10 Players to Watch: Shriners Hospitals for Children Open

  1. Ryan Moore, United States — It’s a home game for Moore, who settled in Las Vegas after graduating from UNLV in 2005. He was a popular winner at TPC Summerlin in 2012, opening with a 61 and staying in or near the lead all the way before claiming the second of his five PGA Tour victories by one stroke over Brendon de Jonge of Zimbabwe. That was one of his three top-10 finishes in 10 starts at the Shriners, as he also tied for seventh in 2009 and tied for ninth in his title defense, shooting 63 in the second round both times. Moore tied for 23rd last week in the WGC-HSBC Champions a week after tying for 17th one week earlier in the CIMB Classic, which he won in 2013 and 2014. He is coming off a season in which he finished in the top 10 on nine occasions, winning the John Deere Classic and losing a playoff to Rory McIlroy in the Tour Championship.
  1. Francesco Molinari, Italy — After recording a tie for sixth in the WGC-HSBC Champions last week, Molinari is making his debut in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. He tied for seventh in the Players Championship in May, but played his best golf this year on the European Tour. He closed with a 66 to finish second, four strokes behind Thongchai Jaidee in the Open de France, and in September he became the first player from Italy to capture the Italian Open twice, closing with a 6-under-par 65 to hold off Masters champion Danny Willett of England by one stroke. Molinari collected 22 birdies and an eagle over four rounds in Milan to win for the fourth time on the Euro Tour, but the first since the 2012 Open de Espana. His first victory came in the 2006 Italian Open, and the biggest title of his career was in the 2010 WGC-HSBC Champions.
  1. Scott Piercy, United States — Another resident of Las Vegas who is playing in his hometown event, Piercy is making his 11th appearance in the tournament. He has three top-10 finishes in the event, including a tie for sixth in 2012, when a third-round 73 proved to be costly before he closed with a 64. Piercy also tied for seventh two years ago with four scores in the 60s and tied for 10th in 2011. In 2009, Piercy was tied for the lead after starting 64-67-65, but he closed with a 73 and skidded to a tie for 14th. He got off to a strong start in the new season with a tie for third in the Safeway Open and a tie for 10th in the CIMB Classic, before tying for 63rd in the WGC-HSBC Champions last week. Piercy does have a victory in Nevada, winning the 2011 Reno-Tahoe Open by one stroke over Pat Perez, shooting 61 in third round.
  1. Brooks Koepka, United States — Koepka is playing for the second time since posting a 3-1-1 record, including a 5-and-4 rout of Masters champion Danny Willett in singles, to help the United States reclaim the Ryder Cup with a victory over Europe at Hazeltine. He started the new season with a tie for 40th last week in the WGC-HSBC Champions in China after taking several weeks off, but should be ready to jumpstart his season in Las Vegas, where he is playing for the fourth time. Koepka missed the cut in 2014 and last year, but in 2015 he played the weekend at TPC Summerlin in 64-68 to tie for fourth, five strokes behind winner Ben Martin. His only PGA Tour victory came in the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, but last season he tied for second in the FedEx St. Jude Classic and lost a playoff to Sergio Garcia in the AT&T Byron Nelson.
  1. Kevin Na, United States — Yet another local resident playing this week at TPC Summerlin, Na claimed his only PGA Tour victory in Las Vegas in 2011, leading for most of the last three rounds with scores of 63-66-65 to beat Nick Watney by two strokes. He is playing in the tournament for the 10th time and came close to winning again last year, posting four rounds of 68 or better before finishing in a tie for second, one shot behind winner Smylie Kaufman. Na tied for the lead with a 25-foot birdie putt on the 16th hole, but made a bogey at No. 17 before lipping out a 15-foot birdie putt on the final hole that would have forced a playoff. After finishing second twice and third also on two occasions last season, he opened the new season by tying for seventh in the Safeway Open, tying for 29th in the CIMB Classic and tying for 54th in the WGC-HSBC Champions.
