After the majesty of TPC Sawgrass we move to Texas for the 3rd part of the Texas Swing and the Bentgrass greened TPC Four Seasons, Las Colinas, Par 70 for the HP Byron Nelson Championship. The field is a little stronger than in previous visits to Irving with Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott, last week's champion Matt Kuchar, 2011 victor Keegan Bradley, Jason Day, Jason Dufner and Louis Oosthuizen heading the betting markets. So what to look out for in Texas this week?
The course itself is extremely technical for a PGA Tour host course. It's main defence mechanism is the infamous Texas wind and winning total scores of 273(-7), 261(-19), 270(-10) and 277(-3) were all dictated by the strength or total lack (2009) of wind in Irving. Naturally the 7,166 yard Par 70 only features 2 Par 5s, both of which are reachable, but the course itself was the 3rd most challenging Par 70 in non-Majors across the 2011 season. Fairways and greens are hard to hit and the course only offered up a meagre average of 2.68 birdies per round last year. With Thursday forecast to be tranquil, a fast start will be key this week as 15mph winds are forecast for Friday through Sunday. I'm expecting a Jason Day 2010 winning total of 270 (-10) to get the job done so ball striking, scrambling and bogey avoidance will be key constituents for any player wishing to contend this week.
The Bent grassed greens are fairly slow for US standards so maybe that's why 3 of the past 4 winners have been from Australia and South Africa. It's also worthy of note that this won't be a putting contest so I'm looking for players who have a strong record of getting the job done on technical, high scoring tracks. Previous season experience on Bent greens is also vital so as to be able to hit the ground running with the putter. I'm also looking for players who ultimately have powerful long games to triumph this week. All 4 of the 'new' course champions, i.e. Bradley (317 yards), Day (299 yards), Sabbatini (297 yards) and Scott (303 yards) are long drivers of the golf ball, so power off the tee is certainly a factor this week. Beware Brian Gay backers...
Regulars won't be surprised that I've plumped for one of my favourite players, Jason Day, this week. When it comes to Bentgrass greened tests, he is a name I always look for - and rightly so as he's a complete genius on this putting surface. Indeed he gained +2 strokes on the field when winning his one and only PGA Tour victory here on course debut here in 2010 and backed that up with another +1 stokes putting performance when ultimately finishing 5th when defending last year. The Texas-based Aussie only comes alive on Bentgrass greens so the first 3 months of the golfing calendar will always be hard for the amazingly talented World Number 16. So 2nd at Doha in February behind Paul Lawrie on Bermuda greens was a pleasant surprise for me. Since then the lightly raced Day made his first cut at Riviera, then had career best finishes again on the 'alien' Bermuda of Doral and Copperhead. It's also worth remembering that Day finished 2nd at Augusta on course debut 13 months ago. That's unheard of! Indeed Jason's Bent greened CV is worthy of serious note Augusta: 2nd (11), Congressional: 2nd (11), TPC Boston: 2nd (10) and 3rd (11), Ridgwood: 5th (10), Aronimink: 9th (10). His 4th behind 2008 Byron Nelson Champion Adam Scott on the long Par 70 Firestone format on hard-to-hit Bent/Poa greens last year is also extremely relevant. Forget last week's MC at TPC Sawgrass and focus more on Day's 9th place finish at Quail Hollow 12 days ago when he returned to competitive golf after his toe injury which led to a disappointing WD at Augusta. RESULT: T9
I'm sticking with Ernie for the second week running as I'm still confident that the Big Easy is close to his first win since March 2010. My TPC Sawgrass tip backfired as Els delivered his 3rd straight Missed Cut at Ponte Vedra, but if there is one thing we've learnt over the years never exclude on the basis of 2 bad rounds. Whilst the 18-time PGA Tour winner continued to putt well on the greens, he totally lost patience off the tee and hit less than 35% of fairways. You can't do that at TPC Sawgrass so Ernie took an early shower. But that means not a jot this week as the 3 previous winners here at TPC Four Seasons finished 72nd (Bradley), MC (Day) and MC (Sabbatini) at Pete Dye's ultimate Stadium course. Instead I'm focussing on this simple question - is Ernie Els a better player now than he was 12 months ago? Well early season results of 2nd (Fancourt), 5th (Copperhead), 4th (Bay Hill), 12th (Humble) and 2nd at New Orleans are strong and it's worth pointing out that Fancourt and Humble were both on Bentgrass greens. Ernie is no one trick pony. So let's look at the state of his game in 2012 vs 2011 by comparing key PGA Tour skill categories. Driving Accuracy: 89th vs 117th; Greens In Regulation: 29th vs 7th; Strokes Gained Putting: 69th vs 181st; Bogey Avoidance: 10th vs 108th. In conclusion he's clearly playing miles better! Then you see that Ernie has added the Byron Nelson to his 2012 schedule for the first time since 2006 and that 8 appearances here in Irving have delivered 1st (95), 4th (02), 7th (04) and 10th (05). I know that this will be Ernie's debut on the revised course layout, but the fact that Bradley, Day and Scott all won here on their first outings on the D.A. Weibring re-sculptured putting surfaces I almost see this as a positive. Let's be blunt, Ernie knows he is very close to a win and with it cementing his World 50 spot. RESULT: T41
