There is one tournament left in America before the second major of the year takes place and it is the Byron Nelson Championship which gets underway in Texas on Thursday as those teeing it up look to fine tune their game ahead of the USPGA Championship.
K-L Lee did just that when he stormed clear of the field to win the first running of the tournament on this course last year. He is back to defend the title but there is a much stronger field lining up to oppose him.
2021 – K-L.Lee
2019 – Sung Kang
2018 – Aaron Wise
2017 – Billy Horschel
2016 – Sergio Garcia
2015 – Steven Bowditch
2014 – Brendon Todd
2013 – Sang-moon Bae
2012 – Jason Dufner
2011 – Keegan Bradley
TPC Craig Ranch is the venue for this tournament for the second time. The course itself is a par 72 which measures 7,468 yards and one thing to always bear in mind whenever a tournament is in Texas is the winds that often blow. For that reason the greens will run quite slow this week so that the impact of the wind on the surfaces is marginalised. Rain is expected to blow through over the weekend too so conditions could get tricky.
Generally in Texas the premium is on hitting the greens. The run off areas and trouble around the greens can make scrambling quite difficult but inevitably players will be required to scramble at times so good iron players should come to the fore. Strokes gained on approach was a big thing last year but the winning score was -25 and it is expected to be low once again here so it makes sense to have those who can get the ball to the hole on side as well.
Whenever the world number one shows up for a tournament the profile of it is lifted and Scottie Scheffler is here this week. The fact he is playing in the state he went to college only ramps up the excitement. Jordan Spieth is another local player who is teeing it up this week while household names such as Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson and Xander Schauffele are also in the field along with the defending champion K-L Lee.
The runner up from last year, Sam Burns, is back looking to go one better while the likes of Hideki Matsuyama, Will Zalatoris, Joaquin Niemann and Talor Gooch will all be looking to build up for next week with a win. Seamus Power and Alex Noren lead the European charge this week while the likes of Jason Day, Marc Leishman and Adam Hadwin will look to push Niemann hard in the international challenge. This should be a good week of golf.
Scottie Scheffler has flown to the top of the world rankings with a burst of four wins in six starts from the Phoenix Open to The Masters. He has only been seen once since Augusta which was at the Zurich Classic so he might need to shed some rust here, although he will know the course like the back of his hand so if he has kept his eye in during his down time then the world number one is sure to give you a good run at 10/1. One concern is he was way down the field here last year but he’s the best player in the world for a reason right now.
Justin Thomas will tee it up as the 12/1 second favourite to win the tournament. Although he is starting to gain strokes with the putter we are now at the stage where I am trusting him with that stick yet and I always think he is more vulnerable than others in the wind. The positive is that he knows how to win and record recent top 10 finishes at Riviera, the Valspar and Augusta. His odds just seem fair to me rather than special.
Sam Burns is a general 18/1 shot to win this tournament. He carried my money and held the 36 hole lead but couldn’t find anything over the weekend and in the end was held off quite comfortably by K-L Lee. Burns has become a winning and contending machine since then though so if he can get himself into a similar position he’s more likely to get the job done. The only time he teed it up since Augusta was alongside Billy Ho at the Zurich Classic which might be a concern.
The trio of Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Xander Schauffele come in next in the betting at 22/1. I’ll come to Spieth a little lower than this part of the preview. Johnson has been a little too up and down for my liking and hasn’t played this course before. I suspect he’s here just to find some rhythm for next week so he isn’t for me. Schauffele cruised to victory in the Zurich Classic alongside Patrick Cantlay last time out but that was his only golf since Augusta so he might need to find his groove too.
I understand the concerns that Jordan Spieth might have an eye on next week where he will attempt to complete his personal Grand Slam but he was in that situation last year when he finished in the top 10 and would have been a lot higher but couldn’t get anything to the hole. He has won in Texas before having won the Texas Open last season so he can win in front of his home crowds and he was a winner last time out at The Heritage when he came through in a play-off to win. This year in both the Texas Open and The Heritage, Spieth led the field in strokes gained from tee to green picking up 10.844 shots at the Texas Open and 13.341 at The Heritage. He was second and tenth in approach for those weeks too. We know he is usually a great putter and when we put the two together the 22/1 on him could look very big come Sunday.
Jhonattan Vegas was on my staking plan last year and I’m going to go with him again after his top 10 finish at the Wells Fargo Championship last week. What caught the eye there was his ridiculous strokes gained on approach figure where he picked up 10.037 shots on a decent enough field to rank first for that discipline. We got a watching at the Valspar where he was ninth in the same statistic picking up 5.008 shots. You sense he’ll set up a lot of chances this week and when you factor in that he was inside the top 10 here last year it would be a surprise if he didn’t convert a decent number o those chances he creates. I fancy he’ll go very well this week.
I’ll play three outsiders at varying prices with the first of those being Lanto Griffin who is another who has won in Texas before. He won the 2019 Houston Open and arrives here off a two week burst of 15-6 results in Mexico and the Wells Fargo Championship. He went 11-2 for GIR those weeks and was sixth in strokes gained on approach last week picking up almost six shots on the field. His long game looks in wonderful touch at the minute and if he can find something on these greens, and his putting was much improved last week, then he could nail a second Texas victory here.
Kurt Kitayama is another who arrives at TPC Craig Ranch in decent form and he could easily stroll off with the Byron Nelson title this week. After catching the eye when he finished third in a really tough The Honda Classic earlier in the year, Kitayama has gone 2-15 in Mexico and the Wells Fargo over the last two weeks. He would have been even closer last week had he not shot 76 in the third round. Kitayama has won in places like Mauritius on the DP World Tour so we know he can handle the wind and picking up 8.347 strokes on approach last week shows he is flushing it with the irons. If he pops some putts in he’ll be close once again.
Finally I’ll take a man who has already won one shootout this season and might well go well again in another in the form of Hudson Swafford, The American Express champion. The last time the tour was in Texas, Swafford led the field on approach at the Texas Open while last time out for him at The Heritage he was fourth in strokes gained putting. A combination of the two will have him go very close here. When he won at La Quinta he was fourth on approach and second in putting so while that area of his game is in decent order he is a man worth following at a decent price.
Back J.Spieth to win Byron Nelson Championship (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 23.00 with William Hill (1/5 1-8)
Back him here:
Back J.Vegas to win Byron Neilson Championship (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 41.00 with Coral (1/5 1-8)
Back H.Swafford to win Byron Nelson Championship (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 151.00 with Coral (1/5 1-8)
Back L.Griffin to win Byron Nelson Championship (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 67.00 with Sky Bet (1/5 1-8)
Back K.Kitayama to win Byron Nelson Championship (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 101.00 with Sky Bet (1/5 1-8)