Coop’s AT&T Byron Nelson Preview
This week we head back to Texas for the first of two consecutive weeks of golf in the Longhorn state. The first tournament is located outside Dallas, Texas at the Trinity Forest Golf Club (TFG). If this course doesn’t sound familiar to you that is because this is the first year the AT&T Byron Nelson will be played on this course. This means that all previous course history data for this tournament becomes mostly meaningless. The field this week consists of 156 players and is not one of the stronger fields we have seen this year.
Trinity Forest Golf Club
TFG is a Ben Crenshaw designed course with assistance from Bill Coore that plays as a links style course at around 7,350 yards for a par 71 course. According to its website, TFG features native grasses, dramatic bunkering and complex greens while designer Bill Coore says it has many similarities to Pinehurst #2. On a side note, I have played Pinehurst #2 and went to round one of the US Open in 2014 and I can honestly tell you I only remember one hole. While Pinehurst has great golf history I would personally spend my money on other top notch courses if I had the choice. The website for TFG has some videos from former US Open Champion Geoff Oglivy were he discusses the course and he also had this to say about the course. “TRINITY FOREST IS GOING TO MAKE US USE OUR BRAINS A LITTLE BIT…YOU HAVE TO WORK OUT WHERE YOUR BEST ANGLES ARE…ONE SIDE OF THE FAIRWAY IS EASY, THE OTHER SIDE IS GOING TO BE DIFFICULT…YOUR MISTAKES ARE MAGNIFIED, BUT YOUR GOOD STUFF IS MAGNIFIED AS WELL…SOMETIMES HERE AT TRINITY, THE PIN ISN’T NECESSARILY THE TARGET…IT WILL BE SEVERE WITH THE WRONG SHOT, BUT VERY FRIENDLY WITH THE RIGHT SHOT…YOU’LL HAVE FUN ALL DAY IF YOU HIT THE RIGHT SHOT…”
Many people have said TFG is a course unlike any others on the PGA tour since it plays as a link course which is rare on tour since we typically see the country club or resort style courses. TFG is defended by 88 bunkers but has no water hazards and since it was built on what use to be a landfill there are very few trees so the potential for wind to play a big factor is possible. The greens this week are champion bermuda and since the course is designed by Ben Crenshaw I would not be surprised if putting is challenging this week. I could be wrong but Crenshaw’s biggest strength of his game was putting and it would not be surprising to see him make it an emphasis at TFG. Another feature for TFG that is rarely seen on the PGA tour is the double green that makes up holes #3 and #11. The average green size on The PGA tour is approximately 6,000 square feet while the size of the double green is 35,000 square feet which means we could see some very long putts at these two holes due to erratic approach shots. When researching the course description it sounds as if many of the greens have multiple tiers and the area around the greens is shaved rough which means iron play will need to be precise to avoid roll off. Speaking of roll off the majority of the greens are raised with sharp fall offs which means you will need to have a solid short game. I did find were the greens will be running at 10.5 on the stimpmeter which is very slow for PGA tour standards but due to the slopes and undulations they will play faster. When looking at the scorecard it appears that the frontside is the better scoring nine as the majority of the holes play shorter while there are two par 5’s that are reachable in two. The par 4’s on the front nine are shorter than the back nine while the 5th hole is a driveable par 4. It would appear that TFG starts to show its length on the par 4 ninth hole that plays at 505 yards. On the back side there are two par 4’s that play over 470 yards while the finishing hole is a 505 yard par 4. The lone par 5 on the backside doesn’t appear to be a eagle hole as it plays at 630 yards. We will have to wait and see how these long holes play out because they may play shorter than indicated since the course is set up to play fast with plenty of roll from your tee shots. I have also heard you may see several approach shots that are left short so they can roll onto the greens while in contrast I have heard you need to hit high iron shots in order for the ball to hold the green. The fairways are L1-F Zoysia, soon to be re-named Trinity Zoysia, and are the only fairways in the world with this type of grass. Both strains are of recent vintage, developed by Texas A&M for the unique climate of Texas. Last year when the PGA tour visited Eagle Point and TPC Avenel for the first time they both received rave reviews due to being lush and green. Don’t expect that this week from TFG as you will see plenty of brown since the course is watered on a limited basis. The big question this week is how will the course play. So far from the pictures I have seen this week it would appear to be more lush and green than brown and fast. I would not be surprised to see the course over watered this week in order to slow it down because the last thing the tournament directors want is controversy because that will not entice marquee players to enter next year.
