AT&T Byron Nelson
It was another frustrating week for us last week at the Wells Fargo as we continued our long succession of Sunday’s not going our way.
On this occasion two of our picks Harman and Reavie both finished one shot shy of the places, with Harman in particular missing a host of chances on the greens on the final day.
The event itself, which was played in really tough wet, cold conditions, was won by Max Homa who saw off 54 hole leader Keegan Bradley to bag his fourth PG title in three years, a superb effort.
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 last year’s move.
With the years second Major all but upon us we have a really strong field in town warming up for the PGA Championship next week with the market headed up by world number one Scottie Scheffler. Behind Scheffler in the betting we then have Justin Thomas, Xander Schauffele, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Sam Burns.
So this year we return to TPC Craig Ranch in Mckinney, Texas for the second 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 headed 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 low scoring with a hot putter is the order of the day.
The current course record is 61 and is held by Ryan Palmer.
While the course, which opened in 2004 has only been used once 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 second year this course has hosted this event we have very little to go on and there is no real point in looking at the history of the event prior to last year.
Let’s though take a look at the top ten finishers here in 2021.
1 KH Lee
2 S Burns
T3 D Berger, P Kizzire, C Schwartzel, S Stallings.
T7 J Bramlett, T Merritt
T9 J Spieth, S Power, D Redman, J Vegas.
To be honest there is not too much we can glean from this leaderboard as we have a mix of styles. The winner KH Lee as befits a player who shot -25 was on top of his game in all areas. He ranked second from tee to green and in approach play for the week and ninth in putting. Runner up Burns meanwhile ranked first from tee to green for the week and sixth in approach play.
One observation I made last year coming in to the week and have referenced again this year is a potential link between TPC Scottsdale and here due to the fact that the course designer here Tom Weiskopf was responsible for the most recent redesign at Scottsdale. From that point of view the fact that the winner here Lee had posted by far his best finish of 2021 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open in January where he finished second was a huge tick to that link and the fact that we missed out on Lee therefore was somewhat disappointing. This link though is certainly one to consider this year.
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.
2022 – Valero Texas Open [Pre Masters] JJ Spaun
2021 – John Deere Classic [Pre Open] L Glover
2021 – Palmetto Champ [Pre US Open] G Higgo
2021 – Byron Nelson [Pre – PGA] KH Lee
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, the 2021 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 eleven 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.
After last weeks cool, wet conditions we couldn’t have more of a contrast this week as those that battled the elements in Maryland will enjoy temperatures in the low 90s and wall to wall sunshine in Texas.
The wind which is more often than not an issue in Texas could be a fact though with gusts of 20mph+ showing as a possibility across the week.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with five players this week as follows;
WILL ZALATORIS – 22/1 - 2pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
I am going to start things off by taking a chance that this is the week that Will Zalatoris finally bags the first of what I am sure will be several PGA Tour wins.
`As alluded to earlier the week before a Major tends to see the bigger names be in ‘warm up’ mode for the challenges that lay ahead leaving the door open for some of the lesser names to step up and take the spoils.
While Zalatoris is hardly a ‘lesser name’, and these days on the back of his efforts in the Major’s to date can be seen as a serious challenger for the biggest of honours, as he is yet to taste success on the PGA Tour though there is no doubt he will be 100% focused on the job at hand this week.
I noted earlier that while we have only one years history to go on the first and second home last year Lee and Burns ranked second and first respectively from tee to green and with low numbers potentially the order of the day the logic would seem that if you find your greens, you’ll give yourselves plenty of looks and the low numbers will follow.
From that point of view then in Zalatoris we have a player who thrives with his long game ranking second on tour from tee to green this season so he should be right at home here.
We do have some history here from Zalatoris to back that up in that he played here last year finishing 17th. On that occasion Will ranked first in approach play and third from tee to green on the week however the putter, the club that regularly lets him down flopped badly that week as he was ranked 70th on the greens.
A repeat performance on the dance floor is of course a possibility however we have seen on numerous occasions this year how, most recently with Keegan Bradley of course, a good week on the greens can transform a bad putters performance and if Will can even step it up to a neutral putting week – he lost over four shots to the field lasty year – he will surely contend.
Talking of being ‘right at home here’ and while that was a metaphorical statement based on a perceived suitability to the course it could also have been a literal statement as Zalatoris bases himself in nearby Dallas. From that point of view he will be even more motivated to perform here and as is well documented Texas based players have a long history of producing the goods near their home base with Sung Kang the most recent Texas based player to win this trophy.
Will arrives here fairly lightly golfed in the last couple of months however his last three starts have all seen him finish inside the top six including at Augusta so confidence should be high and I see this as a great opportunity to get off the mark this week.
BRIAN HARMAN – 60/1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - WITHDREW BEFORE OFF
Call me a glutton for punishment but next up I am going to return to a player who caused us much frustration last weekend Brian Harman.
I will admit that where I perhaps got things wrong last week was to not factor in the potential saturated course conditions meaning shorter hitters like Harman were regularly firing in from well over 200yds with their second shots.
Despite this Harman’s upturn in his long game continued as alongside his normal trademark accuracy off the tee he ranked sixth from tee to green for the week and 19th in approach play, the area that has let him down this season to date.
So far so good then, unfortunately though as is the want with this game that drives us mad at times, having been his normal solid self on the greens over Thursday and Friday, the area we know Brian normally flourishes in let him down over the weekend with the putter completely deserting him on Sunday to the tune of a loss of over 3.5 shots on the dance floor.
