AT&T BYRON NELSON: The PGA Tour returns to Texas this week for one of the most venerable events on the schedule, the AT&T Byron Nelson, a summertime tradition in the Dallas area since the 1940s that was one of many tournaments lost to the pandemic last year. And after being bogged down by less-than-ideal host courses for several years– first the much-maligned TPC Four Seasons, and then a 2-year stop at Trinity Forest, a strange, unsightly course that was built on top of an old landfill– this tournament may have finally found a proper home at TPC Craig Ranch, a spacious Tom Weiskopf design that has played host to multiple Korn Ferry events and qualifying schools but will be making its debut on the big tour.
Measuring over 7,400 yards, the course certainly isn’t short, but the fairways are wide and the rough appears to be minimal, so it feels like we’re going to see a birdie fest. Like many Texas courses, TPC Craig Ranch is wind exposed, but mother nature has been kind this week, with steady rains on Monday and Tuesday softening things up and forecasts calling for perfect temperatures and mild breezes in the 8-12mph range. The greens are bentgrass– the preferred putting surface of most pros– and the fairways are zoysia, grass that makes it seem like the ball is on a perfect little tee nearly every time (seriously). This is all a long way of saying that we should expect lots of low numbers, and considering Justin Bolli reached 16-under in winning the Web.com (now Korn Ferry) Tour Championship at Craig Ranch in 2012, when the course played as a par-71 (it is now a par-72), we can anticipate a winning score in the 20-to-25-under range this week.
The field is quite strong, especially for a pre-major event, though world No. 1 Dustin Johnson will not be participating after withdrawing on Monday due to ongoing knee discomfort. That leaves Bryson DeChambeau (9.1) and Jon Rahm (10.0) atop BETDAQ’s Win Market, and they’re followed by a group of top-tier contenders that includes Jordan Spieth (13.0), Scottie Scheffler (18.5), Daniel Berger (19.5), Brooks Koepka (26.0), and Hideki Matsuyama (28.0). It’s always difficult knowing what to expect on a course that has never been seen in competition (at this level, anyway), but I’d be on the lookout for players who make birdies in bunches and have been active in recent weeks, as opposed to those who will be knocking off some rust after a post-Masters break. A good record in Texas certainly doesn’t hurt, either. With that in mind, here’s what I’m thinking this week:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Scottie Scheffler (18.5)- If you want someone who checks absolutely all the boxes this week, look no further than Scottie Scheffler. A native Texan who played collegiately at UT, just a couple of hours down I-35 from TPC Craig Ranch, Scheffler nearly picked up a victory in the Lone Star State a few weeks ago, finishing runner-up at the WGC-Match Play held at Austin Country Club. It was his third top-10 and eighth top-25 finish this season, so he’s been playing well on a weekly basis, and with his elite ball-striking ability he should dominate TPC Craig Ranch tee-to-green. It’s also worth mentioning that Scheffler is a birdie-making machine who has been in the top-20 in birdie average ever since getting his card two years ago (he’s currently 14th, averaging 4.38 birdies per round). Don’t be surprised if he takes it deep this week and comes away with his first PGA Tour victory.
Si Woo Kim (46.0)- After a disappointing year in 2020 Kim has re-established himself this season as one of the sport’s bright young stars, racking up seven top-25 finishes and notching his third career victory at The American Express back in January. This will be his first time teeing it up since the RBC Heritage, but he hasn’t missed a cut since March and has found the top-25 in three of his past four starts, so he should be both fresh and confident this week. He’s an elite ball-striker who is also good around the greens, and if his putter heats up… look out. Kim has shown that he can conquer the strongest of fields when his game is right, making him a dangerous player when in-form. At a price like 45/1, he’s an absolute steal this week.
Scott Piercy (110.0)- Having never seen TPC Craig Ranch in competition before, we really don’t know what to expect, but if we’re looking for players who generally excel on easier courses and have a history of success both in Texas and in the Southwest, Piercy could be an interesting option. He’s coming off an 11th-place finish at the Wells Fargo, his best result of the season thus far, so he may have found a little something, and with a notoriously streaky guy like Piercy, a little something can go a long way. He’s never been scared to go low, finishing at 15-under or better in all four of his PGA Tour victories, and he’s had success in this tournament specifically, finishing runner up at TPC Four Seasons back in 2014 and finding the top-20 again the next year. This is an experienced winner coming off his best week of the year, heading to a course that seems like a good stylistic fit. Sounds like a pretty good deal at a price like 110.0, doesn’t it?