Stats To Focus On This Week
This week I will be focusing on Strokes Gained Tee to Green as I feel it is a good measure of who is playing solid golf. I have heard from multiple people that this is a second shot course so I will be looking for players who are Gaining Strokes on Approach. The greens this week are quite large so I will be looking for players that are hitting approach shots close to the pin, Proximity Average. Finally, the greens this week have sharp fall off and with the conditions potentially being fast I foresee many of those shots rolling off the greens so Scrambling % will be high on my radar.
The Main Event: Smylie vs Bowdo
You know the field is bad when I start with what I am most excited about this week as we have the rematch for the official worse golfer on tour, Smylie Kaufman vs Steven Bowdwitch. In the first match Kaufman pulled out a win at the Puntacanta Resort golf tournament by playing some of his best golf of the year. Let’s start with Bowdo as he has played in two tournaments this year. At the Valero Texas Open he carded a 83-82 for a score of 21 over while a few weeks earlier he was in better form at the Puntacanta tournament shooting a 76-74 for a +6. We have to go back to the Wyndham Championship in September of 2017 to find the last cut Bowdo made as it was quite the achievement since it was only one of two cuts he made in 2017 while he entered 27 total tournaments. It’s hard to believe Bowdo won a couple tournaments on the PGA tour, I honestly believe he has the same issues Rick Ankiel had as I have never seen a pga tour golfer lose his game as fast as Bowdo did. In all honesty though, Bowdo appears to be a great guy and is a funny follow on Twitter as he is often the first to mock his own game. Bowdo’s opponent is no slouch, Kaufman is having a much better year than Bowdo as he has made three of his seventeen cuts with the last being at the Career Builder Challenge. Kaufman should put up a good challenge this week as he is familiar with shooting scores of 80 or higher since he has accomplished this six times since his last made cut. I expect a big let down from Kaufman this week as he had to mentally and physically exert all he had in there last matchup as he performed the best he has since early January. I think it will be close but I have Bowdo at 80-81 while Kaufman will finish 81-82 earning the tag as worse golfer.
Studs At The Top
DK did a very good job this week pricing Jordan Spieth (11.9k) so that you really have to think if you want to play him or not. Spieth is the defending champion at The Open, which was played on a links style course so many will think that he will have a big advantage over the field. In addition Spieth is a member at TFG which I am sure will peak people’s interest but I am not sure if it is a big advantage since the course has only been open since October 2016. If you decide to play Spieth this week he has to win because you will have limited win equity within the remaining portion of your roster. Not only does Spieth have to win you will need a couple of the less known players on your roster to T10. I expect Spieth to be very popular this week so if you play him I suggest you go in at a high ownership so you can differentiate your lineups with him.
The biggest question I keep asking myself about Matt Kuchar (10.7k) is can he win this week. I feel that with the price tag Kuch is carrying this week you need a minimum T5 because much like Spieth the win equity that you will have on the rest of your roster will be limited. Kuch showed last year that he has the ability to play links style courses but what concerns me this week is that his ball striking has not been stellar recently. I don’t have much interest in Kuch this week as I feel he will most likely finish 10th-25th.
Sergio Garcia (10.1k) appears to still be in baby mode as he has not been the same player since his wife gave birth. Garcia had his debacle on the 15th hole at the Masters which led to him missing the cut and since that hole his game has been in shambles. Garcia preceded to miss the cut at the Valero Texas Open and followed that up with a 70th at the Players Championship last week. The price on Garcia this week is tempting but his iron game is not sharp and I will be staying away this week.
