10 Players to Watch: AT&T Byron Nelson

  1. Sergio Garcia, Spain — The Masters champion has quite a history in the AT&T Byron Nelson, which will be played at TPC Four Seasons Las Colinas for the last time this week. Garcia, who is No. 5 in the world, made his first start on the PGA Tour in the tournament as a precocious 19-year-old in 1999, showing American fans signs of things to come when he finished in a tie for third. Last year, he became the fifth multiple winner of the Nelson, joining Tom Watson (four titles), Sam Snead (three) and Jack Nicklaus and Bruce Lietzke (both two). Garcia came from three strokes down on the final four holes to catch Brooks Koepka with his second straight 2-under-par 70 and won with a par on the first playoff hole after Koepka hit his tee shot into the water. The Spaniard also won in a playoff in 2004, again with a par on the first extra hole that defeated Robert Damron and Dudley Hart. Sergio has finished in the top 20 in seven of his 12 starts in the tournament.
  1. Dustin Johnson, United States — The top-ranked player in the world finished outside the top three for the first time in his last six starts last week when he rallied with a closing 4-under-par 68 to tie for 12th in the Players Championship. Still, it was his first top-25 result on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass and showed he is close to his top form again after missing several weeks, including the Masters, because of a back injury he sustained by falling down stairs the day before the start of the first major of the year. DJ, who has won three times this year, is making his eighth appearance in the AT&T Byron Nelson and has posted four results in the top 10, the best a tie for fourth in 2009. Johnson also tied for seventh in both 2010 and 2014, in addition to tying for eighth two years ago, and has finished outside the top 20 at TPC Four Seasons at Las Colinas only when he tied for 63rd in his first start in 2008.
  1. Jordan Spieth, United States — After missing the cut for the third straight year in the Players Championship, Spieth slipped to No. 6 in the world and will be anxious to turn things around not far from his home in Dallas in the AT&T Byron Nelson. He has not been on top of his game since winning the AT&T Pebble Beach in February for his ninth victory on the PGA Tour, and would love nothing more than to make it an even 10 by completing the AT&T double. However, Spieth has never finished in the top 10 in six starts in the Nelson, although last year he was running second behind Brooks Koepka after carding three scores of 3-under-par 67 or better before closing with a 74 to slide into a tie for 18th. His best result in the tournament was a tie for 16th in 2010, when he was still playing at the University of Texas. The native Texan claimed his first victory in the Lone Star State last year by winning the Dean & DeLuca Invitational at Colonial in Fort Worth.
  1. Jason Day, Australia — The fourth-ranked player in the world hung around on the edge of contention in his title defense at the Players Championship before stumbling to an 8-over-par 80 in the final round and wound up in a tie for 60th. It’s been a trying year after missing the last few months of 2016 because of back problems and then dealing with his mother’s battle with cancer. However, Day has shown flashes of the form that took him to No. 1 in the world, especially when he tied for fifth in the AT&T Pebble Beach and played the weekend in 69-71 to tie for 22nd in the Masters last month. He will try to come all the way back this week in the Nelson, in which he claimed the first of his 10 PGA titles in 2010, leading much of the way before winning by two strokes over Blake Adams, Brian Gay and Jeff Overton. Day is making his fifth start at TPC Four Seasons, and he finished solo fifth as defending champion and tied for 12th in 2012 before tying for 27th in 2013.
  1. Louis Oosthuizen, South Africa — Still winless in the United States after his tie for second behind Si Woo Kim of South Korea last week in the Players Championship, Oosthuizen will keep trying, starting this week in the AT&T Byron Nelson. Why he hasn’t won in the U.S. is something of a mystery, as he has won 13 times world-wide in his pro career, including the 2010 Open Championship at St. Andrews, and has finished second six times on the PGA Tour, including the 2012 Masters, the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay and the 2015 Open Championship back at St. Andrews. Oosthuizen, who also finished third in the Waste Management Phoenix Open this season, is making his fifth start in the AT&T Byron Nelson, and three years ago he shared the 54-hole lead with eventual winner Brendon Todd after opening with 68-68-64, but struggled home with a 4-over-par 74 and skidded to a tie for 11th. He also missed the cut in 2012 and last year, despite shooting 67 in round two, and in 2013 he opened with 67-70-70 before withdrawing because of neck problem.
