Byron Nelson Championship: In-form Leishman a solid selection

Golfer Marc Leishman
Marc Leishman in action at the Zurich last time out

The PGA Tour heads to Texas ahead of next week's USPGA Championship and our man's very keen on the chances of Marc Leishman. Read Steve's in-depth preview ahead of Thursday's start here...

“Marc Leishman has Texas form, course form, event form, current form, winning form in low scoring events and even form at TPC Southwind with it’s zoysiagrass fairways. He looks a great bet.”

Tournament History

Originally known as the Dallas Open, the very first AT&T Byron Nelson Championship was won by the man who the event is now named after, in 1944.

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 in 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, Jason Dufner and Sergio Garcia have all also won but the tournament started to lose a bit of it's lustre when it moved TPC Four Seasons - a venue unpopular with many of the pros.

The tournament switched to Trinity Forest in 2018 but after just two editions there, the tournament is on the move again, this time to TPC Craig Ranch in McKinney, 25 miles north of Dallas.

World number one, Dustin Johnson, has been forced to withdraw with an uncomfortable knee, but with the likes of Jon Rahm, Bryson DeChambeau and Jordan Spieth in the line-up, the new venue has attracted a decent field ahead of next week's USPGA Championship.

Venue

TPC Craig Ranch, McKinney, Texas

Course Details

Par 72 7,468 yards

Designed by Tom Weiskopf and opened in 2004, TPC Craig Ranch has minimal rough, generous zoysiagrass fairways and bentgrass greens that are expected to run at around 11.5 on the stimpmeter. That's not overly fast but we're in Texas so they can't be set too speedily in case the wind gets up.

Water is a constant feature with Rowlett Creek criss-crossing the course numerous times.

Although this is the first time that TPC Craig Ranch features on the PGA Tour, it has been used a couple of times on the Korn Ferry Tour for the Korn Ferry Tour Championship in both 2008 and 2012.

Craig Ranch played as a par 71 on the Korn Ferry Tour with the 12th hole playing as a tough par four. It will be played as a par five this week.

Weather Forecast

TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 13:30 UK time on Thursday behind the Red Button with main coverage beginning at 20:30

Last Five Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices

2019 - Sung-Hoon Kang -23 180.0179/1
2018 - Aaron Wise -23 80.079/1
2017 - Billy Horschel -12 (playoff) 200.0199/1
2016 - Sergio Garcia -15 (playoff) 30.029/1
2015 - Steven Bowditch -18 (par 69 rounds 3, 4 & 5) 500.0499/1

What Will it Take to Win the Byron Nelson Championship?

It's never easy when we go to a brand-new venue but we do at least have a couple of results to ponder so here are the leaderboards with stats for the two editions of the Korn Ferry Championship held here.

2008 Korn Ferry Championship
1st Matt Bettencourt -17 DD 8th, DA 39th, GIR 12th, SC 17th, PA 1st
2nd Jeff Klauk -16 DD 31st, DA 4th, GIR 19th, SC 1st, PA 12th
T3rd Colt Knost -15 DD 28th, DA 2nd, GIR 2nd, SC 5th, PA 27th
T3rd Bryce Molder -15 DD 25th, DA 11th, GIR 3rd, SC 10th, PA 8th
5th Peter Tomasulo -14 DD 24th, DA 20th, GIR 6th, SC 38th, PA 17th

2012 Korn Ferry Championship
1st Justin Bolli -16 DD 43rd, DA 48th, GIR 4th, SC 39th, PA 6th
2nd James Hahn -14 DD 14th, DA 15th, GIR 11th, SC 5th, PA 1st
T3rd Adam Hadwin -13 DD 24th, DA 15th, GIR 11th, SC 1st, PA 9th
T3rd Morgan Hoffman -13 DD 7th, DA 19th, GIR 11th, SC 11th, PA 1st
5th Justin Hicks -12 DD 28th, DA 2nd, GIR 1st, SC 47th, PA 8th

DD = Driving Distance
DA = Driving Accuracy
GIR = Greens In Regulation
SC = Scrambling
PA = Putting Average

It looks like we can ignore the driving metrics with neither length nor accuracy proving key in 2008 or 2012 and the most important stat appears to be Greens In Regulation.

Just looking at the two top-fives above show that accurate approach play was important but it's even more obvious looking at the expanded leaderboards. Kyle Reifers finished tied for 11th when ranking first for GIR in 2008 and in 2012, the ten players to rank inside the top-ten for GIR all finished inside the top-18 places.

It might not be wise to give those figures too much credence but both leaderboards were littered with accurate types.

With a number of contenders hitting 80% of greens, it's no surprise to see that putting was also key and with better calibre players and an additional par five to go at, if the wind isn't too bad this week, and it isn't forecasted to be strong until Sunday, we can expect to see the winner reach at least 20-under-par and the event develop into something of a putting contest.

Is There an Identikit Winner?

Texans usually fare well in their home state and they have an outstanding record in the Valero Texas Open (won last month by Jordan Spieth) but they don't have a strong recent record in this particular event.

Spieth wins in Texas.jpg

Overseas players have a strong record in the tournament though and only nine of the 20 winners this century have been American but it's the Australians that deserve most respect.

Aussies always tend to do well in windy Texas and we've seen three recent winners in the shape of Adam Scott, Jason Day and Steven Bowditch as well as two seconds. In addition to winning the 2001 edition, Day was beaten in extra time in 2017 and Marc Leishman finished second to Aaron Wise in 2018.

