Shriners Hospitals for Children Open
After an unexpectedly compelling weekend that saw Xander Schauffele win a WGC in China and the emergence of a star in Cameron Champ, the PGA Tour’s attention shifts to Las Vegas this week for the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.
Apart from Champ—who mesmerized the golf world with his prodigious length, clutch putting and infectious smile en route to his first Tour victory in just his ninth start—the headliner this week is Jordan Spieth. Spieth famously failed to satisfy the Tour’s minimum start requirement last year, so the three-time major winner entered this tournament as well as the Mayakoba Golf Classic after discussion with Tour officials. In total, six players ranked inside the top 25 of the Official World Golf Rankings will be teeing it up in Sin City.
This tournament was formerly hosted by Justin Timberlake and bore his name—a mouthful: the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hopsitals for Children Open—but that connection stopped in 2012. Shortly after it was announced that Timberlake would no longer be involved, the touranment director said “when the TV cameras weren’t on, he disappeared” and that Timberlake didn’t do enough to bring big-name stars to the tournament. It was an awkward, ugly breakup for all involved.
Anyways, Patrick Cantlay is the defending champion at TPC Summerlin this week, where he picked up his first and only PGA Tour win last year. That victory served as a springboard to a fantastic 2017-18 season, during which he broke into the world top 25 and qualified for the Tour Championship. Perhaps this week will provide a similar boost for an up-and-coming young player.
Here’s everything you need to know about the sixth PGA Tour event of the 2018-19 season.
TPC Summerlin is a private club located in an upscale, planned community about 12 miles northwest of the Strip. The Bobby Weed-designed track opened in 1991 and five years later was the site of Tiger Woods’ first PGA Tour win, at the 1996 Las Vegas Invitational.
It’s a classic Las Vegas course, one of those impeccably green tracks that contrast starkly with the barren landscape surrounding it. There are certainly elements of target golf at TPC Summerlin, with defined fairways and greens guarded by water hazards and waste areas filled with knee-high bushes. One thing to consider this week is altitude, as the course sits at about 2,700 feet above sea level. That means the ball will travel significantly farther than it does at sea level, making the 7,200-yard, par-71 layout play shorter than it measures. That also means guys like Champ will have some tape-measure drives, especially downwind.
That wind is another thing to keep an eye on—Vegas doesn’t have much tree protection, so its quite exposed to the elements. Wind will be TPC Summerlin’s chief defense, and whether it blows will have a huge effect on the winning score. Last year was breezy, and Cantlay won with nine under; the year before, not so much, and Rod Pampling’s winning total was 20 under.
Spieth is probably the biggest name here, though Bryson DeChambeau (No. 6) and Rickie Fowler (No. 9) are two players ranked higher than him in action this week. Champ will draw his share of attention, both in person and on the broadcast, after his tour de force coming out party last week. Tony Finau has made the trip from China to Vegas—what a juxtaposition there—after yet another near-miss but excellent week in finishing second to Schauffele. Cantlay will defend his title and is on a streak of 12 straight made cuts. Newly crowned 2017-18 Rookie of the Year Aaron Wise is playing, as is Las Vegas resident Kevin Na. Other notables in the field: Matt Kuchar, Jim Furyk, Ryan Moore, Si Woo Kim, Jason Dufner.
Here are some tee times for marquee groupings.
Cameron Champ, Jordan Spieth, Aaron Wise – 10:30 a.m. Thursday*/3:05 p.m.
Kevin Tway, Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Cantlay – 10:40 a.m.*/3:15 p.m.
Webb Simpson, Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar – 3:05 p.m./10:30 a.m.*
Kevin Na, Ryan Moore, Tony Finau – 3:15 p.m./10:40 a.m.*
* denotes 10th-tee start.
I’m ruling out anyone who played in China last week—those guys had to endure a miserable travel day and a gnarly time change. That eliminates both Tony Finau and Patrick Cantlay, the latter of whom profiles as a great pick given his recent form and past history at TPC Summerlin. It’s also tempting to pick Cameron Champ, who is good enough to win anywhere when he’s driving it well. But winning once and winning back-to-back weeks are very different propositions. Rickie Fowler and Bryson DeChambeau have taken some time off to reset after the shellacking at Le Golf National, and both guys would seem to be well-rested.
All that being said, I’m going with Gary Woodland this week. The big-hitting Kansan has played terrific golf recently, posting four straight top-12 finishes including a solo second in his last start at the CJ Cup. Woodland has only played this event once, posting T-18 last year, and you’d like to see some more positive course history when making a pick. But as Champ showed last week, current form can override relative unfamiliarity with a track. Woodland picks up his fourth PGA Tour win this weekend.