After a week on the east coast, the PGA Tour heads back to Texas this week for the AT&T Byron Nelson. Tour players will have one final week to get ready for the season’s second major, the PGA Championship, and they’ll do so at a golf course that is a stark contrast to what they’ll see at Bethpage Black.
Trinity Forest Golf Club plays host to the Byron for a second consecutive year, after the event moved last year from TPC Las Colinas to the south side of Dallas.
Aaron Wise returns to Trinity Forest as the defending champ after winning his first career title a year ago. The 22-year-old and last year’s Rookie of the Year has built success off his maiden victory, reeling off nine top 20s since the 2018 Byron Nelson.
Reigning PGA and U.S. Open champ Brooks Koepka headlines a field that is on the rather thin side, with just three of the top 25 players in the world rankings competing. Koepka is coming off a runner-up finish at the Masters and a T22 at the Zurich team event, and he’ll be making his first appearance at the Nelson since 2017.
Along with Koepka, two Texas residents will be trying to find their game in time for next weeks PGA. Jordan Spieth will once again play in his hometown event. The three-time major winner has slipped to No. 39 in the OWGR and hasn’t had a top 20 since last years FedEx Cup Playoffs. Meanwhile, Patrick Reed is also searching for his game. He hasn’t finished inside the top 25 since the WGC-Mexico Championship back in March.
Despite its name, Trinity Forest doesn’t feature a single tree on the golf course, which lends itself to breezy, British Open-like conditions. The Coore-Crenshaw design ranked as the seventh- easiest course on tour last season surrendering more birdies (1916) than every tournament but one (RBC Canadian Open at Glen Abbey GC).
Wise put on a ball-striking clinic last year, hitting 91 % of greens in regulation en route to victory. Because of the golf course’s propensity to yield birdies, greens in regulation, ball striking, strokes gained putting and par 4 scoring will be key stats this week.
Nuts and bolts
Course: Trinity Forest Golf Club (7,371 yards, Par 71)
Defending champion: Aaron Wise (-23, 261)
Weather forecast: Temperatures in the low 70’s. Chance of thunderstorms Friday-Sunday.
Jordan Spieth (20/1, $11,200)
In a less-than-packed field, this is the prefect opportunity for Spieth to get back on track. Dallas is Jordan’s hometown and his instructor Cameron McCormick teaches out of Trinity, which gives Spieth two advantages: Comfort and Knowledge.
Spieth has showed signs of snapping out of his funk of late. He ranks 50th in strokes gained putting and 26th in birdie average. His accuracy issues with the driver shouldn’t be an issue as the fairways at the AT&T Byron Nelson are wider than the end zones at AT&T Stadium in Dallas. There have been signs of life in Spieth’s game: 66 at the RBC Heritage, 68 at the Masters and a pair of 68s at the Valero Texas Open. Jordan just needs to string together four solid rounds. I think the home cookin’ helps him out this week.
Marc Leishman (25/1, $10,800)
One of the best wind players on the planet, Leishman thrived in the wide open, breezy conditions a year ago, finishing second to Wise. He quite simply has the perfect game for this track: 36th in greens in regulation and 30th in par 4 scoring average. He also has no problem keeping up with any scoring barrages, ranking 31st in birdie average. Leishman fired an opening round 61 a year ago at Trinity. Expect more low numbers from the big Aussie again this year.
Sungjae Im (40/1 $10,600)
The Byron Nelson rookie should have no trouble finding birdies his first time through Trinity Forest. The 21-year-old leads the PGA Tour in total birdies and ranks 26th in birdie average, 30th in par 4 scoring and 25th in ball striking. In fact, when looking at Im’s strokes gained numbers, there isn’t much this kid doesn’t do well. He ran off top 10’s in three of four events back in March and in a field with many players having minimal experience seeing this golf course, I don’t expect inexperience to be a factor.
Seamus Power (80/1, $9,100)
With top 15s in each of his last three events, the Irishman is playing some of the most consistent golf on Tour at the moment. Over his last 10 individual stroke play rounds, Power has fired seven scores in the 60s. His recent hot streak, plus his propensity for eagles (11th in total eagles) will factor in what should turn into a race for 20 under par this week.
Hideki Matsuyama (14/1, $11,500)
In a birdie fest like the Byron, you need to be able to putt. As of now, Hideki has shown no signs of figuring out how to use the flatstick. Matsuyama ranks 177th in SG Putting and 208th in three putt avoidance. Those are absolute round killers, and are why Hideki has found the 60s in just two of his last eight rounds on tour.