PGA Tour Picks: AT&T Byron Nelson

By TOM LaMARRE

Masters champion Scottie Scheffler, who is playing a home game, leads the field this week in the AT&T Byron Nelson at TPC Craig Ranch in McKinney, Texas, near Dallas a week before the 104th PGA Championship at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla.

Hometown favorite Scheffler, who has won four of his last six tournaments, apparently is ready for this week and next.

Cameron Chhim, an assistant pro at Southern Hills, caddied as Scheffler shot 6-under 64 in a recent practice round on the PGA Championship course at Southern Hills alongside Ryan Palmer, who recently teamed with Scheffler to tie for 18th in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.

“(Scheffler) played one ball the entire time, no practice putts, and made it look easy,” Chhim told Golf Oklahoma. “He’s No. 1 in the world and it was pretty easy to see why. It would be hard to say that he’s not going to win or at least be in contention.

“He hits it far enough and he has just incredible distance control with his irons. Ryan shot 2- or 3-par under and looked like he was standing still, based on how Scottie was playing.”

Scheffler, who has lived in Dallas since he was 6-years-old and won the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship before playing at the University of Texas, is playing in his hometown event for the fourth time and his best result was a tie for 22nd as a high school senior in 2014.

However, he managed only a tie for 35th in 2019 and a tie for 47th last season, but he is a different and much better player this season.

“I’m so excited to be playing back at home at such a special tournament,” Scheffler said of playing at TPC Craig Ranch. “It’s great being surrounded by friends and family. … You have to be really aggressive around this course.

“It’s awesome to play here at home, a lot of fun, It’s great to hear some noise from the fans. It’s just enjoyable for me to play here.”

Tournament director Jon Drago is looking forward to having Scheffler and other North Texas natives compete.

One of them is ninth-ranked Jordan Spieth, who also played at Texas and won the 2021 Texas Open, and his best result in 10 starts in the AT&T Byron Nelson was a tie for ninth last year after he took the first-round lead with a 63.

“It’s great to have all the local players here,” Drago said. “(Scheffler) has actually been a great supporter. He played with us when he was still in high school back in 2014. Every time he’s played, he’s been a great supporter as have all local players been a great supporter of ours.

“We are so excited to have full capacity this year (after the Coronavirus pandemic), to have everybody out and root for the hometown team.”

Also in the field are eighth-ranked Justin Thomas, 10th-ranked Sam Burns, 11th-ranked Dustin Johnson, Olympic Gold Medalist and 12th-ranked Xander Schauffele of La Jolla and San Diego State, 13th-ranked Hideki Matsuyama of Japan, 16th-ranked Brooks Koepka, 17th-ranked Joaquin Niemann of Chile, Adam Scott of Australia, Mackenzie Hughes of Canada, Si Woo Kim of South Korea and Jason Day of Australia.

However, the home fans will be rooting for Scheffler and Spieth.

For first-round tee times, visit https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard.html

BEST BETS

1. Scottie Scheffler, United States – The top-ranked player in the world has won the Phoenix Open, the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the WGC-Dell Match Play and the Masters to lead the FedEx Cup standings by a mile. Scheffler, who played college golf at Texas, is playing a home game and his best result in four starts in the AT&T Byron Nelson was a tie for 22nd in 2014.

2. Justin Thomas, United States – The eighth-ranked Thomas, who hasn’t won since the 2021 Players Championship, has been close with six top-10 finishes this season, including a solo third at Mayakoba a tie for third in the Valspar Championship, and a tie for fifth in the Sentry TOC. In his only previous appearance in the AT&T Byron Nelson, he finished in a tied for 55th in 2015.

3. Hideki Matsuyama, Japan – The 2021 Masters champion won the Sony Open in Hawaii and the Zozo Championship among four top-10 finishes this season, and tied for 14th in his title defense at Augusta. Matsuyama recorded his best result in three starts in the AT&T Byron Nelson with a tie for 16th in 2018, tied for 23rd the following year and tied for 39th last season.

