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PGA Tour Course Preview: AT&T Byron Nelson

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AT&T Byron Nelson: Course Insight

The PGA Tour descends on TPC Four Seasons Las Colinas this week for the 64th playing of the AT&T Byron Nelson. Nelson Week will be more nostalgic than usual this year as TPC Four Seasons hosts this tournament for its 35th and final time. Next season Trinity Forest Golf Course takes over host duties for The Nelson.

Established in 1944, the AT&T Byron Nelson is the ninth-longest active tournament on Tour, and also the leading fundraiser of all events on the schedule. It consistently attracts the biggest stars on Tour, paying homage to the late Byron Nelson, and in this last hurrah for TPC Four Seasons, the field this year is stacked.

Four of the Top-6 players in the world and eight of the Top-19 will tee it up one last time at TPC Four Seasons in a 156 player field. The headliners include World No. 1 Dustin Johnson, defending champion and World No. 3 Jason Day, World No. 5 and defending Masters Champion Sergio Garcia, and World No. 6 Jordan Spieth. Garcia is the only player in the last 35 years to win here twice. Spieth’s first PGA Tour start came here seven years ago when he arrived as a fresh-faced 16-year-old on a sponsor’s exemption.

Approach view on No.5 at TPC Four Seasons

With panoramic views of the Dallas horizon in the background, TPC Four Seasons is a par-70, 7,166-yard course that features large, firm, undulating greens, tree-lined fairways, a variety of creeks and ponds, brilliant white sand bunkers, and only two par-5 holes. It’s a classic bomber’s course with wide open fairways, but always ranks as one of the most difficult venues on Tour due in part to strong Texas winds. Players will have to hit all kinds of shots and find the right spots on approach, but if they’re hitting their irons well will find plenty of birdie opportunities.

The most difficult hole last year was the slight dogleg-left, 528-yard, par-4 No. 3. It surrendered only 58 birdies all week and dished out 116 bogeys or worse. For shorter hitters, it can be unreachable in two. Water runs along the entire right side of the hole, and fairway bunkers on the left protect the landing zone. Pin positions on the unique heart-shaped green will determine which side of the fairway players should target off the tee. Escaping the 3rd hole with par should be considered a success.

The easiest hole last year was the par-5, 542-yard, No. 7. It gave up a massive 346 birdies during the week while inflicting only minimal damage with 34 bogeys or worse. The hole doglegs severely to the left and rises in elevation all the way to the green. Two bunkers on the right side of the fairway and three bunkers on the left are the only real trouble for players who get loose with their tee shot. The green slopes from back to front, and is protected by bunkers in the back right and front left.

Players will be licking their lips when they walk up to the 323-yard, drivable par-4, 11th hole. No par-4 on the course surrendered more birdies last year than No. 11, where 161 birdies were recorded all week. The risk-reward aspect on this hole comes from deciding on what line to take off the tee. Players who take a rip at the green will have to contend with water running along the entire left side of the hole, with the tee box directly in front of the water. Players who decide on a more conservative approach and lay up right will still have a great angle into the green, but obviously, miss out on any eagle opportunity. Ninety-percent of the field made par or better here last year, and it’s safe to say we’ll see more of the same this week.

GPS view of No.18 from the 18Birdies App

There are certainly longer closing holes on Tour, but the signature 429-yard, par-4 18th at TPC Four Seasons can be one of the most treacherous and climactic holes players will see all year. No. 18 doglegs left around a pond, leaving an uphill approach into a green protected by a bunker on the right and water on the left. Players who find the right part of the fairway will have a pretty straightforward second shot. Missing the fairway will require some creativity on approach to save par. Last year this hole served up 73 birdies and dished out 99 bogeys or worse.

Players to Watch

Matt Kuchar has made nine cuts in nine starts at the AT&T Byron Nelson, including three top-10s and a career best solo third here last year. If you’re looking for a horse for the course, Kuchar’s your guy. Kooch is coming off a disappointing 82nd place finish at The PLAYERS, and has only snuck into the top-10 twice in 14 events this season. However, TPC Four Seasons is clearly a course that fits Kuchar’s eye, and that should be enough to jump start the Olympic Bronze Medalist’s season. If Kuchar can keep it in the fairway, expect him to be on the first page of the leaderboard come Sunday and pick up his first top-5 finish of the season.

Jordan Spieth is a favorite to win this week, but he’s also clearly a frustrated golfer right now. He’s missed the cut in two of his last four starts, and even lost his cool last week at The PLAYERS, removing his cell phone from his bag to take a picture of a bunker he thought wasn’t raked properly. You might think Spieth’s hometown tournament would be the ideal place to get back on track, but Spieth has struggled his entire career at TPC Four Seasons. The former No. 1 Player in the World has finished in the top-20 only once in his previous five starts. Granted the extra obligations adds a bit more pressure for Spieth to narrate the feel-good story and win here, but Spieth just isn’t making putts this year like we expect him to, and he’s not hitting fairways off the tee. You have to do one or the other to score well here. Expect Spieth to finish outside the top-25.

Winner Prediction

Bud Cauley’s playing inspired golf right now and is primed for a huge performance. He’s picked up three top-10 finishes in his last three starts and finished solo-fourth here last year. Cauley’s 12th on Tour this season in Strokes Gained: Approach The Green, and his iron play has never been better. If Cauley keeps mistakes off the tee to a minimum, he should ride his current momentum into the winner’s circle.

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