By Pete Pappas
GolfWRX Staff Writer
The PGA Tour gallops back into the “Longhorn State” for the 2012 Byron Nelson Championship and third leg of the Tour’s Texas Swing.
Keegan Bradley returns to defend his title in a Lone Star field featuring 10 past champions, 12 of the top-30 players in the FedExCup standings, and 10 major winners.
Bradley’s 278 (three-under) last year was the highest winning score at “The Nelson” since 1981 and the fourth-highest since the tournament was first played in 1944.
His come from behind playoff victory over Ryan Palmer kicked off a sensational rookie campaign which included (another playoff) victory in his first major, the PGA Championship, and 2011 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year honors.
“I went from being an unknown rookie trying to keep his card to winning a PGA Tour event and locking up my future a bit,” Bradley said. “This tournament will be special to me.”
Bradley tries to become the first back-to-back winner of the Dallas event since Tom Watson did it three consecutive times over three decades ago (1978 to 1980).
Seven players inside the Official World Golf Rankings top-25 and six winners in 2012 will also tee it up at TPC Four Seasons Resort Las Colinas (where more than a quarter-million people are expected to attend over the weekend).
World No. 5 (and always smiling) Matt Kuchar comes off his fourth career and most prestigious victory at The Players last week. A win in Dallas would make him only the second player this season to win multiple times (Hunter Mahan).
“I love the challenge that the game provides,” Kuchar said. “I’m trying to find a way to get better and win [more] golf tournaments.”
The 33 year-old Kuchar finished tied for sixth last year at Four Seasons.
Meanwhile Phil Mickelson (World No. 10) is the favorite to win this week despite a five year hiatus from the Byron Nelson.
“Phil the Thrill” has finished in the top-10 four times in his last eight events and hopes to cap off a magnificent World Golf Hall of Fame induction last week with his second win of the season and 41st of his illustrious career.
Hot Tamales Or Soul Grapes?
Tiger Woods has not played the Byron Nelson Championship since 2005 when his PGA Tour record 142 consecutive tournaments without missing a cut came to an end.
The previous Tour consecutive cut streak record was held by none other than tournament host “Lord Byron” (113 events without a missed cut).
In 1946 Ben Hogan defeats Herman Keiser and dubiously enters the record books with the highest winning score in tournament history (284, four-over).
In 1980 Tom Watson wins for the third consecutive time becoming the only four-time multiple winner in tournament history.
In 1981 Watson is nearly victorious for the fourth consecutive year but is turned away in a playoff by Bruce Lietzke.
In 2008 Australian Adam Scott rolls in a 49-foot birdie putt to defeat runner-up Ryan Moore on the third playoff hole.
In 2010 on sponsor’s exemption 16 year-old Jordan Spieth becomes the youngest player in tournament history to play in the event and goes on to finish 16th overall.
A Course Worth Playing For I Have Decreed It!
TPC Four Seasons got the David Feherty “?#@*%! up” stamp of approval in his 2010 Sports Illustrated article about PGA Tour greenskeepers. “A course worth playing for I have decreed it,” quipped the quick-witted GolfChannel host.
Small lakes, rolling fairways, and indigenous oak and mesquite trees make TPC Four Seasons is an attractive course. And its extensive bunkers (68) and formidable length (7,166 yards) also make it a challenging one.
But the story at TPC Four Seasons is the greens (and the main reason the course ranked fifth in difficulty in 2011) and more precisely approach shots into them.
Players must absolutely target specific areas on the greens rather than aim for the flags because of abrupt and extreme green undulations. Good shots will use the slopes to funnel the ball towards the hole for manageable birdie attempts. Poor shots will hit the greens but roll off.
And with a stimpmeter of 11 feet (Augusta National generally runs 12 feet), as Feherty says, TPC Four Seasons has managed to “ensure the almost impossible balance between keeping [the greens] alive yet firm enough to putt.”
The Greek Syndicate
It’s a cherished pastime of ancient Greeks to gamble. In fact some accounts say Greeks are the forerunners of gambling.
Whatever the case may be, it’s in my blood and it was only a matter of time before I rolled the dice on the PGA Tour.
I’m putting my money where my mouth is this week. A good week and I’ll be packing my bags for San Francisco and the U.S. Open a little early.
A bad one and I’m barricading myself inside, not answering the door, telephone, or emails until my flute nymph says it’s safe to see daylight.
Histories, streaks, and stats, I’ve passed the point of no return.
Phil’s the favorite to win this week and owns a lower scoring average (67.5) in this tournament than anyone in the field for the past five years.
The problem is Lefty has only played one time here in that time period.
“The Nelson” will be Mickelson’s third consecutive event played (T-26 at the Wells Fargo Championship two weeks ago and T-25 at The PLAYERS last week).
And the last time Lefty put three in a row together he finished T-4 at the Shell Houston Open (after a T-43 at the WGC-Cadillac Championship and T-24 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational).
However “Fairway Phil” is ranked 129th on Tour in driving accuracy (57.44) and that’s going to make it extremely difficult for him to hit his spots on approach to the slippery Four Seasons greens.
Despite Mickelson’s much improved putting (ranked 28th on Tour in putting average) which has been key to his success this season, Phil won’t contend this week.
Johnson Wagner (45/1)
Wagner’s victory at the Sony Open and four top-10s are impressive. But most of those came very early in the season.
