May 14, 2013

Even without Tiger, the HP Byron Nelson Championship maintains plenty of star power

World No. 7 Louis Oosthuizen headlines a field that includes 13 former majors winners.

Even as Tiger Woods rests his feet this week in the aftermath of a triumph at The Players Championship over the weekend, the world’s top-ranked golfer seems always to be looming and is a ready topic of conversation.

“He’s Tiger,” Louis Oosthuizen said. “No one is amazed to see him back in the form that he is. We probably need to pull up our socks if we want to catch him.”

While Woods stays home this week and likely next — he still hasn’t officially said no to officials of the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial, though a second papal resignation in 600 years is more probable — in his stead is Oosthuizen, who represents the best of the best this week at the HP Byron Nelson Championship.

At No. 7 in the world, Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open champ, is the top-ranked player in the field at the TPC Four Seasons Las Colinas. In all, six of the top 25 golfers in the world are here.

Among them are defending champion Jason Dufner (No. 20) and former Nelson champs Keegan Bradley (No. 14) and Jason Day (No. 25) as well as Matt Kuchar (No. 12) and 2011 Masters winner Charl Schwartzel (No. 17). Dustin Johnson (No. 19) withdrew on Tuesday.

And there are others whose names still carry star power though they have lost their status as top players in the world.

Padraig Harrington and Vijay Singh each have three major titles, and Angel Cabrera and John Daly — always a gallery pleaser — each have two.

As Woods envisions a major victory in next month’s 113th U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa., most of the rest of golf’s working world starts play at 7 a.m. Thursday with 13 majors winners teeing off in the field of 156.

A purse of $6.7 million is up for grabs, including $1.7 million to the winner.

Oosthuizen, 30, has one top-10 and three top-25 finishes, including 19th at The Players Championship, in seven starts in 2013.

“I think it’s what you make of it,” said Oosthuizen, who will play next week at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial, on being the top player in the field. “You probably take more confidence out of it.”

On Saturday, he joined Tom Watson and five others through the years who have recorded a Players-record six consecutive birdies.

That string, he said, had more to do with putting himself in position to hit greens with good tee shots.

“Last week I started hitting better and gave myself more birdie opportunities,” he said. “I just need to convert those opportunities.”

Harrington is in search of the Woods revival kit.

Like Woods, Harrington hasn’t won a major championship since 2008, the year the Irishman captured both the British Open and the PGA Championship.

He has looked older than his 41 years the past two weeks on the course and has only one below-par round in his last three U.S. appearances. He had rounds of 80 and 75 in a missed cut at the Wells Fargo Championship. He shot a 68 in the first round of The Players but followed with 76-75-76.

Harrington said he just needs a shot of confidence a good round provides. Like Woods, Harrington believes he has that in him.

“He could be playing better than he was playing in 2001,” said Harrington of Woods, “but he doesn’t have as much of a margin over the field. There are players who are certainly capable of matching him on his A game. I’m sure he can still win with his B game, but the margin between him and the rest has narrowed.”

It’s a hypothesis to be tested on another day.

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