Kaufman relishes positive memories in Las Vegas

When Smylie Kaufman thinks back to his victory in last year's Shriners Hospital for Children Open, it makes him, well, smile.

That would be the appropriate and expected response for the memory of one's first PGA Tour victory and is a natural for a golfer who goes by Smylie.

“As soon as I walked in the door, I had good memories being in the media room,” Kaufman said Wednesday.

Kaufman returns to defend his title at the TPC Summerlin in Las Vegas beginning Thursday, but he'll have to fend off the challenge of 143 other competitors in a field that's one of the best of the autumn portion of the Tour's 2016-17 wraparound season.

Kaufman (whose first name is Carter; Smylie is his middle name) carded a final-round 10-under-par 61 to finish the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open at 16-under 268, winning by one stroke over six players. He finished his round 2 1/2 hours before the final group holed out.

His closing 61 is the lowest finish on the PGA Tour by a winner since Tommy Gainey ended the 2012 RSM Classic with a 10-under 60. His seven-stroke, come-from-behind victory was the best on Tour in the 2015-16 season.

Kaufman's victory in Las Vegas was one of four top-10s in his rookie season. He also tied for 10th at both the Safeway Open and the Quicken Loans National and tied for eighth at World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship (then played at Trump-Doral in Miami).

The field features three players from the victorious United States Ryder Cup squad – Brooks Koepka, Ryan Moore and Jimmy Walker – as well as and U.S. team captain Davis Love III.

Love III returns to competition for the first time since hip surgery in July. The 1993 champion will make his 23rd start in Las Vegas, where he has just three missed cuts.

“The courses were shorter back then, and I was hitting it longer,” the 52-year-old Love said. “It was a time where I was playing well, and I had a good week.”

Love's expectations for this week aren't lofty, a sentiment based on the time off caused by his surgery and his other commitments.

“I'd like to play well and make the cut,” he said. “I love playing out here in the desert. So if I can stick around for the weekend, I'll be pleased.”

The event is the fifth tournament in the PGA Tour's schedule that bridges two years with 43 events. Seven of those tournaments are during the fall of 2016. After a seven-week break, the season resumes in January with the traditional swing through Hawaii before moving to the West Coast.

Nine major winners are in the field: Ernie Els of South Africa, Vijay Singh of Fiji, Keegan Bradley, Stewart Cink, Lucas Glover, Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland, Webb Simpson, Love III and Walker.

The top 10 finishers from the 2015 tournament have returned this season and nine other former Shriners Hospitals for Children Open champions will also compete for the $6.6 million purse ($1,188,000 that goes to the winner. They are Ben Martin (2014), Webb Simpson (2013), Ryan Moore (2012), Kevin Na (2011), Jonathan Byrd (2010), Martin Laird of Scotland (2009), Stuart Appleby of Australia (2003), Bob Estes (2001) and Love III (1993).