  1. Chris Kirk, United States — After making a run for his fifth PGA Tour victory last week before closing with a 70 to tie for second, four shots behind winner Cody Gribble in the Sanderson Farms Championship, Kirk will try to bounce back in his fourth start in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. He hasn’t had much success in the tournament, missing the cut in 2007 and tying for 36th in both 2012 and 2014. However, he is off to a strong start to the 2016-17 season, also tying for eighth in the Safeway Open. Kirk is coming off something of a disappointing year, in which he finished in the top 10 only three times, after winning the in each of the previous three years at the 2013 McGladrey Classic, the 2014 Deutsche Bank Championship in the FedExCup playoffs and the 2015 Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial. His best result last year was a tie for fifth in the WGC-Dell Match Play Championship.
  1. Ryo Ishikawa, Japan — Great things were predicted for Ishikawa when he claimed his first victory in a professional event as a 15-year-old amateur and he has won 15 times in Japan, but never on the PGA Tour. However at 25, he still has plenty of time to achieve success and challenge Hideki Matsuyuma, a three-time winner on the U.S. circuit, as the best Japanese player of this generation. Ishikawa is coming off a tie for 10th in the CIMB Classic that was his fifth consecutive finish in the top 10, including a victory back home in the Rizap KBC Augusta in August. His best result on the PGA Tour was a tie for second in Las Vegas in 2014, although he finished six strokes behind runaway winner Webb Simpson. This will be Ishikawa’s third start at TPC Summerlin and he also tied for 26th in 2014 and tied for 50th last year despite opening with a 65.
  1. Brendan Steele, United States — After starting the season with his second PGA Tour victory in the Safeway Open, Steele was in position for another high finish before he closed with a 73 and slipped to a tie for 26th in the CIMB Classic two weeks ago in Malaysia. At Silverado in the opener, Steele birdied the last three holes to beat Patton Kizzire by one stroke, shooting 67-65 on the weekend to tie the tournament record of 18-under-par for 72 holes and claim his first victory since the 2011 Valero Texas Open. He seems to have his game headed in the right direction again after posting only two top-10 finishes last season. This is Steele’s sixth start in Las Vegas and his best result was a tie for 13th in 2012 after he tied for 16th the year before in his tournament debut. Last year, he shot 68-74 — 142 to miss the cut by two shots.
  1. Jon Rahm, Spain — The rookie from Spain, who was a two-time Ben Hogan Award-winner at Arizona State and the top-ranked amateur in the world, as expected has made a big early splash on the PGA Tour since turning pro earlier this year. He has made the cut in seven of his eight starts, including a tie for second in the RBC Canadian Open and a tie for third in the Quicken Loans National. Of course, Rahm showed as an amateur that he could play with the big boys when he tied for fifth in the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open with his friends and teammates from Arizona State cheering him on. Then he tied for 10th in the OHL Classic at Mayakoba late last year before finishing as low amateur in the U.S. Open with a tie for 23rd in June at Oakmont. Rahm, who started this season with a tie for 15th in the Safeway Open, is making his Las Vegas debut.
  1. Smylie Kaufman, United States — In claiming his first PGA Tour victory last year in Las Vegas, Kaufman torched TPC Summerlin for a bogey-free 10-under-par 61 in the final round. Then he had to sweat it out for two hours in the clubhouse before learning he was one stroke better than Sergio Garcia, Patton Kizzire, Jason Bohn, Cameron Tringale, Brett Stegmaier and Alex Cjeka of Germany. Kaufman, who won the 2015 United Leashing Championship on the Web.com Tour, punctuated that final round in Vegas with a 15-foot eagle putt on the 15th hole and a 20-footer for birdie on the last. He had four top-10 finishes and 10 in the top 25 as a rookie last year to make it through three rounds of the FedExCup playoffs, but has had a slow start to the new season, missing the cut in the Safeway Open and tying for 45th in the CIMB Classic.

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

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