We're back in Texas on the PGA Tour this week for the AT&T Byron Nelson Championship so read Steve's in-depth preview here...
“Those that have never seen the course before often thrive. It's a quirky trend but given how few first timers there are in the line-up, playing a few debutants must be a worthwhile exercise.”
Originally known as the Dallas Open, the very first AT&T Byron Nelson Championship was won in 1944 by the man who the event is now named after. As a measure of how big a tournament this once was, Sam Snead and Ben Hogan won the next two editions and the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Fred Couples and Payne Stewart all took the title before the 1970s and 80s. A three year spell in the mid-90s saw Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods victorious and since the turn of the century, major winners Vijay Singh, Adam Scott, Jason Day and Jason Dufner have also won here but the standard has definitely dipped of late.
The venue is far from popular with the majority of players and since Nelson passed away almost ten years ago, many of the game's top names have kept away. Only two of the world's top ten are in attendance this year - Dallas resident and world number two, Jordan Spieth, and the world number eight, Dustin Johnson.
TPC Four Seasons Resort, Irving, Texas
Par 70 - 7,166 yards
Stroke Index in 2014 - 70.54
I haven't used the 2015 stroke index as a representation of the difficulty of the course as heavy rain caused all sorts of problems last year and the tough par four 14th hole was reduced to the simplest of par threes for rounds two, three and four - reducing the overall par from 70 to 69.
Designed and built by Robert Trent Jones Jr and opened in 1983, TPC Four Seasons was remodelled in 1986 by Jay Moorrish, Byron Nelson and Ben Crenshaw, and it underwent a major renovation again in 2008 by D.A Weibring. It has tree-lined Bermuda grass fairways and water comes in to play on eight holes. The undulating Bentgrass greens are of average size and they usually run at around 11 on the stimpmeter.
The venue has never been a favourite with the players and indeed each year it's voted as one of the least popular courses played on the PGA Tour, which is probably why the event will move to a brand new Coore and Crenshaw designed course called Trinity Forest in 2019.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 21.00 on Thursday
Last Five Winners
2015 - Steven Bowditch -18 (par 69 rounds 3, 4 & 5)
2014 - Brendon Todd -14
2013 - Sang-Moon Bae -13
2012 - Jason Dufner -11
2011 - Keegan Bradley -3 (playoff)
What Will it Take to Win The AT&T Byron Nelson Championship?
This is a tough event to evaluate, with no clear statistical steer to help us.
The last three winners have had a Putting Average ranking of first of second but Jason Dufner got the job done in 2012 with a PA ranking of 54th. Four of the last five winners have ranked inside the top-14 for Driving Distance but when Todd won two years ago, he ranked just 71st for DD. Sang-Mon Bae ranked only 39th for Driving Accuracy but Todd and Dufner ranked one and two respectively for that stat and I'd slightly favour accuracy over power from the tee. Four of the last five winners have ranked inside the top-nine for Greens In Regulation but Todd managed to win ranking only 55th for GIR so it's a confusing picture.
Todd may have missed plenty of greens but he ended the week with the best Scrambling figures and nobody played the par threes better than Bae 12 months earlier but arguably the best stat to consider (as it so often is on a par 70 layout) is Par 4 Scoring. Bowditch outscored everyone on the par fours last year and I went all the way back to the start the century and every winner ranked inside the top-three for Par 4 Scoring.
Is There an Angle In?
As already stated, this isn't a popular venue and it's interesting to note how many players have regressive form figures. Take Charl Schwartzel, for example. He finished third here on debut in 2013, 11th in 2014, but he missed the cut here last year.
There are numerous similar examples and there also instances where players have performed well here after a break. Zach Johnson, who has a tremendous Texan portfolio, left it ten years to return to TPC Four Seasons and the break did him good. He finished fifth last year after missing the cut here back in 2005. It's almost as if players that play the event regularly tend to turn up and wish they hadn't! And those that have never seen it before often thrive...
One of the three to finish tied for second behind Bowditch, Scott Pinckney, was making his debut last year and three others inside the top-ten were debutants too. In 2014, Peter Hanson led after round one, having never played here before, Paul Casey equalled the PGA Tour scoring record for nine-holes, when he shot 27 on the back-nine on Friday morning, and James Hahn would have rewarded anyone that backed him at a huge price each-way, as he finished fifth on debut. And three years ago, four of the first seven home were playing in the tournament for the very first time.
It's a quirky trend but given how few first timers there are in the line-up, playing a few debutants must be a worthwhile exercise.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
As alluded to right at the start this appears an event in decline. Jordan Spieth will no doubt want to give the event's profile a much needed lift but the fact of the matter is, the winners here of late haven't been household names and they haven't been easy to spot before the off.
Bowditch had missed eight of his previous 13 cuts last year and his course form figures read an uninspiring 60-MC-MC-MC. He was very hard to fancy and matched before the off at a whopping 890.0889/1. The 2014 winner, Todd, was matched at 190.0189/1, Bae was ten points bigger in 2013, and in 2011, Keegan Bradley, playing in just his 16th PGA Tour event, was a hard-to-fancy 300.0299/1 shot.
