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Fantasy Preview: 2018 AT&T Byron Nelson

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A change of golf course this year for the AT&T Byron Nelson, as Trinity Forest Golf Club makes its debut on the PGA Tour. Analyzing new courses is always a challenge, however, Steven Bowditch helped us by tweeting his insights into Trinity Forest yesterday.

“Love Trinity Forrest. Suits ever type of player. Fairways are rolling out good amount considering zyosia.. Greens somewhat receptive.. putting around green is near impossible as they have let greenside grass grow more than usual. Better bring short game and precision iron game.”

To add to Bowditch’s insights, Trinity Forest is quite a long par-71 at just under 7,400 yards. Wide fairways mean that the longer hitters have some advantage, however, ball striking, accuracy with irons and short-game skills appear to be of paramount importance this week. Last year at TPC Four Seasons, Billy Horschel won a dramatic playoff against Jason Day.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Jordan Spieth 11/2
  • Matt Kuchar 14/1
  • Sergio Garcia 14/1
  • Hideki Matsuyama 18/1
  • Jimmy Walker 20/1
  • Billy Horschel 20/1
  • Adam Scott 22/1

Headlining the field and playing on a course where he is a member, Jordan Spieth deserves to be the heavy favorite. Spieth has said how he feels his game is in good enough shape to win and that he has a distinct advantage this week at a course he knows better than anyone else. While all this is true and all the signs point to Spieth having a good week in Texas, there remains a question mark over his putting. Spieth has posted negative Strokes Gained numbers on the greens in his last four PGA Tour events, and last week he ended his tournament by three-putting from 5 feet. It’s a concern big enough for me to ignore the price of 11/2.

Instead, another man with a fine record in Texas looks to be the way to go. Jimmy Walker (20/1, DK Price $9,500) has roared back into form in recent weeks, following up a top-20 finish at the Masters with back-to-back top-5 finishes in his last two events. Over his previous eight rounds, Walker ranks ninth in Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green, first in Strokes Gained-Short Game, second in Strokes Gained-Putting and first in Strokes Gained-Total.

Walker has also been excellent around the greens. Over his previous 24 rounds, Walker sits fifth in Strokes Gained-Around the Green, a skill that Bowditch says will be essential this week. Walker has always been wild off the tee, something that is still a concern. But by all accounts, we are getting some of the widest fairways of the year at Trinity Forest this week, and that should help Walker massively. He’s an acceptable price and looks set to get himself in the mix again in Texas.

Beau Hossler (33/1, DK Price $9,000) is enjoying a good year on the PGA Tour, and he has now made six consecutive cuts. Despite a seemingly dull week for him at The Players last week, Hossler will take massive positives from his T-46 finish. His irons were very sharp, and his Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green numbers equalled his best on Tour. In fact, Hossler was the third-highest ranked player last week from tee to green. Had it not been for a disastrous week on the greens, he would have found himself in contention.

Hossler matches up well in all the key categories this week, and he also looks a little undervalued. Over his previous 12 rounds, the American ranks 11th in Ball Striking, seventh in Strokes Gained-Tee to Green and 22nd in Strokes Gained-Around the Green. It’s a considerably weaker field this week than it has been on Tour for a while now, and if Hossler can bring his form with the long game from last week to Trinity Forest, then there’s every chance of another high finish.

Time for a couple of big prices and lower-priced men for your DraftKings lineups. Over his previous 12 rounds, Troy Merritt (150/1, DK Price $7,600) has shown the type of ball striking necessary to do well at Trinity Forest. Merritt ranks seventh in Ball Striking and third in Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green in this period, and he also sits 20th in Strokes Gained-Total. Merritt has also made seven of his last eight cuts on Tour, and he looks to be a solid choice for any DraftKings lineup this week in what is a weak field.

Consistently one of the best putters on Tour, the flat stick is the part of Aaron Baddeley’s (125/1, DK Price $7,500) game that has been off recently. If his putting were to return to him this week, then you’d be looking at a dangerous sleeper. Over the past 12 rounds, Baddeley ranks 20th in Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green. His short game has been immaculate over his previous 24 rounds, and he sits 2nd in this field for Strokes Gained-Around the Green. The Australian has also made seven of his last eight cuts on Tour, and he should prove to be a solid choice for DraftKings players this week.

