Poulter heads field in Puerto Rico (Mar 22, 2017)

BY AP • March 22, 2017

With 64 of the world's top 69 players teeing up this week in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Texas, some might consider the Puerto Rico Open, the PGA Tour's opposite event, an afterthought.

But don't try to tell that to the 132 players that will battle at the Tom Kite-Bob Cupp designed course at the Coco Beach Golf and Country Club and the ever-present winds beginning Thursday in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico, on the island's northeast corner.

Since the tournament's inception in 2008, the Puerto Rico Open has helped elevate the careers of a bevy of PGA stars, including Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka and Argentina's Emiliano Grillo. All were able to tame the tough and long (7,569 yards) layout and used their wins as a springboard to successful stints on the PGA Tour.

This year's tournament carries a total purse of $3 million, with $540,000 going to the winner.

The field is highlighted by England's Ian Poulter, who won the Dell Match Play in 2010, and Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland, the 2010 U.S. Open champion.

Poulter, who has won 13 times around the world, is poised to make his second consecutive start in this tournament. In last year's first start in Puerto Rico, he led by a stroke at 11-under 205 through 54 holes before finishing tied for third.

"It's always nice to play a course you played well in the past," Poulter said. "Obviously last year's tournament was a good week for me. It's a good course. It sets up well for me in the wind. If we get decent wind over the four days, I'll be pretty happy with that.

"The course is playing nicely and it's a little softer than it was last year so the ball's not quite got as much run on it," Poulter added. "That makes it a little easier on a couple of holes and it will make it difficult on a couple of the longer holes. So I think it kind of balances that out. But I'm looking forward to the week."

McDowell will make his first start in the Puerto Rico Open this week. Four major championship winners are poised to take part in this week's tournament: Retief Goosen of South Africa (2001, 2004 U.S. Open), Trevor Immelman of South Africa (2008 Masters), Ben Curtis (2003 Open Championship) and McDowell.

One player who won't be in the field is defending champion Tony Finau, who was the first alternate for the WGC-Dell Match Play and decided to take the chance that someone would pull out of that 64-player field at the last minute.

"That was the only scenario that would pull me from Puerto Rico," Finau said. "It was a tough decision because I loved being in Puerto Rico and I told the fans last year in my winning speech I'd be back if I wasn't playing the Match Play, so it all kind of rang to me.

"I'd like to think I'm going to play in (the Dell Match Play) in the years to come, so whether I get in this year or not I've seen the golf course and look forward to the years to come."

Each of the last four winners of the Puerto Rico Open made the title their first on the PGA Tour: Scott Brown (2013), Chesson Hadley (2014) Alex Cejka (2015) and Finau (2016). Since its 2008 inception, there have been a total of six first-time winners in the event -- Greg Kraft (2008) and Derek Lamely (2010) complete that list.

"I think these events are important," Poulter said. "Obviously it's very difficult to schedule so many tournaments in a calendar year, and when you've got an event opposite WGCs or other events, it gives a playing opportunity to other players and enables the tour to continue to expand and grow.

"Even with this being opposite a big tournament, it's still got a good field and that's because people enjoy coming here to play."


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