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Top Five To Watch At The Frys.Com Open

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Frys.com Open Power Rankings

Power Rankings
Image From CordeValle Golf Club Twitter (@CordeValleGolf)

There’s meaningful golf being played on the PGA Tour in October. Isn’t life wonderful?

If you’re a golf nut like me, then the Tour’s new schedule is a wonderful thing. This week’s stop, the Frys.com Open, has been around for seven years, but has always been relegated to second-fiddle status as part of the now-defunct “Fall Series”. These tournaments were originally used as a way for players who weren’t assure their Tour membership for the following season to work their way up the money list, but weren’t awarded any FedEx Cup points as the “season” didn’t begin until January.

The Frys.com Open is notable for having hosted several of the game’s top stars, most recently when Tiger Woods played the event in 2011. That year, Woods attended as part of a deal with President’s Cup captain Fred Couples to play more competitive golf before the international competition, and although he finished 30th, it was the final tournament before his winless streak ended that December.

Of course, Woods isn’t going to be at the tournament in northern California this week. Neither are several of the game’s top stars, like Rory McIlroy, Matt Kuchar or Justin Rose. That isn’t out of the ordinary for this tournament, but they were all part of a small group who played in a big-money exhibition last year in Turkey during this event, and as part of their release agreements to play the non-affiliated event, each promised to play the Frys at least once by 2015. The stature of this season-opener can only get bigger.

So now that full FedEx Cup points are on the line, what will the players who are in attendance face? CordeValle Golf Club is a par-71 track measuring just under 7,400 yards, with relatively generous green sizes. The winning total the last six years has never been higher than -14, so birdie opportunities will likely be at a premium.

Are you ready for the new golf season? Let’s take a look at the five players I expect to contend for the first win of the year.

Brandon Raper is a golf writer for RantSports.com. “Like” him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter @Brandon__Raper, and add him to your Google+ network.

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5) Bryce Molder

Kevin Liles - USA TODAY Sports

The 2011 winner of the Frys.Com Open returns to CordeValle to try to earn his second career victory. He’s not a household name, but he did make it all the way to the BMW Championship in this year’s playoffs, so he’s on the upswing. Ranked 10th in stroked gained - putting on Tour in 2013.

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4) Hideki Matsuyama

Allan Henry - USA TODAY Sports

The Japanese phenom played relatively well despite a 1-3-1 President's Cup record, but even more impressively he had six top-25 finishes in just seven PGA Tour events. He just turned pro in April and now has full PGA Tour member status. Matsuyama is also the highest-ranked player in the field at No. 30.

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3) Gary Woodland

Brett Davis - USA TODAY Sports

The bomber had a solid year in 2013, winning the Reno-Tahoe Open and nearly winning The Barclays top open the FedEx Cup Playoffs. He's attempting to improve on his ninth-place finish at CordeValle in 2012. He has a tendency to miss some fairways, but he hit nearly 67 percent of his greens in regulation in 2013, 37th on Tour.

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2) Jonas Blixt

Mark Konezny - USA TODAY Sports

Blixt comes to San Martin, Calif. to defend his 2012 Frys.com Open championship. Despite missing nine cuts in 24 tournaments in 2013, Blixt also added the Greenbrier Classic to his trophy case. He's not a standout in any one statistical category, but when you're the defending champion, you have to be in the discussion.

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1) Billy Horschel

Kevin Liles - USA TODAY Sports

Even in a new season, I've still got my seat on the Billy Horschel bandwagon. After his win at the Zurich Classic and fourth-place tie at the U.S. Open, Horschel struggled down the stretch, but still made it to the Tour Championship, where he finished the year with a tie for seventh. Finished the 2013 season ranked 11th in ball-striking and second in total putting. CordeValle should set up quite nicely for Horschel this week.