T.J. Auclair is a Senior Interactive Producer for PGA.com and has covered professional golf since 1998, traveling to over 60 major championships. You can follow him on Twitter, @tjauclair.
Frys.com Open: Five players to watch at CordeValle
Series: Golf Buzz
Published: Wednesday, October 09, 2013 | 11:09 a.m.
Hard to believe, but the new 2013-2014 PGA Tour season tees off this week.
But wasn't the Tour Championship less than one month ago? It sure was. But, this week's Frys.com Open at CordeValle in San Martin, Calif., is the first event of the Tour's new wraparound schedule.
PGATour.com's Sean Martin has a great breakdown of all the things you need to know regarding this unique 2013-14 season, including -- most notably -- that the winners of the six tournaments that take place before January 1, 2014, will be granted an invitation to the Masters next April. Previously, winners of these six events did not get Masters invitations when the events did not offer FedExCup points.
With a new season upon us, here's a look at five players to watch in this week's Frys.com Open.
Player: Gary Woodland
Best finish in 2013: Winner of the Reno-Tahoe Open
Reason to watch: Woodland's got to be chomping at the bit knowing that a new season starts almost immediately after his solid finish to the previous season. Woodland was so-so for much of 2013 -- evidenced by the fact that his win two months ago was one of only two top-10 finishes all year -- but turned it on at the end. Along with the win in Reno, Woodland also registered a runner-up showing at the FedExCup Playoffs opening Barclays. The strength of that finish, along with a tie for 22nd at the BMW Championship, helped secure a spot for Woodland in the Tour Championship. He tied for 22nd at East Lake and ended the season at No. 23 in the final FedExCup standings.
Player: Billy Horschel
Best finish in 2013: Winner of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans
Reason to watch: There are many reasons to watch Horschel. Aside from being one of the PGA Tour's rising stars, he's also one of the fieriest competitors. Through most of April of this year, Horschel was arguably the hottest player in the world. Starting with a tie for second at the Shell Houston Open, Horschel finished no worse than a tie for ninth in a four consecutive starts (also tied for third at the Valero Texas Open; tied for ninth at the RBC Heritage; and capped off the stretch with the win in New Orleans). Horschel cooled off considerably after that run, but still picked up a tie for fourth at the U.S. Open (everyone remember those hideous Octopus pants?) and ended the season with a tie for seventh in the Tour Championship... all of which brings us to the Frys.com Open where Horschel tied for seventh in 2011.
FRYS.COM OPEN: Which big names will play at CordeValle in near future?
Player: Hideki Matsuyama
Best finish in 2013: Tie for sixth in the Open Championship
Reason to watch: You want to talk about rising stars? The 21-year-old from Japan turned professional in April 2013 and proceeded to win his second professional tournament (the first was as an amateur), the 2013 Tsuruya Open on the Japan Golf Tour. After a tie for 10th at the U.S. Open, Matsuyama cracked the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking. In case anyone thought that was a fluke, Matsuyama backed it up with a tie for sixth in the Open Championship. Because of his lack of status in 2013, Matsuyama only had seven starts on the PGA Tour. He made the cut in six of those and finished in the top 25 each time. Matsuyama was also a member of the International team at last week's Presidents Cup.
Player: Trevor Immelman
Best finish in 2013: Tie for ninth at the RBC Heritage
Reason to watch: After a win at the 2008 Masters -- the first for a South African-born player since Gary Player 30 years earlier -- Immelman seemed destined for superstardom. Unfortunately, illness and injuries prevented Immelman from maintaining his form. In fact, 2013 was the last year of Immelman's five-year exemption for winning the Masters. And it was a tough year. The 33-year-old made the cut in just half of his 24 PGA Tour starts with a lone top-10 at the RBC Heritage. Needing something to go right, Immelman snapped out of his slump in a big way, winning the first event in the Web.com Tour Finals -- the Hotel Fitness Championship -- to secure a spot on the PGA Tour for the 2013-14 season. Immelman missed the cut in each of the final three Web.com Tour Finals events, but something tells me he's delighted to turn the page on an old season and begin a new one.
Player: Jimmy Walker
Best finish of 2013: Tied for second at the Greenbrier Classic
Reason to watch: It's almost unfathomable that the 34-year-old is still winless on the PGA Tour. It just seems like he's always in the mix. In 2013, for instance, he notched 10 top-25 finishes. Five of those were top 10s. Walker had six top 10s in 2012 and four in 2011. It's only a matter of time before he finally kicks the door in. Walker has got to be jacked for his start at CordeValle this week too after missing out on the Tour Championship by a six spots.
Follow T.J. Auclair on Twitter, @tjauclair.