Pat Mayo provides a quick preview and makes his early 2021 AT&T Bryon Nelson picks in his first look and research for the PGA TOUR event.
2021 AT&T Byron Nelson: Field
2021 AT&T Byron Nelson Field
156 Players | Top 65 & Ties Make the Cut
First Tee: Thursday, May 13
Defending Champion: Sung Kang
For many years the week leading into a major championship would draw a scant amount of elite names. Some would use it as a final tune-up to work on the lacking parts of their games while the next tier of PGA TOUR pros all battled for a life-changing payday. That trend has started to reverse lately, though. For example, with
Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka and Jordan Spieth in the field for the 2021 AT&T Byron Nelson, it’s already stronger than many of the early season events, Pebble Beach included. This field is about on par with Phoenix. That’s an excellent outcome for the Byron Nelson, a tournament that has severely lacked star power over the past half-decade.
Maybe it’s a one-year blip with TPC Craig Ranch beginning its five-year run as tournament host or maybe players really hated Trinity Forest. It seems like PGA TOUR sure did. Trinity Forest had a four-year contract with the TOUR to host the event, but we only saw the event played on the converted landfill twice in that run. Obviously, COVID knocked it off the schedule 12 months ago, but it fell victim to some unfortunate circumstances the other two seasons.
There was a massive heatwave in 2018 for the first three rounds when temperatures pushed 100 degrees (if you were ever wondering why the PGA Championship and U.S. Open are never played in Texas and Florida), and around 50 patrons needed medical treatment for heat-related issues in just the course of the second round. Then, on Sunday that year, a downpour out of nowhere pushed the tee times and almost no one was there to watch in person.
The following season, rain continued to be an issue, wiping out the Pro-Am Wednesday, eventually pushing the conclusion of the third round into Sunday morning. This resulted in Aaron Wise and Sung Kang walking away as victors those two years, which didn’t really help the cause. In fact, looking back at those two leaderboards, Brooks Koepka and Marc Leishman were the only two top 50-ranked players to come inside the top 10 in either year.
Now, none of that is the fault of Trinity Forest, of course. It seems like this was a “Lemony Snicket” situation. And, despite what I thought in 1996, “Bio Dome” was not a documentary. There were other problems, however. There are rumors players complained about the location and inaccessibility to ritz amenities, especially after the event moved from TPC Four Seasons, which was, unsurprisingly, adjacent to a high-end Four Seasons. Being an “American Links” style course, it provided very little shade for the spectators from the sweltering heat. Having a wide-open layout isn’t an issue in Scotland; in Texas, not great, BOB. Apparently, the parking situation for the fans was a disaster as well.
Enter David Craig, the local developer and businessman who named the course after himself. TPC Craig Ranch is essentially the opposite of Trinity Forest. Craig wanted his course to event host a PGA TOUR event, so since the early 2000s, he kept asking the TOUR questions about how it needed to be set up to achieve that. And that’s everything from length and design of the course to the parking (all will be within five minutes of the course, no shuttles, which sounds like a dream, btw) to a lavish hotel next to the course with 285 rooms, 33,000 square feet of meeting space, multiple restaurants and a resort-style lazy river. That structure was expected to be finished in 2022, but COVID hit, and now it’s 2023.
Is the course switch the reason behind the better field? Who can really say, but it certainly looks that way. If it was just the five elite names at the top of the board in attendance that could be explained away. Spieth is from Dallas, and Bryson lives there. Rahm and
DJ are trying to fine-tune their games, which are slightly off right now. And Brooks hasn't played since The Masters, so getting in at least two competitive rounds will be critical if he wants a chance to win his third Wanamaker Trophy. See, easy explanations.
But that doesn’t cover Daniel Berger, Scottie Scheffler, Hideki Matsuyama, Will Zalatoris, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Lee Westwood, Jason Day, Sergio Garcia, Ryan Palmer and Si WOOOO Kim lurking around the grounds as a part of the 156-player field. Additionally, Antoine Rozner and John Catlin (both recent European Tour winners) earned an invite to Dallas in advance of the PGA Championship.
