10 Players to Watch: OHL Classic at Mayakoba

  1. Russell Knox, Scotland — The Scot, who has won twice on the PGA Tour in just over a year, had a chance to make it three titles when he was tied for second heading to the final round of his title defense the WGC-HSBC Champions two weeks ago. Then he closed with a 74 and slid to a tie for ninth, his second straight top-10 result to start the new season after he tied for 10th in the CIMB Classic — when he also was in the hunt until another closing 74. Knox (pictured) has finished in the top 25 in seven of his last eight events on the circuit, including his victory in the Travelers Championship in August. He is playing in the OHL Classic at Mayakoba for the fifth time, and after failing to crack the top 25 in his first three appearances, he finished 66-66-65 last year before losing to Graeme McDowell on the first hole of a playoff.
  1. Emiliano Grillo, Argentina — The 2016 Rookie of the Year on the PGA Tour, who captured the Frys.com Open in his first event as an official member of the circuit a year ago, has gotten off to another solid start to the new season. He finished in a tie for 26th in his title defense in what is now the Safeway Open, before tying for 17th in the CIMB Classic and finishing solo 11th in the WGC-HSBC Champions. Grillo has shown amazing consistency for a 24-year-old relative newcomer, having made the cut in his last 15 starts around the world – finishing in the top 20 in nine of those tournaments, with his last missed cut coming in the Players Championship in May. He is making his first start in the OHL Classic at Mayakoba. Grillo tied for 10th in the Tour Championship in September after being one of only two rookies to qualify for the season finale.
  1. Keegan Bradley, United States — The 2011 PGA champion is starting to play the way he did early in his career, with three straight top-25 finishes to open the 2016-17 season. He tied for 22nd in the Safeway Open, the opener, and then finished solo seventh after playing the weekend in 68-68 in the CIMB Classic, before tying for sixth in the WGC-HSBC Champions, where only a 71 in round three kept him from really challenging in the final round. Bradley has three PGA Tour victories but hasn’t won since the 2012 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. He made his first appearance in the OHL Classic at Mayakoba and wound up in a tie for eighth, shooting 68-66 on the weekend, but that was the first of only two finishes in the top 10 he had all season as he struggled with the transition after his anchored putter was banned. He seems to finally be getting on track with his conventional putter.
  1. Jon Rahm, Spain — The rookie out of Arizona State, who won the Ben Hogan Award as the best college player in the country the last two years, has made a seemingly seamless transition to the PGA Tour. He tied for 15th in both the Safeway Open and the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open to start the new season. That came after the Spaniard earned his PGA Tour card without going to the Web.com Tour finals by tying for third in the Quicken Loans National and tying for second in the RBC Canadian Open last summer. Earlier, he finished as low amateur in a tie for 23rd in the U.S. Open at Oakmont before turning pro. Rahm played in the OHL Classic at Mayakoba on a sponsor’s exemption last year and posted a tie for 10th, but he had already showed he could play with the best in the world when he tied for fifth in the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open.
  1. Jim Furyk, United States — A year ago at this time, Furyk was just starting a 7 1/2-month absence because of a wrist injury that eventually required surgery, so he is getting an early start to the new season this week with his first appearance in the OHL Classic at Mayakoba. He has won 27 times as a pro, including 17 on the PGA Tour highlighted by the 2003 U.S. Open at Olympia Fields near Chicago, and showed at times when he returned last year that he has plenty left in the tank at 46. Furyk’s best result was a tie for second in the U.S. Open, three strokes behind Dustin Johnson, at Oakmont in his native Pennsylvania, and he recorded four more finishes in the top 25 the rest of the season. That included a tie for fifth in the Travelers Championship, when in the last round he became the first player in PGA Tour history to shoot 58.
  1. Scott Piercy, United States — Following something of a disappointing tie for 24th last week in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in his hometown of Las Vegas, Piercy is playing for the fifth consecutive week to start the new season. He was in the hunt for three rounds last week at TPC Summerlin before dropping back with an even-par 71 in the final round as the leaders went low. However, it’s been a good start overall, as he tied for third in the Safeway Open and tied for 10th in the CIMB Classic before stumbling in a tie for 63rd in the WGC-HSBC Champions. A three-time winner on the PGA Tour, Piercy will tee it up this week in the OHL Classic at Mayakoba for the seventh time and last year he posted his best result, a tie for 16th, with a third-round 73 keeping him from a top-10 finish.
  1. Graeme McDowell, Northern Ireland — McDowell was suffering through his worst year as a pro when he went to Mexico last November to see if he could salvage anything early in the new season. He posted a 63 in the third round at El Camaleon Golf Club and shot 66 on the final day, holing an eight-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to get into a playoff with Russell Knox of Scotland and Jason Bohn. On the first extra hole, McDowell hit a brilliant 5-iron shot from 200 yards to within three feet and made the birdie putt to claim his third PGA Tour victory, including the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. McDowell returned home for two events in the United Kingdom recently, tying for 15th in the Alfred Dunhill Links Champion and tying for fourth British Masters, but he shot 70-70 — 140 to miss the cut last week in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas.
  1. Chris Kirk, United States — After winning four times on the PGA Tour, including a victory in each of the previous three years, Kirk was winless in 2016 but has had a solid start to the new season. He tied for eighth in the Safeway Open, the 2016-17 opener, before tying for second, four shots behind winner Cody Gribble in the Sanderson Farms Champions, but had a hiccup last week when he tied for 61st in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. Kirk opened strong with 66-65 in Las Vegas, but played the weekend in 75-74 and will be trying to bounce back this week in his first appearance in the OHL Classic at Mayakoba. His fast start to the new season gave him three straight top-10 results, as he also tied for 10th in the BMW Championship, third event of the FedExCup playoffs in September, but that wasn’t enough to get him into the season-ending Tour Championship.
  1. Harris English, United States — English was projected to be a star on the PGA Tour when he came out of the University of Georgia in 2011. After winning the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational as an amateur on what is now the Web.com Tour, English won twice on the PGA Tour in 2013. However, he hasn’t found the winner’s circle since, although the talent definitely is there. The second of those victories came in the OHL Classic at Mayakoba, when he shot 62 in the second round on his way to a four-stroke victory over Brian Stuard. He tied for 37th in his title defense at El Camaleon Golf Club, but shot 72-71 — 143 last year to miss the cut by three strokes. English came close twice last season, when he finished second in the Dean & DeLuca Invitational and third in the Waste Management Phoenix Open, and last week he tied for fourth in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open with four straight 67s.
  1. Anirban Lahiri, India — Lahiri, who is making his debut in the OHL Classic, has won 18 times as a pro in Asia and there are plenty of people who expect that to start happening soon on the PGA Tour. He came close three weeks ago in the CIMB Classic, building a four-stroke lead with scores of 66-66-65, but he closed with a 72 and slipped to a tie for third in Malaysia. He has been playing full-time on the U.S. Tour for only the last two years and has had his moments, like when he opened with a 64 to tie for the lead in the 2016 Career Builder Challenge, but he played the last three days in 68-71-71 and fell back to a tie for 29th in the Southern California desert. Lahiri’s best result last season was a tie for sixth in the Dean & DeLuca Invitational, but his best performance in the U.S. probably was a tie for fifth in the 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.

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

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