AT&T Byron Nelson
It was a week that at various stages promised so much for us at the Wells Fargo Championship, but which ultimately ended frustratingly with us only just about getting our stakes back.
Firstly our 300/1 pick Patrick Rodgers held a share of the halfway lead before struggling on Saturday and then our 125/1 pick Aaron Wise finished one shout out of the frame as a result of a bogey on the final hole. In the end then it was down to Patrick Reed to bring us a return as he produced a strong week to finish in sixth place.
The event will mostly though be remembered for Rory McIlroy’s return to winning ways as he ended a victory drought of nearly two and a half years. Whether this is the start of a return to his former glories or a false dawn on a course he loves remains to be seen and it has to be said that it was the putter that did most of the damage for him while his long game at times still looked very much ‘work in progress’. We will certainly find out more at Kiawah Island next week.
So moving on and the tour heads back to Texas for the AT&T Byron Nelson, the final event on the calendar before the years second major, The PGA Championship.
The event was first held in 1944 and has throughout its history been played in the Dallas area. In 1968 the event was renamed The Byron Nelson Classic and after a series of sponsors over the years AT&T became the title sponsor in 2015.
In 2018 the tournament moved to the Crenshaw/Coore designed Trinity Forest GC however the links style venue was not to everyone’s taste and in early 2020 it was announced that the event that year would be the last to be held at that venue with the tournament set to move to a new host course this year, TPC Craig Ranch in McKinney some 30 miles from Dallas.
Unfortunately the 2020 edition was then cancelled due to the Covid 19 pandemic meaning that the event was only held for two years at Trinity Forest before this years move.
Even though the years second major is nearly upon us we have a reasonably strong field with Bryson Dechambeau, Jon Rahm and Dustin Johnson vying for favouritism.
Behind him in the market we then find Texas native Jordan Spieth, Daniel Berger and the returning Hideki Matsuyama who makes his first start since his Masters triumph.
As noted above, this year the event moves to TPC Craig Ranch in Mckinney, Texas for the first time.
The course is a par 72 playing at 7438 yards.
The greens are bentgrass and the fairways are zoyzia.
The course was designed by Tom Weiskopf. For comparison purposes it is worth noting that Weiskopf hedead up the redesign of TPC Scottsdale home of the Waste Management Phoenix Open in 2015 and with both courses holding the TPC moniker and playing to a par 71 that event is certainly worth looking at for comparison purposes.
In addition Weiskopf was responsible for the recent North Course redesign at Torrey Pines.
The course features wider than average fairways and if the wind doesn’t blow I would expect the scoring to be low and for a hot putter to be required.
The current course record is 61 and is held by Ryan Palmer.
While the course, which opened in 2004 is making its debut this week on the PGA Tour it did host the equivalent of the Korn Ferry Tour Championship in 2008 and 2012 with these events won by Matt Bettencourt and Justin Bolli respectively. We can’t of course read too much at all in to those events it is noticeable that there were plenty of shorter, precision hitters on those final leaderboards including the likes of Colt Knost and Bryce Molder who both tied third in 2008.
With this being only the first year this course has hosted this event we have very little to go on and there is no real point in looking at the recent history of the event from a course form point of view.
A general point I made coming in to the event last time it was played though in 2019 is that Texans, Texas based players or players with clear Texas connections such as having attended college in the state tend to play well in this event [as they do in all Texas events] and in 2019 this theory was reinforced again as the winner Sung Kang was based locally in the Dallas area.
In addition with so little to go on this week I thought it might be interesting to look at the recent winners on the PGA Tour the week before a major was played. You will therefore see a list below going back to the start of 2018.
2021 – Valero Texas Open [Pre- Masters] Jordan Spieth
2020 – Houston Open [Pre- Masters] Carlos Ortiz
2020 – Safeway Open [Pre- US Open] Stewart Cink
2020 – WGC – Fedex St Jude [Pre-USPGA] Justin Thomas
2019 – John Deere Classic [Pre-Open] Dylan Fritelli
2019 – Canadian Open [Pre- US Open] Rory McIlroy
2019 – Byron Nelson [Pre- PGA] Sung Kang
2019 – Valero Texas Open [Pre Masters] Corey Conners
2018 – WGC Bridgestone Inv [Pre- PGA] Justin Thomas
2018 – John Deere Classic [Pre Open] Michael Kim
2018 – WGC Fedex St Jude [Pre- Open] Dustin Johnson
2018 – Houston Open [Pre- Masters] Ian Poulter
As we can see from this list if we exclude the three WGC’s where you would always expect a bigger name to be focused on bagging the trophy only two of them, last months Valero Texas Open and the 2019 Canadian Open have been won by big names, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy, and in Spieth’s case having been winless for so long he was clearly 100% focused. With the remaining seven though having been one by ‘lesser names’ it is clear that in general it makes sense to swerve the marquee names when they tee it up the week before a Major as they will most likely be using the event as a tune up.