His past four events have resulted in two missed cuts and finishes of T-65 at Wells Fargo and T-35 at The Players.
I’ve got Wagner sneaking in the top-25 this week based purely on his (68.89 percent) greens-in-regulation (good for 18th on Tour) and T-12 finish here in 2010.
No one’s hotter than Kuchar coming in. And he ranks fourth in bogey avoidance, eighth in scrambling, and 24th in driving accuracy, all of which will be important this week in Dallas.
Kuchar finished T-6 here last year after three finishes outside the top-35 the previous three years.
There’s no reason to not pick Kuchar to win.
Except that it’s been nearly impossible to win multiple times so far this season and putting back-to-back victories together seems even more improbable.
Ernie Els (30/1)
Like Mickelson Els hasn’t played here in five years. However he’s finished inside the top-15 the last four times he’s played here.
Els has three top-5 finishes in his past six events this season. But two missed cuts in his past three.
It all depends on which Els shows up. The one who went 68-67 the final two days at the Zurich Classic to finish in second place? Or the one who shot 74-74 to miss the cut at The Players?
I’m betting on Els 69.5 scoring average over the past five weeks (which is tops in the Four Seasons field).
A missed cut at The Players was very disappointing.
But Oosthuizen was impressive finishing second at The Masters and third at the Shell Houston in his prior Tour events. He also picked up a victory at the Malaysian Open on the European Tour
Oosthuizen’s fifth in total driving, seventh in ball striking, 14th in birdie or better conversion, and 15th in GIR. A recipe for contention at TPC Four Seasons.
D.A. Points (60/1)
Points has the third best scoring average here of all the players in the field for the past five Nelson events (68.75). And he finished T-7 here in 2010 and 3rd in 2009.
Points also has the third best scoring average on Tour over the past five weeks of the 2012 season (70.17).
The only thing that might keep Points outside the top-5 is his putting. T-111 in putting average (1.78) will be a concern if he doesn’t stick his approach shots close.
Bradley is slumping hard. No top-25s in his past four events.
Carl Pettersson (30/1)
Pettersson is coming off an impressive T-10 finish at The Players with seven one-putts in the final round. He finished T-4 here in 2008.
Pettersson’s third in putting average, 12th in strokes gained putting and 22nd in bogey avoidance on Tour.
But I sense a letdown for the Swede this week.
Adam Scott (14/1)
Scott won here in 2008 but has only played in 5 events this season. Fifth in GIR will help his cause but he simply hasn’t played enough to not be rusty.
Ryan Palmer (45/1)
Palmer has missed the cut four of the last five times he’s played here.
Jason Day (22/1)
Two of the last three events have been tough going for Day with a WD at The Masters and a missed cut last week at The Players.
“It fuels the hunger,” Day said of his performance last week.
He won here in 2010 and finished in fifth place in 2011. He clearly likes the course and can go low here (evidenced by his second round 65 in 2010 and final round 67 in 2011).
Day picks up his second career Tour win this week.
Johnson Wagner, Y.E. Yang, Charles Howell III
Danny Lee, Edward Loar, Patrick Reed
Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott, Ernie Els
Jason Dufner, Jhonattan Vegas, Louis Ooshuizen
Matt Kuchar, Vijay Singh, Padraig Harrington
Keegan Bradley, Rory Sabbatini, Jason Day
Derek Lamley, John Rollins, Justin Leonard
Harrison Frazar. D.A. Points, Ryan Palmer
If ever there was a player worthy of having a tournament named after him it’s the gentlemanly Byron Nelson (passed away in 2006). And the Byron Nelson Championship was the first PGA Tour event to be named after a professional golfer.
“This tournament is the best thing that’s ever happened to me in golf,” Byron once said. “Better than winning the Masters or the U.S. Open or eleven in a row; because it helps people.”
The tournament has raised over $121M in total charitable giving since its inception.
“Lord Byron” is sixth all time in total wins on the PGA Tour (52) including five majors. And his 1945 season remains arguably the best single season in the history of the PGA Tour. 18 wins, with 11 coming consecutively (and margins of victory were routinely in the double figures).
Only three others players have consecutive win streaks of four or more: Ben Hogan (six consecutive), Jackie Burke (four consecutive) and Tiger Woods (seven consecutive).
Byron was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 1974 (the highest honor given to U.S. citizen) and his kindness, dedication, and awe-inspiring accomplishments (both on and off the course) will forever remain one of the greatest legacies the game has ever known.
Prior to last years Byron Nelson Championship a severe Tuesday evening hail storm wrecked havoc on TPC Four Seasons pummeling the greens with more than 4,000 divots (some the size of baseballs) forcing Four Seasons employees to evacuate.
“The Other Rory” Sabbatini set the tournament scoring record (261) with his win here in 2009.
To the victor go the spoils. The winner picks up a cool $1.17M (of the $6.5M purse) and 500 FedExCup points.
Thursday and Friday: Golf Channel 3 – 6 p.m. EST
Saturday and Sunday: NBC 3 – 6 p.m. EST
Thursday through Sunday: SiriusXM Satellite Radio 12 – 6 p.m. EST
Odds provided by Las Vegas PGA Tour Golf Betting Odds
Follow Pete on twitter @TheGreekGrind