The end result from our point of view was that after a host of 5-10ft putts slipped by [and one from 2.5ft] Brian finished one shot shy of giving us a place return.
Hugely frustrating then indeed, however sometimes we just have to take a view that this was just one of those days and just as I don’t expect Keegan Bradley to putt like Ben Crenshaw again when he next tees it up I just have to trust Harman will revert to his normal self on the greens again this week and at the very least hold his own. After all when you are one of the games best putters you don’t become a bad one overnight.
If we assume that is the case then we have a player who is trending really nicely with his long game, something we saw at the Heritage and the Valspar and you would have to think, while he is making his debut here this week will thrive on this type of low scoring TPC challenge.
To expand on the latter point then and over recent years Harman has posted back to back top ten at TPC Sawgrass, a couple of top tens at TPC River Highlands and early this year posted a 20- under total at the Amex, which has two rounds on the Stadium course.
Furthermore of course his debut win came at TPC Deere Run back in 2014 with a winning total of 22- under.
Finally Harman was a late entry in to this weeks field, which I shall take as a positive sign that he feels either that the course will suit him and/or that his game is in a good place so he wants to keep his momentum going. I will trust then that he can iron out whatever glitch hit his putting prowess over the weekend and assuming so I can see him going really well this week.
SAHITH THEEGALA – 100/1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 79th
Those who saw my ‘six to follow’ piece for 2022 at the start of the year will know that I predicted a big 12 months for Sahith Theegala and while he is yet to bag a PGA Tour title he has certainly not disappointed so far.
Theegala’s highlight of 2022 to date came in February at the Waste Management Phoenix Open where he finished third and having established a potential correlation between TPC Scottsdale and this weeks venue that immediately puts him on the radar for me this time out.
Like many of the new kids on the block Sahith is certainly not the finished article yet and he continues to throw in the odd bad week with the good, however there has certainly been more of the latter than the former as he has only missed the weekend on four occasions so far this season.
Looking at the 24yr olds three top tens on tour this season and they have all come in lower scoring events with his finishing totals of 19- under when he was eighth at the Sandersons and 15- under in Phoenix where he opened up 66 64 showing he can put the pedal to the metal when needed.
Last time out in Mexico Sahith opened with a 65 on his way to a solid 24th place gaining 4.5 strokes from tee to green and just over three strokes in approach on day one. Unfortunately the Californian couldn’t keep that going however it was another eye catching effort in a very solid debut season.
When finishing third at the WMPO Theegala showed he has a lot of heart and is more than capable of mixing it with the big names and I expect him to have learnt a lot from that experience next times he finds himself in the hunt, and my hunch is that this week represents a great opportunity for him to put himself in that position again.
DYLAN FRITTELLI – 125/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 69th
I noted earlier that players with Texas connections have a strong record in the state and the second player I will chance this week who fits that bill is Dylan Frittelli.
The University of Texas grad now makes his home in the state and as recently as a few weeks back at the Valero Texas Open he had a chance to bag his second PGA Tour title before slipping up on Sunday to fall back in to eighth place.
Despite that disappointing Sunday though Dylan has been in solid form of late making all of his last eight cuts on tour so he should return to his adopted home state in positive spirits this week.
Furthermore although Frittelli’s most recent two efforts have seen him finish further down the field both performances were somewhat sullied by his closing round, with him delivering a 76 on Sunday at the RBC Heritage, while four shots were frittered on his closing eight holes at TPC Potomac on Sunday. If we look deeper though at Dylan’s stats at the Wells Fargo and he ranked 24th on the week from tee to green so he is clearly hitting the ball nicely at the moment.
So we’ve established Dylan is in good nick at the moment but what also draws me strongly to him this week is that he showed us when landing his lone title to date on the PGA Tour at the John Deere in 2019 that he can flourish in this type of low scoring test.
Furthermore we have seen from Dylan over recent years from his strong performances in Major’s that he can mix it with bigger names and hold his own so if he is in the hunt come Sunday alongside a Thomas or Scheffler he is capable of holding his own.
To sum up then Frittelli arrives here in solid form and while Sundays haven’t gone his way recently we know he has the pedigree to get the job done and I’ll chance him this week to thrive in Texas again.
CHEZ REAVIE – 150/1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Finally I will go back to the well with a second player from our team last week, Chez Reavie.
While, like Harman, Reavie finished agonisingly one shot out of the places last week there was an awful lot to like about his performance on a track where his lack of length in the end was no doubt a hinderance.
Looking at Chez’ scorecard at TPC Potomac and other than a weak day on the greens on Thursday his stats for the week were positive in every department as he gained shots across all four days.
His normal accurate self at fifth in DA for the week, Chez ranked 13th from tee to green and 17th in approach play, fourth around the greens and 33rd in putting.
If we then add this performance to his efforts in Mexico the week before where everything clicked on his way to 13th place it seems then that Chez has turned a corner and you would hope that his confidence is coming back.
This week than Reavie moves on to play TPC Craig Ranch for the first time and we can take encouragement from his performances on other TPC venues, particularly his two top five’s over recent years at TPC Scottsdale, which we have the clear link to here through the Weiskopf design and last year’s winner KH Lee.
In addition of course as noted last week Chez’ most recent win came at TPC River Highlands at the Travelers.
On that basis then I am happy to wrap things up this week by chancing that Reavie can continue to build his momentum this week, and as we often see with these low scoring events deliver a strong tee to green performance that will allow him to dissect the course and produce some really low numbers.