With the golf world’s attention squarely focused on this week’s WGC-Cadillac Championship, a coming-out party for the newly redesigned Blue Monster course at Trump National Doral, it’s easy to forget that there’s a concurrent PGA Tour event happening in Puerto Rico.
As 67 of the world’s elite players tour Donald Trump’s Miami showpiece starting tomorrow, the best of the rest will be in the Caribbean at the Donald’s Trump International Golf Club-Puerto Rico for the Puerto Rico Open.
Established in 2008 as an undercard to the WGC event at Doral, the Puerto Rico Open has a list of champions that, let’s admit it, is a little vanilla. Greg Kraft? Derek Lamely? George McNeill? Scott Brown? Michael Bradley, twice? Only the most ardent golf fan could pick these guys out of a lineup.
Still, this year’s edition isn’t bereft of names. There are six past major champions in the field – John Daly, David Duval, Trevor Immelman, Lee Janzen, David Toms and Y.E. Yang – not to mention Japan’s Ryo Ishikawa (aka “the Bashful Prince”), Belgium’s Nicolas Colsaerts (aka “the Muscles from Brussels”) and South Carolina’s Tommy Gainey (aka “Two Gloves”). Throw in Daly’s pants, and that’s plenty of color.
Nor is the tournament absent compelling storylines. The past two years, highly touted sponsor exemptions Ishikawa (2012) and Jordan Spieth (2013) have posted runner-up finishes in Puerto Rico. Ishikawa’s finish earned him special temporary membership status on the PGA Tour, allowing him to accept unlimited sponsor exemptions, while Spieth’s paved the way for him to earn that status at the following week’s event.
Although Ishikawa struggled for the rest of 2012 and throughout last year, he appears to be on the rebound in 2013-14 with a runner-up finish and another top-10 so far. And Spieth, who’s in the field at Doral this week, has rocketed to 12th in the world since his Puerto Rico success.
In 2014, Brooks Koepka is the sponsor exemption who stands to benefit most from a strong performance in Puerto Rico. The 23-year-old Floridian who earned his stripes on the European Tour last year is only 110 FedEx Cup points from earning special temporary membership. The winner in Puerto Rico earns 300 points.
And then there’s Brown, the 30-year-old Augusta, Ga., native, who quietly won $1 million last season and started strongly in 2013-14 with two top-4 finishes last fall. Brown currently is 33rd in FedEx Cup points, or 193 slots ahead of Tiger Woods in the standings.