A return to Texas this week for the PGA Tour, which has already stopped in this part of the country three times this season. The WGC Match Play, Shell Houston Open and Valero Texas Open have all been played already in the Lone Star state, and this week the players will be teeing it up at the 50th renewal of the AT&T Byron Nelson.
To celebrate 50 years of this event, the event has changed hosts, now playing at Trinity Forest Golf Club, the home of the SMU Mustangs, college golf team, more on the course later.
Jordan Spieth returns home and will be hoping for a further upturn in form, especially in this home event, where he finished 16th on debut as an amateur, a result he has failed to eclipse in six starts since. He missed the cut in this event for the first time, 12 months ago but it is clear that TPC Four Seasons has never really been a course that has suited his eye. A change in venue may well be the catalyst for bigger things for Spieth in this event, which is one he clearly hopes to win.
Joining Spieth in the field this week are 2-time Byron Nelson champion and Texas resident, Sergio Garcia and event debutant, Hideki Matsuyama, who alongside Spieth make up three of the five players from the world’s top-25 playing this week. In-form Billy Horschel will also peg it up this week as he looks to defend the title he won 12 months ago, albeit at a different course.
The Course and what it will take to win
Trinity Forest, 7,380 Yards, Par 71
This is a new course for many of the PGA Tour players this week, as it has never been used to host a professional event, so there is plenty of intrigue surrounding this new test.
An event that regularly struggles to attract a strong field, it is no surprise to see it lacking many star names again. Players can be especially hesitant to play an event when a course is being used for the first time, and it will be a viewing brief for many this week. Should the event go well at its new venue, and the players (namely Spieth and Garcia) talk up the course, then maybe we will see a stronger field in 2019.
For now, we need to look at what could be important in order to win here. Despite its name, this course does not feature many trees on the layout and looks in terms of appearance very similar to that of Open Championship venues.
With Texan winds due to get up over the course of the week, there is every chance it plays similar to that of the major championship.
Despite the obvious links between this and an Open setup, the location is nowhere near that of an Open Championship venue but there will be similar factors to consider. The firmness of the greens and fairways , as well as the undulations across the course will make it feel like a links test in the truest sense, as long as early reports of the course being soaked today do not make this a different test than it as really designed to be.
Trinity Forest looks very forgiving off the tee, with 100-yard wide fairways on some holes, so there’s a good chance players let rip with driver, without too much concern. With 6 of the 10 par-4’s ranging between 400-450 yards, there could be some very short approach shots if the players do opt for driver, when the conditions suit. The course is set to play firm and fast tee-to-green, making for plenty of roll from the tee-ball but also making it more difficult for players to get their approaches to hold on the greens. Having the imagination and technique to play different style of approaches (bump and run etc) as opposed to the prototypical approaches we see week-to-week in Tour will certainly help this week.
The greens are huge here, so being precise with the irons, to give good looks at birdie will be essential, but it is hard to rely on the season-long form in terms of approach, given the difference in test in comparison to the rest of the rest of the PGA Tour stops.
The putting surfaces whilst large may also be the course’s biggest defence, as there are some severe slopes, which will make putting and precision approaches fairly difficult, especially if the famous Texas winds turn up.
They are only aiming for 10.5 on the stimpmeter at Trinity Forest this week, which is at the lower end of the Tour scale, so they must have a lot of faith in the severity of the slopes. If the greens were fast as well as sloping, there is every chance the players would be put off returning, as it would be almost impossible to putt and be rewarded for good approaches, so it looks a smart decision from the tournament hosts.
Three of the last four U.S. Open courses may well be worth a look at for pointers, firstly the 2014 venue – Pinehurst No.2, which Trinity Forest compares itself to on its own official site and was redesigned by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw in 2010, the duo that were responsible for the design of this very course.
Pinehurst will perhaps be the strongest correlation, but Chambers Bay (2015) and Erin Hills (2017) are also worth a look. Whilst the latter two don’t correlate as strongly as Pinehurst or British links courses, they did have similar looks and quirks to them, that the players will face here.
Temperament could be everything here as well. You are going to get some tough breaks, especially on the greens, and the severe slope changes on the greens are sure to frustrate some, so keeping a cool head in the moment will be especially important.
All in all whilst I have tried to not get too caught up in links form, it appears that this test will bring out the best in those that thrive in that environment.
Jordan Spieth (11/2)
Matt Kuchar (16/1)
Sergio Garcia (20/1)
Hideki Matsuyama (20/1)
Jimmy Walker (25/1)
No surprises at the head of the market, with Spieth the obvious favourite in a field bereft of quality in depth, at a course he is a member of and his instructor, Cameron McCormick teaches from.
Kuchar has two top-10’s in the Open Championship, including last year when losing out to Spieth after the latter put in an all-world performance down the stretch.
We have already mentioned Garcia’s two wins in this event and the face he resides in Texas, so has to be respected given his fine links record, despite a poor weekend at the Players.
Matsuyama has been off the boil, perhaps still looking to return to full fitness, whilst Jimmy Walker looks healthier than ever, and is playing great golf consistently again. Walker is also a Texas resident.
Adam Scott 25/1 (General) 1.5pts e/w:
I don’t love the price, but before the prices came out, the player I marked as the most likely to win this week other than Spieth was Adam Scott, after he reverted to the long putter (non-anchored) last week at the Players.
As soon as I read the news last week that he was reverting to his old putter, I immediately backed the Aussie at three figures, with the though process that confidence on the greens would lead to a huge upturn in form. Although he didn’t finish top-5 as I expected him to and was rather bullish about on Twitter, he was very impressive last week (T11) and will look to better that here.
Scott has completed the Texas-slam (Shell Houston Open 2007, Valero Texas Open 2010) and is a consistently good performer at the Open Championship, which he should really have won in 2012.
