The AT&T Byron Nelson Championship sees us return to Texas for the third time in 2019. We were in the Lone Star State previously for the WGC Dell Matchplay and the Valero Texas Open, both of which were played in the immediate weeks before The Masters in April. With this season’s new PGA Tour schedule, the Byron Nelson is the curtain-raiser for next week’s PGA Championship at Bethpage State Park, Black Course; my 2019 PGA Championship betting preview is ready to read here with my full betting tips preview out on Monday next week.
With the second Major Championship of 2019 next week, more attention will be cast this week on the AT&T Byron Nelson, especially as the tournament is played for the second renewal at the Trinity Forest Golf Club. Built on land which was previously used as a landfill site, Trinity Forest is a high-profile private club development in south-east Dallas designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. Built to mimic a genuine links track, the course visually looks very intimidating with plenty of contours, impactful green complexes, swirling run-off areas and plenty of native areas surrounding fairways. But with Aaron Wise shooting -23/265 on his way to victory 12 months ago, this course is undoubtedly gettable if conditions are favourable.
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Course Guide: Trinity Forest Golf Club is like nothing else on the PGA Tour. Set 15 minutes southeast of downtown Dallas, Trinity Forest has been built on a old landfill site. Using the topography of the old site, eminent co-designers Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw have sculpted a truly unique golf course which appears to be not to the taste of plenty of Tour players this week. The course is a treeless inland ‘faux’ links-like design, which features elevation changes, no rough as fairways have native area boundaries and even a shared green.
Trinity Forest Golf Club, Dallas, Texas: Designer: Coore and Crenshaw 2016; Course Type: United States, Faux Links-Style; Par: 71; Length: 7,380 yards; Holes with Water Hazards: 0; Fairways: Trinity Zoysiagrass; Rough: Blackland Prairie no mow native areas; Greens: 13,000 sq.ft. average Champion UltraDwarf Bermudagrass; Tournament Stimp: 11ft. Course Scoring Average: 2018: 69.42 (-1.68), Rank 45 of 51 PGA Tour courses.
Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for Trinity Forest and how they compare to recent courses on Tour:
- Trinity Forest: 250 yards from tee: 58 yards wide; 275:54; 300:56; 325:60; 350:57.
- Quail Hollow: 250 yards from tee: 33 yards wide; 275:32; 300:31; 325:30; 350:29.
- Harbour Town: 250 yards from tee: 31 yards wide; 275:25; 300:20; 325:26; 350:22.
- Oaks Course: 250 yards from tee: 33 yards wide; 275:34; 300:29; 325:27; 350:26.
- Copperhead: 250 yards from the tee: 24 yards wide; 275:20; 300:21; 325:23 350:19.
- TPC Sawgrass: 250 yards from the tee: 31 yards wide; 275:33; 300:32; 325:29 350:20.
- Bay Hill: 250 yards from the tee: 33 yards wide; 275:34; 300:34; 325:39 350:29.
- PGA National: 250 yards from the tee: 29 yards wide; 275:27; 300:25; 325:26 350:25.
- Riviera: 250 yards from the tee: 34 yards wide; 275:29; 300:25; 325:27 350:27.
- Pebble Beach: 250 yards from the tee: 41 yards wide; 275:37; 300:33; 325:34 350:30.
Course Designer Links: For research purposes, other Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw designs /re-designs include:
- Plantation Course, Kapalua – Sentry Tournament of Champions .
- Pinehurst Number 2 – 2014 U.S. Open.
Course Overview: Trinity Forest Golf Club undoubtedly looks like a links golf course, despite the course being only 15 minutes from Dallas city centre. The property is treeless; it’s also quite undulating, with the course built on the undulations left from the landfill it has been built upon. That combination has been maximised to the full by Coore and Crenshaw who set out to build a challenging golf course which can attract Major Championships in the future. The course itself features extremely wide fairways which are bordered by buffalo grass waste areas rather than traditional rough. The course has been set up to play firm and fast and it’s also been designed to look at the very least visually like a United Kingdom or north-east United States links-golf course. Green complexes vary massively in size, but average a huge 13,000 sq.ft. Most feature some pretty severe contours and with that in mind they will only play to 10.5ft on the stimpmeter and that is the deal here. Firm fairway conditions in tandem with receptive greens meant 12 months ago that scoring was more than possible when the wind lies down.