Ryan Lumsden from the APLS Tour, winner of the 2019 Byron Nelson Collegiate Golf Award, will also play. As will Pierceson Coody, Cole Hammer and Tyler Strafaci. Kevin Stadler is in on medical exemption. He’s now made two cuts since 2014 after seeing the weekend.
Oh, Thomas Pieters is playing too. Because of his drop in the world rankings (now No. 88 from as high as No. 23), the bombing Belgian only plays on the PGA TOUR in majors or those Caribbean alternate events. It’s pretty comical looking at his result log on the PGA TOUR for the past two years: Corales Puntacana, Puerto Rico Open, U.S. Open, British Open, U.S. Open, PGA Championship. Pieters broke his finger at the end of 2020 but has played some fairly consistent golf in 2021, regardless. He’s yet to miss a cut between the EURO and PGA Tours and has five top 15 finishes in his past five starts between the tours. He was last seen finishing T8 with Tom Lewis in the Zurich team event, yet hadn’t played a singles stroke-play event since the end of March in Puntacana.
2021 AT&T Byron Nelson: Key Stats
Proximity 175+ Yards
Par 4s Gained 450-500 Yards
SG: Off The Tee
Mayo’s Key Stats powered by FantasyNational.com
2021 AT&T Byron Nelson: Course
Course: TPC Craig Ranch
Grass: Zoysia fairways and bentgrass greens
2021 AT&T Byron Nelson: Past Winners
First Year at New Course
2019 Sung Kang -23
2018 Aaron Wise -23
2017 Billy Horschel -12
2016 Sergio Garcia -15
2015 Steven Bowditch -18
2021 AT&T Byron Nelson: Notes
While the 2021 AT&T Byron Nelson is the first PGA TOUR tournament hosted at TPC Craig Ranch, it’s not the first time it has held a professional event. James HAHHHHHNNNNNNNN was runner up at TPC Craig Ranch at the Korn Ferry Tour Championship in 2012. Of other players from that field, Luke List (T13), Cameron Percy (T19) and Brice Garnett (T19) will be in the field this week. From the 2008 Korn Ferry Tour Championship, Marc Leishman finished in a tie for seventh. Webb Simpson, who isn’t playing this week, finished T11 that year, in a tie with Kyle Reifers. I assumed Reifers was retired, but after a Google search, it appears he’s still playing on the KFT. Simpson’s not playing this week following his withdrawal a week ago with a neck injury.
It’s tough taking too much away from tournaments that happened almost a decade ago, but I think you can glean how this course is going to play in terms of scoring. In 2012, TPC Craig Ranch played as a par 71 and seven players cracked double-digits below par. Currently, TPC Craig Ranch is listed as a par 72 (always subject to change on Tuesday once the PGA TOUR updates their info), and even though you’d expect conditions to be slightly more difficult with a PGA TOUR set up versus a KFT set up, anticipate a lot of scoring this week.
The 12th hole can play as a par 4 or par 5. It is a par 4 from 493-yard Tour tees. It is a par 5 from the 547-yard Tournament and Craig Ranch tees. I thought it was likely they’d use Tour tees, making it a par 71, but early indications show that’s not the case.
Rowlett Creek runs throughout the course and will test the field to either lay up or try and clear the hazards on about half the holes, but looking at scorecard distance, it’s unlikely to provide too much difficulty from the fairway. Frankly, with the way the holes are laid out, expect a larger than normal amount of approach shots from 175 yards and beyond. All four par 5s measure between 547 and 569 yards, and three of the par 3s are at least 216 yards. There are seven holes immediately where you’ll encounter approaches in that range.
Beyond that, there are six par 4s over 450 yards, with another two under 360 yards. No. 14 appears like it will be drivable by most of the field but with some significant risk, which we want from short par 4s. It’s a slight right-to-left drive guarded by bunkers to the right and a massive water hazard to the left. Expect a lot of the field to bail out into the right greenside bunkers and be forced to get it up and down for birdie.