Great Event for Outsiders

Sergio Garcia is the only recent winner that's been fairly-well fancied, going off at 30.029/1, and this has been a terrific tournament for longshots with six of the last seven winners all being matched at a triple-figure price before the off.

Aaron Wise only went off at 80.079/1 three years ago but he was well-supported having been matched for plenty at between 100.099/1 and 120.0119/1 and the other five went off at huge odds.

I've listed the exchange prices for the last five winners above but the two winners prior to Steven Bowditch in 2015 both went off at juicy odds too. Brendan Todd was 170.0169/1 chance in 2014 and Sang-Moon Bae was a largely unconsidered 200.0199/1 chance 12 months earlier.

Keep an Eye on the Market for Next Week

Rory McIlroy's price for next week's USPGA Championship shortened dramatically during last week's Wells Fargo Championship and after his one-stroke victory over Abraham Ancer at Quail Hollow, he's now the firm favourite for the year's second major.

Whether the likes of DeChambeau, Rahm or Spieth can challenge Rory for favouritism with a strong week in Texas is debatable but anyone that contends strongly here will shorten up considerably so keeping an eye on the USPGA Championship market makes sense.

In-Play Tactics

Matt Bettencourt was four off the lead after rounds one and two here in 2008 but he was never outside the top-ten places and he was tied for the lead with a round to.

It was a similar story four years later when Boli won from two back after three rounds, having led after round one and having been inside the front three places all week.

Low scoring birdie-fests tend to suit frontrunners, so it makes sense to concentrate on the leaders from early on but do keep an eye on the weather forecast. At this early stage, Sunday looks like being the breeziest day of the week and that may open the event up a bit if it does get blowy.

Looking at the course set-up, the front-nine looks more scorable than the back-nine but we'll know much more once the tournament gets underway.

Market Leaders

The market is struggling to split the world number three, Jon Rahm, and the world number four, Bryson DeChambeau, after both put in underwhelming performances at the Wells Fargo last week.

Rahm, who may well be a bit distracted after becoming a father for the first time last month, missed his first cut in 22 starts and DeChambeau thought he had. He flew home to Texas after posted a two-over par total after round two but he had to fly back to North Carolina the next morning when that transpired to be enough to make the weekend.

Back-to-back 68s saw him climb up into the top-ten so he found a bit of form but he doesn't have a great record in his home state and I'm happy to swerve him.

Rahm is highly likely to refocus and improve ahead of next week's major and with Texas form figures reading 2-10-2-52-5-24-MC-MC-5, he has better state form than the local man rivalling him for favouritism. If I had to plump for one it would be the Spaniard but neither make much appeal.

Jon Rahm Augusta.jpg

Jordan Spieth made his PGA Tour debut in this event when finishing 16th way back in 2010. He has a great record in his home state with 11 top-10s, including two wins, four seconds and a third but he's yet to better that 16th in this event in eight subsequent efforts.

Well-rested after his win in the Texas Open and his third placed finish at the US Masters, it's a job to know how he'll play this week and I'm happy to swerve him at the price.

Selections

I'll be back tomorrow with at least two selections for the Find Me a 100 Winner column but for now I've got just two - Brooks Koepka and Marc Leishman.

We haven't seen Brooks since he missed the cut at the US Masters when he rushed back after knee surgery. There's an obvious chance that he's only here to test the knee ahead of next week's USPGA Championship, a major he's already bagged twice before, but if he's OK and his game is back in order, he looks a great fit.

Koepka plays TPC Southwind brilliantly and that's one of the few tracks encountered with zoysiagrass fairways so while a lot of the pros moan about the surface, believing it can produce the odd flier, Brooks just gets on with it.

He's more than capable of going low in a birdie-fest and his recent record in Texas is very good, reading 2-9-2-50-2-55-4-32-5.

There's a danger he's not quite right but if he is, I can see him contending given how well he was playing before the injury. His 38th in the Genesis Invitational was disappointing but that was bookended by a second win at the Phoenix Open and a second in the WGC Workday Championship.

I'm a little surprised to see Marc Leishman trading at as big as 40.039/1 as I can't see a single negative.

The 37-year-old Aussie has Texas form, course form, event form, current form, winning form in low scoring events and even form at TPC Southwind with it's zoysiagrass fairways. He looks a great bet.

Leishman matched the Korn Ferry Tour record (then the Nationwide Tour) when winning the WNB Golf Classic by 11 strokes in Texas in 2008 and he's had an affinity with the windy state ever since. He finished eighth at this course in the 2008 edition of the Korn Ferry Championship and he has Byron Nelson Championship form figures that read 8-12-MC-3-12-3-MC-MC-13-2.

Leishman arrives in McKinney on the back of a win alongside fellow Aussie, Cameron Smith, in the Zurich Classic, following a brilliant fifth at the US Masters, where he ranked 14th for Putting Average, so he's bang in form. He got to 20-under-par when getting beat by Aaron Wise in this event in 2018 and he often comes to the fore when the scoring is ultra-low. He won the BMW Championship with a 23-under-par total in 2017 and the CIMB Classic in -26 a year later - winning both by five strokes. And finally, he was third behind Koepka at TPC Southwind in 2019.

He won't mind if the wind does get up on Sunday and I think he's a cracking bet at 40.039/1.

Selections:
Brooks Koepka @ 28.027/1
Marc Leishman @ 40.039/1

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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