4. Xander Schauffele, United States – Having slid to No. 12 in the world despite teaming with Patrick Cantlay to win the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, Schauffele hopes to climb back into the top 10 this week. The 2021 Olympic Gold Medalist’s best finish this season was a tie for third in the Phoenix Open, and in his only AT&T Byron Nelson start he missed the cut by one shot in 2017.

5. Dustin Johnson, United States – Playing for the first time since being married, DJ is trying to win for the 15th straight season on the PGA Tour, his last win coming in the 2020 Masters. Johnson’s best results this season were fourth in the WGC-Match Play and a tie for ninth in the Players, and he tied for 12th in his Masters defense. He has four top-10s in the AT&T Byron Nelson.

6. Joaquin Niemann, Chile – Having climbed to No. 17 in the world, Niemann is looking to reach the top 10. He captured the Genesis Invitational earlier this season for his second PGA Tour victory and has five finishes in the top 25. The former No. 1-ranked amateur in the world shot 69-70 and missed the cut by one stroke in his only start in the AT&T Byron Nelson in 2018.

7. Brooks Koepka, United States – The former No. 1 player in the world has slipped to No. 16 and is trying to work his way back up. Koepka’s best finishes this season were a tie for third in the Phoenix Open and a tie for fifth in the WGC-Match Play, but he missed the cut in the Masters. He has two top-10 finishes in the AT&T Byron Nelson, second in 2016 and fourth in 2019.

8. Adam Scott, Australia – Played well earlier this season with a tie for fourth in the Genesis Invitational, a tie for fifth in the CJ Cup and a tie for ninth in the WGC-Match Play, but then tied for 48th in the Masters, which he won in 2013. Scott captured the AT&T Byron Nelson in 2008 for one of his 14 victories on the PGA Tour, tied for third in 2007 and tied for ninth in 2018.

9. Mackenzie Hughes, Canada – Coming off a tie for ninth in the Wells Fargo Championship last week, Hughes also finished solo second in the RSM Classic and tied for fourth in the Zozo Championship among his six top-25 finishes on the PGA Tour this season. He shot 67-74—141 and missed to the cut by one stroke in his only appearance in the AT&T Byron Nelson in 2019.

10. Si Woo Kim, South Korea – The 2017 Players Champion, who has three victories on the PGA Tour including The American Express earlier this season, also tied for second in the Wyndham and tied for ninth in the Players and the Memorial among nine results in the top 25. Kim opened with a 66 in his only start in the AT&T Byron Nelson last year, but eventually tied 55th.

OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH: Jordan Spieth, United States; Jason Day, Australia; Sam Burns, United States; Danny Willett, England; Francesco Molinari, Italy; Jason Day, Australia; Cameron Champ, United States; Jhonattan Vegas, Venezuela;  Bubba Watson, United States; Matt Kuchar, United States; Marc Leishman, Australia; Sebastian Munoz, Colombia; Will Zalatoris, United States.

SLEEPERS:

1. Matthew Wolff, United States – Claimed his only PGA Tour victory in 2019 3M Open, finished second in the Shriners and T-5 at Mayakoba this season. Making his AT&T Byron Nelson debut.

2. Rasmus Hojgaard, Denmark – Has won once in each of the last three seasons on the DP World Tour. Had a T-6 at Mayakoba earlier  this season and was T-16 in Betfred British Masters last week.

3. Maverick McNealy, United States – Former Stanford star was second in the Fortinet, T-7 in Genesis and T-11 at Mayakoba this season. Opened with 68-67 and was T-42 in 2018 Byron Nelson.

4. Matthew NeSmith, United States – Winner of 2019 Albertson Boise Open on Korn Ferry Tour, NeSmith was T-3 on Valspar, T-4 in Zurich, T-12 in RBC and T-14 in the Shriner’s this season.

5. Stephan Jaeger, Germany – Six-time winner on the Korn Ferry Tour finished T-6 in Wells Fargo last week after a T-15 a week before in Mexico Championship. T-17 in 2018 Byron Nelson.

For first-round tee times, visit https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard.html

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