Golf expert Ben Coley looks for his third successive PGA Tour winner with selections ranging from 22/1 to 500/1 for the Byron Nelson.
2.5pts e.w. Scottie Scheffler at 22/1 (William Hill 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1pt e.w. Charl Schwartzel at 60/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1pt e.w. Matt Kuchar at 66/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1pt e.w. Rickie Fowler at 80/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1pt e.w. Doug Ghim at 80/1 (Betfair, Paddy Power 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1pt e.w. Brandt Snedeker at 90/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
0.5pt e.w. MJ Daffue at 500/1 (Betway 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)
Sky Bet odds - eight places | Paddy Power | Betfair Sportsbook
Lately, the AT&T Byron Nelson has become one of the most complex riddles on the PGA Tour, for two reasons. The first is timing, this tournament having sat behind The PLAYERS in 2018 and before the US PGA in 2019, both slots affecting field strength and fanfare in their own ways. The second is course, and after two years of getting to know Trinity Forest, we're sent 40 miles north where TPC Craig Ranch will no doubt prove more comforting to the PGA Tour professional.
Craig Ranch isn't the unknown quantity of its predecessor, having been a regular host of Qualifying School tournaments for some time now. In fact, go back to 2011 and among those failing to advance to the final stage were Jordan Spieth and Brooks Koepka, both of whom are in the field this week. It also staged two editions of the Web.com Tour Championship, in 2008 and 2012, so the canvas isn't quite blank.
What we know is that it has been straightforward enough, as you might expect. Winning scores at Q-School tended to stretch beyond 20-under, and while it was 16 or 17 on what's now the Korn Ferry Tour, the course played as a par 71 on both occasions. With the 12th hole restored to a par-five, and the standard of player enhanced, it's difficult to imagine anything but a shootout in the final event before the second major of the men's season.
That, plus the fact that we've a very much top-heavy market, makes things difficult once more. Do you want to be backing local resident Bryson DeChambeau at 9/1 (maybe?), or Jon Rahm at a point shorter following his first missed cut since June? Is Jordan Spieth really worth getting stuck into at 10/1 having been off since the Masters and with a realistic grand slam opportunity to come next week?
It's not that these events which precede the majors are a write-off for the game's best. After all, Spieth's Texas Open win earlier this spring came days before the Masters, and the now-absent Dustin Johnson has done the same on more than one occasion. But when you put that timing and this 'new' course together, there really shouldn't be any hesitation in looking further down the market.
The one I'm most keen to chance — and the emphasis really is on chance — is RICKIE FOWLER, who comes with risks attached but is priced accordingly.
Fowler has been plummeting down the world rankings over the last year and a half, so much so that he required an act of generosity from the PGA of America to play in next week's tournament. Most years, the top 100 in the world are invited along, but Fowler was already worse than that when getting the call and now sits at a lowly 122nd. Several in front of him are not in the field.
That's by far his worst ranking since he entered the top 100 in 2010, and with his iron play and putting both taking two steps back for every step forward, there can be absolutely no doubt that he's a shadow of his former self.
But there is always hope. And in Fowler's case, it can be found in his recent play, such as when starting well enough at the Honda, rallying from 110th after round one to finish 17th in the Texas Open, and even last week, when playing some really good golf until the final two holes of the first round, only to then struggle in the second.
As you can tell, hope is a stretch, and optimism would be over the top, but Fowler did speak to reporters last Thursday and sounded pretty happy with where things are following a month away.
"I know it's close," he said. "I think some of it was spending a lot of time working on the swing, which needed to be done, but probably spent a little bit too long of a time focusing and worrying about certain things, and the last few months has just been going out and playing just a bit more golf instead of playing golf swing.
"Yeah, it's just converting some stuff the way I've been hitting and playing at home to bring it back on the road."
Asked how he'd spent his time off, having failed to qualify for the Masters and then elected to skip the RBC Heritage, he added: "I would say over the course of the month, I don't think I took a video of any swings or anything like that. It was just more focused on go hit shots, go play golf, hit fairways, hit greens, make putts. A little bit more to like a little kid growing up."
A month away proved enough to turn Rory McIlroy around, aided of course by a hot putting week, and while Fowler's malaise is far deeper, that first round at Quail Hollow was at least encouraging. Not for the first time lately, he drove the ball to a high standard, this time with an old driver returned to the bag, and though poor on Friday he was on the wrong side of the draw at a very difficult, firm course.
He will need to improve. And just how well Craig Ranch sets up for him, we'll have to find out, though I suspect it will require a strong driving performance which is the thing he's doing best right now. But those small positives, allied with his ability to putt really well on bentgrass greens when at his best (fifth in this field), are just about enough to go on.
Then we've the fact he's long been a player who assigns real worth to contending the week before a major, something he's done several times and successfully so in Scotland. Given that he isn't a realistic PGA champion that may not be particularly significant, nevertheless unlike DeChambeau, who says he's still working out the right formula, Fowler knows he wants to compete before a major championship. It may be a coincidence, but his best chance to win since the PGA Tour returned came on the eve of the US PGA.
