–Courtesy of The Sports Xchange, TSX Golf Editor Tom LaMarre
Rickie Fowler, United States — The highest-ranked player in the field at No. 10 in the world, Fowler is playing for the first time since he helped the United States retain the Presidents Cup last month by beating the International team at Liberty National in New Jersey. He posted a 3-0-1 record, including a 6-and-4 victory over Emiliano Grillo of Argentina in singles. Fowler claimed his fourth PGA Tour title last season in the Honda Classic, one of his 10 top-10 results, including a tie for second in the BMW Championship during the playoffs to wind up seventh in the FedExCup standings. Rickie, who has won four times on the PGA Tour and seven tournaments as a pro, is making his first start in the OHL Classic at Mayakoba. As good as he is, there is a feeling that he does not win enough for his talent and a victory at El Camaleon Golf Club in Mexico would be a good way for Fowler to quiet that talk and get the new season off to a great start.
Pat Perez, United States — The best player on the PGA Tour so far in the new season, Perez returns to defend his title in the OHL Classic at Mayakoba. He had doubts about his career when he went to Mexico last year after turning 40 and undergoing left shoulder surgery, but surprised even himself by claiming his second victory on the PGA Tour by two strokes over Gary Woodland. Perez, whose only previous victory came in the 2009 Bob Hope Classic, shot 9-under-par 62 in the third round to take the lead and finished it off with a 67. He was making his third start on a Major Medical Extension and regained his PGA Tour card with the victory. Perez, No. 333 in the world when he returned last year, has climbed to No. 18 this season by winning the CIMB Classic in Malaysia before tying for fifth in the CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges in South Korea and tying for 24th in the WGC-HSBC Champions in China to take the early lead in the FedExCup standings.
Whee Kim, South Korea — One of the big surprises in the early weeks of the season, the 25-year-old Kim could have won the Shriners Hospitals for Children with a par on the final hole of regulation. He made bogey to close with a 5-under-par 66 and wound up losing to Patrick Cantlay on the second hole of a playoff. That came after Kim finished solo fourth in the CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges two weeks ago at home in South Korea and he is eighth in the FedExCup standings heading to Mexico. The 25-year-old Kim, whose only pro victory came in the 2012 Shinhan Donghae Classic on the Korean Tour, showed last season he could play with the best in the world on the PGA Tour when he tied for second in the FedEx St. Jude Classic and tied for fifth in the Puerto Rico Open. This will be his third start in the OHL Classic at Mayakoba and he has yet to play well at El Camaleon Golf Club, tying for 63rd last year after shooting 70-72 — 142 to miss the cut by three shots in 2015.
Kevin Chappell, United States — In his first start since helping the United States retain the Presidents Cup last month at Liberty National, Chappell opened the new season with a tie for 20th last week in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas. He started with a 4-under-par 67 and closed with a 68, but a 75 in windy conditions in the third round kept him from starting 2017-18 with a top-10 finish. Chappell, who recorded a 1-1-1 record in the Presidents Cup, including a halve with Marc Leishman of Australia in Sunday singles, earned his first PGA Tour victory last April when he beat U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka by one stroke in the Valero Texas Open. He finished 27th in the FedExCup standings on the strength of five finishes in the top 10, including a tie for sixth in the Northern Trust to open the playoffs. In his only previous start in the OHL Classic at Mayakoba, he tied for 71st in 2011.
Graeme McDowell, Northern Ireland — The 38-year-old McDowell, trying to play back to the form that took him to victory in the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, closed with a 5-under-par 66 last week to tie for 10th in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas. He has won 14 times over the course of his pro career, including two years ago in the OHL Classic at Mayakoba. He took the lead with an 8-under-par 63 in the second round, fell back a bit with a 70 the next day, but closed with a 66 to get into a playoff with Jason Bohn and Russell Knox of Scotland. After making an eight-foot par putt on the final hole of regulation, McDowell hit a 5-iron approach shot on the first extra hole that grazed the cup as it went past, then sank a three-foot birdie putt for his first victory on the U.S. Tour since the 2013 RBC Heritage. He finished in a tie for 24th in his title defense, following an opening 75 with 65-65-68.