He boasts five top-10’s at the Open Championship, four of which have came in his last six starts and Aussie’s are well known for both their links exponents and showings in Texas.
To further add to his credentials, Scott finished 4th at Chambers Bay and T9 at Pinehurst so he has performed well when playing on the nearest thing to a links course in the States.
Scott is still not exempt for this year’s U.S. Open, as he still sits outside the world’s top 60 (currently 65th) and he will desperate to ensure his current streak of 67 straight major starts continues. Only Garcia (75) has more consecutive major starts, highlighting just how special of a player Scott has been for a number of years now.
Again 25/1 may appear short given his obvious recent struggles, but last week proved he’s a completely different prospect when confident on the greens and that performance last week should see him play better for the rest of the season, should he stick with the long putter!
Marc Leishman 28/1 (Bet365 5 places 1/4 odds) 25/1 (SkyBet 8 places 1/5 odds) 1pt e/w:
If it wasn’t for unfortunately finding a divot with his tee shot on the first play-off hole at the 2015 Open Championship, we may well be talking about Leishman as a major champion, but in the end he had to settle for a T2 with Louis Oosthuizen as Zach Johnson claimed the Claret Jug.
This was Leishman’s second top-5 finish at the Open, following his T5 finish at Hoylake the year before, and he kept up the steady form in this event, this time finishing T6 at the 2017 renewal.
Given his strong links form and the fact he looks every bit a major champion in the waiting, Leishman is quite clearly a class above many in this field.
The Aussie has finished T3 in this event twice (2012 and 2014), T8 in 2009 and also T12 in 2010 and 2013, so he clearly enjoys playing in this part of the world, albeit at a different course.#
Not the most consistent player by any means, Leishman can sometimes looks questionable at short odds, but you have to take into account his three PGA Tour wins, two of which came last season, after a five-year drought. Those two wins came at Bay Hill and at the BMW Championship a FedEx Cup play-off event, so he is capable of winning on the big stages as well as just contending in majors.
The test should suit, he is amongst the most talented in the field and last year showed us he can now win at a more regular rate, so all in all I am happy with 28/1. A final-round 76 saw him drop a staggering 47 places last week, from 16th to 63rd, but he can bounce back with another good performance here.
Brandt Snedeker 60/1 (UniBet 6 places 1/5 odds) 1pt e/w:
There is one player that has finished inside the top-10 of all three of the aforementioned U.S. Open’s (2014, 2015, 2017) and that is Brandt Snedeker.
On its own, that is not enough to back Snedeker, who has struggled for consistency in recent seasons, due to injuries but there is plenty more reasons for optimism.
Snedeker has played well in multiple Open championships, notably in 2012 where he finished in a tie for 3rd, and the knowledge of playing in 9 renewals of the event, where he has finished inside the top-22 three times, will surely aid his chances here.
He is no stranger to winning in conditions similar to those he could face this week, twice winning at both Pebble Beach and Torrey Pines, with the latest of those four wins coming at the 2016 Farmers Insurance Open where he lapped the field in horrendous conditions on the Sunday. This was statistically the best round of golf on the PGA Tour that season, with no else even close to shooting the 69 he managed that day.
Ultimately, Snedeker is a player who knows how to win, especially at this sort of layout, where the tougher it gets the more it could suit as player of his skillset.
It has been an inconsistent start to the season for the former FedEx Cup winner, but he still offers plenty and with his best finish of the season coming two starts ago, which was interestingly also in Texas (15th at the Valero Texas Open), I am happy to chance he can bounce back from a disappointing effort at the Players, where he shot 82-72 over the first two days.
Scott Piercy 75/1 (Betfair 7 places 1/5 odds) 0.5pt e/w:
Piercy teamed up with Billy Horschel to win the Zurich Classic last month, but he can win on his own this week, in an event he has 5th and 15th place finishes at, back when the event was at TPC Four Seasons.
Despite being a three-time winner on Tour, Piercy’s best performance in terms of world rankings came at the 2016 U.S. Open another tough test, which Piercy seemed to relish, so hopefully he can play well again in tough conditions should they arise.
Currently the leader on Tour is SG: Approach as well as ranking 10th in SG: Tee-to-Green, Piercy will be hoping his elite iron play will pay dividends this week, with his putting woes possibly negated somewhat, on surfaces that are new and equally difficult for most.
This is a value play for me more than anything, given the way he is striking the ball at the moment, as well as his past efforts in this event. He will be keen to back up that win at the Zurich, showing he is playing well in his own right, with the putter so far keeping him from contending regularly this season.
Cody Gribble 225/1 (Bet365 5 places 1/4 odds) 0.5pt e/w:
Somewhat of a dart throw here, Cody Gribble may well pop up on the leaderboard this week, after a decent showing at Sawgrass last week (T30) on a course that could suit.
The Texas native, who played on the same Texas Longhorns team as Spieth and actually partnered with him to win the 2012 NCAA Championship, may well know the course here, given he still resides in Dallas, Texas.
A deeper look into the U.S. Open venues shows that Gribble finished T21 at Pinehurst No.2 in 2014 and shot a 68 during the first round of the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, only to shoot 78 the next day and miss the cut.
Some local knowledge, as well some evidence that he can play some good golf on this sort of test suggests Gribble may be overpriced at the 225/1 mark.
Granted he has not done a lot on Tour since winning the 2016 Sanderson Farms Championship, after getting into the event as an alternate, but at 27 his best years may well still be ahead of him.
We often see that players perform a their best in familiar territory, for obvious reasons and that gives enough reason to back him at such long odds, after showing signs of life just last week.
Total Points Staked this week: 9
Profit/Loss for 2018: -65.4