Fantasy Golf Preview: AT&T Byron Nelson

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Kang Wins Byron Nelson 2019
Golfer Sung Kang winning the 2019 Byron Nelson.

The PGA Tour heads to Texas this week for the AT&T Byron Nelson, which takes place between May 13th-16th this year. Let’s see if we can build on our past success at the Valspar Championship, where both Schwartzel and Ancer had excellent tournaments, with the latter finishing in fifth place.

The History

The tournament is held every May. In 2018 the Byron Nelson moved to the new Trinity Forest Golf Club in Dallas. It is one of two PGA Tour stops in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, the only metropolitan area to host two events. The tournament first took place back in 1944 when Byron Nelson, a Fort Worth-raised son of Texas lifted the trophy. Hence, why the competition is named after him today.

It’s a tournament with a rich history of drawing the big names in, and some of the past winners include Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, and Tiger Woods, to name a few. In recent years the Spaniard Sergio Garcia has been the most successful player, having won the tournament twice in 2004 and then again 12 years later in 2016. Here is a list of the previous five winners:

2019 – Sung Kang -23 (Form CUT-CUT-42-18)
2018 – Aaron Wise -23 (Form 2-CUT-CUT-32)
2017 – Billy Horschel -12 (Form CUT-CUT-CUT-CUT)
2016 – Sergio Garcia -15 (Form 54-34-72-18)
2015 – Steven Bowditch – 18 (Form DQ-47-CUT-12)

Looking at the above data, it’s clear to see you don’t have to be in form to win this one; Billy Horschel is the most significant evidence to that. The past three winners have all missed at least two cuts in their previous four tournaments leading up to the Byron Nelson. You can also see the tournament was won on -23 in their past two times it has been played. Can lightning strike a third time here?

Byron Nelson and his perfect swing, the golfer this tournament was named after (photo credit: pgatour.com)

Two of the past four winners have had an 18th place finish heading into this one as Garcia came 18th in the World Match Play and the previous winner Kang finished 18th at the Valspar Championship. Let’s look at some players that have finished 18th recently.

  1. Pan
  2. Harman
  3. Spaun
  4. Bradley
  5. Niemann
  6. Dahmen
  7. Knox
  8. Watson

Of these eight players, only three of them have missed at least two cuts in their previous four tournaments, and they are Pan (3), Spaun (3), and Dahmen (2).

It pays to have a good start here as the last four winners of the tournament have been leading or indeed in the top three after the second round. Looking at the rounds of the past five winners suggests a good start and steady finish is key to victory here.

The Course

The Byron Nelson will be played at the TPC Craig Ranch this year, the course’s debut on the PGA Tour. It has been selected to host the event for the next five years, so the PGA has indeed shown faith in the 72-par course. It had previously played host to other tours such as the Korn Ferry Tour, which previous winner Steven Bowditch has been a part of recently. Although the weather forecast looks decent during the playing rounds, there has been rain leading up to the start of the tournament, which could mean the course has softened ever so slightly.

The Front Nine

The course begins with a par four where decision making and approach play are critical. There is a bunker that players will have to decide whether to take on or not off the tee. As we know, a good start is critical in this championship, so perhaps fortunate will favor the brave.

The second hole is another par four that doesn’t have too many hazards and should be attacked at all costs. The next hole is again a par four and yet again can be attacked off the tee. Most players will want to try and get to two-under through the first three as this could set them on their way to a good round.

The fourth hole is the first par three on the course and is guarded by a large bunker at the front. Dropping a shot on this hole would undoubtedly be considered a disaster. The next hole is the first par five and will suit the longer hitters as they will have the option to use something other than the driver, which should give them greater accuracy and set them up for a birdie.

For detailed drone-view of the Craig Ranch Course

The sixth is a short par four where decision-making is again brought into play. If you are having a good start and full of confidence, you may choose to attack the hole off the tee and take on the many bunkers guarding the fairway. The next hole is a par three that has a big green that slopes back to front. Making anything less than a par here would be a terrible effort.

The eighth hole will favor those who are accurate off the tee as although there aren’t many hazards, landing on the left-hand side will give you the best angle for your approach shot. The par-five ninth is one of the most challenging holes on the course, which requires accuracy through the hole. Again, decision-making will come into play as players will have to decide whether to go for the green on the second shot or not. Their tee shot could determine this, and therefore they must be accurate off the tee. The whole has a three-tiered green, so your approach play has to be up to scratch here.

The Back Nine

The back nine begins with a par four with a large green with many breaks, which will undoubtedly make putting difficult. The next hole is another par four, and while no particular element of it is difficult, each shot is as important as the previous one.

The 12th is a par five, and the bigger hitters can choose to go for the green in two, but many decide to lay up. The green is very undulating, which could make putting difficult. Hole 13 is undoubtedly unlucky for some as this is considered the most demanding par four on the course. The green is well protected here, so a good approach shot will hopefully lead to an easier putt on this as the green has a ridge running through it.

The next hole is a short par four where again, decision making comes into play. The big hitters will more than likely go for this hole in one off the tee, but with an undulating green, they will need plenty of luck as they could be left with a tricky putt. The 15th hole is a par three with water running down the left and bunkers to the right. Accuracy off the tee to the green is, therefore, a must.

The next hole is a long, testing par four, and ball placement off the tee is vital. The second shot plays into a giant green which most players will try to find the middle as there are severe slopes around it, and anything wayward will be challenging to recover from. The 17th is the last of the last three’s and is the shortest hole in the course. However, it’s perhaps not as easy as it sounds, and making par here isn’t the worst thing in the world. The final hole is a par five, which will undoubtedly test players’ nerves, especially around the two-tiered green.

Fortune will undoubtedly favor the brave here as there are many risk/reward holes on this course. As well as having a sharp mind, making the correct decisions at the right time, players will need to be accurate off the tee and be good around the green. With that in mind, let’s look at some of the players doing well on Tour in these areas.

Driving Accuracy

  1. Brendon Todd
  2. Abraham Ancer
  3. Brian Stuard
  4. Ryan Moore
  5. Webb Simpson

Putting

  1. Patrick Reed
  2. Peter Uihlein
  3. Anirban Lahiri
  4. Cameron Smith
  5. Peter Malnati

The Field

The Byron Nelson is the final stop before the PGA Championship and therefore draws many big names this year as they look to fine-tune their games. In attendance will be Jon Rahm, Bryson DeChambeau, and Jordan Spieth. However, Dustin Johnson has withdrawn with a knee injury which slightly dampens the mood. The cut will take place on Friday after the second round has commenced, leaving the top 65 players to battle things out.

Draft Picks

After looking at the above data, I have come up with the following picks for this week:

Brian Stuard- $6700

Nobody fits the bill of a previous winner more than Brian Stuard does. Not only has he missed two cuts recently, but he also has an 18th place finish to his name at the RBC Heritage. As we have already identified, he is one of the most accurate drivers off the tee this season, and he has made 24 consecutive fairways recently. He is ranked 14th on Tour for left-hand tendency, which will help on this course immensely.

Stuard does by far his best putting in the second round of his tournament, which should bode well here, seen as this is when the previous winners have tended to make their moves. He is ranked 16th for most birdies made on the PGA Tour this season which suggests he is open to taking risks, which will help him this week.

Anirban Lahiri – $6800

I usually wouldn’t dream of tipping up a player that has missed three cuts in his last four tournaments, but it seems that might put Lahiri in good stead here. He is ranked 21st for driving efficiency this season which suggests to me that his decision-making is excellent. His putting is amongst the best on Tour this season, if not the best, as he ranks third for putts per round and second for one-putt percentage.

His lowest putts per round are his final round on average, which proves he has nerves of steel and could be the telling factor if he can get towards the top early. He should have a decent chance of doing that as he ranks inside the top 30 for early scoring average on Tour. Finally, with this course’s big greens, it could serve well to back someone who can make long putts, and Lahiri certainly comes into that bracket. He is ranked 13th for putts made over 25-foot long.

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