Mickelson, Reed making ’18 debuts at CareerBuilder Challenge

For many of those who failed to qualify for the Tournament of Champions or did not make the trip to Hawaii for last week’s Sony Open, the CareerBuilder Challenge will mark the start of their 2018 PGA Tour schedules.

That includes Ryder Cup regulars Phil Mickelson and Patrick Reed. Mickelson has dropped to No. 43 in the world golf rankings, while Patrick Reed has slid down to No. 25 after going winless on Tour in 2017.

Mickelson’s brother, Tim, will be his full-time caddie in 2018 after taking over the bag from Jim “Bones” Mackay last summer.

The CareerBuilder Challenge begins Thursday in La Quinta, Calif., and the Pro-Am format is the start of the “West Coast Swing.” The tournament will be held on three courses through the first three rounds: La Quinta Country Club, the Nicklaus Tournament Course, and the Stadium Course. Those who make the cut will play the final round on the Stadium Course.

The pre-tournament favorite is Jon Rahm, with the Spaniard entering with a career-best ranking of No. 3. He’s coming of a second-place finish at the Tournament of Champions two weeks ago, and will be paired with Bubba Watson for the first three days.

Rahm will also be defending his title at Torrey Pines next week.

“Really, really feeling good,” Rahm said. “I feel like those five weeks off after Dubai not doing much was really good for my body. Trying to take things real easy, obviously, make sure I’m rested for the year.”

Other notable names in the field include 27th-ranked Kevin Kisner, who was in contention at the Sony Open until faltering on Sunday, and Patton Kizzire, who went on to win the event in a six-hole playoff. Kizzire is the only two-time winner on Tour this season and enters with a career-high ranking of 54.

Scores are expected to be low, with defending champion Hudson Swafford earning a one-shot victory over Adam Hadwin at 20-under in 2017. It was Swafford’s first PGA Tour victory, and he enters this week with six cuts made in six starts for the season after finishing 38th in the FedExCup last season.

“I feel like my game’s more consistent, I feel like my all-around game is better, so the goal is definitely kind of Top-20 in the FedExCup,” Swafford said of his 2018 goals. “Definitely making it to (the Tour Championship in) Atlanta, sets up your whole next year, gives you a lot more freedom, you can definitely set your schedule at the beginning of the year. So that’s kind of the target and kind of what I’m looking for.”

Jhonattan Vegas did not play the event last year, but is also returning to the site of his first career PGA Tour victory in 2011.

“I really, really enjoy coming to this place because it brings a lot of those memories back,” said Vegas. “So, yeah, a lovely week, it’s usually perfect when it comes down to weather, golf courses are usually great, so it’s literally lots to love being here.”

Other previous event champions in the field include Reed (2014), Jason Duffner (’16) and two-time winner Bill Haas (2010, ’15).

There are also a host of rookies in the field this week, many of whom are scrambling for quality finishes to earn entry into bigger events as the season progresses. Then there are the amateurs like Charlie Reiter, a local high schooler who is the first amateur in event history to receive a sponsor’s exemption.

“I’ve been coming here watching this tournament since I can remember, me and my dad, and now getting the chance to play out here is definitely a dream come true for me,” he said.

Reiter grew up attending the event, and estimated his nervous level is pegged at “10” on a 1-10 scale.

“I know I’m nervous so I kind of just accept it and just kind of deal with it and let it go out and happen,” he said. “If you’re nervous for something I believe that you just got to accept it and you’ll overcome that and it will just become more of a calming idea for you.”

–By Derek Harper, Field Level Media

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