By Tom LaMarre
Top-ranked Brooks Koepka will make his first start of the new season this week in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open and that famous chip on his shoulder should be firmly in place when he gets to the first tee at TPC Summerlin http://tpc.com/summerlin in Las Vegas on Thursday.
The 29-year-old Koepka, who admits to being motivated by some of the slights he has received by being somewhat overlooked at times among the top players, lost out recently to Rory McIlroy in voting by his peers for the 2018-19 PGA Tour Player of the Year Award.
For the record, Koepka has said only: “Rory had a great year, congrats to him.”
Koepka claimed his fourth major title in three seasons, the PGA Championship, along with the WGC-FedEx St. Jude and the C.J. Cup at Nine Bridges last season, while McIlroy captured the Players Championship, the RBC Canadian Open and the Tour Championship to win the season-long FedEx Cup race.
In addition, Koepka finished ahead of McIlroy in all four major championships and was selected Player of the Year by the PGA of America.
Even McIlroy said: “I thought maybe Brooks winning the PGA this year was going to be the difference-maker.”
Koepka spoke up during his pre-U.S. Open news conference in June that he was not happy about being left out of a Fox TV commercial promoting the tournament, which he had won two years in a row.
“I’m not even in it,” he said. “So, I don’t know. You guys tell me. … There’s a couple of things where it’s just mind-boggling. It’s like, really? Like how do you forget that?”
On his way to winning the PGA Championship in May at Bethpage Black, some fans were noisily rooting against him and cheering for his buddy, Dustin Johnson, and at the RBC Canadian Open, Koepka told reporters about going to work out at a gym, where a fan was almost drooling about having seen Johnson up close.
“I don’t know if he was just trying to get my attention or what, but he talked about Dustin for about 10 minutes to anybody within earshot,” Koepka said.
In addition, Koepka was not pleased with Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee for reportedly criticizing him for losing weight to look good in a photo shoot.
Koepka obviously is the favorite in the field this week that includes defending champion Bryson DeChambeau, 2018 winner Patrick Cantlay, 2014 champ Webb Simpson, Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott, Gary Woodland, Tony Finau and Adam Hadwin.
Other former Shriners champions returning include Ryan Moore, Kevin Na, Martin Laird of Scotland and three-time winner Jim Furyk.
Joaquin Niemann of Chile, Sebastian Munoz of Colombia and Cameron Champ of Sacramento, who have won the first three tournaments of the new season, also are playing along with other young guns Matthew Wolff, Scottie Scheffler, Collin Morikawa, Lanto Griffin, Dylan Frittelli of South Africa, Fabian Gomez of Argentina, Henrik Norlander of Sweden and Xinjun Zhang of China.
But despite all this talent, you can’t overlook No. 1.
- Brooks Koepka, United States – Coming off a season in which he won three times and finished third in the FedEx Cup standings after tying for third in the Tour Championship, Koepka makes his first start in the new campaign. He is playing for the fourth time in Las Vegas, finishing second two years ago, tying for fourth in 2015 and missing the cut twice.
- Patrick Cantlay, United States – The seventh-ranked Cantlay comes off disappointing tie for 40th in the Safeway Open to start his season. He claimed his first PGA Tour title in the Shriners two years ago in a playoff and finished one stroke behind Bryson DeChambeau last year in his title defense. Cantlay also won the Memorial last season.
- Webb Simpson, United States – In addition to claiming one of his four PGA Tour victories by six strokes in the 2014 Shriners, Simpson tied for fourth in 2010 and 2015, and is making his ninth start in the tournament. He also won the Players two years ago and is coming off a season in which he finished second three times and had six top-10s.
- Bryson DeChambeau, United States – The defending champion, who claimed his fifth PGA Tour victory last year by one shot over Patrick Cantlay, missed the cut three weeks ago at the Greenbrier, but bounced back with a tie for 13th in the Safeway Open last week. The 10th-ranked DeChambeau tied for seventh in Las Vegas two years ago.
- Sebastian Munoz, Colombia – After claiming his first PGA Tour victory two weeks ago in the Sanderson Farms Championship, Munoz was in the final group last week in the Safeway Open, but closed with a 76 to tie for 33rd. The early FedEx Cup points leader, who also tied for seventh at the Greenbrier, tied for 41st in the Shriners last season.
- Joaquin Niemann, Chile – The 20-year-old Niemann is coming back from a week off after tying for 54th in the Sanderson Farms Championship following his first PGA Tour victory to open the new season in A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier. He is making his second start in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, having tied for 10th last year.
- Adam Hadwin, Canada – After chasing winner Cameron Champ all the way to the finish before coming up one stroke short of what would have been his second PGA Tour victory last week in the Safeway Open, Hadwin will make his fourth start in the Shriners. His best result was a tie for 10th in 2015, when he closed with a 63 at TPC Summerlin.
- Gary Woodland, United States – The reigning U.S. Open champion makes his first start of the 2019-20 season after a campaign in which he finished in the top10 on eight occasions, including second twice. Woodland is making his third straight start in Las Vegas after tying for 10th last year with a closing 63, after tying for 18th the year before.
- Cameron Champ, United States – His second career victory last week in the Safeway Open came a week after he tied for 28th in the Sanderson Farms Championship, and Champ is third in the early FedEx Cup standings. This is his second start in Las Vegas, as he fell out ot the top 10 with a closing 73 and finished in a tie for 28th last season.
- Adam Scott, Australia – Surprisingly, Scott is making his first start in Las Vegas after attending UNLV and earning All-American honors before turning pro in 2000. He opened the new season with a tie for 17th in the Safeway Open after recording nine finishes in the top 10 last season, but the last of his 13 PGA Tour victories came in 2016.
OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH – Brandt Snedeker, United States; Dylan Frittelli, South Africa; Tony Finau, United States; Abraham Ancer, Mexico; Jason Kokrak, United States; Ryan Moore, United States; Collin Morikawa, United States; Matthew Wolff, United States; Byeong Hun An, South Korea.
- Scottie Scheffler, United States – A top candidate to be one of the next young guns to win, Scheffler has a T-7 at the Greenbrier and a T-16 in the Sanderson Farms as a rookie.
- Xinjun Zhang, China – A six-time winner on the lower pro tours, Zhang recorded a tie for seventh last week in the Safeway Open by shooting 70 or better in all four rounds.
- Lanto Griffin, United States – A second-round 73 cost him a top-10 in the Safeway, as he tied for 17th. He also was 13th at the Greenbrier and was T-11 in Sanderson Farms.
- Carlos Ortiz, Mexico – Tied for fourth in the Sanderson Farms two weeks ago and birdied four of the last six holes to salvage a tie for 40th last week in the Safeway Open.
- Robby Shelton, United States – A two-time winner on the Korn Ferry Tour last season, Shelton record a T-7 at the Greenbrier and a T-28 in the Sanderson Farms.
For first-round tee times visit https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard.html