The PGA Tour has set up shop for a two-week stay in Sin City.
Before the relocated CJ Cup heads to pristine Shadow Creek, a full field will take on TPC Summerlin this week for the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. Several local residents will tee it up, including defending champ Kevin Na, while Bryson DeChambeau headlines the field in his first start since a resounding victory at the U.S. Open.
From DeChambeau’s prospects to those of another past champion as well as questions surrounding a former Ryder Cup star, here are the burning questions to consider ahead of this week’s Tour stop in Las Vegas:
Bryson DeChambeau is a major winner. Now what?
The halls of Winged Foot may still be reverberating from DeChambeau’s U.S. Open performance, where he drove and putted his way to a breakthrough victory. After two weeks of rest (likely filled with plenty of workouts and protein shakes), he’s back in action on a course where he won in 2018.
DeChambeau likely has an eye on fine-tuning his game for next month’s Masters, and his dizzying display at Winged Foot has sparked a long run of questions and predictions about what he might do to Augusta National in a few weeks’ time. But this week gives him an opportunity to return to competition with somewhat lower stakes and at a place where he’s had some notable prior success.
DeChambeau enters the week as a deserved betting favorite according to PointsBet Sportsbook, and the setup at TPC Summerlin should allow him go as hard as he wants with the driver. But this is also an exercise in settling down from the lofty heights reached at Winged Foot, so don’t be surprised if the Tour’s brawny star focuses on regaining his footing while beginning his Masters prep in earnest.
Is a return to TPC Summerlin enough to jumpstart Patrick Cantlay’s game?
Cantlay has had remarkable success at this event, following his maiden Tour win with a pair of runner-up finishes, including a playoff loss last year. Having faced more than 400 players across his three-year run in Las Vegas, he’s been beaten by exactly two (and technically only one across 72 holes).
But Cantlay’s game has slowed in recent weeks, as last month he missed the Tour Championship for the first time since gaining full-time status on Tour. Cantlay returned well from the pandemic break, finishing T-11 at the Travelers Championship and T-7 at the Workday Charity Open, but he hasn’t registered a top-10 finish since and has only cracked the top 30 once in six subsequent starts.
Thanks in large part to his success in Sin City, Cantlay has used the fall portion of the Tour schedule to get off to a head start in the race for season-long points, also historically playing well at the WGC-HSBC Champions which moves to Sherwood Country Club later this month. But if he’s going to enjoy a similar advantage heading into the holiday break, he’ll likely need to play like his old self this week on a course where he boasts a nearly-flawless record.
What should we expect out of Francesco Molinari?
Around this time two years ago, Molinari was the toast of Europe after a dazzling 5-0 display at the Ryder Cup. He was months removed from an Open victory and playing the best golf of his career. But it’s been largely a struggle since the Italian let the 2019 Masters slip away, and because of multiple factors this week represents Molinari’s first start anywhere since the opening round of The Players in March.
Molinari is the most notable name who has yet to play since the break, even noting that distinction in a recent tweet to explain his extended hiatus. The 37-year-old attributed some of his absence to relocating his family from England to California, but he was surprisingly absent from each of the first two majors this year after originally setting his sights on a return at TPC Harding Park.
Ranked No. 18 at the start of the year, Molinari has slipped to 73rd while players around him rack up points by the handful. There are still plenty of questions as to the state of his game, as even when we last saw him in March he had withdrawn from a title defense at Bay Hill because of injury. But a return to competition of any kind will be a welcome sight for fans of the man who was one of the best players in the world two years ago.
Can Kevin Na’s putter catch fire for a second straight year?
There was no debate about which club keyed Na to his second Shriners title a year ago, as the Las Vegas resident basically melted the greens at TPC Summerlin with a red-hot putting performance. Na rolled in 558’11” of putts, a 72-hole record in the Shotlink era, and he picked up more than 14.2 strokes against the field just on the greens. Na is known as one of the best putters on Tour, but his historic performance last year enabled him to hold off Cantlay despite a triple bogey in the final round and a ball-striking display in which he lost strokes to the field from tee to green.
Na has been hit-or-miss at this event, mixing in a 2016 runner-up with three missed cuts in his last six starts. His recent record has been similarly spotty, as the veteran cracked the top 10 at both the Travelers and Memorial this summer but hasn’t finished inside the top 25 in his last six starts and was near the bottom of the pack in terms of 72-hole score at East Lake.
Na blistered TPC Summerlin in his middle two rounds, going 62-61 to take the lead while making nearly everything in sight. He might need a similar putting performance this week in an effort to join Jim Furyk as the only other player to go back-to-back in Las Vegas, but history shows that a molten putting performance isn’t exactly out of the question.