Can’t say I am sad in the least to see the 2012 Players Championship in the rear-view mirror.
The Players is always a weird tournament to handicap because it seems to be all-or-nothing for many top players, some of whom simply don’t like the layout much -- Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods to name three. But it was a terrible week for my props and winner predictions.
In fact, the players I picked to be the top finisher among Americans (Hunter Mahan), Australians (Jason Day), South Africans (Ernie Els) and Asians (Sang-Moon Bae) all missed the freakin cut! I thought Lee Westwood might have a shot at his biggest title in the States, but he folded again and I think I’m done with him other than in the majors. Kudos to Matt Kuchar, who became the 20th winner of the Players in the past 20 years, but good riddance until next May for golf’s fifth major.
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There’s a bit of a lull for the next few weeks on the PGA Tour until the U.S. Open tees off June 14 at San Francisco’s Olympic Club, although there should be a stellar field at Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament in two weeks. This week the Tour starts a two-week Texas Swing with the Byron Nelson Championship at TPC Four Seasons Resort outside Dallas. There aren’t many top Europeans playing this week or next because of the Volvo World Match Play and BMW PGA Championship overseas the next two weeks.
The Nelson, the ninth-oldest event on Tour, used to draw an excellent field when its namesake was alive as players wanted to play in honor of Nelson, much like they do at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. In fact, those are the only two PGA Tour events named after former players. But since Nelson passed a few years ago, the fields have gotten a little weaker.
There are seven Top 25 players from the world rankings set to tee off this week, led by Kuchar, Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott, Jason Day, Louis Oosthuizen and defending champion Keegan Bradley. Ernie Els also makes his first appearance here in six years.
It’s supposed to be fairly windy this week, as Texas can certainly be. So perhaps look for the winning score to be in single digits under par. According to the PGA Tour, TPC Four Seasons Resort averaged 72.354 strokes last year, making it the third-most challenging par 70 in non-majors. And you better be deadline accurate on greens in regulation to win. Since 1998, only four players have ranked outside the Top 9 in GIR during this tournament and won it.
PGA Tour Golf Odds: Byron Nelson Championship Favorites
Mickelson is the 10/1 favorite this week as he plays the Nelson for the first time since finishing T3 in 2007. Lefty has won here, but that came way back in 1996. Mickelson played just OK in finishing T25 last week but probably was a bit fatigued from all the stuff surrounding his election in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Scott and Kuchar are the second-favorites at 12/1. Scott has only played this tournament three times, last in 2009 when he missed the cut. But his other two results? A win in 2008 and a T3 in 2006. Scott might be due as he hasn’t won since the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational last August. Kuchar, meanwhile, will be playing for the fifth time here and he never came close to contention until his T6 a year ago. But he’s probably due a letdown after last week’s victory, the biggest of his career.
Bradley, meanwhile, is at 16/1. Since the tournament has been played at TPC Four Seasons only six players have won in their first stop here and Bradley was No. 6 a year ago when he beat Ryan Palmer in a playoff. No one had heard of Bradley then, but, of course, he went on to win the PGA Championship in his first start there too. Now he’s playing as well as almost anyone. By the way, noting that GIR stat above, Bradley was T6 in that statistic in this tournament in 2011.
Day rounds out the Top 5 favorites at 18/1 – he won here in 2010 in his first-ever visit (and then finished fifth last year). He was one of the four to finish outside the Top 9 in GIR to win so since ’98. Day will bounce back from last week’s disappointment and is a great bet to finish in the Top 10 at +165.
PGA Tour Golf Predictions: Byron Nelson Championship Picks
I don’t like Lefty this week and actually would take the -130 that he finishes outside of the Top 10. And I would do the same on Kuchar at -140.
Palmer, who lives not far from this course, is worth a thought at 35/1 to win even though he missed the cut six times in the previous seven years at this tournament before last year’s runner-up. He played extremely well a few weeks ago in New Orleans.
Any time a tournament is staged in the Lone Star State, you also have to consider Dallas native Justin Leonard because he almost always plays well in his state. He is a whopping 150/1 this week. He hasn’t won here and missed the cut a year ago but does have two Top-10 finishes in his career. Many experts like Jeff Overton at 40/1 this week. He finished T8 last year here and runner-up the year before.
But my pick is Louis Oosthuizen at 20/1. The 2011 Masters champion missed the cut last week despite 11 birdies in his two rounds thanks to 10 bogeys and a double. But before that the South African was third in Houston, lost in a playoff to Bubba Watson at Augusta and won in Malaysia on the European Tour. I know first-timers, as Oosthuizen is, rarely win here, but it has happened the past two years.
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