The early part of the week has some rain forecast, however from Wednesday onwards we are fingers crossed due for a dry week. Temperatures will start in the low 70s on Thursday before hitting 80 over the weekend.
The wind which is more often than not an issue in Texas does not look a factor for the first couple of days, however at the time of writing the weekend does show gusts of 15-20mph as a possibility.
As I always say though this could all change!
As such I have gone with five players this week as follows;
BRYSON DECHAMBEAU – 10 /1 - 4pts Win. - FINISHED 55th
In general an event played the week before a major on a new course would be one that is ripe for a big priced winner and I will certainly be exploring some options along those lines as the preview progresses.
At the top of the market though there is one player I just can’t get away from, Bryson Dechambeau.
The obvious case for Bryson is put together by a few threads. Firstly while speculation is always involved when a new track is in play everything I have seen or read points to TPC Craig Ranch being right up Bryson’s alley.
Firstly the course features by all accounts wider than average fairways which will allow bombers to thrive and take advantage and Bryson will no doubt be able to feast on the three par fives. With this in mind low scoring is expected.
If we look at Dechambeau’s CV he took home the Rocket Mortgage Classic with a -23 total and perhaps even more significantly he has won at three TPC tracks, TPC Deere Run, TPC Summerlin and TPC Boston with totals of -21, -18 and -16 respectively.
Last week at Quail Hollow Dechambeau thought he had missed the cut and headed home to Dallas on Friday after his round, only for the wind to pick up and for him to have to send his private jet straight back to Charlotte as the +2’s got in on the number.
Bryson made the most of this reprieve though playing very nicely over the final 36 holes posting back to back 68s to end up in ninth place. His long game looked good over the weekend and perhaps most significantly for the anticipated low scoring this week his putter was working well and he actually ended second for the week in SGP.
As alluded to earlier there is always a danger that the marquee names will use the week before a major to simply tune their game up, however the other key point in relation to Bryson this week is as a Dallas resident this is a home game for him and I am sure he will be desperate to win in front of his home crowd. In addition of course as a Dallas resident you would expect that someone as meticulous as Bryson will have been sure to play the course on several occasions to familiarise himself, which will hopefully give him an edge.
All in all whichever way you look this event appears to set up perfectly for the eight time PGA Tour winner and I expect him to be right there come Sunday afternoon.
BEN MARTIN – 125/1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 26th
Ben Martin is a player I have been keeping very close tabs on over recent weeks ever since I put him up at the Corales Puntacana Championship only for him to finish in the graveyard of all good top eight each way bets, ninth.
The reason for putting Ben up that week was that he had caught the eye when closing out the previous week’s Korn Ferry event with a 65, and he so nearly delivered.
Following on from that Ben produced a solid 34th at the Valero Texas Open before I rowed in with him again in his home state event at Hilton Head, however unfortunately he went on there to miss the cut.
In all of these performances though, even the missed cut, Ben played some strong stuff and he duly landed another high finish last week at Quail Hollow where he posted a creditable 11th.
Looking at Martin’s numbers in Charlotte and it’s clear to see where this upturn in results has come from as he was strong across all departments of the game. Thirteenth off the tee, 28th from tee to green, 30th in approach play and 14th in putting all represent strong improvement on his overall seasons stats.
So having established Martin is on an upward curve what are the other reasons for siding with him again this week? Well what draws me to him this time out is that he is clearly as a whole at his best in lower scoring events where his greatest asset when on song, his putter, can come to the fore.
Sixth in 2017 at the Barbasol with a -18 total and second at TPC Deere run in the John Deere Classic with a -20 total are the sort of results we are looking for, for correlating purposes here. Furthermore, and the icing on the cake, is that Ben’s lone tour victory to date came on another TPC Par 71 track at the Shriners where he triumphed on a -20 number.
Finally, while as alluded to already many of the leading lights will be using this week as a tune up for next weeks PGA Championship, in Ben’s case all of his focus will be 100% on this weeks event as a win is the only way he can get in to next weeks field.
While this is the case for a lot of the lower ranked players teeing it up this week of course for the Clemson Tiger there is a greater significance as he lives at Kiawah Island and will undoubtedly be desperate to play next week’s event.