He must surely look to McIlroy, Spieth, Brooks Koepka, Hideki Matsuyama and the various other comeback stories this season, including that of Lydia Ko, for inspiration. Spieth don't forget threatened to win the Phoenix Open at 100/1, Koepka did win it at 45/1, and Fowler is worth risking having proven himself on these rare zoysia fairways and certainly on bentgrass greens.
MATT KUCHAR has been on a comeback mission of his own lately and though third place in the WGC-Match Play was far from enough to convince me, subsequent efforts in the Texas Open and RBC Heritage add depth to his form and suggest he could be ready to strike.
Kuchar, who won on the eve of the US Open back at his 2013 peak, failed to fire in the Masters inbetween these performances, but even there he was able to bounce back from a nightmare start with a second-round 70, confirming the impression he first made with that run to the semi-finals in Austin.
Yes, that course is quirky and has been kind to him, as have TPC San Antonio and Harbour Town, but there are a couple of other small reasons to hope for further progress. One is a runner-up finish at La Cantera, another Tom Weiskopf course in Texas. The other is even more tenuous: through 2012 Craig Ranch winner Justin Bolli, and various Q-School qualifiers like Sam Burns, Henrik Norlander, Alex Prugh and Talor Gooch, it's possible to draw a line to Highland Springs, where Bolli also won on the Korn Ferry Tour.
This sort of speculative connection should be treated accordingly, but there are a number of names who crop up at both courses, including Matt Bettencourt, who won here in 2008, Brandon Harkins, Adam Schenk, and others even less well known. And, for whatever it's worth, the Missouri venue also boasts zoysia fairways and bentgrass greens, which isn't a particularly common combination at this level.
Whether it works out or not we'll see, and it's not as if Kuchar has stacks of form there. But he's played it well, having visited just once, and combined with the rest that puts him on the radar. Certainly, he'll be glad of the move to this course, having responded to a question about Trinity Forest with "if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all", and he shouldn't be far away from the places if maintaining his recent standards.
Next is BRANDT SNEDEKER, similar to Kuchar in that he's scrapping to remain relevant now in the latter stages of his career, and has started to produce results over the last few weeks.
Snedeker turned 40 at the end of last year, soon after the death of his mother, and it's taken him quite a long time to get going again. Back then he was showing flashes but now he's finally putting rounds together, finishing sixth in the Texas Open, 11th in the Valspar, and contending for the Zurich Classic of New Orleans alongside Keith Mitchell.
Granted, Mitchell was the driving force behind their performance, and Snedeker did disappoint in the RBC Heritage, but the way he hit his irons in Texas and the improved putting he showed at the Valspar suggest he might have turned a corner.
Though known for his exploits on poa annua over in California, with wins at Pebble Beach and Torrey Pines tucked away, Snedeker in fact leads this field in bentgrass putting and he has won at East Lake, where the fairways are zoysia, just as they are at Southwind where he's also been a regular factor.
Low-scoring events are fine for a player who is part of the 59 club and while I'm a little worried the bigger hitters could make hay given four short par-fives and the rain that's been around in Texas, those leaderboards from Korn Ferry Qualifying School hint that it's the shorter hitters who might in fact dominate.
Second at Highland Springs many moons ago, Snedeker is a proven winner who is playing well yet can be backed at a big price.
Despite the hope that this won't be a slugfest, Cameron Champ might've been in the staking plan but for withdrawing ahead of the Valspar. He's been playing better again recently, resides in Texas, and is a proven winner who will have a lot of birdie looks if he's fit and firing, but at the price I can just about leave him out.
Instead I am heading up towards the front of the market where SCOTTIE SCHEFFLER earns the vote ahead of fellow Texas youngster Will Zalatoris.
While Zalatoris shouldn't be judged too harshly on last week's missed cut, it did come after a poor weekend at the Heritage and on a course which ought to have really suited him, so perhaps he's suffering from some kind of Masters hangover.
Scheffler on the other hand has continued to play nicely since finishing runner-up in the WGC-Match Play, where it was clear to see how much he can draw from home support. Hailing from Dallas, we are right on his doorstep here and there will be a decent crowd in attendance, just as there was when he lost that final to Billy Horschel.
So far in his burgeoning career, Scheffler hasn't missed a cut in his home state and that includes way back in 2014 when, as a 17-year-old, he made his PGA Tour debut in this very event and finished 22nd.
Now one of the most capable young players in the world, he will be totally focused on the job at hand here and I like his form, having been 18th in the Masters, eighth alongside Bubba Watson in the Zurich Classic, and then played really well during the middle rounds of his Valspar debut, eventually finishing 29th.
That was some effort at Copperhead given that he sat 110th after round one, and if Craig Ranch is as easy as I expect it to be, it will suit him so much better. Scheffler sits 16th in par breakers having been seventh in his rookie season, and like Snedeker has already broken 60 at the highest level.
