10 Players to Watch: Dean & DeLuca Invitational

  1. Jon Rahm, Spain — The rookie who graduated from Arizona State only a year ago has risen to No. 12 in the Official World Golf Ranking and fourth in the FedExCup standings with a run of brilliant play at the age of 22. He was on the edge of contention at the Players Championship in his last start before shooting 82 in round three to miss the secondary cut, but that is one of the few hiccups he has had. Before that, Rahm finished in the top 10 in six of eight events, starting with his first PGA Tour victory in the Farmers Insurance Open. His worst result during that time was a very respectable tie for 27th in his first Masters. Rahm, who lost to top-ranked Dustin Johnson in the final of the WGC-Dell Technologies, has played 13 times this season and should come back strong after taking a week off to play at Colonial for the first time.
  1. Jordan Spieth, United States — The defending champion in the Dean & DeLuca Invitational is coming off two consecutive missed cuts, the first time that has happened in two years. However, the seventh-ranked Spieth missed the weekend because of only one bad hole last week in the AT&T Byron Nelson, hitting two drives out of bounds to take a quadruple bogey 9 on the 16th hole of round two. He missed the cut by one stroke at 68-75 — 143. Last year at Colonial, the native Texan claimed the first victory in his home state when he birdied the last three holes to beat Harris English by three shots after playing the weekend in 65-65. This is his fourth start in the tournament and he tied for second two years ago, one stroke behind Chris Kirk, in addition to tying for seventh in 2013 and tying for 14th in 2015. The last time he missed two straight cuts, he tied for 13th in the BMW Championship and then won the 2015 Tour Championship.
  1. Sergio Garcia, Spain — The Masters champion, ranked sixth in the world, has been up-and-down in his two starts since claiming his first major title last month and will be looking for consistency this week in his seventh appearance at Colonial. He tied for 30th in the Players Championship by closing with a 78, and tied for 20th last week in his title defense at the AT&T Byron Nelson, where he shot 65-64 in the middle rounds before closing with a 74. Garcia won what is now the Dean & DeLuca Invitational on his first try in 2001, closing with a 7-under-par 63 to beat Phil Mickelson and Brian Gay by two shots to claim the first of his 10 PGA Tour victories. That is his only top-10 result at Colonial, as he also tied for 16th in 2011 and tied for 13th in 2012, the last time he played there. Garcia also has missed the cut the three times at one of two courses they call “Hogan’s Alley.”
  1. Paul Casey, England — Although Casey has won 17 times worldwide, only one of those titles came on the PGA Tour, when he beat J.B. Holmes in a playoff in the 2009 Shell Houston Open. The Englishman will continue his quest for victory No. 2 this week on the other side of Texas at Colonial Country Club. His best result in four appearances in what now is the Dean & DeLuca Invitational was solo fifth the first time he saw the place in 2009, when scores of 66-67-66-66 left him in solo fifth, two strokes out of the playoff in which Steve Stricker beat Tim Clark and Steve Marino. Casey also tied for 13th the next year, but missed the cut in 2014 and tied for 43rd the following year. He tied for third in the Safeway Open to start his season and has been playing well lately, with a tie for ninth in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, solo sixth in the Masters, a tie for 12th in the Wells Fargo Championship and a tie for 22nd in the Players Championship.
  1. Bud Cauley, Unites States — Although he is winless on the PGA Tour, Cauley has shown in his last four starts that he might be on the verge of breaking through. After missing the cut in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Shell Houston Open, pushing to seven the times he has failed to make it to the weekend this season, he has not finished outside the top 10. Cauley tied for ninth in the RBC Heritage, tied for 10th in the Valero Texas Open, tied for fifth with teammate Justin Thomas in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans and tied for fifth last week in the AT&T Byron Nelson. Cauley, whose only pro victory came in the 2014 Hotel Fitness Championship on the Web.com Tour, will make his fourth start this week in what is now the Dean & DeLuca Invitational. After shooting 71-73 — 144 to miss the cut in 2012, he bounced back to tie for 14th the next year and tied for 21st three years ago.