Recommended Plays

  • Jimmy Walker 20/1, DK Price $9,500
  • Beau Hossler 33/1, DK Price $9,000
  • Troy Merritt 150/1, DK Price $7,600
  • Aaron Baddeley 125/1, DK Price $7,500
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Gianni is a freelance writer. He holds a Bachelor of Arts as well as a Diploma in Sports Journalism. He can be contacted at gmagliocco@outlook.com. Follow him on Twitter @giancarlomag

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1 Comment

  1. gobrogolfo

    May 15, 2018 at 3:56 pm

    Tigger all the way ….. 😀

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Courses

The Harding Park experience

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When you turn onto the road that leads to the clubhouse at TPC Harding Park, it doesn’t take long for your eyes to focus on the 18th hole. The road winds between the par-3 17th green on your right and the back tees of the 18th on your left, presenting a direct view down the beautifully doglegged left finishing fairway. And if you weren’t already excited about your upcoming round, this ought to do the trick.

TPC Harding Park is San Francisco’s top public track. It was opened in 1925 and was designed by Willie Watson, who also is responsible for the nearby Lake Course at Olympic Club. And Harding Park has already been pegged to host the 2020 PGA Championship, which will only be the second time a municipally owned golf course will host the PGA. And even though the event is over a year away, the facilities are already being prepared for the major.

The clubhouse itself is impressive for a municipal layout; two stories with an event space on the second floor, the layout runs parallel with the 18th fairway, allowing for great views of the back dining patio and balcony. They already have it decorated in anticipation or the PGA Championship with large wallpaper photos of the Wanamaker Trophy, which gives off a serious feeling of legitimacy in the clubhouse entryway. The Cypress Grill, which comes with a full bar, is finished with a full wall of glass overlooking both the final hole and Lake Merced. It was packed at lunch on a Friday when I played…and not just crowded with golfers. The food and view must be good enough to attract regular patrons.

The pro shop is a nice size and the members of the staff were incredibly welcoming and friendly. Most of the apparel was Nike, Adidas and Under Armour but there were a few smaller brands as well. FootJoy was also present and the course’s logo on shirts and hats alternated between the traditional Harding Park logo with the lone tree and the PGA Harding Park logo. There is, of course, already 2020 PGA Championship gear for sale as well.

The course offers carts and pushcarts for rent, but if you do decide to ride, the course is cart path only year round. Rates range from $49-$188 depending on the day and if you are a San Francisco or Bay Area resident.

As you can imagine, Harding Park gets a substantial amount of play, being a first-rate daily fee in a highly populated city. My buddy and I opted to walk as we both believe that’s the best way to experience a course for the first time.

The bad weather earlier this year had left the driving range in disrepair. It was closed during my visit but they are planning to turn that area into a pavilion space for the PGA Championship anyway. Harding Park also has a short course called The Fleming 9 which weaves in between the holes of the Harding 18. That Fleming 9 space will be used as the professionals’ range during the major event.

The course conditions were top quality, especially for a daily fee course with so much traffic. The only real complaint from my group was the presence of so many ball marks on the greens. This can be expected from a course with that number of daily golfers added to the wet conditions of a place like San Francisco. I would imagine that the greens would run much smoother as we get closer to the 2020 PGA. Still, this was nit-picking; the greens were not in bad shape at all.

   

The first thirteen holes at Harding Park are good but don’t rise to the level of “great.” A friendly starter helps maintain pace of play off number one, a slightly right bending par four. The second hole is much like the first, which was a theme of the first 13. Looking back on my round, it’s tough for me to differentiate between each of the first 13 holes. Every hole was really solid, but not exactly unique, with the exception of number 4 and number 10, both fun par 5’s with some character.

Harding Park plays at 6,845 yards from the blue tees, which were the back tees on the day I played. There is a championship tee box that plays at 7169 but they were not set up for us. I would imagine that they’d be willing to do so with a special request. I heard the course is even better from back there. I was told that they will be working to lengthen some of the holes in anticipation of the 2020 PGA.

Along those lines, we were also treated with a special view of what the course will look like for the major next year. The PGA had been out to the course the week prior to my visit and had staked out each fairway with little red flags denoting where they want the first cut of rough to reach. On most holes, these flags were five-to-10 paces inside of where the rough currently was being cut, which showed us exactly how tiny these fairways will be for the pros. It was amazing to see some of the narrow landing spots these guys will be aiming for in a year.

As you walk off the 13th green, the course turns one final time back towards the clubhouse. And though I didn’t realize it at the time, you are about to play five incredible holes in a row to close out your round. The teebox on 14 is snuggled up next to the lake but elevated enough to give you a tremendous view of the water below and Olympic Club Golf Course across the way. The hole in front of you is a 440-yard par 4 that steadily climbs uphill with a gently slanting fairway to the left, pushing landing drives towards the water. As I stood over my approach shot, I looked around and then wrote “best hole so far” down on my scorecard. That was true. Until the next hole.

