10 Players to Watch: Shriner’s Hospitals for Children Open


By Tom LaMarre – Courtesy The Sports Xchange

  1. Tony Finau, United States — After tying for 11th in the WGC-HSBC Champions, Finau made the long flight back from China to play this week in Las Vegas. A late bogey cost him a second top-10 result in three starts to open the 2017-18 season, as he also finished second to Brendan Steele in the Safeway Open and tied for 26th in the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges in South Korea. The strong start has placed Finau fifth in the early FedExCup standings after he wrapped up last season with ties for seventh in both the BMW Championship and the Tour Championship. That gave him eight top-10 finishes for the season and he wound up 19th in the final point standings. Finau, a native of Utah, gets close to a home game in his fourth start in Vegas, having tied for seventh in his first appearance in 2014 and tied for 16th two years ago before a 74 dropped in to a tie for 41st after he played the middle rounds in 65-65 last year.
  1. Webb Simpson, United States — The 2012 U.S. Open champion arrives at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open with top 20 finishes in his last three starts, having tied for ninth in the BMW Championship and tied for 13th in the Tour Championship to finish last season, before opening the new campaign with a tie for 17th in the Safeway Open. Having adapted to the ban of his anchored putter at the start of 2016, Simpson recorded six top-10 results in 2016-17 to finish 17th in the FedExCup standings. He earned one of his four PGA Tour victories four years ago at TPC Summerlin, scorching the course with scores of 64-63-67-66 to win by six strokes over Jason Bohn and Ryo Ishikawa of Japan. This will be his seventh start in Las Vegas, and he also tied for fourth in both 2009 and in his title defense in 2014. Simpson is 72-under-par in his 22 rounds on the course, having figured it out since missing the cut in 2008.
  1. Anirban Lahiri, India — Having recorded 18 pro victories in Asia including two in European Tour events, Lahiri is trying to prove that he can have that kind of success on the PGA Tour, and he had his moments last season. He tied for second in the Memorial Tournament with a closing 65 and tied for ninth in the BMW Championship. The latter result in the third event of the FedExCup playoffs left him 51st in the point standings and outside the top 30 who made it to the Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta. Lahiri got off to a terrific start to the new season in two events in Asia, tying for 10th in the CIMB Classic in Malaysia and tying for fifth in the CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges in South Korea, where he had a chance to win before closing with a disappointing 74. He will try to keep that momentum going this week when he plays for the first time in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.
  1. Kevin Chappell, United States — Playing for the first time since helping the United States retain the Presidents Cup, Chappell will be trying to build on a breakthrough season on the PGA Tour. He claimed his first PGA Tour victory and second as a pro with a birdie on the final hole to edge U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka by one stroke in the Valero Texas Open. That was one of Chappell’s five top-10 finishes, including a tie for seventh in the Masters and a tie for sixth in the Northern Trust to open the playoffs. He reached the Tour Championship and finished 27th in the FedExCup point standings. Steve Stricker made Chappell a Captain’s Pick for the President’s Cup at Liberty National in Jersey City, where he recorded a 1-1-1 record and clinched at least a tie for the U.S. team by halving his singles match with Mark Leishman of Australia. Chappell is making his fourth start in Las Vegas, but his best result was a tie for 40th in 2011.
  1. Ryan Moore, United States — The hometown favorite in Las Vegas, Moore apparently is healthy again after a shoulder injury knocked him out of the U.S. Open last June and bothered him for much of the season after he tied for ninth in the Masters. He seemed to be fine when he opened the new season with a tie for 17th in the Safeway Open, and the home fans hope the former UNLV star can make another run at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open title he claimed in 2012. Moore shot 10-under-par 61 in the first round at TPC Summerlin and made a birdie on the 16th hole of the final round to beat Brendon de Jonge of Zimbabwe by one stroke. That is one of his five victories on the PGA Tour, and he would love to add another in his 12th start in his hometown tournament. Moore tied for ninth in his title defense, tied for seventh in 2008 and has three other top-25 results at TPC Summerlin, including a tie for 15th last year.