For the Byron Nelson, the 7,450-yard Par 72 course will play as a 7,380 yards Par 71, with the normal par-5 11th playing as a long par-4 (to a massive double green shared by the par-4 3rd). Located in the southern United States, clearly it was never going to be feasible to use Fescue grass across the golf course, so instead the course has been planted in Trinity Zoysiagrass which has comparable spring and bounce. Zoysiagrass also features at TPC Southwind (FedEx St Jude Classic) and East Lake (Tour Championship) and isn’t the most popular of fairway grasses with many players who claim the quirky grass promotes flyers. These fairways also featured at the 2011 PGA Championship hosted at Atlanta Athletic Club and at Bellerive Country Club which hosted last year’s PGA Championship won by Brooks Koepka.
Greens feature Ultra-Dwarf Champion Bermudagrass. These greens can be found across PGA Tour stop-offs at Quail Hollow (Wells Fargo Championship), Sedgefield Country Club (Wyndham Championship), TPC Southwind (FedEx St Jude Classic), the Country Club of Jackson (Sandersons Farms Championship) and the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail (Barbasol Championship). The 2011 PGA Championship hosted at Atlanta Athletic Cub and won by Keegan Bradley also featured Champion Bermudagrass putting surfaces.
We might see some slightly different ground conditions this week as 56mm of rain has fallen in Dallas in May already, with more rain likely across Tuesday and Wednesday. The course may well be built to drain nicely, but we might see just a little cut in the fairways during the early rounds, with the course playing slightly longer. Green complexes are likely to be receptive too.
With fairways wide and easy to hit, this really is a second shot golf course. Greens in Regulation averaged a massive 77% here 12 months ago, where both Wise and Leishman excelled. They also excelled in terms of Proximity to Pin here and that’s an important angle as the Champion Ultradwarf green complexes themselves are huge and difficult to putt on. The greens ranked 15th most difficult on Tour last year and the 2nd hardest in terms of putts within 10 feet. But all-in-all, I would still expect the winner needing to target -20/264 as a score that will get them towards the summit of the leaderboard come close of Sunday.
Winners: Hosted at Trinity Forest: 2018: Aaron Wise (-23); Hosted at AT&T Four Seasons: 2017: Billy Horschel; 2016: Sergio Garcia; 2015: Steven Bowditch; 2014: Brendon Todd; 2013: Sang-moon Bae; 2012: Jason Dufner; 2011: Keegan Bradley; 2010: Jason Day.
Tournament Stats: We’ve published some key player statistics for this week’s event that are well worth a look. Naturally they’ll help to shape a view on players who could go well this week: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader | Top 20 Finishes | Combined Stats.
Published Predictor Model: Our published predictor is available here. You can build your own model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Top 10 of my published predictor are Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka, Aaron Wise, Hideki Matsuyama, Ryan Palmer, Scott Piercy, Patrick Reed, Marc Leishman, Pat Perez and Henrik Stenson.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on an 8-tournament window that stretches back to the Arnold Palmer Invitational / Qatar Masters, which includes PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players must have played in a minimum of 2 Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
- Driving Accuracy: 1) Colt Knost; 2) David Hearn; 3) Brian Gay / Henrik Stenson; 5) Justin Harding; 6) Brian Stuard; 7) Ryan Moore; 8) Jim Herman; 9) Vaughn Taylor / Michael Thompson; 11) Thorbjorn Olesen / Rory Sabbatini; 13) Tyler Duncan / Kyle Jones / Kevin Na / Rod Pampling / Brady Schnell; 18) Troy Merritt; 19) Andrew Landry; 20) Jonas Blixt / Brendon Todd.
