LA QUINTA, Calif. (AP) Luke Donald is playing the Humana Challenge for the first time in a bid to keep pace on the West Coast swing.
The 37-year-old Englishman opened the year last week in Hawaii with a tie for 51st in the Sony Open and will play next month at Torrey Pines and Riviera.
”The last few years I played a lot in the Middle East,” said Donald, set to open play Thursday. ”I think with the new wraparound schedule, I feel like in previous years (Riviera) has been kind of my first event of the year and I feel like I’m getting left behind a little bit. Some guys have played eight and nine events and I’m playing my first or second.”
He’s skipping the Match Play event April 29-May 3 in San Francisco because of a conflict with his brother’s wedding. Donald won the 2011 Match Play tournament in Arizona.
”He set his wedding date before the tournament decided to change the date,” Donald said. ”He thought that it was a free week that I don’t usually play. … I told him I would definitely be at his second wedding, but he didn’t find that too funny.”
Donald is working full-time again with instructor Pat Goss, his coach at Northwestern, after shifting to Chuck Cook last year for help with his full swing .
”It’s certainly easier to have one coach rather than split short game and full swing, and certainly it’s been fun being back with Pat,” Donald said.
No. 1 in the world for 56 weeks in 2011-12, he’s 34th now. Donald won the last of his 13 worldwide titles in November 2013 in the Dunlop Phoenix in Japan. He has five PGA Tour victories, the last in 2012.
A SOLDIER’S GAME: Chad Pfeifer, a 33-year-old teaching professional who lost his left leg in Iraq, is playing in the pro-am competition.
Pfeifer started playing golf in 2007 while rehabbing at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. His leg was amputated above the knee after his vehicle has hit by a roadside bomb.
”Golf saved my life,” Pfeifer said.
He’s paired with Baltimore Orioles pitcher Bud Norris. They will play alongside PGA Tour players Scott Langley and Brendon de Jonge in the first round.
A contestant on Golf Channel’s ”Big Break” series, Pfeifer is a three-time Warrior Open winner, the 2011 National Amputee champion and tied for fifth last year in the American Century celebrity event. He played college baseball at Northwest Nazarene in Idaho.
”I’m representing thousands of my brothers and sisters who fought and continue to fight for our country,” Pfeifer said.
He teaches at the Golf Club of Estrella in Goodyear, Arizona.
IN-N-OUT ALLOWANCE: Jason Dufner has lost more than 20 pounds through exercise and a gluten-free diet after struggling with shoulder problems last year.
He’s serving as a Humana Well-Being Ambassador during the Humana-sponsored tournament.
”All those things that you like to eat I pretty much don’t eat anymore,” Dufner said.
He hasn’t gone completely cold turkey.
”I’ve been clean since that In-N-Out burger Sunday,” Dufner said. ”Probably be the only one I eat all year. So, there’s allowances here and there.”
DESERT DNA: Sam Saunders played his way into the event grandfather Arnold Palmer won a record five times.
”It’s a huge accomplishment for me and just a great feeling of knowing that I have earned my spot in this field and it wasn’t given to me,” said Saunders, a PGA Tour rookie after earning his card last year on the Web.com Tour.
Playing on sponsor exemptions, Saunders missed the cuts in 2010, `11 and `12.
”I was glad to see I got in on my own number comfortably this week,” Saunders said. ”It just gives me a feeling of belonging and knowing that I’m just out here to do my job and I’m just one of the other guys and trying to do the best I can to have a chance to win a golf tournament.”
Palmer won the inaugural tournament in 1960 and added victories in 1962, `68, `71 and `73. He also won the 1959 Thunderbird Invitational in the area. PGA West’s Arnold Palmer Private Course is the host layout.
HOMEGROWN: Byron Smith is making his first appearance in his hometown event.
The 33-year-old Smith won the Web.com Tour’s Rex Hospital Open last year in North Carolina and finished 21st on the regular-season money list to earn a PGA Tour card.
”It’s pretty unreal for me to play in this thing finally,” Smith said. ”I grew up here in the desert and been coming here for a long time. So, to play in it is pretty special. … It’s a home game. I’m just super excited because it’s a dream come true.”
Smith tied for 19th in his PGA Tour debut in the season-opening Frys.com Open in October. He missed the cut last week in the Sony Open.