AT&T Byron Nelson
It was a solid week for us in the end at the Wells Fargo Championship as despite four of our team never really getting in the picture, the fifth one of them Harris English delivered a third place finish and a full place return for us at 150/1.
The event itself was won by Wyndham Clark who, after taking control of the tournament on Saturday with a low round of the week 63, held his nerve on Sunday to see off his closest challenger Xander Schauffele and close out a comfortable four shot win.
Clark had been trending hugely of late with some eye catching performances in a run, which has not seen him miss a cut this year, so this maiden win could hardly be seen as coming out of the blue. Still though, it was a hugely impressive way to bag his first tour title.
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 moving to a new host course 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 it moved in 2021.
With the years second Major all but upon us we have solid field in town warming up for the PGA Championship next week with Texan’s Scottie Scheffler and Jordan Spieth spearheading the market. Behind this duo we then have Tyrrell Hatton, Jason Day, Tom Kim and Hideki Matsuyama.
So this year we return to TPC Craig Ranch in Mckinney, Texas for the third time.
The course which was historically a par 72 will this year play to a par 71 measuring just on 7400 yards. The change, which has been made is the 12th hole has been shortened by 40yds or so and will now play as a par 4 instead of a par 5.
The greens are bentgrass and the fairways are zoyzia.
The course was designed by the late 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. While 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 and 2022.
1 KH Lee
2 J Spieth
T3 H Matsuyama, S Munoz.
T5 J Thomas, X Schauffele, R Palmer
8 C Schwartzel
T9 P Malnati, J Hahn, D Riley.
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.
Looking at these two leaderboards in general we have players with a mix of styles with KH Lee who has owned this place bagging the trophy two years running and shooting -26 and -25 on top of his game in all areas.
In 2021 he ranked second from tee to green and in approach play for the week and ninth in putting while last year he was fifth from tee to green, eighth in approach and 13th in putting.
That said it would appear as is often the case with a birdie fest strong tee to green play to give yourself plenty of looks rather than a hot putter is the key to success here. Runner up in 2021 Burns ranked first from tee to green for the week and sixth in approach play. Similarly last years runner up Spieth was again first from tee to green and fourth in approach play. Both though were more subdued on the greens with Spieth ranking 36th in this area last year.
Furthermore if we head down last years leaderboard only three of the top 11 home ranked in the top ten on the greens while eighth of them ranked in the top ten from tee to green.
Looking at correlating courses and one observation I made coming in to the week in 2021 was 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 prior to his maiden win here KH 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. Last year meanwhile two time TPC Scottsdale Champion Hideki Matsuyama finished third here while local Dallas man runner up Spieth has also performed well at the Arizona event.
In addition another event that has caught my eye from a correlation point of view is the Rocket Mortgage Classic, which is also hosted by a low scoring TPC track, TPC Twin Cities. This event saw KH Lee notch a sixth place finish in 2021 while Charles Schwartzel, Jonny Vegas and James Hahn have both notched big finishes both here and in Minnesota over the past couple of years.
Another angle we should not ignore here of course is the Texas connection. Quite simply Texans/Texas based players play well in Texas. Last years top ten featured four players with Texas links, Spieth, Munoz, Palmer and Riley.
With so little to go on this week I also 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.
2023 - Valero Texas Open [Pre Masters] C Conners
2022 – Genesis Scottish Open [Pre Open] X Schauffele
2022 - RBC Canadian Open [Pre US Open] R McIlroy
2022 – AT&T Byron Nelson [Pre PGA] KH Lee
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 – AT&T 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 2022 Genesis Scottish Open, the 2021 Valero Texas Open and the 2019 and 2022 Canadian Open have been won by big names, Xander Schauffele, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy [x2], and in Spieth’s case having been winless for so long he was clearly 100% focused. With the remainder though all having been won 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.
Unfortunately at the time of writing the forecast shows we could be in for a disruptive week with all four days showing the potential for interruptions with storms.
Temperatures look set to sit in the low 80s all week.
The wind which is more often than not an issue in Texas also looks like it could be a factor with gusts of 20mph+ showing as a possibility across the week.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with six players this week as follows;
MICHAEL KIM – 90/1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
I am going to start things off this week by taking my chances on Michael Kim, who, if we trust will be inspired by his strong week and huge paycheck at the Wells Fargo, rather than jaded from it, I think represents great value at the odds.
A one time winner on the PGA Tour when he hacked up with a -27 total at the John Deere in 2018 Kim subsequently became mired in the kind of slump, which has ended the careers of others over the years as he went the whole of 2019 and 2020 without making a cut on tour.
After a 20/21, which wasn’t much better despite seeing a few weekends of golf Kim returned to the Korn Ferry Tour full time in 2022 and to his credit pieced his game back together and regained his card.
On to this season then and after a slow start Kim produced an 11th place at Pebble Beach since when he has missed only one cut in his following eight starts and has notched two top tens including last weeks seventh at Quail Hollow.