Backing maidens at 22/1 or so isn't something to be done lightly, but he's placed around once in every five starts anyway, and there is a lot in his favour in an event weakened by the absence of the world number one. Having bounced off the energy of the crowds in Austin, I suspect we'll see Scheffler in the mix here in Dallas and he's the best bet at the front of the market.
Koepka deserves a mention having threatened to win this in 2019. He was plainly not ready for the Masters, where he missed the cut just weeks after surgery on a dislocated kneecap, but the fact he's here bodes well. The four-time major winner had suggested he would sit out until the US PGA if necessary, so presumably he's feeling a good deal better.
Based on that, his form in this event but also at Southwind, and his class, he's a big price. But I can't shake the images of him having to do something close to the splits to read a putt at Augusta, and he will surely be happy enough to get through two or four rounds feeling better about the state of his knee, regardless of how well he scores.
CHARL SCHWARTZEL has also endured his share of injury issues over the last couple of years but now fit and firing again, the former Masters champion looks a serious player.
Schwartzel has now made six cuts in succession dating back to the Honda Classic, with 26th at the Masters in the third event the first real evidence that he's getting back to where he ought to be.
He followed that by taking second in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, partner Louis Oosthuizen hitting the shot which cost them in the play-off, and it was impressive to see Schwartzel hang tough in that event when I must confess I expected him to let the side down on Sunday.
Buoyed by that, he finished 21st in the Valspar and 14th in the Wells Fargo, hitting plenty of greens. Last week in particular his long-game was outstanding, and though he'll need the putter to come back around, these slowish, bentgrass greens may well help on that score.
Third in this at TPC Las Colinas, if Schwartzel finds Craig Ranch to his liking he can win again. The fact that he received an invite to the PGA Championship on Monday, one he may not have expected given his lowly world ranking, is a further boost and he arrives with a spring in his step.
I'll sign off a largely speculative staking plan with DOUG GHIM and MJ DAFFUE.
Ghim is far easier to justify as a talented, improving, largely in-form youngster who went to college in Texas, and finished 12th in this event in 2019. Back then he was a Korn Ferry Tour rookie who had missed his last couple of cuts, only to find big improvement here and justify a sponsor's invite.
Two years on and he's now established himself on the PGA Tour, contending in The PLAYERS where he witnessed Justin Thomas's final-round clinic first-hand, having also been in the mix a week earlier at Bay Hill. On both occasions, poor Sundays saw him plummet down the leaderboard but he stuck at it for fifth in The American Express in January and is edging towards a breakthrough.
If his iron play continues to fire as it has for several months now, any improvement on the greens could make him a factor in an event lacking depth and representing an opportunity. Plus, for once he not only has event experience but also course experience, having sailed through Q-School here in 2018, shooting 16-under to finish in fourth place.
That added to the fact he studied at the University of Texas earns him preference over Russell Knox among those priced up around the 80/1 mark, with Champ, CT Pan and Tom Lewis others on a lengthy shortlist.
Daffue though is available at a massive 600/1 in a place, with plenty of 300, 400 and 500 around, having come through yet another Monday qualifier to earn another crack at changing his career, and to very small stakes is the final selection.
Aged 32 and with just a handful of tour-level starts behind him, Daffue is grinding hard to make it having once been one of the most promising young golfers in South Africa. Bad luck, bad decisions, personal toil and plenty more besides have kept him on the periphery, but over the last year and a half he's become a prolific Monday qualifier who showed when 12th at the Sanderson Farms and when eighth through 54 holes of the Workday Charity Open last summer that he has the ability, even if he's still searching for the belief.
I can't stress enough how impressive it is that he keeps on rocking up to one-round shootouts on a Monday and getting the job done. He's done it three times already in 2021, 12 times in total across the top two tours in the USA over the last couple of years, and nobody can claim to have been surprised that he sailed through in eight-under to seal a spot in the Nelson.
One of the reasons I'm keen to side with him here is that he now gets the chance to play in Texas, where he went to college and has lived for a decade or so, and where he met his wife. That's a first, at this level, and could make him just that little bit more comfortable. In fact that standout performance in the Sanderson Farms came in Mississippi and playing in the southern states, under conditions which are some way familiar, has to help.
Then there's that speculative link to Highland Springs, one of the small selection of courses he's played on the Korn Ferry Tour. Daffue opened with a round of 64 there and went on to finish 15th, which is among his best efforts to date.
That fact alone tells you he's so far proven short of the standard required, but missed cuts in the Sony and in the Dominican Republic both offered promise as he started well in the former and then missed out by a shot in the latter, and he was one shot shy of the places in Jackson last year.
If we are to get a long-odds winner who qualified on a Monday, the eve of a major is as good a time as any. The last one was in fact Corey Conners, in Texas, days before the Masters in 2019. Daffue is a different player, on a different path, and will surely never reach the levels of Conners. But he's been showing us time and again that the latent ability is there, so I'm happy to roll the dice on adopted home soil.
Posted at 1000 BST on 11/05/21
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