Outsiders look worth chancing and Australians will be worth a second glance too. The Aussies often play well in windy Texas and three of the last eight winners have come from Down Under.
Outsiders, tournament debutants, and PGA Tour maidens have a decent record (four of the last six winners were winning on the PGA Tour for the first time) but past winners don't. Bruce Lietzke, way back in 1988, is the last man to win the Byron Nelson for a second time and the only other multiple winners are Jack Nicklaus (twice), Sam Snead (three times), and Tom Watson, who won it in 1975, 1978, 1979 and 1980.
Bowditch came out of the traps with a sizzling 62 last year before going on to win wire-to-wire and since 1996, every winner bar Jesper Parnevik in 2000, who shot 70 in round one, has opened up the tournament with a round of 68 or better, And every winner has been inside the top-22 after the opening day's play so a fast start is essential.
Every winner since 1996 has been inside the top-ten at halfway and Bradley is the only winner this century to be more than three off the lead through 36 holes.
Bradley had trailed by five at halfway and he was still four back with a round to go but since Parnevik won from three behind through 54 holes in 2000, Keegan is the only winner to be more than two strokes off the lead and he's the only winner this century to be outside the first three places through 54 holes.
Concentrate on the leaders from the very start. Since 1970, eight winners were in front after day one and 25 of the 45 winners (55%) have been inside the top-six and no more than three strokes off the lead after the opening round.
Remarkably, eight of the last 14 winners were in front at the halfway stage and since 1970, 20 of the 45 winners in total (44%) were in front through 36 holes.
Again, since 1970, 28 of the 45 winners (62%) were leading or co-leading with a round to go. If you can get odds-against about a clear leader on Sunday morning the stats suggest you should get stuck in.
I've disregarded last year's figures when the course was sodden and the par reduced but if you're betting in-running, especially on Sunday, bear in mind that four of the last five holes averaged over-par in 2014 so it's a reasonably tough finish. The par five 16th was the second easiest hole on the course, averaging 4.74 on the week, but holes 14, 15, 17 and 18 ranked 4th, 2nd, 6th and 3rd hardest respectively.
Jordan Spieth looked ill at ease when missing the cut at the Players Championship last week but given it was his first start back after what had happened at Augusta, when he threw the event away at the 12th hole, it was hardly a surprising performance.
He'll be glad to get back in the saddle this week and he'll feel even more comfortable in front of his adoring home state fans but his course form figures read an uninspiring and largely regressive 16-32-68-37-30 and he has to be left out.
Dustin Johnson has threatened to take this title on a couple of occasions but he somehow manages to mess it up. He started really well in round four last year but then proceeded to mess it all up with a quadruple-bogey eight at the sixth hole and I was on-board at 95.094/1 way back in 2009 when he was an emerging talent. He started round four by birdying six of his first eight holes but he lost the plot after that and eventually finished 4th.
Given DJ's propensity for daft things in-the-mix and the record of outsiders of late, he makes very little appeal at a single-figure price despite reasonable course form figures reading 63-4-7-20-7-8.
Matt Kuchar is third best after his never-threatening, third place finish in the Players on Sunday but he's very poor in-contention and too short for my liking.
Former winner Sergio Garcia is interesting, given he hasn't played here for five years, and it's hard to crab the Open Champ, Zach Johnson, or last year's runner-up and recent Texas Open winner, Charley Hoffman, but I'm more than happy to swerve all the market leaders before the off.
I toyed with laying all the market leaders before the off and taking it from there but with the Irish Open on this week (previewed here), an event I'm looking forward to watching, I'm not sure how much attention I'll give this tournament over the first few days, so instead I've backed a whole bunch of debutants and Lucas Glover, who has only played here once (missed cut in 2004) and who ranks highly for Par 4 Performance.
I really like the debutant angle-in and as there aren't that many playing here for the first time I've gone through them all and backed most of them.
Bryson Dechambeau is the most renowned player I've backed and he most certainly has the class given his recent performances at Augusta and in the RBC Heritage but I won't pretend to know much about 20-year-old Texas State and U.S. Junior Amateur Champion Will Zalatoris. It might be fun to find out a bit more at 1000/1 with the Sportsbook though.
Bryson Dechambeau @ 70.069/1
Lucas Glower @ 110.0109/1
Anirban Lahiri @ 160.0159/1
Bobby Wyatt @ 180.0179/1
Chesson Hadley @ 400.0399/1
Bronson Burgoon @ 520.0519/1
Michael Kim @ 610.0609/1
Hiroshi Iwata @ 650.0649/1
Rhein Gibson @ 750.0749/1
Brett Stegmaier @ 930.0929/1
Andrew Landry @ 1000.0
Lucas Lee @ 1000.0
Rob Oppenheim @ 1000.0
Will Zalatoris @ 1000.0
I'll be back on Thursday night or Friday morning with the In-Play Blog.