In Charlotte Michael ranked seventh off the tee, 11th from tee to green and 19th in putting for the week so everything was in great order and obviously coming on the back of his really solid play of late this is not an ‘out of the blue’ result.
Armed then with an extra $675,000 and a place at the Open in the bag the hope is that Kim will keep his foot on the gas and not ease in to a comfort zone and assuming he does the former there is a lot to like about his chances around here this week.
Firstly of course we have that stellar performance at TPC Deere Run, which came on a low scoring par 71 TPC track along the lines of what we have this week. Secondly, while on the opposite end of the spectrum, I do like the fact that when in the midst of his struggles in 2021 Michael played here and posted 69 67 over the first two days to make the weekend. His best opening 36 holes on the tour for a couple of years at the time so he should be welcoming a trip back here.
In addition Michael’s best solo effort on tour that season, and his best finish in a long while at the time, came later on in the summer, when he was 39th at the correlating TPC Twin Cities.
Allowing then for his current form, coupled with his win coming on a similar track, I was expecting Kim to be a good 20-30 points shorter this week so I was delighted to see him chalked up at the odds he is and I am keen to be on board.
NATE LASHLEY – 100/1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 23rd
Next cab off the rank this week is Nate Lashley.
A one time winner on the PGA Tour at the Rocket Mortgage Classic with a total of -25 we certainly know Nate can come to the party in a low scoring event so straight away he catches the eye on that front.
Aside from that win though and it’s Lashley’s form on the correlating TPC Scottsdale that interests me most as he has notched a third place finish there in 2020 and a 17th place there the following year.
Encouraging stuff on a correlating track then however fortunately we don’t have to guess too much with regards to the 40yr olds suitability to this venue as after missing the cut here on debut in 2021 he posted an eye catching 17th here last year, improving as the week progressed and closing out with a 64.
Consistency it must be said isn’t Lashley’s strong point and a look at his career as a whole and indeed this season shows us he is prone to going off the boil before popping up with a big result out of nowhere. More recently though Nate has been a bit more solid than usual making seven of his last nine cuts with a best of third in Puerto Rico however it is last weeks effort at Quail Hollow that really caught the eye.
Granted he ended up in 27th place however he was in the final pairing out on Saturday after a great opening two days, before shooting level par on Saturday and a disappointing closing 75 on Sunday. Overall though I am sure Nate will take the positives from a strong week on a course he had never produced anything of note on before. Furthermore even with his poor Sunday Lashley ranked third for the week in approach play, was solid on the greens and was 23rd in old fashioned Driving Accuracy and eighth in GIR so clearly he did an awful lot very well across the opening three days in particular.
To sum up Lashley appears to be trending towards a big week and In an event, which should be much more in his wheelhouse than the rarefied air he found himself in at Quail Hollow last week I’ll take him to produce a big performance this time out.
ROBBY SHELTON – 125/1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 43rd
Another player who catches my eye this week is Robbie Shelton.
Shelton has been solid if unspectacular on his return to the PGA Tour this season with two top tens to his name and he currently sits 71st in the Fedex Cup standings.
Yet to win on the PGA Tour Shelton is a four time winner on the Korn Ferry Tour and having won all four of those titles with scores ranging from -15 to -22 he is clearly at home in low scoring events.
Expanding further on the type of test Robby appears most suited to and if we look at his best efforts so far this campaign and we see that he finished sixth with a -23 total at the Amex, an event, which features a TPC course, tenth with -14 at the RSM, 15th with a -15 total at TPC Summerlin, while he also posted another 15th place at TPC San Antonio in Texas.
If we then go back to Shelton’s full debut season on Tour in 19/20 things get even more interesting as his best effort that campaign, and indeed his joint best finish to date on tour, came at TPC Twin Cities, a track, which as noted earlier correlates really well here through the likes of KH Lee, Schwartzel and Hahn, where he finished third on -16.
To sum up then Robby appears to have a really strong liking for TPC tracks, particularly those, which offer up plenty of birdie opportunities.
A native of Alabama one other thing that strikes me is where Robbie has produced his wins on the Korn Ferry Tour as three of them have come in southern/eastern states, Tennessee [x2] and South Carolina so you would expect him to be more than comfortable in Texas.
As mentioned earlier a look at the stats of the those who have performed strongly here over the last two years tells us that the route to success here is strong tee to green play to give yourself plenty of birdie looks and more encouragement can therefore be found in the 27yr olds long game numbers this season as he ranks 41st from tee to green thus, allowing for the lack of star power here, making him one of the strongest dozen or so statistically in the field in this area this week.
To sum up, Shelton is a player capable of producing the really low bursts of scoring, which will be needed this week and with the bigger names potentially having one eye on next weeks PGA this looks a great opportunity for him to step up to the next level.
JIMMY WALKER – 100/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 74th
I noted earlier that players with Texas connections have a strong record in the state and the first of my two picks who fit that bill this week is Jimmy Walker.
Walker who attended college at Baylor 90 minutes or so away from this weeks venue still bases himself in Texas so although born in Oklahoma he is very much a Texas guy these days.