  1. Jason Dufner, United States — Although he slipped in the final round last week with a 72 that dropped him out of contention and to a tie for 13th in the AT&T Byron Nelson, Dufner is playing more and more like the 2013 PGA champion. Although his only top-10 finish was a tie for fifth with partner Patton Kizzire in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, he has finished in the top 25 in nine of his 13 starts this season, with six of those being in the top 15. On the PGA Tour, that can be as little as one shot per round keeping him out of the top 10. Dufner, who claimed his fourth PGA Tour victory last year in the CareerBuilder Challenge, is making his eighth start at Colonial, and he nearly won it twice. In 2012, Dufner took the lead into the final round, but closed with a 74 and finished second, one stroke behind Zach Johnson. Three years ago, he shot 66 in the final round, but Adam Scott beat him with a birdie on the third playoff hole.
  1. Matt Kuchar, United States — Kooch did his thing with a tie for ninth in the AT&T Byron Nelson last week, only his third top-10 result this season, but he leads the PGA Tour with 69 such finishes since 2010 including seven victories. Following a slow start this season after taking time off because he was exhausted after a long 2016 campaign, he started to get things going with a tie for fourth in the Masters last month, followed by a tied for 11th in the RBC Heritage. Kuchar is making his 10th start in what is now the Dean & DeLuca Invitational, and after posting only one top-10 finish in his first six appearances, ninth in 2008, he has two in the last three. In 2013, he took a one-stroke lead to the final round, but a closing 68 wasn’t good enough and Boo Weekley beat him by one shot with a 66. Last year, Kuchar shot 63-68 on the weekend and finished in a tie for sixth.
  1. Kevin Kisner, Untied States — Kisner’s only PGA Tour victory came by a whopping six strokes in the 2015 RSM Classic, but he has been knocking on the door with six runner-up finishes in his career, including this season in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and with teammate Scott Brown in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. He holed a dramatic 94-foot chip shot in the dark on the final hole of regulation in the Zurich to pull his team even, but Jonas Blixt and Cameron Smith won in a playoff the next day. Kisner also tied for fourth in the Sony Open in Hawaii, tied for 10th in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and has three other results in the top 20 this year. He is making his fourth appearance at Colonial and after missing the cut by two strokes at 76-68 — 143 in 2014, he posted four scores in the 60s to finish two shots behind winner Chris Kirk in a tie for fifth the next year, and tied for 10th last year.
  1. Pat Perez, United States — Although he said he was scared as he returned from shoulder surgery at the age of 41, Perez has put together the best season of his career on the PGA Tour with eight finishes in the top 25, including his second victory on the circuit in the OHL Classic at Mayakoba. He also tied for second in the Wells Fargo Championship, tied for third in the SBS Tournament of Champions, tied for fourth in the Farmers Insurance Open and tied for seventh in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. Perez, who is fifth in the FedExCup standings, is making his 12th start at Colonial, and has finished in the top 10 there on four occasions. He was fourth, two strokes out of the playoff in which Rory Sabbatini beat Bernhard Langer and Jim Furyk in 2007, closed with a 64 in 2015 to tie for fifth, finished sixth by shooting 65 in the final round in 2008 and shot 63 in round three in 2010 on his way to a tie for 10th.
  1. Billy Horschel, United States — If he can come down off the emotional high after winning the AT&T Byron Nelson in a playoff over Jason Day of Australia on Sunday, Horschel could be right back in the mix this week at Colonial because he has been a streaky player throughout his career. In fact, he had been winless since 2014, when he captured the BMW Championship and the Tour Championship on consecutive weeks to claim the FedExCup. As Horschel said, there was no indication his latest victory was coming after he missed the cut in his four previous events, but he did tie for second in the RSM Classic, tie for fourth in the Honda Classic and finished in the top 25 in five events earlier this season. Horschel, a four-time winner on the PGA Tour who climbed to 12th in the FedExCup standings with his victory at TPC Four Seasons, will be making the first start of his career on Thursday in the old Colonial Invitational.

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

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