It will be interesting to see how the DFS community reacts to Hideki Matsuyama (9.9k) this week since he missed the cut last week at the Players Championship while the week before at the Wells Fargo he was a MDF casualty. While there is concern for how Mats is playing I have no problem going back to the well, especially if he comes in at lower ownership. Mats would have made the cut last week if not for his horrific play on hole #17. This week Mats will not have to worry about water holes since there are none but what concerns me is his ball striking hasn’t been sharp which means he will have long putts to contend with. What I do like is Mats has been playing very good golf around the greens which I feel will be important this week.
I am hoping that Marc Leishman (9.1k) goes underowned this week as he is the player that peaks my interest this week. Leishman has finished in the T6 at the last four Open championships and in my opinion is the best links player in the field this week. I am probably dreaming thinking that Leishman will not be heavily owned due to his price but there have been instances in weaker fields were he has been overlooked. Leishman checks the boxes this week in several categories and is someone I will be overweight on if he is indeed popular.
Nobody should be surprised when Billy Horschel (9.7k) comes in at low ownership this week due to his high price tag. Horschel is the defending champion of this tournament but that means nothing this week since we are on a new course that has no comparable characteristics to TPC Four Seasons which was the course used previously. Horschel played well at the Valero Texas Open as well as the RBC Heritage while last week he played ok at the Players Championship so what can we expect this week. Horschel has been struggling around the greens which is a concern if his irons are not sharp.
I am not quite sure what to do with Jimmy Walker (9.5k) this week because I played him last week and he did well. Walker plays well in Texas in general and I expect him to be highly owned this week due to his performance last week. Walker is familiar with links golf while he has had mixed results over his career. Walker checks the boxes with most Stats this week but I must decide between him, Leishman, and a few players yet to be discussed as I can’t play them all because I won’t be able to get enough edge over there predicted ownership.
One of the most interesting players in my opinion this week is Branden Grace (9.4k) because I can see him being a very popular player due to his links style background plus his current form. Since the beginning of the calendar year Grace has made all six cuts on the PGA tour with his best finishes being 8th and 20th. How much if any I have of Grace will depend upon how I feel the scoring will be at TFG this week. The lower the scores the better I like Grace while the higher the worse. If you look at the tournammets Grace has played on the PGA tour from last year to current he has only eclipsed -9 or higher once while he has scored between -5 and -8 eight times in 26 tournammets meaning he has scored -4 or worse 17 times.
I feel that Brandt Snedeker (8.9k) is in a fairly good spot this week to surprise many people with his play. Sneds had two bad holes last week at the Players Championship which should help keep people off him this week. Up until the missed cut last week by Sneds he had been trending positively and I will not let two holes keep me off him this week. Sneds has posted a few solid finishes over the pond on links courses so he is familiar with the conditions he will be facing this week. I also like Sneds as he is a very good putter and I hope he can use that to his advantage this week.
The question for the next player is will we get the hot or cold Grayson Murray (8.5k) this week. When you look at his results over the past several tournaments he is boom or bust but since we are on bermuda greens I feel confident he will boom. I also like that the weak field should help Murray become a safer play this week in case he does decide to implode it will take more than normal to miss the cut. Murray has been solid tee to green but when you look at key individual stats he has been average due to his inconsistency. If Murray comes in moderately owned I will be interested but I don’t see myself playing more than 20% of him which means I may be off.
I have played Peter Uihlien (8.2k) a handful of times this year with high expectations only to earn suspect to horrible results so it is no surprise the week I don’t play him he manages to finish well at the Wells Fargo. Uihlien is the 57th ranked player in the world and I get the feeling people will flock toward him due to his euro experience. I have mixed thoughts on Uihlien this week because he only had one very good round at the Wells Fargo that was driven by a hot putter.
