HP Byron Nelson Championship: First timers can prosper again in Texas, says The Punter

Paul Casey – one of The Punter’s picks in Texas
Paul Casey – one of The Punter’s picks in Texas

Our man thinks he's found a great angle in for this week's PGA Tour event in Texas. Will a debutant take the prize for the fourth time in five years? Read Steve's comprehensive preview here...

“Four of the first seven home last year were making their event debuts and last year’s winner, Bae, 2011 winner, Bradley, and 2010 champ, Jason Day, were all playing in the event for the first time. Given how few debutants line-up each year, the strong record of first timers is very unusual and not having played here before looks a really big plus.”

Tournament History
Known as the Dallas Open and won by the man it's now named after the HP Byron Nelson Championship was first staged in 1944.

TPC Four Seasons Resort, Irving, Texas

Course Details

Par 70 -7,166 yards 
Stroke Index in 2013 - 70.41

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 large undulating Bentgrass greens which will run at around 11 on the stimpmeter. 

It's never been a popular venue and the event will move to a brand new course called Trinity Forrest in 2019. This year's renewal has attracted a fairly decent field but each year it's voted as one of the least popular visited on Tour.

Useful Sites

Event Site
Course Map
Tee Times
Twitter link
Weather Forecast

TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days - 20:00 on Thursday and Friday, 21:00 on Saturday and 18:00 on Sunday

Last Five Winners

2013 - Sang-Moon Bae -13
2012 - Jason Dufner -11
2011 - Keegan Bradley -3 (playoff) 
2010 - Jason Day -10
2009 - Rory Sabbatini -19

What will it take to win the HP Byron Nelson Championship?

How TPC Four Seasons plays is very much dependant on the weather. In benign conditions low scores are perfectly possible and the course record of 61 has been shot four times but it's a different beast altogether when the wind gets up - as it does at some stage most years. Rory Sabbatini broke the tournament scoring record in 2009 with a 19-under-par 261 total but just two years later Keegan Bradley won with a three-under-par 277 tally.

When the wind blows, all round accuracy is more important but neither length nor accuracy appear especially vital from the tee, judging by recent results. The most important stat to consider, as it is most weeks, is definitely greens in regulation- five of the 14 winners this century have ranked 1st for GIR and only four of the 14 ranked outside the top-ten for greens hit. 

The putting stats make for very interesting reading. Unsurprisingly, Sabbatini topped the stats when he broke the scoring record and so did Jason Day when he won twelve months later but this is definitely somewhere an average putter can win. In between 2003 and 2006 the four winners ranked no better than 51st and when Bradley won he ranked just 45th. And Jason Dufner ranked only 52nd two years ago.

Is there an angle in?
You won't find a better pointer for this event than the 2011 PGA Championship, held at Atlanta Athletic Club. Two of the last three winners of this event, Dufner and Bradley, fought out the playoff there and the leaderboard was littered with HP Byron Nelson winners and players that fare well here. Scott Verplank, who won here in 2007 finished tied for 4th, the 2008 Byron Nelson champ, Adam Scott, finished 7th and Sergio Garcia, the 2004 champ was tied for 12th at AAC. And when the PGA Championship was played at AAC in 2001, David Toms, who has some very respectable form here, beat the 1996 Byron Nelson champ, Phil Mickelson, by a stroke. They may only be of limited use but both the 2001 leaderboard and the 2011 leaderboard are well worth a look.

Don't worry too much if you fancy someone playing in the event for the first time as I think that's the best angle in by a distance. Maybe it's because the course isn't liked by the majority who have played it, or maybe there's neither rhyme nor reason for it at all but the fact is, first timers fare really well here. Four of the first seven home last year were making their event debuts and last year's winner, Bae, 2011 winner, Bradley, and 2010 champ, Jason Day, were all playing in the event for the first time. Given how few debutants line-up each year, the strong record of first timers is very unusual and not having played here before looks a really big plus.

Is there an identikit winner?

Given it often turns into a battle against the elements and a test of patience, it's not surprising to see that many a veteran has fared well here but it's been seven years since a senior player (Verplank) has won. 

