10 Players to Watch: Crowne Plaza Invitational

1. Jordan Spieth, United States — When he missed the cut in the Players Championship, Spieth said he had not been able to work on his game since winning the Masters because of all the new demands on his time. So he went home to Texas to get his game back in shape, and he hopes to return this week for the Crowne Plaza Invitational with the form that led him to nine consecutive finishes in the top 20 before he missed the weekend at TPC Sawgrass. He is playing at Colonial in one of his two hometown events for the third time, having tied for seventh two years ago as a rookie before tying for 14th last season.

2. Jimmy Walker, United States — Another Texan who enjoys playing before the home fans, Walker is making his third appearance in the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial, having tied for 56th in 2011 before tying for 10th last year. He recorded his first victory in the Lone Star State in late March, beating Jordan Spieth by four strokes in the Valero Texas Open in his hometown of San Antonio. Walker has led the FedEx Cup standings for most of the past two regular seasons, but right now he is second behind Spieth. He has five top-10 finishes in 2014-15, also including a victory in the Sony Open in Hawaii.

3. Paul Casey, England — Since Casey decided not to keep his membership in the European Tour this season, he is one of the few top players from the other side of the Atlantic who will not be at Wentworth outside London this week for the BMW PGA Championship, the flagship event of the Euro Tour. The move has been a good decision so far, as Casey has five top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour this season, including a playoff loss to James Hahn in the Northern Trust Open at Riviera. Casey has played well in the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial, finishing fifth in 2009 and tying for 13th in 2010, but he missed the cut last year.

4. Charley Hoffman, United States — Hoffman’s name showed up high on leaderboards so often this season that he ranks eighth in the FedEx Cup standings, with a victory in the OHL Classic at Mayakoba and a tie for second in the Humana Challenge. He also tied for ninth in the Masters, his first top-10 result in a major championship. Hoffman hopes to bring that form into the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial, which he has played six times previously. His best results in the event are a tie for 13th in 2002 and a tie for 18th the following year. In 2006, he was among the leaders after starting 65-66, but he played the weekend in 71-74 and slid to a tie for 30th.

5. Zach Johnson, United States — After finishing in the top 10 in the Crowne Plaza Invitational for five consecutive years, the course got back at him last year. Johnson closed with a 6-over-par 76 and wound up 73rd, beating only two players who made the cut. He won the tournament in 2010 and 2012, two of his four victories in Texas, as he also captured the Valero Texas Open in 2008 and 2009. In 2010, he played the weekend at Colonial in 64-64 to beat Brian Davis by three shots, and two years later he started 64-67-65 before closing with a 72 to hold off Jason Dufner by one stroke. Johnson has run hot-and-cold this season, but he does have four finishes in the top 10 and seven in the top 25.

6. Adam Scott, Australia — Struggles with the putter, whether long or short, have dogged Scott his season, and his only finish in the top 10 was a tie for fourth in the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral. That came with the short putter in his first event of the year, but he has gone back to the long model without much success. The Aussie is hoping to find his touch on the greens this week for his title defense in the Crowne Plaza Invitational, site of the most recent of his 11 PGA Tour victories. Scott closed with scores of 68-66-66 and then beat Jason Dufner with a 7-foot birdie putt on the third playoff hole.

7. Patrick Reed, United States — Another strong season has put Reed fifth in the FedEx Cup standings, as he claimed a playoff victory over Jimmy Walker in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and lost to Jordan Spieth in a playoff at the Valspar Championship. Those are among his 10 finishes in the top 25, the most recent a tie for 24th in the Players Championship. Reed is playing for the fourth consecutive week, and the Texan hopes for better than his only other appearance in the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial, a tie for 46th two years ago. He played the middle rounds in 69-67 but could not break 70 the other two days.

8. Boo Weekley, United States — After struggling with injuries and his game in recent years, Weekley showed flashes of his old form this season with a tie for second in the Sanderson Farms Championship, solo third in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans and a tie for sixth in the Puerto Rico Open. He is making his seventh start in the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial, an event in which he earned the latest of his three career PGA Tour victories. In 2013, Weekley started with scores of 67-67 and played the weekend in 66-66, holding off Matt Kuchar by one stroke. He also finished solo ninth at Colonial in 2010, shooting 63 in the second round.

9. Ian Poulter, England — Despite taking some heat from the British media for skipping the BMW PGA Championship this week at Wentworth, where he has never played well, Poulter decided he had a better chance of performing well in the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial. He has not teed it up at Colonial since shooting 73-76 on the weekend to finish 76th and dead last among the players who made the cut in 2010, but he finished eighth with four scores in the 60s in 2009 and tied for 15th in 2008. Poulter’s tie for sixth in the Masters, his third top-10 finish this season, indicated he might be headed in the right direction.

10. Patrick Rodgers, United States — The rookie from Stanford got into the field for the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial by finishing in the top 10 last week in the Wells Fargo Championship, tying for second. Like Jordan Spieth two years ago, he can stick around with a few more similar finishes. If not, the 2014 Jack Nicklaus Player of the Year in college golf can go back to the Web.com Tour, where he is fifth on the money list thanks to his victory in the Colombia Championship. Rodgers figured to earn his PGA Tour card for next year that way, but now he is playing in the next three events on the big tour and is close to earning special temporary membership.

–Courtesy of The Sports Xchange, TSX Golf Editor Tom LaMarre

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