Can you say Kevin Na (7.2k) chalk week because I feel it is coming. Na is one of the few players below 7.5k with name recognition which will make him a more popular play. I hit Na on the head last week saying he will troll the DFS world with a solid finish since he had missed his last two cuts at TPC Sawgrass plus his last two of the current season. I really don’t have much interest in Na this week as I feel he could finish middle of pack to missing cut. Na isn’t the greatest links player and we all know he will be the first to complain about course conditions which could be dicey this week.
While I am sure this group of players will be popular due to there recent performances I am not sure how interested I am in them this week at this point. It’s often said that it takes sometime for players who are not familiar with links golf to adjust to the style and I feel these players possibly have very little experience with what they will be faced with this week. If any of these players have experience playing links style golf courses it came in there days as a junior golfer because I have found no indications that show them playing as professionals. The player I feel most confident playing this week is Beau Hossler (9.0k) because he continues to impress me with his game style along with his composure. Hossler is a Dallas local while also being a member of TFG which should help him since he uses the facilities as his home course. What I like about Hossler is he continues to show people that he is a very good putter of the golf ball while my concern is his approach game which has been lackluster recently. I am hoping the familiar confines will help relax Hossler and allow him to strike the ball like he did a few weeks ago at the Houston Open. Hossler will be popular this week but I am willing to double my ownership on him this week so I can gain an edge on the field.
I am sure that Aaron Wise (8.8k) will garner plenty of attention this week after his second place finish at the Wells Fargo a few weeks back. The biggest question is will people be willing to pay the price tag this week for Wise as he is on average 1.5k more expensive than what he has been this year. I am concerned about Wise this week since I have no idea what links experience he carries into this week plus his short game has been less than stellar.
This will be the third professional tournament for Joaquin Niemann (7.8k) while in his first two he has a missed cut and a sixth place finish. Although I have no idea if Niemann has ever stepped foot on a links course I will take his sheer talent verse the majority of this field. I liked Niemann at the Valero Texas Open due to a weak field and I once again feel that will play in his favor this week. Niemann was owned at 3% in his first professional tournament while he came in around 10% at the Wells Fargo were he missed the cut. I would expect his ownership this week to be closer to the 10% even though he is priced almost 1k above his previous prices due to the weak field. Niemann is at the top of the field when it comes to strokes gained approach and tee to green while near the bottom in proximity and scrambling.
The last young gun is Keith Mitchell (7.8k) who continues to play very good golf. Mitchell was an MDF casualty at the Players Championship but prior to that he had finishes of 34th, 26th and 55th in his three previous stroke play tournaments. It should not be a surprise that Mitchell has his two best finishes in weak fields this year a 2nd at the Puntacanta Resort and a 6th at the Houston Open. Mitchell is a long hitter but his strength will be negated this week and he will need to rely on his approach shots and putter to get the job done. Mitchell has been solid tee to green gaining strokes but he is just average in all other stats this week. When you look at his results at short courses like Sawgrass, Honda, and Heritage it tells you to stay away from him this week especially since he is going to be popular.
Playing For A US Open Berth
At the conclusion of the AT&T Byron Nelson this week the T60 players in the world golf rankings will earn a bid to the US Open if they had not yet qualified. There are only a handful of players who have chosen to play this week that will have the chance to put themselves in the T60 but don’t worry the same qualification standard is in place for the tournament ending with the St. Jude’s Classic. One of the players who has chosen to play this week is Charles Howell (8.7k) who is ranked 59th in the world. The rule to follow when playing CH3 is play him before the Masters as those tournaments typically fit his game style much better than the tournammets post Masters. CH3 is trying his best to get that monkey off his back as he made 7/9 cuts last year post Masters with two T20 finishes including a second place finish at TPC Avenel while this year he has finishes of 17th and 21st post Masters. CH3 is playing his best golf of the year over his last five tournaments due to a hot putter that he did not have earlier this year.
