A full preview of the AT&T Byron Nelson at Trinity Forest Golf Club in Dallas, including tee times, odds and picks.
The PGA Tour moves into Texas this week—the fourth time the Lone Star state has hosted an event this season—for the first of two historical tournaments, each of which has ties to a legend of the game.
First up, it's the AT&T Byron Nelson in Dallas, a tournament that dates back to 1944 and one of two events named after a former professional golfer (the other being the Arnold Palmer Invitational). Nelson, who was born and raised in Texas, won five major championships but is best known for winning 11 straight events and 18 tournaments overall in 1945. He was the best player in the world for a short period before retiring to become a rancher at the age of 34. He remained a presence in the game, both at this event and as a broadcaster, until his death in 2006 at the age of 94.
The second leg of this mini-Texas run is next week's Fort Worth Invitational at Colonial Country Club, a tournament unofficially associated with Ben Hogan.
The biggest story this week is the golf course, as the Nelson will be held at Trinity Forest Golf Club and not TPC at Las Colinas, the track that played host from 1986 until last year.
Here's everything you need to know about the first of this Texas two-step.
The golf course
Again, this is the biggest story of the week, as it's the first time in 2018 that a non-opposite field event is being held at a new venue. Trinity Forest is a brand-new golf course that only opened in late 2016, and it's built on...wait for it...a former landfill. The 7,380, par-71 track is designed by the famed architectural duo of Texan Ben Crenshaw, who won this event in 1983, and Bill Coore. Golf architecture geeks will recognize the name Coore & Crenshaw, as they've designed a number of elite golf courses around the world and are regarded as arguably the top architectural duo for modern golf courses. Sand Hills in Nebraska is their highest-ranked design, while the Plantation Course at Kapalua in Hawaii might be the most famous due to its hosting of the Sentry Tournament of Champions. In all, Coore & Crenshaw have seven designs ranked in Golf.com's latest Top 100 courses in the U.S. list.
Coore & Crenshaw are known for moving minimal land and desigining their golf courses to fit the land rather than the other way around. Trinity Forest appears to be of that school of thought. It's a linksy-style layout—think wide, sweeping fairways, fescue and a generally unmanicured look—and despite its name suggesting otherwise, the interior of the golf course is devoid of trees. It's a subtly hilly layout; the fairways contour and many greens have crowns in them. The greens are really big on the whole (average size of over 13,000 square feet), but most have multiple different sections formed by severe slopes, and which section the pin is placed in changes the hole's dynamic entirely. Notably, the par-3 3rd hole and the par-5 11th share a green that is 110-yards long(!). As you might have deduced by now, Greens in regulation will not be a very telling stat this week.
It's a distinctly different golf course than TPC Las Colinas, which was a sort of non-descript, manicured, tree-lined track with water hazards and a big ol' hotel visible from everywhere. Trinity Forest will present a serene environment and a quirky, nuanced test that's a departure from the norm on the PGA Tour.
A number of players have raved about the course already, with Jordan Spieth promising it'll be a "nice surprise" for players in the field this week. Should be interesting to see how the course plays difficulty-wise, as there's really no history to go by here.
Some pictures of the track, courtesy of Zac Blair:
Despite a historic tournament and an exciting new venue, the field this week is sub-par. The highest-ranked player in the FedEx Cup standings who will compete is Scott Piercy, who is 28th. The highest-ranked player in the world rankings teeing it up is Jordan Spieth, who is No. 3, but he's one of just four top-20 players in the field (the others: No. 9 Hideki Matsuyama, No. 14 Sergio Garcia, No. 16 Marc Leishman). A reason for this is its place on the schedule, directly following the Players Championship. Forty-nine of the world's top 50 competed at TPC Sawgrass last week, when it was quite hot and humid. That, coupled with a Sawgrass layout that is a mental test, combines to form a very tiring week. A lot of guys are recharging the batteries before the Memorial, which is in two weeks' time, and the U.S. Open in June.
Other notable guys in the field: Matt Kuchar, Jimmy Walker, Adam Scott, Billy Horschel, Beau Hossler, Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell, Hunter Mahan, Maverick McNealy, Ernie Els, David Duval.
On a semi-unrelated note: Spieth feels a connection to this event because A) he's a Dallas native and B) the tournament gave him a sponsor's exemption when he was just 16 after he sent this impossible-to-refuse letter.
He'd tie for 16th that week. As a high school junior. What a champ.
Full tee times can be found here, but here are a few notable groupings:
Satoshi Kodaira, Hideki Matsuyama, Matt Kuchar: 7:40 a.m.* Thursday/12:40 p.m. Friday
Billy Horschel, Sergio Garcia, Ryan Palmer: 7:50 a.m.*/12:50 p.m.
Rod Pampling, Padraig Harrington, Ernie Els: 12:30 p.m./7:30 p.m.*
Scott Piercy, Marc Leishman, Adam Scott: 12:40 p.m./7:40 a.m.*
Jordan Spieth, Graeme McDowell, Jimmy Walker: 12:50 p.m./7:50 a.m.*
The past champions
Billy Horschel is the defending champion this week, as he topped Jason Day in a playoff last year to win at 12-under. Sergio Garcia took home the trophy in 2016 and also won in 2004; the Spaniard has a strong history in Texas. In 2015, Australian Steven Bowditch picked up his second PGA Tour win by shooting a tournament-record 18-under 259. Other notable winners of this event include Jason Day, who picked up his first PGA Tour win at the Nelson in 2010, as well as Jason Dufner (2012), Adam Scott (2008), Vijay Singh (2003), Tiger Woods (1997), Phil Mickelson (1996), Ernie Els (1995), Tom Watson (four times), Jack Nicklaus (1970, 1971), Ben Hogan (1946), Sam Snead (three times) and Nelson himself in 1944.
When trying to pick a winner or a fantasy team, not much—if any—attention should be paid to past champions or players with success in this event, as it's being held on an entirely different golf course.
Jordan Spieth +450 - As big a favorite as you'll see this season
Matt Kuchar +1800
Sergio Garcia +1800
Jimmy Walker +2000 - The Texan is coming off a T-2 at the Players
Branden Grace +2000
Hideki Matsuyama +2200
Billy Horschel +2200
Marc Leishman +2200
Adam Scott +2200 - Starting to show signs of a turnaround, took T-11 at the Players
Beau Hossler +2800 - Up-and-coming star went to UT-Austin
Charles Howell III +3500
Aaron Wise +4000 - 21-year-old tied for 2nd in his last start at Wells Fargo
Brandt Snedeker +4000
Martin Laird +4000
Peter Uihlein +4000
Ryan Palmer +5000
Scott Piercy +6000
Grayson Murray +6600
Joaquin Niemann +7500 - Former World No. 1 amateur is looking to secure temporary membership
Keith Mitchell +7500
Kevin Na +7500
Graeme McDowell +8000
Pretty tempting to pick Spieth here—he played solidly at the Players save for his quadruple-bogey 8 on the closing hole, and he'll have the hometown crowds pulling for him all week. He's also the best player in the field, so there's that.
But it's no fun picking the favorite, so we're gonna go in a different direction: Jimmy Walker. Walker has three-straight top-20 finishes and back-to-back top 5's, at the Houston Open and the Players. He lives in Texas. It's also now Ryder Cup points season, and Walker desperately wants to make the team that'll play in France. He'll pick up a win this week to give himself a really good chance of making the team.