AT&T BYRON NELSON: With just a week remaining until the golf world turns its attention to Bethpage for the year’s second major, the PGA Tour heads down to the Lone Star state this week for one of the oldest events on the schedule, the AT&T Byron Nelson. First held in 1944, this tournament has been won by a who’s-who of golfing greats and has still managed to draw a decent field despite its awkward spot on the new schedule.
Last year was the beginning of a new era for this event, as the widely unpopular TPC Four Seasons was bumped in favor of Trinity Forest, a Coore/Crenshaw links design that was built on top of an old landfill. It’s a 7,350-yard par-71 that plays much shorter than that due to the firmness of the ground, and the flat terrain and absence of trees invite the strong Texas winds to whip across the property. The Zoysia fairways are large and generous, and there’s no “one way” to play most of the holes– players are given plenty of options on the best ways to approach the large green complexes. The greens themselves are Bermuda and will be a bit slower than what most players are accustomed to, so you can be aggressive in spots, and we saw several guys get hot with the putter a year ago, which contributed to the low scores, with 11 players finishing the week 15-under or better.
Aaron Wise got the job done last year with a blistering total of 261 (23-under), and it will be interesting to see whether the course yields such low numbers again, or if things will get a little trickier this year. A couple of holes have been lengthened and the course may play a bit softer and therefore longer, but still– with wide fairways and greens that allow an aggressive mentality, the scoring is likely to be pretty good once again.
Brooks Koepka (8.6) and Hideki Matsuyama (17.5) head BETDAQ’s Win Market, and there are several intriguing options lurking right below them. But don’t be surprised if the winner this week comes from a bit further down the board– given the relative newness of the course and the uniqueness of the style, things might be more wide open than usual this week. With that in mind, here are a few suggestions:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Keith Mitchell (33.0)- Though he’s not yet a household name, Mitchell has made some serious noise on Tour this season, highlighted by his breakthrough victory at the Honda Classic back in March. He didn’t stop there, either– after the Honda he finished 6th at Bay Hill, made the cut in his debut appearance at the Masters, and then finished 8th at the Wells Fargo last week, where he rebounded from a second-round 74 with a sparkling 66 on Saturday and a solid 69 on Sunday. So he comes into this week with momentum and confidence, and if last year is any indication, he’s certainly capable of going low at Trinity Forest: Mitchell finished 3rd here last year, opening with a 65 and closing with a 63. All signs point to another strong week, and it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Mitchell were to pick up his second victory of the season. He’s a strong option at a price like 33.0.
Russell Knox (49.0)- Though Knox hasn’t logged a top-10 since February’s Phoenix Open, he’s quietly begun to play some good golf over the past few weeks, finding the top-25 in two of his past three starts. A fairways-and-greens type, he’s generally at his best at courses that require precision off the tee, and Trinity Forest might not fit that mold, but he’s also a guy who’s had tremendous success on links-style courses, which probably shouldn’t be a surprise considering he’s a native of Scotland. He won last year’s Irish Open at Ballyliffin, for instance, and he hung around the lead for three days at the Scottish Open before fading on Sunday. He put together a fairly impressive performance in this event, too, shooting 12-under for the week to finish 16th, so he definitely knows his way around Trinity Forest. There’s a lot to like about Knox this week– his game is coming around, the course is a good fit, and the field isn’t particularly deep. He’s a decent value at nearly 50/1.
Scottie Scheffler (70.0)- You may not have heard the name Scottie Scheffler yet, but trust me, that will soon change– the 22-year old locked up his PGA Tour card for next year with last week’s runner-up finish in the Web.com Tour’s Nashville Open, his fourth consecutive top-10 on that tour. He received a sponsor’s exemption into the Valero Texas Open last month and made the most of it, finishing 20th, and he was the low amateur at the U.S. Open at Erin Hills, so he’s had some experience on big stages. A Dallas native, he’s played Trinity Forest “dozens of time” by his own estimation, so this will essentially be a home game for him. This kid has “next big thing” potential, and this is a real opportunity for him– considering his recent form and course knowledge, he has a chance to make some serious noise this week. If you’re looking for a long-odds type with a real shot to win, look no further.