10 Players to Watch: Frys.com Open

1. Rory McIlroy, Northern Ireland — Most pros would love to have what McIlroy termed a down year in 2015, with three victories and nine top-10 finishes on both major tours. Of course, he missed six weeks after sustaining a left ankle injury while playing soccer with friends on July 4 and was unable to defend his title in the Open Championship at St. Andrews. McIlroy lost the No. 1 ranking he held since a torrid stretch late in 2014, when he captured the Open, the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the PGA Championship, and now is No. 3 behind Jordan Spieth and Jason Day. The last time the Irishman was in Northern California, he won the WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championship at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco in May.

2. Justin Rose, England — Even though he had a big season, recording his seventh PGA Tour championship in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans and finishing second in the Masters, the Memorial and the Tour Championship, Rose (pictured) was overshadowed by great years from Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Rickie Fowler. Like Rory McIlroy, he is making his first appearances in the Frys.com and in fact is playing in a fall event in the United States for the first time since the wraparound season was introduced in 2013. Rose, who is No. 7 in the World Golf Rankings, still has a chance in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai heading into the Final Series that begins late this month, as he is fifth in the point standings.

3. Brooks Koepka, United States — There was plenty of sentiment that Jay Haas should have made Koepka a captain’s pick for the Presidents Cup, but the 25-year-old stayed home. Perhaps he will use that as motivation when he plays in the Frys.com Open for the third time, having tied for third two years ago at CordeValle Golf Club near San Jose before tying for eighth last year when the tournament moved north to Silverado Golf Resort in Napa, Calif. Koepka, who played much of the last few seasons on the European Tour, claimed his first PGA Tour victory this year in the Waste Management Phoenix Open in addition to recording seven other finishes in the top 10, including a tie for 10th in the Open Championship and a tie for fifth in the PGA Championship.

4. Chris Kirk, United States — Even though Kirk is putting together a very solid PGA Tour career, which includes four victories since 2011, he is doing so almost quietly. However, that most likely changed when he sank a 16-foot birdie putt on the final hole to provide the United States with a vital point in its recent Presidents Cup victory, beating Anirban Lahiri of India, 1 up. He had only a 1-2 record in South Korea, but the Americans couldn’t have won without his point, and he is stopping on the way home to start the new season with his first appearance in the Frys. Last year, Kirk won for the third straight season on the PGA Tour in the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial and had six other finishes in the top 25.

5. Hideki Matsuyama, Japan — After playing well in defeat in the Presidents Cup, posting a 2-1-1 record that included a 1-up victory over J.B. Holmes in singles, Matsuyama will make his third straight appearance in the Frys.com Open. He tied for third in each of his other starts in the event, finishing three strokes behind winner Jimmy Walker two years ago at CordeValle and also winding up three shots shy of champion Sangmoon Bae of South Korea last year at Silverado. Matsuyama, who is up to No. 15 in the World Golf Rankings, claimed his only PGA Tour victory in the 2014 Memorial. He also has six victories in Asia. Last season, he recorded nine top-10 finishes on the U.S. circuit –including a tie for second in the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

6. Daniel Berger, United States — The reigning PGA Tour Rookie of the Year embarks on his second season by playing in the Frys.com Open. He shot 75-72–147 in the event last year to miss the cut by four strokes, one of 14 times he didn’t make it to the weekend. However, when he did get to the third round, Berger finished in the top 10 six times, including runner-up results in the Honda Classic (where he lost in a playoff to Padraig Harrington of Ireland), and in the BMW Championship on the third leg of the FedEx Cup playoffs. The 22-year-old, still winless in his pro career, was the only rookie to make it to the Tour Championship last season after his high finish in the BMW, and he tied for 12th at East Lake in Atlanta.

7. Steven Bowditch, Australia — Coming off a 1-2 record in the Presidents Cup, in which he helped the International Team’s rally with a 1-up victory over Jimmy Walker in Sunday singles, Bowditch will get right back to work on the PGA Tour this week when he makes his fifth appearance in the Frys.com Open. He posted his best finish in the event when it moved to Silverado last year, bouncing back from an opening 1-over-par 73 with scores of 68-67-67 to wind up solo second, two strokes behind his Presidents Cup teammate, Sangmoon Bae of South Korea. That was a prelude to Bowditch’s second PGA Tour victory later in the season at the AT&T Byron Nelson. His first victory came a year earlier in the Valero Texas Open, so he loves to Lone Star state.

8. Brandt Snedeker, United States — Seemingly back on track after being slowed by injuries in recent years, Snedeker will tee it up this week in the Frys.com Open for the second time. Last year, he couldn’t break 70 in any of his four rounds at Silverado and finished in a tie for 57th. However, he got it going in his next few events with ties for 10th in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, the WGC-HSBC Champions and the Waste Management Phoenix Open before breaking through to claim his seventh PGA Tour victory by winning the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am for the second time in three years. Snedeker had eight top-10 finishes last season, including a tie for second in the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial and solo eighth in the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay.

9. Webb Simpson, United States — After slogging through a sub-par season last year following the switch to a conventional putter, Simpson is hoping for a fast start to 2015-16 when he plays this week in the Frys.com Open. He junked the belly putter that took him to the 2011 U.S. Open Championship and three other PGA Tour victories ahead of the ban that begins on Jan. 1. The results were not pretty, as he finished 174th on the circuit in strokes gained putting after finishing in the top 60 the three previous seasons, although he did have five top-10 finishes, including a tie for second in the Wells Fargo Championship. Hoping that more practice makes perfect, Webb is playing in the Frys for the third time, having tied for 13th in 2009 and tied for 44th the following year.

10. Emiliano Grillo, Argentina — Already being hyped as a Rookie of the Year candidate, Grillo earned his PGA Tour card with a searing run through the Web.com Tour playoffs, finishing ninth in the Hotel Fitness Championship, tying for second in the Small Business Connection Championship and winning the Web.com Tour Championship. The Frys.com Open is his first event as a card-carrying member of the PGA Tour, but the 23-year-old showed last year that he could compete on the big stage, losing in a playoff to Alex Cejka of Germany in the Puerto Rico Open and tying for 10th in the Barbasol Championship. After winning the 2014 Visa Open de Argentina on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica, he started 2015 on the European Tour and finished third in the Volvo China Open, fifth in the Qatar Masters and sixth in the Open de Espana.

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


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