AT&T BYRON NELSON: With a successful if not suspenseful Players Championship in the books, the PGA Tour now heads to the Lone Star state 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 still manages to draw a decent field despite being held a week after the so-called “fifth major”.
The headliner this year is Jordan Spieth, a Dallas native who is a member of the host course, Trinity Forest Golf Club. If that name sounds unfamiliar, there’s good reason for it— this is the first year Trinity Forest has been used for this tournament, and it’s expected to be a significant upgrade over the previous venue, TPC Four Seasons, which was one of the most unpopular courses on Tour.
Trinity Forest is a 7,350-yard par-71 that was built on top of a landfill, so there are no trees and the look and feel is that of a links course. It’s a Crenshaw/Coore design that features Zoysia fairways (and there’s nothing better than perfectly-manicured Zoysia.. it’s like the ball is always sitting up on a little tee), Bermuda greens and minimal rough. Aside from that bare-bones knowledge there will be a lot of guesswork this week, as there always is with a new venue, but based on what the players have been saying it sounds like precision iron play will be more important than length and accuracy off the tee, and that scrambling ability will be of vital importance.
Spieth is the best player in the field and he presumably has a leg up on most in the course knowledge department, so it’s no surprise that he heads BETDAQ’s Win Market, but the price (5.8 at the time of this writing) is tough to swallow considering his last victory came at last year’s Open Championship. Hideki Matsuyama (20.0), Matt Kuchar (21.0), and Sergio Garcia (21.0) all lurk near the top of the market and are priced much more reasonably, but Kuchar is the only one of that trio I’d consider based on recent form.
A new course makes things a bit trickier than usual, but we haven’t exactly been setting the world on fire these past few weeks so maybe a shake-up like this is just what we need. Here are my suggestions:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Branden Grace (24.0)– Grace excels at links-style golf and he has a great record in the state of Texas (and on Bermuda grass in general), so Trinity Forest ticks off some obvious boxes for him. He was mediocre over the weekend at The Players, finishing 46th despite a promising start that included four birdies in his first eight holes on Thursday, but that was actually his worst finish in 10 PGA Tour starts this season and he’s logged five top-25s, so he’s been playing well all year. And his putting, which has occasionally deserted him over the years, is the best it’s ever been, as he currently ranks 6th on Tour in Strokes Gained: Putting. All things considered, I think Grace makes a lot of sense this week at price like 24.0.
Martin Laird (49.0)– Laird has been sneaky-good this season, making the cut in 7 of his past 8 starts and finishing 11th or better four times since February. Trinity Forest is not likely to play like a true links due to the anticipated receptiveness of the greens, but it’s worth noting that Laird, a native of Scotland who now resides in Scottsdale, Arizona, has probably played as much links golf as just about anybody in the field. And, like Grace, he has had lots of success in the state of Texas— his last PGA Tour victory came at the Valero Texas Open back in 2013, and he finished 11th in the very same tournament just three weeks ago. He’s a good value here at nearly 50/1.
Keith Mitchell (74.0)- Mitchell has certainly made some noise in his rookie campaign, making the cut in 12 of his past 14 starts and seeming to always find the first page of the leaderboard at some point during the week. Consider this stat that has been floating around over the past couple of days: Mitchell has been T12 or better after Round 1 in an astonishing 12 events so far this season. So, clearly, he isn’t beset by nerves or timidity. It’s really anybody’s guess how he’ll take to Trinity Forest, but he’s a Southerner who seems to be most comfortable on Bermuda grass and he’s sure been trending in a positive direction since March, with a runner-up finish in Punta Cana and a T6 at the Houston Open among the highlights. It feels like it’s only a matter of time until this uber-confident 26-year old breaks through in a big way, and at a price like 74.0 I’m willing to take my chances on the breakthrough happening this week.
TOURNAMENT MATCH BETS
Hideki Matsuyama (1.91) vs. Marc Leishman (1.91)
Matsuyama has been machine-like in his consistency over the years, so it really is shocking to see him fall apart like he did at The Players last week, when he opened with 79 and never sniffed the cutline. But his struggles this season stretch far beyond last week— due partially to injuries and inactivity, Matsuyama hasn’t registered a top-15 finish since January and hasn’t won since last August’s WGC-Bridgestone. Though I do believe he’s a better player than Leishman on a week-in, week-out basis, I’ll go with the Aussie this week on account of his recent form (two top-10s in his last four starts) and excellent history in the state of Texas. Recommendation: Leishman at 1.91
Matt Kuchar (1.89) vs. Sergio Garcia (1.95)
I’ve been on the Fade Sergio train for a few weeks now and I don’t plan on getting off anytime soon. Since his 4th-place finish at the Valspar in March, Garcia has missed 3 of 4 cuts and has finished no better than 70th, breaking par just three times in 10 competitive rounds. It’s like he’s got it on cruise control in the slow lane, and I’m staying far away. Kuchar should be given consideration in the overall market due to his recent play (14/14 made cuts this year, top-30 finishes in 5 of his last 6 events) and his strong history on both links courses and Bermuda grass. Recommendation: Kuchar at 1.89