Shriners Open draws strong field

Like baseball, professional golf has a long season. And like baseball, wins early in the year count as much as those late in the season.

The 144 players who have entered next week’s Shriners Hospitals for Children Open see an opportunity to pick up some FedEx Cup points that could help them when the playoffs begin in late August 2015. With the PGA Tour having altered its season a year ago, the Las Vegas stop is now at the beginning of the schedule instead of the end, and being part of the FedEx Series for the second year in a row, the Shriners Open takes on added significance for the players as well as the tournament itself.

Last year, a lot of players who wanted to play couldn’t fit it into their schedule because they had already committed to other events. But they’ve had a year to adjust and some bigger names are coming to TPC Summerlin when play begins Thursday. Billy Horschel, who made a dramatic late-season run to capture the FedEx Cup playoffs, is playing. So are U.S. Ryder Cup participants Webb Simpson, who is also the defending champion, and Jimmy Walker. Nineteen of the top-50 finishers at the end of the 2013-14 season are entered.

“It’s a tremendous field, the strongest we’ve had since I’ve been here,” said tournament director Adam Sperling, who is in his sixth year running the Shriners Open. “You’ve got guys who’ve won majors. You’ve got Ryder Cup (participants). You’ve got some exciting young players just starting out. There’s a lot of talent playing this year.”

Landing Horschel is huge for the tournament. Other than getting Rory McIlroy to play, Horschel is the hottest name in golf at the moment.

“I heard rumblings after the playoffs that he might play,” Sperling said of Horschel. “So I called Billy’s agent, Sherry Whey, and she said without hesitation he was playing in our event.

“It was a ‘wow!’ moment. It was the biggest get for us. He’s the FedEx champion. And with (2012 champion) Brandt Snedeker committing, we have two of the last three FedEx winners.”

There’s also a strong local presence. Las Vegas resident Kevin Na and former UNLV All-American Ryan Moore — both former Shriners Open champs — are playing. So are former Rebels Charley Hoffman, Chad Campbell, Derek Ernst and Andres Gonzales. Former Bonanza High School star Scott Piercy, Las Vegas’ Bob May and Henderson resident Nick Watney are also in the field for the $6.2 million event with the winner set to collect $1,080,000 and 500 FedEx Cup points.

In addition, Padraig Harrington, who has won three majors, is playing next week. The 43-year-old from Ireland who has more than $41 million in earnings, won the British Open and PGA Championship in 2008, after winning the Open championship in 2007.

“He’s still a big name with a lot of game,” Sperling said of Harrington, who shot an opening-round 66 before finishing tied for 18th at last week’s Dunhill Links Championship.

The Shriners Open field also has former Stanford star Patrick Rodgers, the 2014 college player of the year, and the three top performers from the Web.com Tour this year — Adam Hadwin, Derek Fathauer and Carlos Ortiz.

“People will look at all the names and there’ll be more reason to be excited,” Sperling said.

The weather next week is supposed to be excellent, with temperatures in the low 80s and light winds. It will be nice enough for fans to take advantage of the three pools being set up around the course where they can watch golf while staying cool. But taking no chances, Sperling said the water will be heated just in case it gets chilly.

TPC Summerlin was overrun with workers Friday setting up the viewing areas, the skyboxes, the concession stands and scoreboards, making sure everything is in place for next week. The course itself is in immaculate shape and Sperling said the players should be happy with their work environment.

“A lot of people have put a lot of hard work into this,” Sperling said. “Now comes the fun part.”

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.

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