- Greens in Regulation: 1) Alex Prugh / Henrik Stenson; 3) Aaron Wise; 4) Hank Lebioda; 5) Brian Stuard; 6) Thorbjorn Olesen / Shawn Stefani; 8) Sepp Straka; 9) Adam Schenk; 10) Matt Jones; 11) Martin Laird / Rory Sabbatini; 13) Ryan Palmer / Scott Piercy / Trey Mullinax; 16) Cameron Davis / Colt Knost / Russell Knox; 19) Charles Howell III / Mackenzie Hughes / Brooks Koepka / Hideki Matsuyama.
- Putting Average (Putts per GIR): 1) Brendon Todd; 2) Jordan Spieth; 3) Julian Etulain; 4) Peter Malnati; 5) Aaron Baddeley; 6) Thomas Pieters; 7) Ollie Schniederjans / Vaughn Taylor; 9) Troy Merritt; 10) Dominic Bozzelli; 11) Richy Werenski; 12) Michael Thompson; 13) Ryan Blaum / Patrick Reed; 15) Wes Roach; 16) Austin Cook / Matt Jones / Keith Mitchell / Ryan Moore; 20) Scott Stallings.
Winners & Prices: 2018: Wise 50/1; 2017: Horschel 125/1; 2016: Garcia 25/1; 2015: Bowditch 500/1; 2014: Todd 100/1; 2013: Bae 150/1; 2012: Dufner 22/1; 2011: Bradley 200/1; 2010: Day 100/1. Past 5 Renewals Average: 160/1; Overall Average: 130/1.
- 2018: Thursday: Mostly sunny. High of 93. Wind E 5-10. Friday: Sunny. High of 96. Wind SSE 10-15 mph. Saturday: Partly cloudy. High of 91. Wind SSE 15-20 mph, with gusts to 30 mph. Sunday: Showers and thunderstorms early led to a four-hour delay to the start of the final round. Mostly cloudy in the afternoon. High of 80. Wind SE 6-12 mph.
Weather Forecast: Latest weather forecast for Dallas, Texas, is here. The weather in Dallas could be a mixed bag. A good drenching on Wednesday prior to the tournament should see the course play a little longer on Thursday. But as we saw 12 months ago, the key here is the level of wind. 15-20 mph winds across the opening 36 holes should take a little off the edge of the extreme scoring we saw 12 months ago, but across the weekend, the course will undoubtedly be there for the taking. Temperatures of 20-24 degrees Celsius will be pleasant enough.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of Aaron Wise and runner-up Marc Leishman at last year’s AT&T Byron Nelson played for the first time at Trinity Forest gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
- Aaron Wise (-23). 297 yards (30th), 89.3% fairways (6th), 91.7% greens in regulation (1st), 33’11” proximity to hole (2nd), 66.7 % scrambling (18th), 1.70 putts per GIR (10th).
- Marc Leishman (-20). 304 yards (12th), 87.5% fairways (8th), 84.7% greens in regulation (8th), 38’1″ proximity to hole (17th), 63.6 % scrambling (27th), 1.69 putts per GIR (7th).
Tournament Skill Average:
- Driving Distance: 21st, Driving Accuracy: 7th, Greens in Regulation: 5th, Proximity to Hole: 10th, Scrambling: 23rd, Putting Average 9th.
Strokes Gained Tournament Trends:
- Aaron Wise (-23). SG Off the Tee: 2nd, SG Approach: 1st, SG Around the Green: 34th, SG Tee to Green: 2nd, SG Putting: 7th.
- Marc Leishman (-20). SG Off the Tee: 10th, SG Approach: 24th, SG Around the Green: 48th, SG Tee to Green: 19th, SG Putting: 1st.
Strokes Gained Tournament Skill Averages:
- SG Off the Tee: 6th, SG Approach: 13th, SG Around the Green: 41st, SG Tee to Green: 11th, SG Putting: 4th.
So let’s take a view from players and the course designer as to how Trinity Forest will play this week and what specific skills it requires:
Aaron Wise (2018): “This course is a mix of like there’s Bandon done up in Oregon, that’s pretty similar but I would relate it mostly to when I played over in Melbourne, Australia at Royal Melbourne. The fairways are firm and fast and the ball is going so far. You got to manage that. That’s probably the closest thing.
