PGA Tour players who prefer to play their way into a major championship will tee it up on Thursday in the AT&T Byron Nelson, which dates to 1926 and will be contested for the first time at TPC Craig Ranch in McKinney, Texas.
Much of the field will be warming up for the 103rd PGA Championship next week on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort in Kiawah Island, S.C.
Sung Kang of South Korea claimed his only PGA Tour victory in the 2019 AT&T Byron Nelson, but was unable to defend his title last year because the tournament was cancelled because of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Kang (pictured) shot 10-under-par 61 in the second round, but still had to rally with three straight birdies through No. 9 and three more through No. 16 in a closing 67 to win by two strokes over Matt Every and Scott Piercy after missing the cut in his two previous starts.
“It was definitely a lot easier because staying home, sleeping on my own bed,” said the 33-year-old Kang, who has become a resident of a Dallas suburb. “My little one is here. My wife is here, friends here.
“And then the spectators. They knew I live in Coppell so they were saying, ‘Go Coppell, Go Cowboys.’ I mean, they definitely supported me a lot.”
Kang won the 2019 AT&T Byron Nelson at Trinity Forest Golf Club in Dallas, but defending on a different course shouldn’t bother him since he is a longtime member at TPC Craig Ranch.
In the field that will challenge Kang’s defense are third-ranked Jon Rahm, fourth-ranked Bryson DeChambeau (pictured), Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama of Japan, Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth, Sergio Garcia of Spain, Jason Day of Australia, Charl Schwartzel of South Africa, Matt Kuchar, Lee Westwood of England, Rickie Fowler, Brandt Snedeker, Matt Fitzpatrick of England, Marc Leishman of Australia and Ryan Moore.
Top-ranked Dustin Johnson committed to play, but withdrew on Monday because of left knee discomfort.
Among the young guns playing are Daniel Berger, Scottie Scheffler, Will Zalatoris, Sam Burns, Carlos Ortiz of Mexico, Aaron Wise, Talor Gooch, James Hahn, Wyndham Clark, Tom Hoge, Peter Uihlein, Kristoffer Ventura of Norway and Doug Ghim.
The AT&T Byron Nelson will be the latest PGA Tour event to allow fans back onto the course, as many tournaments since the three-month shutdown because of the Coronoavirus pandemic ended last year have been held without spectators.
“We’re excited to safely welcome fans back to the 2021 AT&T Byron Nelson,” said Jeff Walter, AT&T Byron Nelson Tournament Chair. “We are energized by the excitement shown by the local community and particularly the City of McKinney.”
Rory McIlroy said after winning the Wells Fargo Championship last week that having fans on the course made the difference for him.
- Bryson DeChambeau, United States – Coming off a tie for ninth in the Wells Fargo, DeChambeau has reclaimed the lead in the FedEx Cup point standings. He has six top-10 finishes this season, including victories in the U.S. Open and the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Missed the cut in his two AT&T Byron Nelson starts in 2016 and 2017.
- Jon Rahm, Spain – The third-ranked Rahm missed the cut in the Wells Fargo Championship last week, but had four straight top-10 finishes before that and nine this season to sit at 12th in the FedEx Cup Rankings. He will be looking to bounce back in the AT&T Byron Nelson, which surprisingly he is playing for the first time this week.
- Jordan Spieth, United States – Ended a four-year victory drought by winning the Valero Texas Open and tied for third in the Masters, climbing to eighth in the FedEx Cup standings. Native Texan Spieth is making his 10th start in the AT&T Byron Nelson, but has only three top-25 finishes in the event, the best a tie for 16th in his first one in 2009.
- Hideki Matsuyama, Japan – Having taken a month off for a victory tour in Japan after winning the Masters, Matsuyama returns a week before the PGA Championship. He also tied for second in Houston and is eighth in the FedEx Cup standings. His best result in two starts in the Nelson was a tie for 16th in 2019, and he tied for 20th a year before.
- Marc Leishman, Australia – Tied for fifth in the Masters and won the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, a team event, with Cameron Smith in his last two starts. Leishman has played the Nelson 10 times and finished second behind Aaron Wise in 2018. He also tied for third in 2012 and 2014, in addition to tying for eighth in 2009 among seven top-25s.
- Sam Burns, United States – Claimed his first PGA Tour victory in the Valspar Championship in his last start two weeks ago and has four other top-10 finishes this season to sit at No. 16 in the FedEx Cup standings. Played in the Nelson for the first time two years ago and after opening with a 66, he missed the 54-hole cut following two 72s.
- Scott Piercy, United States – Was in contention much of the way last week in the Wells Fargo before closing with a 70 to tie for 11th, his fourth top-25 finish of the season. Closed with 63-64 in the AT&T Byron Nelson two years ago to tie for second, two shots behind Sung Kang, tied for fifth in 2015, and has four top-20s in the event.
- Matt Fitzpatrick, England – A six-time winner on the Euro Tour still seeking his first PGA Tour victory. Fitzpatrick tied for fourth in the RBC Heritage in his last start, after also tying for fifth in the Genesis Invitational, tying for ninth in the Players and tying for 10th in the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Making his debut in the AT&T Byron Nelson.
- Sergio Garcia, Spain – Two of Garcia’s 11 PGA Tour victories came in the Byron Nelson, and although the tournament has moved to a different course, he has to be among the favorites. He won in 2004 and 2012, in addition to tying for third in 2003 and tying for eighth in 2007. Garcia won at Sanderson Farms and has three top-10s this season.
- Sung Kang, South Korea – The defending champion, having won the title two years ago before it was cancelled last year because of the Covid-19 pandemic, is nowhere close to top form, having missed the cut in his last three starts. Kang shot 61 in round two and won the Nelson by two shots, and defends at TPC Craig Ranch, where he is a member.
OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH: Brooks Koepka, United States; Will Zalatoris, United States; Carlos Ortiz, Mexico; Lee Westwood, England; Daniel Berger, United States; Scottie Scheffler, United States; Alex Noren, Sweden; John Catlin, United States; Aaron Wise, United States; Charl Schwartzel, South Africa.
1. Peter Uihlein, United States – Won MGM Resorts and was T-7 in last two starts on Korn Ferry Tour. Shot 62-63 on the weekend to T-5 in 2019 Nelson, was T-20 in 2018.
2. Satoshi Kodaira, Japan – Nine-time winner as a pro was T-11 in Wells Fargo with two 68s last week, but closed with a 73. Shot 71-73—144 to miss cut in 2018 Nelson.
3. Kristoffer Ventura, Norway – Two-time winner on Korn Ferry Tour was T-6 at Sanderson Farms, T-7 in Safeway this season. Making his debut in AT&T Byron Nelson.
4. Doug Ghim, United States – Solo fifth in the AmEx was one of six top-25s this season. Texan posted four rounds in the 60s to T-12 in the 2019 AT&T Byron Nelson.
5. Hank Lebioda, United States – Left-hander was T-13 recently in Valspar and T-16 in Bermuda Championship. Shot 74-69—143 to miss the cut in the 2019 Byron Nelson.
For first-round tee times, visit https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard.html