(Reuters) - While twice former champion Phil Mickelson will attract his usual large galleries at this week’s Humana Challenge, last year’s winner Patrick Reed will command his share of the spotlight after making a fast start to 2015.
Nine days ago, Reed won the opening PGA Tour event of the year, the elite Hyundai Tournament of Champions at Kapalua in Hawaii, where he beat fellow American Jimmy Walker in a playoff.
Having skipped last week’s Sony Open, Reed is now back in the California desert and ready to defend the title he claimed by two shots last year after heading into the final round with a commanding seven-stroke advantage.
“To be back where I played so well last year and kind of was able to cruise in the last round ... it’s always nice,” world number 15 Reed told reporters while preparing for Thursday’s opening round at La Quinta.
“I was making a couple of putts out there (in practice) and the comfort level was coming back. Hopefully I can continue into the week.”
Already a four-times champion on the PGA Tour at the age of 24, Reed conceded he was in unchartered territory at last year’s Humana Challenge after seizing a seven-shot lead through 54 holes.
”It was really foreign for me knowing what to expect and how to play,“ said Reed. ”I caught myself instead of attacking flags like I did the first three days, when I shot 63s, starting to play to the middle of greens.
”Instead of hitting driver, I hit three-woods to keep it short of some bunkers and I started playing really conservative. I learned that it doesn’t matter what kind of lead you have, you can lose it.
“You need to stick to your game plan and keep firing hard,” said Reed, who joined Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia as the only players over the past 20 years to have won four times on the U.S. circuit under the age of 25.
Reed faces a strong field for his title defense this week in the pro-am event played at three venues -- the Palmer and Nicklaus Private courses at PGA West and La Quinta Country Club.
Apart from Reed, four other members of the world’s top 20 will be competing -- 11th-ranked Matt Kuchar, Billy Horschel (14th), Mickelson (16th) and Zach Johnson (20th) -- and England’s former world number one Luke Donald.
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue