5 players to watch at Doral

Patrick Reed
USA Today Sports Images
Can defending champ Patrick Reed make it two in a row at Doral this week?
By T.J. Auclair
PGA.com
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Series: Golf Buzz

Published: Wednesday, March 04, 2015 | 10:22 a.m.

The PGA Tour is at Trump Doral this week for the WGC-Cadillac Championship.

The Doral stop on Tour has long been viewed as the unofficial start to the PGA Tour season since all the stars are out (minus Tiger Woods, who, believe it or not would not even have been eligible for this event based on his world ranking even if he weren't on hiatus right now) and it truly begins the lead-up to the season's much-anticipated first major, the Masters.

Patrick Reed returns to Doral this week as the defending champ, one-year removed from his much-publicized (and criticized) proclamation that he considers himself a, "top-5 player in the world."

RELATED: WGC-Cadillac Championship tee times | Amended Masters favorites

Well, Reed isn't top-5 quite yet, but based on his play since making those remarks, he sure looks well on his way.

Here are the five players I'll be watching closely this week at Doral.

5. Paul Casey
Best finish in 2014-15 season:
Playoff loss at the Northern Trust Open
Reason to watch: Casey, a top-5 player in the world himself not all that long ago, has dedicated himself solely to the PGA Tour for the 2014-15 season. He's looking healthy for the first time in a long time and -- perhaps just as important -- as confident as he's been in a long time. After losing in a playoff at the Northern Trust Open two weeks ago, Casey followed it up with a T3 last week at the Honda Classic. He's got great form right now and if he can keep it going, I wouldn't at all be surprised to see him contend at the Masters. 

4. Justin Rose
Best finish in 2014-15 season:
Playoff loss at the Northern Trust Open
Reason to watch: Rose hasn't exactly been on fire this season. His best finish in three starts is a T48 at the WGC-HSBC Champions back in early November. His other two starts -- the Farmers Insurance Open and last week's Honda Classic -- resulted in missed cuts. So, why then, you ask, do I like him at Doral? Because Rose isn't the type of player who stays in a funk for too long. He also won the event in 2012 and finished in a tie for eighth there in 2013. The course has undergone changes since Rose's last top-10 there, but this is an elite event and Rose is an elite player.

3. Dustin Johnson
Best finish in 2014-15 season:
Playoff loss at the Northern Trust Open
Reason to watch: Sure, he missed the cut last week at the Honda Classic, but after a six-month layoff from the PGA Tour, Johnson has two top-4 finishes in four starts. That's a testament to the raw talent this guy has. Johnson has twice finished in the top-4 at Doral, including a T4 in 2014. I think he's going to win soon. Why not this week?

2. Bubba Watson
Best finish in 2014-15 season:
Won the WGC-HSBC Champions
Reason to watch: The man is on fire. In four starts this season, the two-time Masters champ has three top-10 finishes. He's a contending machine, which has to be scary for his fellow competitors with the Masters right around the corner. Watson has twice been a runner up at Doral, including last year.

1. Patrick Reed
Best finish in 2014-15 season:
Won the Hyundai Tournament of Champions
Reason to watch: However you feel about Reed -- hero or villain -- there's no denying that he's great for golf. For better or worse, he's a personality. He's also one hell of a player. I'm looking forward to seeing how Reed does in his title defense of the most significant of his four PGA Tour wins.

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.