  1. Brooks Koepka, United States — Last year in the AT&T Byron Nelson, Koepka seemed to be headed for his second PGA Tour victory with a three-stroke lead before making bogeys on the 14th and 15th holes during a 1-over-par 71 in the final round. That allowed Sergio Garcia to catch him with a late bogey, and Koepka hit his tee shot into the water on the first playoff hole, opening the door for Garcia to win with a par. Koepka also tied for 16th with four rounds in the 60s at TPC Four Seasons Las Colinas two years ago, after shooting 74-70 — 140 to miss the cut by two strokes in his first appearance in 2014. He’s coming back to the tournament in good form, as his tie for 16th in the Players Championship was his worst result in his last five tournaments, including solo second in the Valero Texas Open, a tie for fifth in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans (with his brother and teammate Chase Koepka), a tie for ninth in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play and a tie for 11th in the Masters.
  1. Jason Dufner, United States — The man they call Duf has only one finish in the top 10 on the PGA Tour this season, a tie for fifth in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, but the hasn’t been that far from a big first half with eight results in the top 25 in 12 starts. Included were ties for 11th in the RBC Heritage and the Valspar Championship, a tie for 12th in the Shell Houston Open and a tie for 14th in the Honda Classic. The 2013 PGA champion earned his second victory on the PGA Tour in the 2012 Byron Nelson, posting four scores in the 60s to win by one stroke over Dicky Pride. Dufner was near on in the lead all the way and then claimed his second victory of the season, having won in New Orleans earlier, by sinking a dramatic 25-foot birdie putt on the final hole at TPC Four Seasons. This will be his ninth start in the Nelson, and he also tied for eighth in both 2011 and 2014.
  1. Patrick Reed, United States — Still has yet to play this season like the guy who won five times since 2013, but in his last three starts, Reed tied for 14th (with teammate Patrick Cantlay) in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, tied for 12th in the Wells Fargo Championship and tied for 22nd in the Players Championship last week. He has only one top-10 result this season, a tie for sixth in the SBS Tournament of Champions in January, but has six finishes in the top 25 and could be on the verge of putting four good rounds together. The native Texas has slipped eight spots since the start of the year to No. 16 in the Official World Golf Ranking, but being back in his home state of Texas might be all he needs this week to really get it going. However, he has yet to play very well in two appearances in the AT&T Byron Nelson, shooting 69-75 — 144 to miss the cut by two strokes in 2012, before shooting 67-73-76 to miss the secondary cut the following year.
  1. Bud Cauley, United States — Even though he remains winless on the PGA Tour, Cauley’s name has been showing up on leaderboards lately, as he finished in the top 10 in his last three tournaments. He tied for ninth in the RBC Heritage and tied for 10th in the Valero Texas Open before teaming with Justin Thomas to tie for fifth in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. He also tied for third in the CareerBuilder Challenge back in January. Cauley, whose only pro victory came in the 2014 Hotel Fitness Championship on the Web.com Tour, earned his PGA Tour card in 2011 by collecting $735,150 in eight PGA Tour starts to join Gary Hallberg, Scott Verplank, Phil Mickelson, Justin Leonard, Ryan Moore, and Tiger Woods as the only players to earn playing privileges on the circuit right out of college (Alabama) before the system was changed. He is making his third start in the Nelson and finished two shots out of the playoff between Sergio Garcia and Brooks Koepka in a tie for fourth last year, after missing the cut in 2014.
  1. Ian Poulter, England — After learning that he had not lost his PGA Tour card after all when an error in the points procedure was discovered, Poulter took advantage of landing in the Players Championship at virtually the last minute. He played like the guy who has been a thorn in the side of the United States team in the last several Ryder Cups, staying in the hunt all the way to the final hole while finishing in a tie for second, three strokes behind winner Si Woo Kim of South Korea. Poulter might have put a little pressure on the South Korean at the finish, but he shanked his second shot from the rough into a bush on the 18th hole, but after taking a penalty stroke, he made a brilliant recovery to salvage a bogey and that tie for second. He is making his fifth start in the Nelson and seemed to take an instant liking to the course when he tied for third in 2007, but he tied for 35th the next year and missed the cut in 2009 and last year.

–Courtesy of The Sports Xchange, TSX Golf Editor Tom LaMarre

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