A former standout amateur there is no doubt Martin has a touch of class about him and while he has been hugely inconsistent over his career he is capable of really low scoring when on song. Add that to his upturn in form, his course suitability and his incentive to perform this week and I can see a big week ahead for him.
RYAN MOORE – 150/1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Another player who’s career has been littered with strong performances on low scoring TPC tracks is Ryan Moore and there is enough of a glimmer in his recent form to think that he is worth chancing this week at big each way odds.
Moore’s 20/21 season was derailed early on with a back injury and as a result he is in serious danger of losing his ever present record in the Fedex Cup play offs since they were first played.
After beginning his season in January with three straight missed cuts Ryan has now made six of his last seven weekends. On each occasion though unfortunately the story has been the same in that he has struggled at the business end of the tournament and therefore ended with finishes lower down the board, which don’t really help his cause too much.
Looking at Moore’s play though and his stats are steadily improving, his driving accuracy is as always strong, he ranks fourth on tour in this department, and over the past fortnight his overall long game has been steady in all areas, and perhaps most significantly, his Achilles heel of late the putter has started to co-operate as he ranked 39th at Copperhead and 19th at Quail Hollow in SGP.
Coming back to Moore’s potential suitability to this track and his last top 20 on tour in a conventional scoring event came at TPC Twin Cities last year when he was 12th with a -14 total while his last win on tour came in 2016 at TPC Deere Run with a -22 total. Furthermore Ryan is a former champion at TPC Summerlin and he has performed strongly at TPC River Highlands and TPC Scottsdale over the years.
While there is a slight concern about Ryan’s lack of length off the tee here I mentioned earlier on that when the Korn Ferry Tour Championship was held here back in 2008 both Colt Knost and Bryce Molder, known as short, accurate hitters, finished in the top three and I do suspect a bit like at TPC Scottsdale there will be some room for shorter hitters to thrive this week.
In summary Moore at his best is a master of the low scoring, lower key event and with his game clearly not too far away I am happy to chance him this week.
WYNDHAM CLARK – 150/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 39th
If bigger hitting does transpire to be the order of the day another player who could be in line for a breakthrough win this week is Wyndham Clark.
Clark joined the big league full time in the 2018/19 season and right from the outset he has looked comfortable in his surroundings and it wasn’t long before he was on a lot of peoples radars as a winner in waiting.
His debut season saw him post two top tens with his best finish coming at TPC Twin Cities in the 3M Open where he finished fifth with a total of -17. He also posted a 12th that season at TPC River Highlands in The Travelers.
The 2019/20 season was a bit more of a struggle for Wyndham however 20/21 has been much more the ticket for him and he currently sits a comfortable 55th in the Fedex Cup standings.
After a strong West Coast swing Clark struggled in Florida missing three straight cuts however he has made his last four weekends on the spin, although in a similar vein to Moore he has failed to put four rounds together.
Looking at Clark’s performance at Quail Hollow and it was symptomatic of his play of late in that different parts of his game worked on different days, his approach play was really poor on Thursday but strong for the remainder of the week, he was solid every day off the tee bar Saturday, while his putter, which until this season has been his biggest weapon along with his big hitting was again in and out.
Looking at the latter in more detail and Clark has gone from eighth and 16th for the past two seasons with the flatstick to a worrying 142nd this season, however on Sunday at Quail Hollow he had his best day of the week on the greens, which is promising.
If Clark can click with the putter on a return to bentgrass greens from Bermuda his aggressive style of play could be perfect for this track and I am happy to risk him at decent each way odds.
BRONSON BURGOON – 250/1 - 1pts E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 10 - FINISHED 13th
Finally I will roll the dice on a second Texan in the form of Bronson Burgoon.
Burgoon is another player who as a whole his been ticking along solidly this year without doing enough in any given week to get that one big finish to secure his card, basically seven made cuts in ten solo starts in 2021 with a best of 13th tells the story.
Perhaps significantly though that 13th place came only two starts ago at The Valspar and his long game numbers at Copperhead were impressive as he ranked tenth from tee to green and fourteenth in approach play.
Bronson followed up his best of the season with a missed cut at Quail Hollow unfortunately, however I am happy to forgive him one bad round on Thursday, which he followed with a 70 on Friday.
Away from his recent form Burgoon also appeals this week as his best stuff tends to come in the sort of low scoring shootout I anticipate this being, -21 for second place in the CIMB Classic and -19 for second place at TPC Deere Run for The John Deere tell a story.
A native of Texas who still resides in the state Burgoon has played this event twice on two different courses finishing 16th and 24th respectively and I am optimistic that on a course, which should play to his strengths this week he can improve on that and threaten the frame this time around.