No. 6 is listed at 361 yards, but with no hazard area, some of the bigger hitters may give it a go from the box. It’s 341 yards to the front of the green with bunkers situated on each side of the putting surface. Like No. 14, it’s slightly right-to-left from the tee box and a favorable bounce could sneak a drive between the front and right side bunker and squirt onto the putting surface. I’d expect most of the field to simply take iron off the tee and get to their preferred wedge range, but when Bryson, DJ, Brooks, Rahm and other bombers are on the grounds, they may make a play at it.
Per Fantasy National, the best players in the field on par 4s under 350 yards over the past 100 rounds are Patton Kizzire, Scott Piercy, Hideki Matsuyama, Daniel Berger and Scottie Scheffler.
While we won’t get to experience it this year with COVID-19 restrictions, No. 17 is expected to resemble No. 16 at Waste Management. When full capacity is allowed again, they’ll be able to host upward of 5,000 people at the hole. It appears as though there will only be 25% capacity this week.
2021 AT&T Byron Nelson Picks
Dustin Johnson ($11,400) DJ has been slowly piecing his game together this season. At the beginning of the year, his usual elite driving simply wasn’t good. That’s been fixed since The PLAYERS, though. The around the green game had been solid, but then he’d do things like lose 10 strokes putting in an event. When the putter finally showed up again, he was no better than field average from the green side. Then there are his irons. DJ’s irons started the year out on fire then completely went in the tank. Between The PLAYERS and the Heritage, he was dropping more than two strokes on average to the field on his approaches. So the wait began for the irons to flip. And they did, kind of, at the Valspar. He was four strokes better on his approach at Copperhead than the week prior at Harbour Town and the driving remained at an elite level. He just couldn’t chip or putt at the Valspar. That stuff can flip week to week, but as long as DJ’s trending back upward in the ball-striking department, he could tear apart a course that seems overly susceptible to a long hitter with control of their accuracy.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Dustin Johnson (knee) has withdrawn from the AT&T Byron Nelson.
Will Zalatoris ($9,700)
After gaining strokes off the tee in 13 of 14 starts, Will Z has now dropped with the driver in two straight. Maybe it’s burnout following The Masters, but it doesn’t appear like something that will persist for long. If he can flip his driving back to normal levels and keep up his quality approach game — he’s dropped strokes once with his irons since the COVID restart last summer — he’ll have the opportunity for enough score to challenge the top of the leaderboard. Plus, over the past 36 rounds, Zalatoris is one of a handful of players in this field to rank inside the Top 25 of both key proximity ranges 175-200 (fourth) and 200-plus (21st).
Doug Ghim ($7,500)
There’s a golf event this week and Ghim Reaper is playing, so of course, I’ll be taking him. One of these weeks he’s going to be a non-disaster on the greens and I’m not going to miss it. He’s dropped strokes on the putting surface in six straight events, yet continues crushing his irons. It’s a very small sample, but three of his four best career putting performances have come on bentgrass, so I’ll go back to the well another week.
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Pat Mayo is an award-winning video host and producer of long and short-form content, and the host of The Pat Mayo Experience daily talk show. (Subscribe for video or audio). Mayo (@ThePME) won the 2020 Fantasy Sports Writing Association Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year and Golf Writer of the Year awards, along with the Fantasy Sports Trade Association Best Sports Betting Analyst award, and was a finalist for four FSWA Awards in 2020 (Best Podcast, Best Video, Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year, Golf Writer of the Year). His 21 FSWA nominations lead all writers this decade and are third-most all-time. Mayo has been recognized across multiple sports (Football, Baseball & Golf), mediums (Video, Writing & Podcasting), genre (Humor), and game formats (Daily Fantasy and Traditions Season Long). Beyond sports, Mayo covers everything from entertainment to pop culture to politics. If you have a fantasy question, general inquiry or snarky comment, ship it to Mayo at ThePatMayoExperience@gmail.com and the best will be addressed on the show.
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