There’s some holes that were just playing really, really short because the ball is bouncing and you’re downwind. All of a sudden this bunker at 370 you can reach and it’s a bad spot to be in. There’s just some stuff. It played tricky. Like the driveable hole, Keith, who I was playing with, hit 2-iron off the tee. It’s 300 to the front edge. It’s tricky. But it’s a ton of fun and I like that.”
Marc Leishman (2018): “I think it’s a great course. You know, with no wind it’s definitely there to be had. You can shoot low like I did today and there’s a lot of low numbers. But I think if it was to get a bit of wind it’s going to change this place completely. I think, you know, you’re going to see some years where 20-under will win the tournament, some years 5, 6-under will win it. All weather-dependent. That’s a sign of a good links course. You can make birdies if there’s no defence, which is the wind, and there’s wind it’s going to be- you’ve got to be really on your game
My biggest take out was how far the ball was rolling on the fairways. We’re not used to that at all playing on the Tour over here. Normally it’s all through the air, trying to bomb it high and fly it as far as you can. Today, you know, I was hitting 3-wood over 300 yards, which I’ll never do, rolling out really good. When I hit my driver, hit 6-iron in the practice round on a hole and sand wedge today. Hopefully they keep it dry and it plays like a links course all week and I think it will make for a good tournament.
Courses feels like those down in the Mornington Peninsula in South Melbourne. Yeah, no trees, just similar field. Fairly open. Still travel on the ground, long. It’s completely different grasses to the grass there but it’s just got that feel so yeah, I enjoyed the first go around on it and hopefully I can stay hot and keep going.”
Adam Scott (2018): “ I think, look, it’s not like the Sand Belt but the thing that’s the same is the ball releases a lot of the Sand Belt, too, so even though there isn’t quite the undulation and size greens where you’re used to pitching 20 short of the hole and watching it release up – and I guess with experience at links golf over at The Open Championship, wherever we played, maybe an easy adjustment, you know, when you come here and see that happening and know you’re hitting a 6-iron from 240, it’s just going to go up there.”
Jordan Spieth: “A lot of big grandstands. It’s like an American links. You’ve kind of got to play it from the air, not really a bounce the ball up kind of links, but it is still a links-looking golf course. So it’s weird, it’s unique. It’s actually – Birkdale was kind of the closest comparison I’ve found to a links course that you kind of have to attack from the air. You get maybe four or five, six holes where you can bounce the ball up, but the way to get balls close is to come in with a higher shot. That’s not necessarily true links. I don’t want to say that about Birkdale because of the history and everything, but it’s just the way I’ve found to play it well is that route.”.”
Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 9 AT&T Byron Nelson winners:
- 2018 – Aaron Wise: Round 1: 4th, Round 2: 2nd, Round 3: 1st.
- 2017 – Billy Horschel: Round 1: 14th, Round 2: 2nd, Round 3: 2nd.
- 2016 – Sergio Garcia: Round 1: 1st, Round 2: 2nd, Round 3: 3rd.
- 2015 – Steven Bowditch: Round 1: 1st, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 1st.
- 2014 – Brendon Todd: Round 1: 13th, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 1st.
- 2013 – Sang-moon Bae: Round 1: 9th, Round 2: 2nd, Round 3: 2nd.
- 2012 – Jason Dufner: Round 1: 11th, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 1st.
- 2011 – Keegan Bradley: Round 1: 3rd, Round 2: 8th, Round 3: 8th.
- 2010 – Jason Day: Round 1: 1st, Round 2: 3rd, Round 3: 1st.
Shots From the Lead: Below are the winners at Trinity Forest and where they were positioned in terms of shots from the lead during the tournament:
- 2018 – Aaron Wise: Round 1: 4 back, Round 2: 1 back, Round 3: level.
Incoming form of winners since 2010:
- Aaron Wise: 2nd Quail/ MC New Orleans/MC TPC San Antonio/32nd Houston.
- Billy Horschel: MC Sawgrass/ MC New Orleans/MC TPC San Antonio/MC Heritage.
- Sergio Garcia: 54th Sawgrass/3rd Valderrama/34th Augusta/MDF Houston.
