Byron Nelson won an unprecedented 11 tournaments in a row on the PGA Tour in 1945. No player in the modern game will ever enjoy that level of dominance but Jordan Spieth could become one of the greats. The US Masters champion is the favourite to win the tournament named in honour of a player who retired from the sport at the age of 34. However, Spieth does not have the best profile for the TPC Four Seasons course that hosts the AT and T Byron Nelson tournament.
Dustin Johnson has returned after a sabbatical from the game this year and immediately found a high level of form and won the WGC Cadillac Championship in March. Johnson favours courses that put a premium on distance over accuracy so others who have a more suitable profile for the challenge are preferred this week. Jason Day is more about accuracy than distance and his putting means he is a leading contender. Marc Leishman has the best recent record in the event over the last six years and has the form to win for just the second time on the PGA tour.
TPC Four Seasons
The Four Seasons course in Texas is the venue for just one of two tournaments named after a former player. Arnold Palmer is the only other golfer with this distinction which reflects the magnitude of Nelson’s achievement in winning so many tournaments back-to-back and a total of 18 in that one season. The course is a tree-lined, par 70 track with two reachable par 5s. It places a premium on accuracy from tee to green but this is balanced by large, undulating greens which yield plenty of birdies.
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In five out of seven years in the last decade the winner was top for GIR over the four rounds and generally players that contend ranked more highly for driving accuracy than driving distance. An accurate long game is usually the key to a high finish in this event. The cream generally rises to the top on tight courses and overall this isn’t a great tournament for outsiders despite a number of shock winners over the last few years. As with all tournaments in Texas the wind is often a significant factor.
Another pertinent trend is that players leading the tournament after the third round have a good winning record. This may be because the course does not lend itself to playing catch-up so if betting before the final round think carefully before passing over the man at the top of the leader board. Since 1988 there have been no multiple winners so Day, the champion in 2010, would be creating a modern day record with a second title at Four Seasons.
Course Key Stats
Four of the last five winners of this tournament were claiming their first PGA title but none of the last 12 winners this season were breaking their duck at this level. Brendon Todd who defends this week was a first-timer who broke the mould somewhat by finishing only 55th last year for finding the greens in the correct number of shots. However, he was first for scrambling and stokes gained putting and led the field in fairways hit. Even so the identikit of a potential winner this week is an accurate player who putts well.
TPC Four Seasons was the second toughest par 70 track of 13 such courses in non-majors last season. Overall it ranked tied 15th for par-4 scoring but outside the top 25 for scores on the short and long holes. Todd excelled on the par 3s and par 4s last year but was only average on the two par 5s which confirms the view that long hitting will not be a massive advantage. Scoring trends and records may be irrelevant if the forecast wind and rain transpires and the degree of difficulty goes up a level.
Contender: Jason Day
In assessing these course conditions and the relative skills of each player Jason Day emerges as the most likely winner and in theory should be a shorter price and possibly even the favourite more than Spieth. However, the bright new talent of American golf can play well on any type of course and the mark of a champion is being able to adapt to narrow or long courses. Mastering links golf is another indicator of greatness so it will be interesting to see how the Masters champion fares in the British Open at St Andrews in July.
Day has been identified as a future major champion and he has twice been in contention on Sunday afternoon at Augusta. The US Open may be the major most suited to his game as that event more than any other requires accuracy from the tee to avoid rough that is often penal. Day would probably swap ten Byron Nelsons for his first major but won’t turn down a chance to win for the fourth time on the PGA tour. He won his first title here in 2010 and was in the top ten for the next two years. He is currently joint leader on the Tour for par-3 and par-4 scoring.
Contender: Marc Leishman
Despite such a solid record Day does not even have the best course form for a player from Australia never mind anyone in the field from all over the world. Marc Leishman has recorded five top-12 finishes in six appearances at TPC Four Seasons and that includes two top threes in the last three years. He combines excellent course form with solid current form despite not being in the top 50 for driving accuracy and greens in regulation. Putting is also not a major strength so he must have an eye for the layout at this week’s host course.
Spieth leads the Tour for the average number of putts per round but is also not a top 50 player for the two key accuracy disciplines. The event rarely develops into a putting contest so the world number two is overlooked in favour of two Australian players who relish a tight course that requires impeccable straight hitting.
European odds can be found at British bookmakers William Hill
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