(CBS DFW) — The AT&T Byron Nelson is the last event before the PGA Championship. That gives many of the PGA Tour’s best one last chance to tune up for the year’s the second major. And judging by the field scheduled to appear at TPC Craig Ranch in McKinney, Texas, many players are availing themselves of the opportunity.
The Byron Nelson was canceled last year due to the COVID pandemic. This year it returns to its May calendar spot, preceding the PGA Championship for a second time. But it will be played on a new course. TPC Craig Ranch takes over for Trinity Forest.
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Sung Kang is the defending champion, winning the 2019 event at 23-under par. He’ll be looking to defend his title against a field that includes nine of the world’s top-25 players. Jon Rahm, Bryson DeChambeau and Hideki Matsuyama will be among them, though top-ranked Dustin Johnson has pulled out of the event citing a knee injury. Jordan Spieth and Will Zalatoris will also be on hand, along with two more of the tournament’s previous five winners.
Rahm and DeChambeau, the world’s third and fourth-ranked players respectively, come in as the obvious favorites. “If you drive the ball long, you’re going to have the advantage around here,” said CBS Sports golf analyst and on-course reporter Mark Immelman.
Rahm missed the cut at last week’s Wells Fargo Championship. But he had a streak of four consecutive top-10 finishes before that. DeChambeau managed a ninth-place tie at the Wells Fargo. He’s been a bit less consistent this year, despite a win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational a couple months ago.
The Byron Nelson also marks the return of Matsuyama and Spieth, who will be seeing their first action since the Masters. Matsuyama won the year’s first major to put on his first green jacket. Spieth tied for third at the Masters, taking another step in his ongoing trip back up the rankings. While Matsuyama has otherwise found limited success this year, Spieth won the Valero Texas Open the week prior and tied for fourth at the Arnold Palmer the month before. Zalatoris is another player who continued a stretch of promising play by making some noise at Augusta. He’ll continue his quest to follow up that solo second with his first Tour win.
Most of the field will be taking on a largely unfamiliar course. TPC Craig Ranch is a par-72, 7,468-yard track that is making its PGA Tour debut. It has hosted events on the Korn Ferry Tour in which a few competitors in the field have competed. And, coincidentally, defending champion Kang is also a member of the club. But weather limited access to the course early the week. So for many it will be their first time.
The course, designed by Tom Weiskopf, was finished in 2004. It has wide fairways, limited rough and fairly big greens without a lot of undulation. Elevation changes also aren’t extreme. And trees don’t appear to be much of a factor. Rowlett Creek crosses the course 14 times. A first look at the track suggests longer hitters may have an advantage, with low scores to be had. A recent bit of weather has softened it up as well. The only question is the wind, which could limit birdies. The current forecast shows light winds Thursday and Friday that will pick up some this weekend.
“I think the course as it is is going to be pretty scorable, because it’s sort of soft out there,” said Immelman. “And these guys can have their way with soft conditions. But it’s a nice course, picturesque. Holes are interesting. They turn both left and right. There’s some elevation change. So a fun design, and I think the players will have a good time with it.”
TPC Craig Ranch has five par-5s, all in the neighborhood of 550 yards long. Two of its 10 par-4s sit around 500 yards, but the sixth hole measures only 361 yards. It could also prove to be one of the more difficult, with bunkers protecting the fairway leading to one of the course’s smaller greens. The 512-yard 13th hole will also present a challenge. It plays uphill off the tee. Bunkers guard the front and back of the green, which is divided by a ridge.
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According to Immelman, “a number of holes turn gently from left and right, and they turn in this flat Texas area by bunkers and trees. So if you hit really long, you can take it over some of the doglegs. So I feel like players, with the softer conditions, will be very aggressive off the tee. They’ll hit driver a lot. There’s not too much rough, so it’s not too punitive if you miss the fairway. So I feel like you’ll see a lot of aggression off the tee.”
Here are the favorites:
Jon Rahm (8-1)
Rahm has played well much of the year. Although he doesn’t have any wins, he has plenty of top-10 finishes and will be looking to shake off last week’s missed cut. Rahm is one of the Tour’s longer hitters, with an average driving distance over 300 yards. He also ranks third in Shots Gained: Off-The-Tee.
Bryson DeChambeau (8-1)
DeChambeau is the undisputed heavyweight of long drivers. He currently leads the Tour in driving and SG: Off-The-Tee, averaging 322.1 yards with his drives and picking up 1.131 shots. But his results this year have been a little mixed. DeChambeau has his Arnold Palmer win and a tie for third at the Players Championship. But he’s finished well outside the top 10 on multiple occasions.
Jordan Spieth (10-1)
Spieth seems to have officially returned to form, given his strong showing at the Masters. He started the year ranked 82nd and is now ranked 28th. He’s cracked the top 10 in six of his nine events this year. Having won the week before the last major, Spieth will look to do it again, this time at the event where he made his PGA Tour debut.
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Watch the AT&T Byron Nelson Saturday, May 15 and Sunday, May 16, 3:00 – 6:00 p.m. ET on CBS.