- Steven Bowditch: DQ Colonial/47th Quail/MC Sawgrass/12th New Orleans.
- Brendon Todd: MC Quail/38th Heritage/43rd Houston/6th TPC San Antonio.
- Sang-moon Bae: 33rd Sawgrass/MC Ballantines/48th Heritage/WD TPC San Antonio.
- Jason Dufner: 68th Sawgrass/1st New Orleans/24th Heritage/24th Masters.
- Keegan Bradley: 72nd Sawgrass/MC Quail/26th New Orleans/MC Heritage.
- Jason Day: MC Players/22nd Quail/22nd Heritage/MC Houston.
First Round Leader Analysis: First round leader(s), their wave and winning score since 2010. Full First Round Leader stats are here.
- 2018 – Leishman – PM -10/61 – 35/1.
- 2017 – Barnes / Hahn – Both AM -6/64 – 200/1 & 125/1.
- 2016 – Garcia / D Lee / Wagner – 1AM/2PM -7/63.
- 2015 – Bowditch – AM -8/62.
- 2014 – Hanson – PM -5/65.
- 2013 – Bradley – AM -10/60.
- 2012 – Palmer – PM -6/64.
- 2011 – Overton – PM -6/64.
- 2010 – Day / Mahan – AM/PM Split -4/66.
For the record, here’s the breakdown of Bermudagrass PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:
- 4 – Bill Haas, Patrick Reed.
- 3 – Ernie Els, Brian Gay, Brandt Snedeker, Jordan Spieth, Henrik Stenson.
- 2 – Daniel Berger, Ben Crane, Luke Donald, Matt Every, Fabian Gomez, Russell Henley, Marc Leishman, Scott Piercy, Jimmy Walker.
- 1 – Aaron Baddeley, Jonas Blixt, Jonathan Byrd, Austin Cook, Harris English, Branden Grace, Cody Gribble, Padraig Harrington, Charles Howell III, Mackenzie Hughes, Martin Laird, Will MacKenzie, Peter Malnati, Keith Mitchell, Pat Perez, Rory Sabbatini, Scott Stallings, Robert Streb, Brian Stuard, Hudson Swafford, Nick Taylor, Michael Thompson, D.J. Trahan, Johnson Wagner, Nick Watney, Aaron Wise.
The Byron Nelson is always a difficult tournament to call and a move to a new course last year which has been described as “unique” adds another level of intrigue to this betting heat. As a tournament, we’ve seen a whole list of unexpected winners. Indeed Jason Day (this was 2010), Keegan Bradley, Sang-moon Bae, Brendon Todd, Steven Bowditch and Billy Horschel have won 6 of the past 9 renewals at triple-digits. Bowditch topped the lot price-wise delivering a 500/1 coup for the bookmakers 4 years ago. But in Jason Dufner (22/1 in 2012) and Sergio Garcia (25/1 in 2016), 2 short-priced players in the betting market ultimately prevailed and 12 months ago the talented Aaron Wise overhauled long term leader Marc Leishman and captured his first PGA Tour title at 50/1.
Another angle is that recent winners Wise, Todd, Bae, Bradley and Day had never won on the PGA Tour. Jason Dufner in 2012 had only captured his previous victory 2 appearances prior at TPC Louisiana. 2017 saw Billy Horschel arrive with form of MC-MC-MC-MC to then go onto capture his 4th PGA Tour victory. The Floridian had not won a tournament since the 2014 Tour Championship ending a 2 and a half year hiatus. It’s certainly a mixed picture, but with Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth, Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman and Patrick Reed all in this week’s field, there’s sure to be a little value further down the field.
Trinity Forest was an amazing spectacle 12 months ago in its first renewal as host course. This treeless, links-style test has a definite coastal feel and looks relatively intimidating with strong bunkering, plenty of native areas plus undulating green surfaces. However with runway-wide fairways and no actual rough, the level of penalty from the tee is minimal. Instead Coore and Crenshaw have set the whole course up with the main defence being the famous Texas wind. With relatively calm conditions in-play this week, I would expect another birdie-fest as we saw in 2018.
My selections are as follows: