As we leave the drama of The Players Championship behind, and count down the weeks until the US Open. The Tour heads to Texas to the HP Byron Nelson Classic at the TPC Four Seasons - Las Colinas, a well-known track that has undergone renovations in recent years and as a result has become more difficult to score on. A par-70 layout at 7,166 yards, TPC Four Seasons is a little different than the typical Tour course, offering only a pair of par 5’s for the guys to feast on. As with many weeks, Strokes Gained Putting plays a major role in determining a winner at this event. Some other key statistics to watch out for this week are Par-4 Scoring Average and Driving Distance.
It’s usually very warm in Texas this time of the year and the course typically plays firm and fast – playing into the hands of the more accurate players. But the course received some rain over the weekend and more is in the forecast early in the week, so softer than normal conditions should be expected for tournament days, which may benefit of some of the longer hitters. The forecast for the actual tournament days looks fantastic – mid 80s, sunny and the usual Texas breeze (in other words, hopefully weather-delay-free).
Always a tough week to predict, but here are my thoughts:
1. Jordan Spieth. Time to panic? After sharing the lead at The Masters and The Players going into the final round but not winning, has led some people to question Texan’s ability to close. I would say these people are crazy. The guy is 20 years old (arguably still a “kid” in many ways) and is putting himself in contention week after week. It is just a matter of time before he starts winning, and winning a lot. He has 11 top 25’s in 14 events thus far in 2014, so a solid finish is usually in the cards. Probably a little disappointed after not closing this past weekend, but some home cooking is just what the doctor ordered – a home game this week In Dallas. This is a great opportunity to ride momentum and quiet his critics with a win at the Byron Nelson in front of friends and family.
2. Jimmy Walker. Another Texas native, Walker already has three wins in 2014, locked up a spot on the Ryder Cup team and is leading the FedEx Cup. He had a string of seven straight top-25 finishes that was snapped at the Wells Fargo, but bounced back nicely closing with a 65 and posting a T6 at The Players. Walker leads the Tour in Strokes Gained Putting (the most important stat this week in my opinion), is 29th in GIR%, T4 in Par-4 Scoring Avg, and 14th in Driving Distance -- each are great numbers coming into this week. His 199th in Driving Accuracy shouldn’t hurt him this week with the short course and already tough fairways to find for the rest of the field. Don’t be shocked if Walker is there on Sunday with a chance to pick up his fourth trophy of the season.
3. Gary Woodland. Woodland is riding six straight made cuts with his worst finish since February a T26 at Augusta, and he is trending with his T11 this past week at Sawgrass. He’s 9th in Total Driving, 27th in GIR%, T15 in Par 4 Scoring Avg… but only 144th in Strokes Gained Putting, which is holding the bomber back from racking up victories. Even with the Par 70, Woodland should be able to overpower the TPC and put himself in a great position once again.
4. Keegan Bradley. A tough guy to peg at the moment, as he has two top 10s in his last five events, but also two MC’s. Keegan is still going through a swing change with his new instructor Chuck Cook which could be the cause for not having a final round under par since mid-February. But in his three trips to the TPC, Bradley has posted a win, T24, and 2nd – all coming on the heels of a finish no better than 35th the week prior at The Players. Clearly, Keegs has an affinity for the course, one that is tough to overlook and warrants this type of ranking. He almost shot 59 here last year.
5. John Senden. Might be too high for most people’s tastes, but thus far in 2014 the Aussie has played arguably the best golf of his career only having missed two cuts and notching three top 10s (including a victory during that time span). The biggest reason for the 43-year-old’s resurgence has to be his monumental improvement in Strokes Gained Putting: 124th in 2013 up to 21st in 2014. Couple that with being 19th in GIR% and 23rd in Total Driving and one has a formula that is perfect to contend on tough golf courses. His final round scoring average of 71.62 is concerning, but that doesn’t negate his ability to contend on Sunday.
Matt Kuchar– In reality, Kuch is the favorite this week and is the obvious choice to win, but what’s the fun of just listing all the favorites in the top 5? Speaking of five, Kuchar’s last five events: T4, P2, T5, 1, T17. While he hasn’t won this event before, his course history is good enough to think that he will once again be near the lead all week.
Martin Kaymer– What a putt on 17. I mean, wow! Kaymer looked like the player he was 2-3 years ago and his golf swing looks awesome. One would have thought that there might be a letdown this week, but even before The Players victory, the German was trending with back to back top 25s. Kaymer posted a top-5 finish at the Nelson in 2013 so it should not surprise anybody if he had a chance to win in back to back weeks.
Marc Leishman – The long-hitting Aussie was playing very well early in the season on the West Coast, but has cooled off since. Leishman came into this event last year on a similar trend and posted a T3; some courses just fit certain players’ eyes.
John Huh. Huh has really struggled so far in the start of his third season on Tour, but a T3 in Hilton Head and a couple of good rounds at Sawgrass might be an indicator of a turnaround. A T8 in this event last year is the only course history to go on, so Huh could be a sneaky play this week.
Brenden Steele– Steele lines up very nice statistically for this event – 25th in Total Driving, T22 in Par 4 Scoring Avg and 44th in Strokes Gained Putting. Steele is long and hits a low draw which should fit well playing in the wind.
Sleepers: Rory Sabbatini, Erik Compton, Justin Hicks, Robert Streb
Busts: Brandt Snedeker, Graham DeLaet, Louis Oosthuizen, Patrick Reed (UPDATE: Just Withdrew)
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