Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson and Other Players to Watch at the Byron Nelson

May 26, 2015

The AT&T Byron Nelson is a very complicated event. Every year it raises more money than any other tournament on Tour. It has given $139 million to local charities since 1968, including $5.6 million in 2014. When Byron Nelson was still alive, the top players in the game would show up to play out of respect for one of the game’s greats, but since his death in 2006, marquee attendance has been on the decline.

The course is the big problem. Despite all of the changes over the years, the course at TPC Four Seasons Resort Las Colinas in Irving, Texas, is not very memorable and earned the distinction of being voted (along with the North Course at Torrey Pines) as the worst course on Tour in Sports Illustrated’s annual anonymous players poll. In 2019, the event will move to a new course called Trinity Forest, which is being built by the Coore & Crenshaw design firm just for this event.

This year’s field is solid, with 15 top-50 players scheduled to play, including Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Jimmy Walker and Keegan Bradley. The course is a strategic, thinking man’s course: there are many artificial hazards to plot your way around, while the greens lack undulation and shouldn’t pose much of a challenge.

It used to be that the player who hit the most greens would win this tournament. Between 1998 and 2008, every champion except for two were in the top-nine in greens hit, with five of them leading in that category. Since the course redesign in 2007, however, only two of the seven winners have been in the top-six of greens hit with three of them outside of the top-35. In 2014, Brendon Todd ranked T55 in GIR.

Now it’s about hitting fairways. Between 2000 and 2010, the champions’ average rank in fairways hit was 25th. In 2011, Keegan Bradley ranked T10, in 2012 Jason Dufner was 2nd, in 2013 Sang-Moon Bae was T39, while Brendon Todd was first in driving accuracy in 2014.

Experience used to be important in winning this event, and if you look at the list of the champions since Byron Nelson took over in 1968, it’s a who’s who of golf. But when Nelson died in September of 2006, things started changing. Since 2010, four of the five winners have been first-timers — the exception being Jason Dufner who in 2012 won for the second time — as less established players took advantage of a weaker field.

So in looking for a winner, start looking for guys that hit it straight and are still looking for that first PGA Tour win.

PLAYER   2014   2013   2012   2011   2010  
Brendon de Jonge   29 DNP DNP DNP CUT
Marc Leishman T3 12 3 CUT 12
Dustin Johnson T7 DNP DNP 20 T7
Graham DeLaet T7 T10 41 DNP CUT
Jordan Spieth 37 68 DNP 32 16


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