The 15th and 16th holes both follow the same blueprint: fairway bunkers at the elbow of the dogleg, grabbing the longer drives and forcing a club selection decision off the tee. The lake is still running along the left side of each fairway, giving a completely different feel to these holes than you had on the course’s first 13. At only 330 yards, hole 16 plays much shorter than the previous two lake-side par 4s. But the green slopes enough to make you nervous on your putts and keeps the hole from being an easy birdie. Honestly, after these holes were behind me, I took a moment to look back down the fairway and appreciate how good these holes were.

Hole 17 is a 175-yard par 3 that was playing much longer with a solid wind in our faces. The green is positioned near the entrance into Harding Park and, as I previously mentioned, one of the first views of the course you get as you arrive. The green is slightly elevated and protected by two bunkers in front. It requires a long and accurate tee shot, which is difficult because the 18th hole looms large to the right of the green. And once you finish on 17, it’s just a short walk over to the 18th tee.

The final hole is Harding Park’s most special. A 440-yard par 4, the tee shot requires a carry over the lake to a dogleg left fairway. The longer hitters can take a more aggressive line over the trees to cut off a substantial amount of distance. And by longer hitters, I mean guys like Tiger Woods and John Daly.

The fairway is picturesque. 18 is one of those holes that you want to take your time on. It just has a different feeling. The green is slightly elevated, providing amazing views of the clubhouse and Lake Merced. It is the perfect finishing par 4, giving you everything you could possibly want in a golf hole: strategy, challenge, and beauty all wrapped into one. And then it leaves you feeling grateful for having decided to play Harding Park.

 

 

 

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Opinion & Analysis

Hot & Cold: Where strokes were won and lost at the RBC Heritage

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In “Hot & Cold,” we’ll be focusing each week on what specific areas of the game players excelled and disappointed in throughout the previous tournament. On Sunday, we saw C.T. Pan claim the RBC Heritage, holding his nerve down the tricky finish to win his first title on the PGA Tour. Here’s a look at where some of the most notable players gained and lost strokes over the four days of action

Hot

C.T. Pan rode a hot putter to victory over the weekend at the RBC Heritage. Despite struggling slightly on the greens on day one of the event, Pan hit blistering form over the next three days with the flatstick and finished the tournament having gained over six strokes over the field for his work on the greens. It isn’t the first time that the Taiwanese player has done so either, with this being just his third best weekly performance with the flat-stick of his career. Pan also gained almost four strokes around the green, in what was a week-long display of short game excellence. Take a full look at what clubs drove Pan to victory at the RBC Heritage here.

Matt Kuchar is having a spectacular season on Tour, and at Harbour Town, the American produced the best putting performance of his career to date. The 40-year-old gained 9.4 strokes over the field on the greens at Hilton Head, beating his previous best total of 8.3 strokes which came at the 2012 Players championship, an event which he won. Kuchar’s putting peaked over the weekend, where he gained six of those 9.4 strokes.

It may just have been yet another solid top-20 finish for Webb Simpson at the RBC Heritage, but the signs are very good that something better is just around the corner for the American. Simpson produced his best display of 2019 tee to green at Harbour Town, gaining 7.5 strokes over the field with his long game, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise since the former U.S. Open champion came into the event having gained strokes in this area in nine of his last 10 outings. Look for Simpson to get himself in the thick of things on a Sunday afternoon soon.

Cold

Dustin Johnson’s collapse on Sunday at Harbour Town was a shock to many. The 34-year-old fired a 77 to plummet down the leaderboard in the final round, and Johnson’s irons were the issue behind him not getting the job done. The American lost strokes to the field for his approach play three out of the four days and finished 63rd in this department for the week. Johnson lost a total of 3.2 strokes to the field for his approach play, which is the worst total in this area of his career.

Bryson DeChambeau missed the cut at the RBC Heritage, and the blame for this lies almost entirely with his putting. DeChambeau lost over five strokes to the field for his work on the greens over the two days he was around at Harbour Town, his worst performance with the flatstick since 2017.

Jordan Spieth’s woes continue, and once more those woes continue to be caused from the Texan’s long game. Spieth may have made the cut last week, but the three-time major champion lost three strokes to the field off the tee, and his approach play wasn’t much better. Spieth lost strokes in all of the significant strokes gained categories at the RBC Heritage bar one – putting. Spieth’s putting continues to be the only part of his game that is delivering at the moment, as his play off the tee continues to cause him fits. The 25-year-old has now lost a total of 14.5 strokes for his play off the tee since the WGC-Mexico.

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Podcasts

On Spec: New Level Golf founder and designer Eric Burch

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An in-depth discussion with golf industry veteran Eric Burch: how he got his start in golf, how he has contributed to the club fitting industry, and his new company New Level Golf, which produces forged irons and wedges for every level of golfer.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

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19th Hole

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