By Tom LaMarre
Tournaments scheduled in the early portion of the PGA Tour have an even more difficult time lining up top players in this year like none other because the new season has started right after the Tour Championship and the U.S. Open.
One of those events is the 53rd Sanderson Farms Championship, which will begin Thursday at the Country Club of Jackson in Jackson, Miss.
However, tournament officials are emphasizing the fact that six major champions will be in the field, plus three winners of the Players Championship, along with defending champion Sebastian Munoz of Colombia.
“So many people have worked so hard, for so long, to improve the strength of our field, the golf course, and the charitable impact from this tournament that it is impossible to thank them all,” President Pat Busby of Century Club Charities, which is part of the tournament management team. “With the fast greens and recent course improvements, the 2020 tournament should be a great warm up for this year’s Masters Tournament and a fast start for the 2020-21 FedEx Cup Season
“We sincerely appreciate the support of Sanderson Farms, our tournament sponsors, fans, volunteers, Pro-Am participants, tournament staff, vendors, players, caddies, the PGA Tour, the Country Club of Jackson, and our Century Club Charities members, which allows us to continue making a positive impact on Mississippi charities.”
The tournament started out as the Magnolia State Classic and also has been known as the Deposit Guaranty Classic, the Southern Farm Classic, the Viking Classic and the True South Classic.
Previous winners include Craig Stadler, Roger Maltbie, Payne Stewart, Luke Donald, Jim Gallagher Jr., Gene Sauers, Fred Funk, Billy Ray Brown, Steve Lowery, Chad Campbell and Woody Austin.
Among those in the field are Sergio Garcia of Spain, the 2017 Masters champion and 2008 Players Championship winner; Henrik Stenson of Sweden, who captured the 2016 Open Championship and the 2013 FedEx Cup; Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa, the 2010 Open Championship winner; Charl Schwartzel, of South Africa, the 2011 Masters champion; Lucas Glover, the 2009 U.S. Open champion, and Jason Dufner, the 2013 PGA Championship winner.
Also playing are Brandt Snedeker, the 2012 FedEx Cup Champion; Si Woo Kim of South Korea, winner of the 2017 Players Championship winner, and K.J. Choi, the 2011 Players Championship winner.
Other than Munoz, among the former Sanderson Farms champions playing this week are former world Donald, Campbell, Ryan Armour, Bill Haas, Chris Kirk, Peter Malnati, Scott Stallings and Nick Taylor.
Among the young guns are Scottie Scheffler, Aaron Wise, Henrik Norlander of Sweden, Xinjun Zhang of China, Dylan Frittelli of South Africa, Denny McCarthy, Talor Gooch and Wyndham Clark.
Whether they are veterans, rookies or somewhere in between, these guys all are hoping to get an early jump in the FedEx Cup standings.
- Louis Oosthuizen, South Africa – A 14-time winner as a pro, including the 2010 Open Championship at St. Andrews, Oosthuizen comes off a solo third in the U.S. Open. He finished last season with three top-25 finishes in his last four events, including a tie for sixth in the WGC-FedEx St. Jude and earlier was third in the WGC-HSBC Champions.
- Zach Johnson, United States – Winner of the 2007 Masters and the 2015 Open Championship among his 12 PGA Tour victories, Johnson tied for eighth in the U.S. Open two weeks ago and tied for seventh late last season in the Wyndham Championship. He tied for 14th in the Sanderson Farms last year, closing with 68-69.
- Byeong-Hun An, South Korea – Finished third in his first appearance in the Sanderson Farms a year ago after leading through 36 holes at 66-66, recording one of his five top-10 finishes and nine in the top 25. An has won three times around the world, but lost twice in PGA Tour playoffs at the 2016 Zurich Classic and the 2018 Memorial Tournament.
- Adam Long, United States – Was in the hunt most of the way last week at Puntacana with scores of 65-64 in the middle rounds, but a closing 75 left him in a tie for fifth a week after he tied for 13th in his first U.S. Open. Long, who claimed his only PGA Tour victory in the 2019 Desert Classic, tied for 23rd in the Sanderson Farms last season.
- Sebastian Munoz, Colombia – The defending Sanderson Farms champion wound up eighth in the 2019-20 FedEx Cup standings by also finishing third in the RSM Classic among five top-10 finishes and nine in top 25. Claimed his first PGA Tour victory and fourth as a pro in 2019 by shooting 63 in round three and beating Sungjae Im in a playoff.
- Nate Lashley, United States – Was in the chase all the way last week at Puntacana before finishing solo fourth after recording in ties for third at the Greenbrier and in the Waste Management Phoenix Open last season. Lashley, who won 2017 Rocket Mortgage Classic, tied for 20th in the Sanderson Farms Championship last year with bookend 69s.
- Sungjae Im, South Korea – Claimed his first PGA Tour victory and fourth as a pro in the Honda Classic last year, and lost in a playoff to Sebastian Munoz at the Sanderson Farms after posting four rounds in the 60s. After finishing 11th recently in the Tour Championship, Im opened this season by finishing 22nd in his second U.S. Open.
- Stewart Cink, United States – Winner of the 2009 Open Championship at Turnberry ended an 11-year victory drought by claming the Safeway Open for his seventh PGA Tour victory to open the new season. Cink tied for 14th in the 2002 Sanderson Farms and tied for 25th the next year, but he didn’t return until last season, when he tied for 28th.
- Emiliano Grillo, Argentina – His four pro wins include the 2016 Frys.com Open, in which he beat Kevin Na in a playoff. Grillo tied for third in 3M Open and tied for ninth in the Barracuda late last season, started new season with a tie for 29th in the Safeway and a tie for 21st at Puntacana. Opened with 67 and tied for 39th in 2019 Sanderson Farms.
- Chez Reavie, United States – Started the new season with a tie for third in the Safeway Open, closing with 66-66, after tying for sixth in the WBC-FedEx St. Jude and tying for 10th in the Genesis Invitational among five top-25 finishes last season. Winner of 2019 Travelers and 2008 Canadian Open tied for 16th in the 2011 Sanderson Farms.
OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH: Pat Perez, United States; Corey Conners, Canada;
Sean O’Hair, United States; Henrik Stenson, Sweden; Brandt Snedeker, United States; Si Woo Kim, South Korea; Sepp Straka, Austria; Sam Burns, United States; Russell Knox, Scotland; Keegan Bradley, United States.
- Scottie Scheffler, United States – Twice Korn Ferry Tour winner had three recent top-5s including T-4 in PGA, T-5 in Tour Championship. T-16 in Sanderson Farms last year.
- Carlos Ortiz, Mexico – Three-time winner on Korn Ferry Tour finished T-3 at 2018 Sanderson Farms and T-4 last year. T-2 at Mayakoba and T-4 at Houston last season.
- Will Zalatoris, United States – Leads Korn Ferry Tour’s 2020 points list with 10 top-10s, including a win, then was T-6 in the U.S. Open and T-8 at Puntacana last week.
- Xinjun Zhang, China – Six-time winner on lower tours, Zhang was T-14 in Safeway, T-11 at Puntacana after T-4 in Houston, T-7 in Safeway, T-10 in Memorial last season.
- Patrick Rodgers, United States – Korn Ferry Tour winner in 2015 was T-11 last week at Puntacana and posted seven T-25s last season, including T-14 in Sanderson Farms.