10 Players to Watch: Shriners Hospitals for Children Open

1. Rickie Fowler, United States — Coming off a season in which he won three times, including the Players Championship and the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open, Fowler said he is playing this week not only because he likes Las Vegas but because he doesn’t want to fall behind in the FedEx Cup standings by waiting until January to get the new season started. He should be in good form because he finished the playoffs last month with a win in the Deutsche Bank Championship, a tie for fourth in the BMW Championship and a tie for 10th in the Tour Championship. Fowler is playing for the third time in the Shriners. He tied for seventh at TPC Summerlin in 2009 before tying for 22nd the following year.

2. Kevin Na, United States — Once he gets over his disappointment of losing a playoff to Emiliano Grillo of Argentina last week in the Frys.com Open, Na figures to regroup and be a factor in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. Not only does he get a home game at TPC Summerlin since he lives in Las Vegas, but he won the tournament in 2011 for his only PGA Tour victory. Na reeled off scores of 67-63-66-65 that year to prevail by two strokes over Nick Watney. He is playing in the tournament for the 10th time, and although he does not have another top-10 finish, he has wound up in the top 25 on four other occasions. Last year, Na was forced to withdraw because of an illness after playing 12 holes in round one.

3. Ryan Moore, United States — By closing with a 4-under-par 68 last week in the Frys.com Open, Moore got his 2015-16 PGA Tour season off to a strong start with a tie for 10th. This week, he gets a home game since he lives in Las Vegas and played at UNLV, and he won the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open before the home fans in 2012 for the second of his four victories on the circuit. Three years ago, Moore opened with a 10-under-par 61 and closed with a 66, making a birdie on the 16th hole that held up for a one-stroke victory over Brendon de Jonge of Zimbabwe. He is playing in his hometown event for the 10th time, and he also tied for seventh in 2009 and tied for ninth in 2014.

4. Emiliano Grillo, Argentina — In his first event as a PGA Tour member, Grillo lived up to his billing as a candidate for Rookie of the Year honors when he beat Kevin Na with a birdie on the second playoff hole to win the Frys.com Open. The Shriners will be only his ninth start on the PGA Tour, but he showed last season that be can be a force when he lost in a playoff to Alex Cejka in the Puerto Rico Open and tied for 10th in the Barbasol Championship. Those results helped land him a spot in the Web.com Tour Finals, in which he finished ninth in the Hotel Fitness Championship, tied for second in the Small Business Connection Championship at River Run and won the Web.com Tour Championship to earn his PGA Tour card.

5. Patrick Rodgers, United States — The 2014 College Player of the Year from Stanford continued his strong play on the PGA Tour when he tied for sixth last week in the Frys.com Open at Silverado. However, that wasn’t as good as his best results on the circuit last year, when he tied for second in the Wells Fargo Championship and finished solo third in the Barracuda Championship. A year ago at this time, he was simply hoping to play a full season on the Web.com Tour, but when captured the Colombia Championship on the Triple-A circuit in February, that gave him unlimited exemptions on the PGA Tour for the rest of the season, and he took advantage of them to earn his card for this season.

6. Brandt Snedeker, United States — Last week in the Frys.com Open, Snedeker (pictured) bounced back from an opening 1-over-par 73 to finish in a tie for 17th in the season opener, and he will try to build on that this week in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. He is playing at TPC Summerlin in Las Vegas for the third time. He tied for 24th in 2009 before tying for 10th a year ago, posting four scores in the 60s each time. Last year’s result was the first of his eighth top-10 finishes for the season, including his seventh PGA Tour victory in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. After his shaky first round in the Frys, during which he made only one birdie, Snedeker came back with scores of 69-68-67, making only a single bogey in the final round.

7. Jason Bohn, United States — The 42-year-old veteran got his season off to a terrific start when he stayed in the chase most of the way before finishing in a tie for third in the Frys.com Open. He is staying out west this week to play in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas for the seventh time. Bohn, whose two PGA Tour victories came in the 2006 B.C. Open and the 2010 Zurich Classic of New Orleans, posted his best finish at TPC Summerlin two years ago, when he carded scores of 67-64-69-66 to tie for second, but he was six strokes behind runaway winner Webb Simpson. He has four other finishes in the top 10 in Las Vegas, including a tie for eighth in 2012, when he shot 64 in the third round.

8. Jhonattan Vegas, Venezuela — Making progress in his comeback from shoulder surgery in 2013, Vegas was in the hunt most of the way before finishing in a tie for 10th in the Frys.com Open. He has no status on the PGA Tour, but by finishing in the top 10 at Silverado, he earned a spot in the Shriners field this week. Vegas is playing in the Las Vegas event for the fourth time. In 2012 and 2014, he seemed headed for top-25 finishes by starting with three scores in the 60s both times before closing 73s left him in a tie for 46th and a tie for 40th, respectively. He is trying to regain the form that took him to victory in the 2011 Bob Hope Classic, when he beat Bill Haas and Gary Woodland in a playoff.

9. Martin Laird, Scotland — The Scotsman was high on the leaderboard after opening with 65-71 last week in the Frys.com Open at Silverado, but he played the weekend in 74-76 and skidded to a tie for 64th. However, getting back to Las Vegas for the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open might revive his game, because he claimed the first of his three PGA Tour victories at TPC Summerlin in 2009. Laird posted scores of 63-67-67-68 to get into a playoff with George McNeill and Chad Campbell before winning with a birdie on the third playoff hole. He came close to repeating the next year, when he played the middle rounds in 62-63, but a second 69 dropped him into a playoff with Jonathan Byrd, who incredibly won with a hole-in-one on the fourth extra hole.

10. Brooks Koepka, United States — After fading on Sunday in the Frys.com Open last week when he seemed headed for a high finish, Koepka will try to turn it around this week in his third consecutive appearance in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. After shooting 71-74–145 at TPC Summerlin two years ago to miss the cut by six strokes, last year he posted scores of 69-68-64-68 to tie for fourth, five strokes behind winner Ben Martin. That was the first of his eight top-10 results last season, including his first PGA Tour victory in the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Kopeka shot 6-under-par 66 in the third round last week at Silverado to move into the top 20, but he closed with a 75 after starting with a triple-bogey 7 on the first hole, and he tied for 41st.

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

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