After recently hitting on Jason Dufner's (28/1) and Rickie Fowler's (55/1) first PGA Tour victories, I'm drawn towards Indiana's very own Jeff Overton this week who can be truly labelled as both a Par 70 and Bentgrass green specialist. Overton is no mug, you don't automatically qualify for the US Ryder Cup team if you can't play exceptional golf, but it's true that the 7th season PGA Tour professional is still winless. However I see Overton as player who will win and when it comes it will be on a Bentgrass greened course that fits his eye perfectly and that could well be TPC Four Seasons this week. Overton's game is so transparent its untrue as he hates the west coast swing - in fact he might as well start his season in the first week of March every year! Take 2012 where the west coast delivered 54-54-WD-44. Since PGA National Overton has rocketed up the FedEx Cup standings with 18th-14th(Puerto Rico) -5th(Copperhead) -4th(Humble)- MC(Harbour)-18th(New Orleans)-48th (Quail). Last week saw the ubiquitous Missed Cut at TPC Sawgrass and now Overton arrives in his favourite section of the season starting in Irving, Texas this week. 2nd here behind Day in 2010, Jeff also finished 8th here in the high winds last year. Overton has been close at classical and technical tests on a few recent occasions Colonial: 3rd (10), Aronimink: 3rd (11 & 10), Old White TPC: 2nd (10), Sedgefield 2nd (07) and just missed out again last October at The Mines Resort in Malaysia when finishing 2nd to Bo Van Pelt. Forever the bridesmaid? Well I don't think so and his PGA Tour skill categories (2012 vs 2011) this early in the season show a developing game, which could just make the difference on his favourite courses in the months ahead. Greens in Regulation: 72nd vs 119th, Strokes Gained Putting: 52nd vs 76th, Bogey Avoidance: 32nd vs 139th. The latter could just be vital this week. RESULT: MC
I'm always amazed at the value on offer with Texan Ryan Palmer. The World Number 88 is in decent nick right now and his 4th at TPC Louisiana in his 2nd last appearance was his best ever in New Orleans. Look at his CV and you see a win at Waialae on a classical Par 70. Yes he's a lover of Bermuda greens first and foremost – all 3 of his PGA Tour wins have been on the Tropical stuff – but Palmer can play fast bent and technical courses for fun. 2010 produced stellar Bent performances including 2nd at the WGC at Firestone (Bent Poa, granted), 5th at Ridgwood, 11th at TPC Boston and 8th at TPC Summerlin. 2011 saw 10th at Augusta in April and 2nd here at TPC Four Seasons when he lost in a play-off to the unknown 200/1 shot Keegan Bradley. How things change quickly in golf! But what really appeals for me is the improvement in his game in relevant skill aspects for this week in 2012. He sits 12th in Driving Distance, 73rd (up 63 spots year on year) in Greens In Regulation, 17th (up 109 spots!) in Strokes Gained Putting and 48th (up only 93 spots) in Bogey Avoidance. With wind a factor again this week I see no reason why Ryan can't repeat another contending performance around TPC Four Seasons this week. RESULT: T9
It's easy to draw comparisons between John Huh and Anthony Kim. The latter started his 2nd PGA Tour season in 2008 with a 3rd at PGA West, then finished 2nd at Harbour Town and then grabbed his first PGA Tour victory at another Carolina course, Quail Hollow, in May. But talented youth doesn't worry about dining out on a win so 8 weeks later Kim grabbed his 2nd win on the Bent Poa greens (at the time) of Congressional. Fast forward to 2012 and John Huh hit the PGA Tour after passing through Q-School at PGA West last November. Huh, who was born in New York to Korean parents, grew up and was college educated in California before turning pro in 2008 and playing the OneAsia and Korea Tour for 3 seasons. Indeed he won the Shinhan Donghae Open in 2010 beating no less than K.J.Choi, Seung-yul Noh, KT Kim, Angel Cabrera and Camilo Villegas into the bargain on the Bent greens of Lakeside CC. Fast forward to 2012 and 6th at Torrey Pines was followed by a play off victory in February over Robert Allenby in windy conditions on the technical Par 70 that is El Camaleon. Since then, like AK in 2008, the performances have kept coming with 12th on the fast Bent greens of Humble and a magnificent 2nd again in Texas behind Ben Curtis at the technical San Antonio 4 weeks ago. Nothing phases Huh who learns quickly as rounds of 75-66-72-71 delivered a competent 25th on course debut at TPC Sawgrass last week. The more natural and wider spaces of TPC Four Seasons should suit this week -don't be surprised to see Huh in the mix again this week. RESULT: WD
Our tips, picks and predictions for the 2013 edition of this event will be published here on the Tuesday before the event - bookmark this page and come back soon!