This week the players will be putting on large greens that they are not familiar with which means Adam Scott (9.2k) will struggle more than most. Scott has been putting better the last couple weeks but I am predicting he regresses this week. Scott is the 65th ranked player in the world so he has plenty to play for but I don’t know how comfortable he will be this week. Scott obviously felt good last week as he has played TPC Sawgrass numerous times but this week being on a new course we may see the player we have become all to familiar with. It will be interesting to see what the ownership is on Scott since he is almost 2k more than what people had been paying for him.
I have said this a couple times recently and will continue to pass on the 74th ranked player in the world, James Hahn (7.6k). Hahn prefers the west coast course conditions and his recent performances of missing three consecutive cuts continues to make him an easy fade even in weak fields.
One thing to keep in mind when looking for sleepers is that this is a big tournament for them because they know the field is weaker than normal and there chances of finishing T10 are increased tremendously. When you finish T10 you gain exemption into the following eligible tournament which many of these players are not eligible for. This is one reason I prefer to stay away from Kevin Na because this is just another tournament for him. The first player that interests me this week is Ben Crane (7.7k). Crane is playing solid golf making his last four cuts while he has been solid on his approach shots. I also like that Crane has competed in the Open Championship years ago and had a solid finish.
While everyone continues to focus on Keith Mitchell a pivot that I like this week is Matt Jones (7.6k). Jones will fly under the radar this week as his form has not been the best but I feel he is a player that has the talent to compete in a weak field. If you look at Josh Culp’s correlated courses this week one is TPC Southwind and Jones has a very good track record at that course. Jones will be less than 1% owned this week while he should easily make the cut and potentially compete for solid results.
Aaron Baddeley (7.5k) is another player that has links golf experience and how showed some positive results when playing them. Baddeley has made seven of his last eight cuts and has solid pedigree compared to many of the other players in this field. Bads checks the boxes in all stat categories this week except for scrambling.
A few weeks ago Abraham Ancer (7.5k) was the chalk and now I have not heard his name mentioned at all this week. Ancer has made eight of ten cuts this year but his golf game appeared to peak a few weeks ago when he finished 8th at Houston while he was 13th and 16th the two previous tournaments at Corales Puntacanta and Honda. I think the players in the 7.5k to 7.8k zone are going to be ignored this week because I feel people will pay down for other players who are equally as talented so they can spend more at the top.
I feel pretty confident that not many people are going to click on Alex Cjeka (7.4k) this week as his form is suspect since he has missed five of nine cuts this week. I like Cjeka this week because he has the ability to make several birdies and is familiar with links golf. When you look at the stats for Cjeka he is playing well tee to green and around the green while his iron play has been average.
JJ Spaun (7.4k) cost me earlier in the year when I was playing him and he was not performing well. After not playing Spaun for the last several weeks I am once again feeling it’s time to go back in on him so I can recoup some of my losses. Spaun will be under 1% owned this week but his talent level is much better than the majority of this field. Spaun has been playing very good golf tee to green and gaining strokes with his approach shots as he ranks very high. Spaun is a hot putting week away from competing for a T10 and in a weak field I am willing to take my chances.
A player I had pegged to play this week before his performance at the Players Championship were he finished 23rd was Richy Werenski (7.1k). Unfortunately as the week progresses it would appear many more people are targeting Werenski. I have no interest in playing a chalky Werenski but if he stays around 5% I will be in. Werenski is hitting the ball very good, especially on his approach shots.
If I don’t get to play Werenski this week I feel a good pivot will be Peter Malnati (7.0k). If this tourney was the week after the Wells Fargo then Malnati would be in the position Werenski is in since he finished 34th at the Wells Fargo. Malnati has been playing solid golf making three consecutive cuts.
Players I Will Fade This Week
Other Players I Like
Good luck to everyone this week and see you next week at the FT Worth Invitational. Thanks