Sure this week’s AT&T Byron Nelson is about winning a tournament bearing the name of one of the greats of the game.
But it’s also as much about this week as next because this week’s go round at the TPC Craig Ranch is the last chance for players to tune up their games ahead of the year’s second men’s major.
The PGA will head to the Gil Hanse restored Southern Hills in Oklahoma next week and that tournament will be as much front of mind for some as this week’s trophy.
Yes, Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson and the like want their names on the Byron Nelson tournament.
But given a choice between lifting the trophy this week or next? Even the tournament namesake wouldn’t begrudge them that preference.
(Though he would no doubt advise simply winning both and eliminating the dilemma.)
DEFENDING CHAMPION: K.H. Lee produced a final round of six-under 66 to overtake 54-hole leader Sam Burns and claim the trophy by three shots. Burns had seemingly taken control of the event Friday with a stunning 10-under 62 but as is so often the case after such extraordinary play, he struggled to maintain the momentum at the weekend.
RIGHT: K.H. Lee claimed his first PGA Tour win in 2021 courtesy of a Sunday charge. PHOTO: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images.
A two hour weather delay Sunday likely did little to help Burns but birdies at each of the last two holes from Lee proved he was a deserving champion.
COURSE: This is the second straight week one of the Tour’s own TPC network courses plays host to the world’s best.
TPC Craig Ranch was opened in 2004, a design collaboration between Tom Weiskopf and Phil Smith, and is regarded as one of the 1973 Open champion’s more exacting tests.
A small creek criss-crosses the property and has been used to excellent effect by Weiskopf, switching from lateral to cross hazard to create interest with both tee and approach shots.
Diagonally off set greens at several holes demand precise iron play to find pins though last year’s scoring suggests a field of this calibre finds that little barrier to scoring.
2021 was the course’s first PGA Tour event (it has hosted Korn Ferry Tour qualifying in the past) and six players finished 20-under or better with K.H. Lee’s winning score of 25-under low even by PGA Tour standards.
Given the importance of next week’s tournament, a repeat of the 2021 setup seems unlikely with players no doubt requesting a more difficult examination ahead of a major week.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: The big purse, position in the calendar and the pull of Byron Nelson’s name sees a strong field assembled with 19 of the world’s top-50 players in attendance.
World No.1 Scottie Scheffler leads the way in just his second event since winning The Masters last month with fellow top-10 stalwarts Justin Thomas (8), Jordan Spieth (9) and Dustin Johnson (10) also in the field.
Native Texan Spieth was the best of those here last year with a T9 result and is always a danger when he plays in his home state.
However, with the lure of a career grand slam awaiting at Southern Hills Spieth’s focus may well be on Oklahoma rather than McKinney and that could work against him.
In fact, at the end of the World Golf Rankings where Spieth resides there is likely some truth in that for all the players which is not to say they can’t or won’t win, just that it may not be their sole focus from the first tee Thursday.
Last year’s runner-up Sam Burns returns after a break and while his form has looked patchy this season, he is a two-time winner this season and proven performer at this venue.
He was runner-up in his last outing alongside Billy Horschel at the Zurich teams event and a winner at March’s Valspar championship so clearly likes this time of year.
Australia’s Jason Day has shown flashes of his 2015/16 brilliance in recent weeks and while he is yet to put it together for four consecutive days that outcome continues to creep ever closer.
From the outside it appears there is only one small piece of the puzzle missing and whether it be a key swing thought or mental trick, it seems it won’t be long before he finds it.
A solid showing – or even a win – would be a huge boost ahead of next week’s PGA and might just kickstart the comeback the Queenslander seems destined to have.
72-HOLE RECORD: 263 (-25, K.H. Lee, 2021)
18-HOLE RECORD: 62 (Sam Burns, 2021)
PAST AUSSIE WINNERS: Peter Thomson (1956), Bruce Devlin (1969), Adam Scott (2008), Jason Day (2010), Steven Bowditch (2015)
AUSTRALIANS IN THE FIELD: Jason Day, Brett Drewitt, Adam Scott, Marc Leishman, Cameron Percy.
Round 1: Friday (Fox Sports 503 6am – 9am)
Round 2: Saturday (Fox Sports 503 6am – 9am)
Round 3: Sunday (Fox Sports 503 3am – 8am)
Round 4: Monday (Fox Sports 503 3am – 8am)
*AEST, check local guides