AT&T BYRON NELSON: There may be no player in the history of golf more deserving of a tournament in his honor than “Lord” Byron Nelson, the Texas gentleman of impeccable character who won a remarkable 52 PGA Tour events in his brief 11-year career, including 11 in a row in 1945, a record that will never be broken. Nelson was a constant presence at this event until his death in 2006 and helped make it one of the more prominent non-majors on the schedule, having been won by the likes of Snead, Hogan, Nicklaus, Palmer, Watson, Crenshaw, Mickelson, and Woods.
While this tournament may no longer be what it once was in terms of prestige and popularity, two things happened last year that improved its fortunes in the short term: it was moved from the wildly unpopular TPC Four Seasons to the more straightforward TPC Craig Ranch, and the schedule was altered so that this event is now held the week before the PGA Championship. This creates motivation to play here that didn’t previously exist, as players who want to sharpen their game in competition prior to the year’s second major will now be stopping in Dallas. That includes nine of the world’s top-20 players this year, guys like Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Xander Schauffele, and World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler.
The course, TPC Craig Ranch, is a flat, sprawling layout with wide fairways and large green complexes. Like most Texas courses it’s prone to high winds from time to time, but the forecast appears to be pretty friendly this week, with calm conditions expected after a breezy Thursday. The players absolutely tore the place apart last year, as the cut was 5-under par and winner KH Lee posted 25-under, so it’s a pedal-to-the-floor type of week– you’d better bring your birdies. I’d advise looking at players who have been hot lately and have been putting well, as you’d rather hit some loose shots than have a balky putter this week. With that in mind, here’s what I’m thinking:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Sam Burns (21.0)- It’s been a breakthrough year for Burns, who has two victories and six top-10 finishes in his last 13 starts. He’s been striking the ball beautifully, ranking 18th on Tour in strokes gained tee-to-green, and his putting has been even better, as he’s 7th on Tour in putting average. That’s a pretty deadly combination, and it’s why Burns is a threat to win pretty much anytime he tees it up these days. He’s certainly shown the ability to conquer TPC Craig Ranch after holding the 36-hole lead here last year, a performance that included a course-record 62 on Friday. Now that he has a bit more experience closing the deal I like his chances if he once again finds himself around the lead this weekend. Burns is a blue-chip option this week and is well worth a bet at a price like 21.0.
Patrick Rodgers (56.0)- It was a rough start to the year for Rodgers but he seems to have found his footing again after logging his two best finishes of 2022 in his last two starts. His performance in Mexico two weeks ago was particularly encouraging, as he opened with rounds of 66-69-66 and went on to finish 10th. Rodgers does his best work on long, open courses where you can attack the par-5s, as he ranks in the top-25 on Tour in driving distance and is 4th in total eagles made, and TPC Craig Ranch is just that sort of course. Last year he played this tournament in the midst of a miserable stretch of golf that saw him miss 5 cuts in 7 starts, and he played relatively well, firing a 66 on Friday to make the cut and posting 11-under for the week. This would lead you to believe that the course is a good fit, and now that he’s in better form we may see some big things out of Rodgers this week. He’s a good value at the current price.
Pat Perez (106.0)- You may have not thought much about Pat Perez lately, but the 46-year old veteran is still plugging along playing a full schedule, and though he hasn’t been on many leaderboards these past few weeks he’s been playing some pretty good golf, making 6 of 7 cuts since his back-to-back top-10s in February. His short game is razor-sharp, as he ranks 18th on Tour in strokes gained around the green, and he still makes lots of birdies– a hallmark of his game ever since he joined the Tour some 20 years ago. An Arizona native, Perez has always done his best work around Texas and the Southwest, so this event checks a few boxes for him. He played fairly well here last year, shooting 70 or better in all four rounds and posting 12-under for the week, and with a few more made putts he could’ve contended. Among the triple-digit longshots, Perez is my favorite bet on the board this week.