By Tom LaMarre
The Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship has come of age and when the tournament is played this week on the Corales Course in La Altagracia, Dominican Republic, it will offer full FedEx Cup points for the first time.
The tournament was first played in 2015 and 2016 as an event on the Korn Ferry Tour won by Nate Lashley and Dominic Bozzelli, before becoming an opposite field event on the PGA Tour in 2018, when Brice Garnett won by four strokes over Keith Mitchell.
Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland, who won the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, gave the tournament even more credibility last year when he claimed the title by one stroke over Mackenzie Hughes (pictured) of Canada and Chris Stroud.
The Corales Puntacana originally was scheduled for March 26-29, but was postponed during the PGA Tour shutdown because of the Coronavirus pandemic, and now becomes the third tournament of the 2020-21 season.
“Puntacana was pivotal for me,” said McDowell, who claimed his fourth PGA Tour victory. but first since the 2016 OHL Classic at Mayokoba. “It certainly was a big turning point and step in the right direction. I went in with the right attitude.
“I was it as an opportunity, not punishment. I think I did a great job adjusting my attitude and understanding these opposite weeks as an opportunity.”
McDowell was 257th in the World Golf Rankings when he arrived in the Dominican Republic, but after opening with a 73, he shot 64-64 in the middle rounds to climb into contention and took the lead for good with a seven-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole while closing with a 69.
G-Mac is passing up the Irish Open for the first time in nearly two decades to defend his Puntacana title.
“I have made the very difficult decision to not travel and compete in this year’s DDF Irish Open at Galgorm Castle,” McDowell wrote in a post on Instagram. “I have never failed to attend this great event in 18 previous years and regret that due to the necessary changes made to the event, travel and scheduling issues, I am choosing to not play this year.
“I will be competing that same week at the Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship, defending the title I won in 2019. Defending a title is something special and an honour I have tried to take seriously all my career.
“We will hopefully be back in 2021, with the event at full strength, surrounded by the great Irish fans.”
Joining G-Mac in Puntacana is Henrik Stenson of Sweden, who won the 2016 Open Championship at Royal Troon, along with other veterans such as Charley Hoffman, Pat Perez, Chad Campbell, Charles Howell III, Jhonattan Vegas of Venezuela, Branden Grace of South Africa, Bill Haas, Seamus Power of Ireland, Ryan Armour, Emiliano Grillo of Argentina and Aaron Baddeley of Australia.
Among the young guns are Will Zalatoris, 18-year-old Akshay Bhatia, Henrik Norlander of Sweden, Xinjun Zhang of China, James Hahn, Beau Hossler, Sam Ryder, Justin Suh and Fabian Gomez of Argentina.
With all the big names staying home after the U.S. Open last week, the winner might create a career turning point as McDowell did last year.
- MacKenzie Hughes, Canada – Shot 66-66 on the weekend last year at Puntacana before finishing one stroke behind Graeme McDowell in a tie for second. Hughes, who claimed his only PGA Tour victory in the 2016 RSM Classic, had four top-10 results last season to make the playoffs and finished in the top 15 of all three post-season events.
- Graeme McDowell, Northern Ireland – G-Mac, who has won 16 times as a pro including the 2010 U.S. Open, ended a mid-career slump when he won at Puntacana last year. He backed that up by winning the Saudi International on the Euro Tour in February after tying for fourth a month earlier in the Sony Open in Hawaii on the PGA Tour.
- Charley Hoffman, United States – Another veteran trying to get his career going in the right direction again, Hoffman is making his debut at Puntacana. Has won four PGA Tour titles, the last coming in the 2016 Valero Texas Open. Had six finishes in the top 25 last season, the best a tie for seventh in the Workday and a tie for ninth in the Farmers.
- Henrik Stenson, Sweden – The highest-ranked player in the field at No. 43, the Big Swede has 21 victories in his career, the last coming in the 2019 Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas. Stenson claimed his only major title in the 2016 Open Championship at Royal Troon, but played only five times on PGA Tour last season due to the pandemic.
- Emiliano Grillo, Argentina – Has three victories as a pro, including the Frys.com Open en route to being named 2016 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year. Grillo finished third in both the 3M Open and the Puerto Rico Open last season in addition to tying for ninth in the Barracuda Championship, and is comes off a tie for 29th in the Safeway Open.
- Ryan Armour, United States – Won South of the border in the 2016 Panama Claro Championship on what is now the Korn Ferry Tour, and claimed his only PGA Tour victory by five strokes in 2017 Sanderson Farms Championship. Armour’s best results last season were a tie for fourth in the Rocket Mortgage and tie for sixth in Travelers.
- Pat Perez, United States – Coming off a tie for ninth in the Safeway Open to start the new season, Perez is playing at Puntacana for the first time. Has won three times on the PGA Tour, the last time in the 2017 CIMB Classic. His best results last season were solo third in Shriners Hospitals for Children Open and a tie for eighth in Mayakoba Classic.
- Will Zalatoris, United States – Points leader on the Korn Ferry Tour this season thanks to 10 finishes in the top 10, including his first professional victory in the TPC Colorado Championship at Heron Lakes. That earned his a spot in his first major championship, and he tied for sixth in the U.S. Open last week at Winged Foot.
- Patton Kizzire, United States – Has won twice on the PGA Tour in the 2017 OHL Classic at Mayakoba and the 2018 Sony Open in Hawaii, where he beat James Hahn with a par on the sixth playoff hole. Kizzire, making Puntacana debut, is trying to bounce back from a sub-par 2019-20 season, when his best result was a tie for sixth in the Travelers.
- Charles Howell III, United States – One of the few players in the field who played last week in the 120th U.S. Open, where he finished solo 30th at Winged Foot in his 12th appearance our national championship. A three-time winner on the PGA Tour, his best results last year were a tie for third in 3M Open and a tie for fourth in the Safeway.
OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH: Jhonattan Vegas, Venezuela; Bill Haas, United States; Sangmoon Bae, South Korea; Martin Laird, Scotland; Aaron Baddeley, Australia; Kevin Chappell, United States; Patrick Rodgers, United States; Adam Long, United States; Seamus Power, Ireland; Corey Conners, Canada.
- Henrik Norlander, Sweden – Two-time winner on Korn Ferry Tour had a T-5 in RSM Classic, T-6 in the Memorial and a T-9 in the Sony in first full PGA Tour season.
- Thomas Detry, Belgium – A two-time winner as a pro, Detry was second twice on Euro Tour this year. Seemed set for top-25 in U.S. Open before closing with 81 to T-49.
- Akshay Bhatia, United States – The 18-year-old finished T-9 to start the season in Safeway Open. Won 11 times as an amateur, was second in 2018 U.S Junior Amateur.
- Beau Hossler, United States – Opened new season with a T-23 in Safeway. Lost in playoff to Ian Poulter in 2018 Houston Open and had a T-9 last year in the Farmers.
- Fabian Gomez, Argentina – Won 2015 FedEx St. Jude Classic and 2016 Sony Open in first two years on PGA Tour, among his 15 pro titles, and is trying to regain that form.
For first-round tee times, visit https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard.html