By Joe Romaine
As late summer winds down and a chill fills the nighttime air, Friday night lights, falling leaves, and frost-delays push early-morning tee times aside. Golf clubs that were permanently stowed in the trunk of the car for quick summer access are now idled in the garage beside the leaf-blower and snow shovel. Fall has unquestionably arrived. And although football season is into its second month and the FedEx and Ryder Cups have concluded, there is still much golf to be played.
This week’s Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospital for Children Open in Las Vegas is the first of the fall series and epitomizes the importance of these late-season events for the next PGA Tour season and well beyond. Since Justin Timberlake teamed up with the Shriners for this tournament, there is no question that it has gained momentum. Not only have the strength of the fields gained steam, but the actual tournament has gained some cache and will garner even more attention next year. In 2013, this event will begin the 2014 PGA Tour season and offer FedExCup points accordingly. This schedule change will only further the strength of the field and enhance the quality of golf after the 2013 FedExCup season.
Although this tournament will be under a new light next season, it does have a rich history of strong champions. Started in 1983, its list of champions reads as a who’s who of the golfing world. Azinger, Zoeller, Norman, Strange, Love, Cook, Appleby, Furyk, and some guy named Tiger. It should be noted that this tournament provided the first (of many) PGA Tour victories for Woods and Furyk. Along with the great list of champions provided by this PGA Tour stop are the unforgettable moments it has provided. In 1991 Chip Beck placed his name in the annals of professional golf by firing a scorching 59 during his third round. Even more memorable, however, is how Jonathan Byrd finished the 2010 edition of the Shriners. On his fourth playoff hole, battling darkness, Byrd holed his tee shot from 204 yards — an ace to win a PGA Tour event.
What makes this year’s Shriners an especially compelling event is the diverse cast of characters involved. This week’s field includes six major champions accounting for 10 titles, six winners from the 2012 PGA season and multiple Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup veterans. This may be due, in part, to the layout being historically very accommodating to players hungry for success, and very conducive to lower scores. TPC Summerlin ranks in the top 15 percent of the easiest courses visited each year on Tour.
The players this week can be placed into three main categories; veterans simply searching for momentum heading into 2013, veterans looking to regain lost form or even a first victory and players looking to find some solid ground on which to build a career.
In the first veteran category, Robert Garrigus, Ryan Moore and Nick Watney appear to be poised for success this week and in very good form after successful FedExCup runs. Some big-name veterans in search of even a glimmer of their former selves this week are Stewart Cink, Jason Day, Camillo Villegas and Trevor Immelman. This group of major champions, former Ryder Cup and President’s Cup members and FedEx playoff tournament winners have had a very lackluster 2012 and will look to gain any sort of momentum they can to carry over into 2013.
There are also quite a few young players looking to add their names to the illustrious list of first-time winners in Las Vegas. Players such as Harris English and Brian Harman jump out as having had enough success this season to warrant keeping an eye on this week. Other, well, not-as-young players seemingly capable of their first victory this week are Tommy “Two-Gloves” Gainey, Ricky Barnes, William McGirt, Kevin Stadler and Ken Duke, who’s had a very solid, albeit quiet, 2012 season. If the history of this tournament can teach anything, whether the victor is a veteran regaining form or a young player tasting victory for the first time, the win will provide a great springboard for the 2013 PGA season and well beyond.
As the days inch shorter and the shadows on the 18th green grow longer each afternoon, the cold, grey skies of winter are right around the corner. But even as the playing season draws to a close for most of the country, there is still some great, meaningful golf to be played. The Justin Timberlake Shriner’s Hospital for Children Open is a welcome respite for players and fans alike.
Will a weathered veteran grind out the victory or will an up-and-comer steal the spotlight and enjoy victory for the first time? Take a break from raking leaves, grab a warm cider or the latest pumpkin spice latte from the nearest barista, and enjoy the drama sure to unfold.