After an intriguing week at the Players Championship, where we saw a lot of top names struggle, the Tour is returning to Texas, this time in Irving for the AT&T Byron Nelson, which will be the fourth event this year in the Lone Star state. The WGC Match Play was held in Austin, Texas for the second year running, whilst the Tour made its annual stops at both the Shell Houston Open and the Valero Texas Open, either side of the Masters. The Tour will stay in Texas for another week following the conclusion of this event as they head to Colonial CC in Fort Worth, for the DEAN & DELUCA Invitational next week.
Masters Champion, Sergio Garcia won last year’s renewal of this event, adding to his 2004 triumph here, becoming just the fifth player to win this event on multiple occasions and the first since the turn of the century. He will return this week to defend his title, after making his first start since winning the Masters last week at TPC Sawgrass. It was a mixed bag throughout the week for the Spaniard, but a T30 finish was respectable given his time off and the distractions he would no doubt of faced since donning the Green Jacket.
The man he beat in a play-off last year, Brooks Koepka is finding his way back to form after a slow start to the season and the American is back for what will be his fourth start at this course. In three starts here, Koepka’s form reads MC-16-2 so naturally a win would be the next step for him at this event.
TPC Four Seasons (Las Colinas), 7,166 Yards, Par 70
Amongst one of the shorter courses on the PGA Tour, TPC Four Seasons relies on its tough greens and run off areas as its defence against low scores. The greens are not small but they are very undulating and require you to hit the correct part of the slopes in order to get close to the pin.
The greens are surrounded by runoffs and closely mowed areas around the green in order to test a players’ short game if they miss these large sloping greens.
What it will take to win the AT&T Byron Nelson
This event has been good to those looking for their maiden PGA Tour wins in recent years, with four of the last seven winners using this event as a springboard for future success. Major winners, Jason Day and Keegan Bradley both got off the mark here in recent years, as did Brendan Todd and Sang-Moon Bae. Bradley, Day and Sang-Moon Bae all won here without a previous start on the course, proving course experience may not be vital here.
Course form in general doesn’t tend to be a big indicator given the amount of players winning on their first start in recent years, coupled with the fact that Steven Bowditch won the 2015 renewal, despite his form at the course reading MC-MC-MC-60 before his win.
Whilst previous form at the course might not be necessary, current form almost certainly is. Of the last five winners, only Sang-Moon Bae came into the week without a top-12 finish in one his last five starts but even he was coming into the week following a decent finish at TPC Sawgrass (T33) the week before.
Statistically, this is not a week where any one stat stands out for me, however of the last five winners only one player has ranked outside of the top-12 in Stroked Gained: Putting (Jason Dufner ranked 57th in 2012) the week they won. Todd and Bowditch both ranked 1st, Bae also had a good week ranking 2nd, whilst Sergio ranked 12th last year, which is a huge improvement on his performance over the season.
Getting hot with the putter can happen any week for these professionals, so it doesn’t necessarily take the best putter on Tour to putt well at this course. Here are rankings of each of the last five winners in Strokes-Gained Putting the week they won, compared to their performance over the season:
Sergio Garcia (2016) – Byron Nelson: 12th / Season-ending: 168th
Steven Bowditch (2015) -Byron Nelson: 1st/ Season-ending: 69th
Brendan Todd (2014) – Byron Nelson:1st / Season-ending: 6th
Sang-Moon Bae (2013) – Byron Nelson: 2nd / Season-ending: 29th
Jason Dufner (2012) – Byron Nelson: 57th / Season-ending: 64th
As you can see, both Todd and Bae had rather successful seasons on the greens, but other than that both Dufner and Bowditch were right around average, whilst Garcia was simply awful in this category over the course of the season but still picked it up the week he won here.
Similarly Greens in Regulation looks fairly important, with only Todd (55th in 2014) ranking outside the top-10 the week they won.
One thing that sticks out on the week is how a player fares on the Par 4’s. Here is each player’s week-ending ranking in Par 4 Performance the week they won:
Garcia – 11th
Bowditch – T1
Todd – 2nd
Bae – T2
Dufner – T3
Most important for me is the current form. I want someone to have at least placed in the top-20 in recent weeks, or be ridiculously overpriced to be considered here. For all the surprise Si-Woo Kim caused last week, he had still posted a T22 finish on his last start, suggesting a return to form was on the cards.
Form in Texas is another angle I like, we often see players enjoying one particular part of the country and Texas form stands up as well as most regions.
In short, I am looking for a ball-striker, who has not been struggling on the Par 4’s and has posted a top-20 in recent week.
With all this mind, here are my selections for the 2017 AT&T Byron Nelson.
Tony Finau 40/1 (Bet365 1-5 1/4 odds or WilliamHill 1-6 1/5 odds) 1pt e/w:
Tony Finau looks primed to add to his lone PGA Tour victory after two top-5’s in his last five starts, especially at a course he has shown a clear liking for so far.
His record here is very good, finishing 10th and 12th on his first two starts and his stroke average over his eight rounds is 67.0. A second-round 64 on debut suggests he has the capability to go low around this course, especially if in form.
Finau got into contention once again recently, at the Valero Texas Open, three starts after finishing 5th at the Valspar Championship.
Given his current form and the fact he ranks 4th in Greens in Regulation and T4 in Par 4 Performance so far this season, there is every reason to be optimistic about his chances this week.
Jonathan Randolph 175/1 (Bet365) 0.5pt e/w:
Jonathan Randolph has rounded into some good form on the PGA Tour after a slow start to the season, and his 8th last time out was his first top-10 on Tour.
A T8 finish at the Wells Fargo Championship was his third straight top-27 finish, one of which came at the Valero Texas Open, showing a further liking for golf in this state.
He finished T34 on debut in this event two years ago, after a T20 finish at the Wells Fargo Championship a start before, and given his improved performance at the Wells Fargo this time around I am hoping he can improve here as well.
That T34 on his debut doesn’t tell the complete story either. A +5 final round saw Randolph drop 32 places, after firing himself into 2nd place with rounds of 69-63-65 over the first three days. After finally posting a top-10 on Tour, he may well be more composed, should he find himself in the mix once again.
Statistically he doesn’t stand out at all in the season ranks so far, such was his poor start to the season, but given his recent upturn in form I am confident he can ride his current form and go well at an attractive price this week.
After a disappointing effort at the Players Championship I have decided to keep stakes to a minimum here. Smylie Kaufman appealed when available at 100/1, but was cut pretty sharpish and is now best priced 75/1. Patrick Reed is another who appealed, as he looks to have turned a corner and looks a decent price at 40/1, however I want to see more from him in contention before rushing to back him.
Total Points Staked this week: 3
Profit/Loss for 2017: -1