A winner in Texas at the Valero Jimmy has posted a runner up finish in this event along with several other top tens in Texas over the years so we know he is more than capable of producing the goods in front of his home fans.
This is all well and good, however obviously these strong results in his adopted home state are all very much part of Walker’s period in the game when he was one of the top players and building up to be a major champion, not in the recent years when his game has slumped while he has been going through a well-documented battle with lyme disease.
Of late however and in last chance saloon on tour as he takes a career money list exemption the 44yr old suddenly seems to have found his game as after posting a solid 22nd at the Valero he found himself in the box seat at the 36 hole stage next time out at the Heritage after opening up with back to back 65s.
Not unsurprisingly having been out of the limelight for so long Walker faded that weekend in to 25th place however undaunted he continued the momentum in Mexico to finish 15th before bagging 14th at the Wells Fargo last week. Discounting a MC at the Zurich pairs then that’s three really positive weeks running.
Allowing for these strong efforts then Walker now finds himself inside the top 125 at 106 in the standings so while he has plenty of work to do make the all important top 70 he has given himself a great chance to earn some form of status heading in to next season and having tasted the heat of the battle again one would hope that next time he is back in the mix he can hang tougher than he did at Hilton Head.
Whether that is this week of course is another matter, however clearly building some traction Jimmy makes plenty of appeal as the tour heads back in to Texas this week.
MATTHEW NESMITH – 125/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 30th
I mentioned earlier that they key to success here appears to be strong tee to green play to give yourself plenty of looks and one player who when on song fits that bill is Matthew NeSmith.
To address the elephant in the room first of all and following a great start to the season last Fall, which saw Matthew post three straight top ten finishes he has been anything but on song for the bulk of 2023 to date, with nothing better than 39th and a bunch of missed cuts to his name until a couple of weeks ago.
All this changed however at the Zurich pairs event as when he teamed up again with his partner from last year, the in-form Taylor Moore, they repeated last years effort and posted a fourth place again.
Armed with the confidence from that result Matthew headed to Charlotte last week and while he struggled on Sunday slipping to 35th he played really well over the first three days gaining over ten shots from tee to green and finding all 14 fairways on Saturday.
If we trust NeSmith has turned a corner then a look at his form on correlating tracks suddenly makes him very much of interest this week.
To expand further and firstly he has a seventh place to his name at TPC Scottsdale in 2021 while his last three visits to the par 71 TPC Summerlin have seen him post a second and eighth and a 14th.
Matthew has knocked on the door of a victory on tour a few times now so one would like to think he has enough experience in the locker to get over the line when a chance next presents itself and we mustn’t forget of course he has bagged a trophy on the Korn Ferry Tour. I am happy then to take a chance this week that he can bring his strong long game play from Quail Holllow and use it to get in the hunt here.
DOUG GHIM – 175/1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 19th
Finally this week I’ll take a flyer that Doug Ghim can build on a more promising effort last week at the Wells Fargo in what in all honesty has been a pretty disappointing season so far.
A former world number one amateur Ghim is one of a long list of players who have stepped out on to the PGA Tour over recent years with high expectations only to struggle to step up to the next level.
Life in the pro ranks initially started pretty smoothly for Doug as he eased his way on to the PGA Tour at the first time of asking through the Korn Ferry Tour in 2019.
Once out in the big league though Doug struggled to make any kind of impact and had it not been for the moratorium placed on the 19/20 covid effected season he would have been straight back down to the Korn Ferry. Interestingly though in what was undoubtedly a poor debut campaign his best effort that season came at the correlating 3M Open where he was 18th.
On to 20/21 and after a fifth place at the Amex, again an event featuring a TPC track, he really came to prominence with a big showing at TPC Sawgrass before fading on Sunday with a 78. 21/22 was more of a struggle, however again his best two efforts were at TPC Sawgrass where he closed out a sixth place finish and the 3M Open where after being in great shape through three rounds he faded on Sunday to 16th with a 77.
On to this year then and so far its been a real struggle for Doug as prior to last weeks 27th in Charlotte he had produced nothing better than 16th at the Corales and he currently sits 169th in the Fedex.
In Charlotte though while he couldn’t quite put all the components together there were some really good signs. Thursday and Friday for example saw him ranked fifth and first respectively in Driving Accuracy while on Saturday he was 16th from tee to green. In addition the putter, normally his nemesis behaved solidly all week.
On to this week then and while Doug missed the cut here on his only previous visit in 2021 there is enough in his resume on TPC tracks, particularly at the 3M Open, to make me feel this event should suit him.
In addition of course Ghim attended college in Texas giving us that Lone Star State connection we are looking for and while on a different track he was 12th in this event in 2019.
Finally with bad weather in the forecast this week Doug has shown himself last year both at TPC Sawgrass and TPC Twin Cities to be a player who can handle the frustrations of a weather delay better than most while also showing he is more than capable in the wind.
A hugely talented player one would expect Ghim to find his feet eventually on tour and I’m happy to roll the dice on him this week at the odds.