2016 Rex Hospital Open: Who to watch

Peter Koutroumpis, Triangle Sports Network
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RALEIGH, N.C. – Earlier in the week the Web.com Tour released its power rankings preview heading into the 2016 Rex Hospital Open that begins play on Thursday at TPC Wakefield Plantation.

Leaderboard: Who’s on top right now

Defending and three-time tournament champion Kyle Thompson is part of a group of 10 who have current resumes that include wins, high rankings on the Money List, and are peaking, or are ready to, in order to claim this championship title.

Thompson’s dominance in winning the Rex Hospital Open, the only Web.com Tour player to claim three titles at the same event, will definitely play to his favor.

“I like it here,” the 37-year old said after playing a nine-hole tune-up round on Tuesday.

“Everyone wants to be on the PGA Tour, but this is the second-best place, in my mind, in the world to play as far as competitiveness and all that. I love Raleigh – I’m excited to be back. There are always some good friends that I see here and I have a lot of family in this area. It’s a great event for me.”

Local notable and Campbell grad Brad Fritsch has a win under his belt already this season (Servientrega Championship) which he followed up with a runner-up finish (El Bosque Mexico Championship).

Knowing that he’ll make it back up to the PGA Tour and sitting number two on the Money List has him feeling comfortable with his game coming back onto a course that he’s played numerous times.

“Very relaxed, yes,” Fritsch said coming off the putting green on Monday.

“I have a tendency to leave things to the last minute the last bunch of years. I’m so glad I’ve got the hardest part out of the way so early in the season. I don’t know how to adjust to it. It’s something I’m learning as I go. I’ve never been in this position before. It’s always been scratching and clawing and trying to get to this spot.”

“Here (TPC Wakefield Plantation), I’ve played so many times that it’s the same,”  the 38-year old, three-tour veteran said regarding the strategy that he’ll implement in search of his second win of the year.

“It’s all about if you can get uphill putts. Right now, the greens are pretty fast. It’s all about driving in the fairway here because I think the rough is probably going to be pretty healthy based on the weather that we’ve had.”

While the longstanding ties that Thompson and Fritsch hold to the course and the Rex Hospital Open provide an advantage and feeling of comfort in contending for the title, the Web.com Tour’s recent champion at the United Leasing & Finance Championship, Seamus Power, has an edge coming in.

The Charlotte resident, by way of Waterford, Ireland following four years at East Tennessee State University, is hot and returns to a course he’s learned to play effectively well over a short period of time.

He also owns the current course record of 61 which he carded during last year’s tournament in the first round.

“The times I’ve played, it’s been running a little firmer and faster,” Power said of the TPC layout.

“The greens are always quick. I think they’re pretty difficult. You’re gonna miss in spots that you can’t really do much from. I think you’ve gotta be accurate and you’ve gotta be very good putting.”

That’s something Power didn’t do enough of in 2015 after his record-setting round, and finished T51 after posting subsequent scores of 72, 71, and 73.

“I kind of threw away the end of the second round. I was two or three-under through 12 holes and cruising along, and then I didn’t play well to finish. It’s one of those courses, you know, everyone’s gonna have some decent looks, but it’s not easy to make 15-footers out here. You’re gonna have to do that (to win) out here.”

This season,  after missing the cut at the Panama Claro Championship, the Tour’s first event, the 29-year old has made it into the weekend in six straight events and peaked to earn his first career win.

He also became the first Irishman to claim a title on the Web.com Tour in the process.

“You have more confidence,” Power said when speaking of having a win under his belt.

“Certainly everyone out here believes that they can win, but when you actually do it, it adds a little more substance to it. I feel great – I’ve had some good scores on this course. This is my fourth year playing here. I’ve made the cut every time, and I’ve had some good rounds. But I haven’t put all four together, so that’s going to be my aim for this week.”

A dark horse to watch and not included on the list is rookie Grayson Murray who steps onto his home course for the first time as a pro, having earned a sponsors exemption into the event.

Local fans may recognize the name as Murray was only 16 years old when he earned an exemption to play in the 2010 Rex Open after winning the event’s former AJGA Junior Invitational.

Not only did he tee it up, but the Leesville Road High School sophomore at the time made the cut  (the second-youngest ever to do so at a PGA Tour event), and finished the tournament T55 overall.

Murray made the field again in 2012, but missed the cut.

With an amateur resume that includes qualifying for three U.S. Amateurs and the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion, Murray traveled to different colleges (Wake Forest, East Carolina, Arizona State) and tried to find his niche playing at the collegiate level.

However, in doing so finally realized that a pro career was what he should have embarked on, sooner rather than later.

It was a set of choices he said he doesn’t regret making as the journeys he took himself on allowed him to deal with off- course issues which eventually allowed him to understand how to be more relaxed and how to succeed on the course.

A T14 finish in the second stage of Q-School earned him a card to compete on the Web.com Tour, and provided the opportunity to contend and work to make it to the next level.

His play in recent weeks has reflected that.

“I’m playing well,” Murray said.

“I missed the Monday (qualifier) in Charlotte by one at Wells Fargo Championship, so that was a bummer. But, I ended up playing in a two-day event, a mini-tour event in Charlotte (GPro Tour). I ended up winning, so it gave me a little bit of confidence. I know I’m playing well. Getting two rounds under my belt before this event was pretty big for me. I’m just carrying that momentum into this week.”

Be it a seasoned pro, a fast-rising up-and-comer, or a newly minted rookie, the Rex Hospital Open has provided the stage to win and continue to keep a career moving along, at one pace or another.