  1. Jamie Lovemark, United States — Finally showing the game that labeled him as a future star when he won the NCAA Championship as a sophomore at USC after a back injury threatened his pro career, Lovemark stumbled out of the gate with a tie for 43rd in the Safeway Open and a tie for 32nd in the CIMB Classic before bouncing back with a tie for fifth in the CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges in South Korea. That’s more like the way he played at times in the last two seasons, when he finished in the top 10 a total of 10 times and the top 25 on another 10 occasions, including a tie for second in the 2016 Zurich Classic of New Orleans and a tie for third last year in the Greenbrier Classic. Lovemark is making his third start in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open and he tied for 13th by finishing with scores of 69-66-68 two years ago at TPC Summerlin, before shooting 73-67 to miss the cut by one stroke last year.
  1. Kevin Na, United States — One of several PGA Tour players who makes his home in Las Vegas, Na will be trying to turn around a slow start to the new season after he finished strong in 2016-17. He has tied for 37th in the Safeway Open, tied for 44th in the CIMB Classic in Malaysia and tied for 47th in the CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges. Those results came after he tied for fourth in the Wyndham Championship and tied for sixth in the Dell Technologies Championship, the second event of the playoffs late last season. Na is making his 11th appearance in his hometown event, and claimed his only PGA Tour victory at TPC Summerlin in 2011, making three straight birdies through No. 17 in a closing 65 to beat Nick Watney by two strokes. He also tied for second in the Shriners two years ago, one stroke behind when Smylie Kaufman won with a 61, and has six runner-up results in his career including three playoff losses.
  1. Chesson Hadley, United States — Having gone back to the Web.com Tour last season to regain his PGA Tour card, Hadley has returned to the big show and tied for third in the Safeway Open before finishing solo second in the Sanderson Farms Championship behind Ryan Armour last week. Those results to open the new season place him fifth in the early FedExCup standings and give him five top-10 finishes in his last six starts dating to the Web.com Tour Finals, including a victory in the Albertson Boise Open. Hadley, who has won four times on the triple-A circuit including twice last season, claimed his only PGA Tour victory by two strokes over Danny Lee of New Zealand in the 2014 Puerto Rico Open on his way to winning Rookie of the Year honors. This will be his fourth start in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open and he was in the hunt with scores of 65-66-67 in 2014 before closing with a 70 to tie for fifth.
  1. Martin Laird, Scotland — Although Laird has scuffled a bit over the last few years, he opened the new season with a solid tie for 17th in the Safeway Open and has a very good track record in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. He claimed the first of his three PGA Tour victories in 2009 at TPC Summerlin, leading much of the way after opening with a 63 and beating Chad Campbell and George McNeil with a par on the third playoff hole. Laird, who also won the 2011 Arnold Palmer Invitational and 2013 Valero Texas Open, shot 62-63 in the middle rounds of his title defense in Las Vegas before closing with a 69, but lost when Jonathan Byrd made a dramatic walk-off hole in one from 203 yards on the fourth playoff hole. Laird posted five top-10 finishes through the middle of last season before struggling the rest of the way, but seemed to be back on track in the 2017-18 opener.
  2. Bubba Watson, United States — The two-time Masters champion is the most accomplished player in the field this week at TPC Summerlin, but he plays for the first time in the new season trying to regain that form. Watson finished in the top 10 only four times last season, including a tie for 10th in the Northern Trust to open the playoffs, but that wasn’t enough to get him past the second round in the post-season and he finished 75th in the FedExCup standings. He has won nine times on the PGA Tour, including in 2012 and 2014 at Augusta, and last found the winner’s circle when he captured Northern Trust Open at Riviera for the second time in 2016. Bubba will make only his third start in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open and hasn’t played in Las Vegas since 2007, when he tied for 14th. That came one year after he opened with 66-67 but played the weekend in 71-72 and slid out of the top 10 to a tie for 44th.
Tom LaMarre

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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