Whether old or young, the vast majority of winners here know how to play in the wind and this is an event that the overseas players have won often too - only five of the last dozen winners have been American. 

In-Play Tactics

This is another venue where a fast start is absolutely essential. Since 1996, every winner bar Adam Scott, who shot 68 in 2008, has opened up with a 67 or better and has been inside the top-22 after round one. Loren Roberts, in 1999, was fully five shots back after day one and last year's champ, Bae, was six back but that's the furthest adrift any of them have been after day one and they both opened up with a 66s anyway! And in those 18 years every winner has been inside the top-eight at halfway. Snooze and you lose in Texas this week. 

Since Jesper Parnevik won here from three back after round three in 2000, Bradley, who trailed by four in 2011, is the only winner not to be within two of the lead with a round to go. This really is a frontrunners track.

The finish to TPC Four Seasons is tough, with three of the last five holes (14, 15 and 18) ranking 1st 2nd and 3rd in order of difficulty last year and the par 3 17th ranked 6th hardest too. The only respite comes at the par 5 16th. 

Market Leaders

Paul Krishnamurty makes a really strong case for this week's favourite, Jordan Spieth, both here and at the majors, and since Paul's published his piece, Spieth's price has shortened further. Although I share Paul's belief that the young man is undoubtedly a rising star, I'm a little more sceptical over his chances this week and I'm happy to leave him out of my plans. 

He hasn't been able to back-up his strong weeks so far this year, his course form, which reads 16-32-68, is regressive, he's still only won once, and that was from off-the-pace, and as I wrote yesterday in my De-Brief, he's yet to show absolute composure in-contention.  

After finally getting the win he'd threatened for ages, this week's second favourite, Matt Kuchar, was never in-contention at the Players Championship last week, eventually finishing 17th. That was understandable after a win and a few weeks off and he could be back to his very best again this week but the chances are he won't be. 

Only the very best can maintain their very best form for substantial periods and I'd wager that Kuchar's red-hot streak could be over but even it isn't, he has just one top-ten here from six visits and I'm still very cautious about his in-contention play.

Jimmy Walker is already a three-time winner this season on the PGA Tour but hasn't bettered 23rd in seven spins around here. Keegan Bradley has very obvious course and current form but he's played some very strange stuff in-the-mix of late and both South African, Charl Schwartzel, and last week's winner, Martin Kaymer, play the event for the second time, having both had encouraging debuts last year when finishing 3rd and 5th respectfully. Does that boost their chances or that of debutants this year is the question to ask? I've gone for the latter.

They all look short enough to me and the only one towards the head of the market that I seriously considered backing was Dustin Johnson. I was onboard at a huge price when he lost his way here back in 2009 and I've always thought he'd win here but I'm not quite prepared to press go at 25.024/1.


The first person I backed this week was Marc Leishman. He has a fantastic record in Texas and with form figures here reading 8-12-MC-3-12 he clearly likes this venue in-particular. He's a frustrating character in-contention and he has a propensity to lose the plot a bit - just look at his missed cut at Augusta having hit the front in round two! I'm not sure I'd back him at his price now of 42.041/1 but the 55.054/1 offered up early doors was fair enough.

After that it's almost debutants all the way, with just one exception, and first up is the one I'm most keen on - Paul Casey. The Englishman will enjoy playing in breezy conditions, has already won in Texas, at the Shell Houston Open, and not only has he been showing a bit of form of late, he'll also be inspired but his mate Kaymer's win last week. All things considered, I thought Casey was a cracking price at 75.074/1 and I still think he's fairly chalked up at ten points shorter. 

D.A Points has form at AAC and he's a monstrous price so I've risked him for a few pounds and the rest are all picked because they're playing here for the first time.

Marc Leishman @ 55.054/1
Paul Casey @ 75.074/1
Brooks Koepka @ 90.089/1
Bud Cauley @ 170.0169/1
D.A Points @ 250.0249/1
Luke Guthrie @ 310.0309/1
Derek Ernst @ 310.0309/1
Brice Garnett @ 440.0439/1

I'll be back on Friday with the In-Play Blog.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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