Can Luke Guthrie keep up the stellar play after letting the joint 54-hole lead slip at the Honda Classic?
The Puerto Rico Open always serves as a wonderful opportunity for those who do not qualify for the world golf championship event to rack up some valuable FedEx Cup and world ranking points.
Also, a strong enough finish here—even against a less elite field—can open many doors for sponsor exemptions and even lock down PGA status for several players. It is also a showcase for some lesser-known youngsters on the cusp of breaking out into world-class stars.
So while this may not be the most high-profile event on the Tour, the stakes are very underrated. What follows is viewing information for the tournament, groups to watch for and a winner prediction.
Location and Tee Times
Where: Trump International Golf Club, Rio Grande, Puerto Rico
When: March 7-10
Tee Times: Click here for tee times, courtesy of PGATOUR.com.
Thursday: Golf Channel, 6:30-8:30 p.m. ET
Friday: Golf Channel, 6:30-8:30 p.m. ET
Saturday: Golf Channel, 6:30-9:30 p.m. ET
Sunday: Golf Channel, 7:30-10:30 p.m. ET
Groups to Watch
No. 18: Jordan Spieth, Luke Guthrie and Patrick Cantlay
This trio could be the wave of the future for American golf. Guthrie has shown remarkable consistency in his very young career, and even shared the lead entering the final round of the Honda Classic before finishing alone in third.
Spieth turned professional in December after garnering low amateur honors at the 2012 U.S. Open and holding the No. 1 ranking in amateur golf.
The University of Texas Longhorn missed the cut in his pro debut at the Farmers Insurance Open, but posted a solid tie for 22nd at Pebble Beach last month. He is only 19, and has plenty of golf ahead of him, as he is exclusively depending on sponsors exemptions and Monday qualifiers at this time.
Perhaps the most notable among this bunch is Cantlay, who has been as hyped as any young American player in recent years ever since his record-shattering round of 60 to snag the 36-hole lead at the 2011 Travelers Championship.
Cantlay has low amateur honors from the 2011 U.S. Open and last year's Masters to his credit, which should indicate it isn't long before he's on Tour full-time. He missed out on qualifying school, but just won his first Web.com event at the Colombia Championship this past weekend.
So if this crop of exciting talent doesn't make a lot of noise in Rio Grande, it's pretty much guaranteed that they will for the next decade.
No. 26: George McNeill, Ryo Ishikawa and Henrik Stenson
Another youngster who is already a superstar in his native Japan is Ishikawa. Although the on-course results on this side of the world haven't been quite as successful as expected, there is still tons of time for the 21-year-old to make his mark.
Ishikawa nearly won this tournament, holding a one-shot clubhouse lead before McNeill birdied the final three holes to claim victory. However, he has struggled mightily out of the gates this year, with three missed cuts and a tie for 61st at the Northern Trust Open.
The fact that these two are paired together for the first two days adds a little bit of spice to the action. Stenson is no slouch himself, though, and has to be one of the more accomplished golfers in this field.
Stenson has won seven times on the European Tour and twice in the States, and finally notched his first win since 2007 last year at the South African Open Championship.
Peaking as high as fifth in the world golf rankings, Stenson tumbled all the way to No. 230 in the beginning of 2012 before rebounding nicely. Like Ishikawa, he missed the cut at the Honda Classic, but this is a perfect chance for him to get back on track.
That should provide a nice dynamic, because McNeill and Ishikawa have historically had their putters bail them out more often than not. But both were able to strike it well enough to finish first and second last season.
Watching the defending champion take on his closest challenger from 2012—a player who has the makeup to be the "next big thing"—should be exciting regardless.
No. 29: Erik Compton, Shane Lowry and Peter Uihlein
If you don't know the story behind the 33-year-old Compton, it is worth checking out. As Bob Harig of ESPN notes, his inspirational story continues to be written. Compton has overcome two heart transplants in his lifetime, and even finished in a tie for fourth last week at the Honda Classic.
Although the tournament at Doral would have been a homecoming of sorts for Compton, he is still in good shape entering the Puerto Rico Open.
After a testing tournament against some of the world's best players, Compton has a golden opportunity to snag his first PGA Tour victory if his current form holds.
But those directly competing with him over the first two days will have something to say about that. Lowry is now best known for taking down World No. 1 Rory McIlroy in the match play championship, and he rode that momentum to the third round before losing to Graeme McDowell.
This will be the first time Lowry has been in action since that semi-magical run as the tournament's bottom seed, and he could very well find himself in contention.
Then, there's yet another young gun American attempting to make a name for himself in Uihlein. As a firsthand witness at the 2011 British Open, I can say that the 23-year-old has an outstanding swing. He also comes from a prominent golf program at Oklahoma State, which has produced the likes of Rickie Fowler, major champion Bob Tway and other stellar pros.
Uihlein has been on the European Tour grind in 2013, and could very well be a factor here. He is coming off of his best finish across the pond, posting a fourth-place effort at the Tswhane Open thanks to four stellar rounds in the 60s.
Winner: Graham DeLaet
One of the quietly emerging golfers on Tour, DeLaet is coming off of his second top 10 of 2013 at the Honda Classic. In fact, he would have been in much better shape if not for consecutive double bogeys at No. 14 and No. 15. He was tied for second after Day 1 with a stellar five-under round of 65.
With that type of experience under his belt at such a tough golf course, this week will bring with it a lot less pressure and competition that simply isn't as fierce.
The 31-year-old Canadian has battled through back problems and is finally healthy, and it is beginning to show up in his game more frequently. He also placed in a tie for ninth at this tournament last year, so there is some prior success to draw on.
Putting has been DeLaet's big Achilles heel in the past, because he can routinely crank it 300 yards off the tee and is a stellar iron player. Thus far in 2013, the flatstick has been a little kinder to him, though.
If he can simply get a hot putter and strike the ball as he is capable of doing, there is no reason to think that DeLaet can't notch his maiden Tour victory come Sunday.