Champions two weeks ago, but played well in the Fall, tying for 10th in the Mayakoba Classic and tying for 15th in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. Wise tied for 17th last year in the Desert Classic.
- Patrick Cantlay, United States – Comes off a strong Fall in which he tied for 17th in the Safeway Open, tied for seventh in the WGC-HSBC Champions, was second in his title defense in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open and tied for fifth in the Hero World Challenge. Missed the 54-hole cut in the 2017 Desert Classic after an opening 65.
- Charley Hoffman, United States – The Desert Classic is one of Hoffman’s favorites, as the first of his four PGA Tour victories came there in 2007, in addition to a tie for second in 2015 among five top-10s. His best results last year came in the majors, a tie for 12th in the Masters, a tie for 20th in the U.S. Open and a tie for 17th in the Open Championship.
- Bill Haas, United States – Two of Haas’ six PGA Tour victories have come in the Desert Classic, in 2010 and 2015, and he tied for second in his 2011 title defense among five top-10s. After missing the cut 14 times in 2017-18, he played well in the Fall, tying for 10th in Safeway Open and tying for 14th in the Sanderson Farms Championship.
- Adam Hadwin, Canada – Shot 59 in round three of the 2017 Desert Classic, when he finished second. Also tied for third last year, tied for sixth in 2016.
- Abraham Ancer, Mexico – Tied for 29th in the Sony Open with four rounds in the 60s after winning the Australian Open and recording two top-fives during the Fall.
- Beau Hossler, United States – Tied for 20th in his first Desert Classic last year before finishing second in the Houston Open and the Travelers last year as a PGA Tour rookie.
- Peter Uihlein, United States – Finished fifth three times as a PGA Tour rookie in 2018 and tied for seventh in RSM Classic in October. Tied for 17th in Desert Classic last year.
- Joaquin Niemann, Chile – World No. 1 amateur turned pro last April and recorded four top-10 finishes in his first eight starts on the PGA Tour. Playing in first Desert Classic.