Chesson Hadley, United States — After being forced to head back to the Web.com Tour last season to regain his PGA Tour card, Hadley has returned to the big tour with three straight top-five finishes to start the new season. He tied for third in the Safeway Open before finishing solo second in the Sanderson Farms Championship and tying for fourth last week in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas, where he could have been in a playoff but made bogey on the last hole to close with a 3-under-par 68. Dating to the end of the Web.com Tour season, Hadley has finished in the top 10 in six of his last seven tournaments, including his second victory of the year in the Albertson Boise Open, and is seventh in the FedExCup standings. He will be making his second appearance in the OHL Classic at Mayakoba, having shot 75-70 — 145 to miss the cut by four strokes in 2014 at El Camaleon Golf Club.
Bryson DeChambeau, United States — Coming off a solid first full season that produced his initial victory on the PGA Tour in the John Deere Classic, DeChambeau got off to a good start in 2017-18 with a tie for 17th in the Safeway Open. Then he tied for seventh in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open last week in Las Vegas, where he posted bookend 4-under-par 67s. The 24-year-old out of SMU has made solid progression in the last three years, winning the NCAA Championship and the U.S. Amateur in 2015, before turning pro and winning the DAP Championship on the Web.com Tour the next year en route to earning his PGA Tour card. The only other players to claim those two major amateur titles in the same year were Jack Nicklaus (1961), Phil Mickelson (1990), Tiger Woods (1996) and Ryan Moore (2004). DeChambeau is making his second start in the OHL Classic at Mayakoba, having tied for 66th last year, shooting 68-69 in the middle rounds.
Charley Hoffman, United States — The 2000 graduate of UNLV who lives in Las Vegas tied for 18th in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open last week and donated his paycheck of $98,600 to the fund for victims of the mass-shooting in Las Vegas last month. It was a good start to his new season after he came close to adding to his total of four PGA Tour victories by tying for second in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and finishing solo second in the RBC Canadian Open last year, when he was 20th in the FedExCup standings. One of those four victories came in the 2014 OHL Classic at Mayakoba, when he carded bookend 5-under-par 66s and held off Shawn Stefani by one stroke. Hoffman needed a closing par to secure the victory and got it after being forced to hit a shot left-handed from the base of a tree following a wild drive. He has carded identical scores of 71-70 — 141 to miss the cut at El Camaleon Golf Club each of the last two years.
Beau Hossler, United States — Hossler is not considered a rookie since he played seven times on the PGA Tour last season on sponsor exemptions, but he’s gotten off to a strong start to his first full campaign on the circuit with a tie for 10th in the Sanderson Farms Championship and a tie for seventh in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. He shared the 54-hole lead last week in Las Vegas after posting a 5-under-par 66, but didn’t record a birdie while closing with a 73 that included 16 pars to slide down the leaderboard. Although he has yet to win as a pro after claiming 14 titles as an amateur, Hossler came close when he finished solo second in the Air Capital Classic and the Lecom Health Classic last year while finishing 23rd on the Web.com Tour money list to earn his PGA Tour card for this season. The former All-American at Texas is making his debut in the OHL Classic at Mayakoba.
Patrick Reed, United States — Trying to play his way back to the form that produced five PGA Tour victories from over four seasons through 2016, Reed tied for 11th in the CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges in South Korea to open his season. But then he struggled to a tie for 50th after starting strong with a 6-under-par 66 in the WGC-HSBC Champions in China. Ranked No. 22 in the world, he came close to adding to his victory total when he tied for second behind Justin Thomas in the PGA Championship last August, and he added a tie for sixth a few weeks later in the Dell Technologies Championship during the playoffs. Those results helped him finish 22nd in the FedExCup standings after a tie for 13th in the Tour Championship, but he had only four results in the top 10 all season. Reed is playing in the OHL Classic at Mayakoba for the first time and is seeking his first victory since the Barclays to open the 2016 playoffs.
Tom LaMarre has been a sportswriter and copy editor for more than 50 years, including 15 years with the Oakland Tribune and 22 with the Los Angeles Times. He was the Tribune’s beat writer for the Oakland Raiders for seven seasons in the 1970s, highlighted by their 32-14 victory over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl XI at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, and collaborated on a book, Winning Offensive Football, with quarterback Ken Stabler. He also covered the Oakland Athletics when they won three consecutive World Series during the 1970s and the Golden State Warriors when they won the NBA championship in the 1974-75 season. With the Times, he wrote columns on golf, football and skiing. These days, he is the Golf Editor for The Sports Xchange. LaMarre graduated from Skyline High in Oakland and attended the University of San Francisco.
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