Rory McIlroy had dropped to 15th, his lowest Official World Golf Ranking since 2009. But the time out of the top 10 did not last long as McIlroy, now No. 7, got right at an event he had won twice, the Wells Fargo Championship. McIlroy (18-1) led the field in scrambling while ranking in the top three for strokes gained putting, driving distance and greens in regulation. The victory was McIlroy’s first since November 2019 at the WGC: HSBC Champions in China. The next time he tees it up will be for the PGA Championship in two weeks at Kiawah Island, where he won the last PGA held there in 2012. McIlroy has been shortened to 10-1 and is the current favorite.
First things first, though, as the last event before the PGA, the AT&T Byron Nelson, returns to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex after the event was canceled last year due to COVID-19. World No. 1 Dustin Johnson withdrew Monday due to what he called a lingering knee injury. World No. 3 Jon Rahm (8-1) missed the cut last week at the Wells Fargo, which ended his PGA Tour-best streak of 22 consecutive cuts made. Nevertheless, he is the tournament favorite. Bryson DeChambeau (17-2) mistakenly thought he had missed the cut and flew home to Dallas, then took a 2:45 a.m. flight back to Charlotte for his Saturday round and tied for ninth. Jordan Spieth (10-1), like DeChambeau, lives in Dallas and will play in a tournament for the first time since the Masters five weeks ago. Brooks Koepka (16-1) also returns for the first time since Augusta, as does Masters champ Hideki Matsuyama (20-1). Daniel Berger (16-1) will tee it up for the first time in four weeks. Scottie Scheffler and Matthew Fitzpatrick (both 20-1) have multiple top-10s this season. Will Zalatoris (22-1), who missed the cut at the Wells Fargo, is also a Dallas-area resident. Recent winners Marc Leishman (Zurich Classic of New Orleans) and Sam Burns (Valspar Championship) are priced at 33-1.
The AT&T Byron Nelson is named after its first winner. Nelson won this tournament in 1944 when it was known as the Texas Victory Open. He lent his name to the event in 1968 and served as host until his death in 2016. The tournament is the all-time fundraising leader on the PGA Tour, having raised $167 million. The Salesmanship Club of Dallas is the host organization, and it raises money for Momentous Institute. The event has always been played in the Dallas area. AT&T, headquartered in Dallas, took over sponsorship in 2015. Many legends of the game have won this event, including Tom Watson (1975, ’78-79-80), Sam Snead (1945, ’57-58), Jack Nicklaus (1970-71), Ben Hogan (1946), Phil Mickelson (1996) and Tiger Woods (1997).
TPC Craig Ranch, playing host for the first time, is in McKinney, just northeast of Dallas. The layout was designed by Tom Weiskopf in 2004. Weiskopf also designed TPC Scottsdale (Waste Management Phoenix Open) and the Torrey Pines North Course (Farmers Insurance Open). The course is set in a rolling valley and features tree-lined fairways, with Rowlett Creek providing water in play on 13 holes. The track will play as a par-72 of 7,468 yards.
The front looks to be the more scorable nine. The first, third and sixth holes are par-4s of 430 yards or less. Add par-5s on the 570-yard fifth and 564-yard eighth and there are birdies to be made on Bentgrass greens that are large, averaging 6,800 square feet, and medium speed at 11.5 on the Stimpmeter. The back nine includes a drivable par-4 at the 14th, a short 147-yard par-3 at the 17th and a couple of easy par-5s, the 547-yard 12th and 552-yard 18th. The other holes, though, are more difficult.
The layout has 83 bunkers, and the wind can blow, but the fairways are wide and generous.
This course is completely different from the links-like feel of Trinity Forest, where this event was played in 2018-19. However, TPC Craig Ranch also features Zoysiagrass from tee to green. TPC Southwind (WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational) and East Lake (Tour Championship) also feature Zoysiagrass.
TPC Craig Ranch is hosting a PGA Tour event for the first time but hosted the Nationwide Tour Championship, now the Korn Ferry Tour, in 2008 and ’12.
(2018-19 tournaments played at Trinity Forest Golf Club; 2010-17 tournaments played at TPC Las Colinas)
2019: Sung Kang (-23/261), 125-1
2018: Aaron Wise (-23/261), 50-1
2017: Billy Horschel (-12/268), 125-1*
2016: Sergio Garcia (-15/265), 25-1**
2015: Steven Bowditch (-18/259), 500-1***
2014: Brendon Todd (-14/266), 100-1
2013: Sang-moon Bae (-13/267), 150-1
2012: Jason Dufner (-11/269), 22-1
2011: Keegan Bradley (-3/277), 200-1****
2010: Jason Day (-10/270), 100-1
* - playoff win over Jason Day
** - playoff win over Brooks Koepka
*** - par played at 69 for three days due to flooding
**** - playoff win over Ryan Palmer
Stats and Angles
The fairways are wide at TPC Craig Ranch, so getting into the best position, especially with distance, is of utmost importance.
Strokes Gained: Off The Tee (last 24 rounds)
1. Bryson DeChambeau + 25.1
2. Sergio Garcia + 20.2
3. Jhonattan Vegas + 18.8
4. Keith Mitchell + 17.5
5. Jon Rahm + 16.7
6. Cameron Champ + 16.3
7. Matthew Fitzpatrick + 14.8
8. Daniel Berger + 14.5
9. Will Gordon + 13.1
10. Luke List + 12.1
11. Charles Howell III + 11.9
12. Ryan Brehm + 11.5
This is the first time most of the field is seeing this course, so good recent iron play should be weighted slightly more than usual.
Strokes Gained: Approach (last 24 rounds)
1. Jordan Spieth + 30.4
2. Tom Hoge + 21
3. Doug Ghim + 20.2
4. Will Zalatoris + 18.6
5. Talor Gooch + 17.1
6. Jon Rahm + 17
7. Chris Baker + 15.4
8. Si Woo Kim + 15
9. Sam Burns + 15
10. Daniel Berger + 14.6
11. Marc Leishman + 14
12. Brooks Koepka + 13.2
The wind is expected to be benign over the weekend, and that is this course's main defense, so birdie opportunities should be plentiful.
Birdies Gained (last 24 rounds)
1. Jordan Spieth 24.8
2. Sam Burns 20.5
3. Bryson DeChambeau 18.7
4. Brooks Koepka 15.3
5. Daniel Berger 15.2
6. Keith Mitchell 15.2
7. Marc Leishman 14.4
8. Matthew Fitzpatrick 14.1
9. Scottie Scheffler 13.4
10. Rafael Campos 12.1
11. Jon Rahm 11.3
12. Ted Potter Jr. 10.4
Many of the approach shots on this layout should be from 175-200 yards.
Proximity 175-200 Yards (feet gained per shot, last 24 rounds)
1. Doug Ghim 22.8
2. Harry Higgs 19.2
3. Tyler Duncan 18.8
4. Wesley Bryan 13.4
5. Marc Leishman 13
6. Bronson Burgoon 11.1
7. Bryson DeChambeau 10.8
8. Grayson Murray 10.5
9. Rob Oppenheim 10.3
10. Patton Kizzire 10.1
11. Jhonattan Vegas 9.6
12. Will Zalatoris 9.5
Daniel Berger 17-1
Besides tournament favorite Jon Rahm, only Berger ranks in the top 10 in the field for SG: Off The Tee and SG: Approach over the last 24 rounds.
Dating to 2016, Berger has played 12 times the week before majors. In those starts, he has six top-10 finishes and has gained 85.9 total strokes in those events.
He should also relish a return to the Metroplex, where he won last summer at the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial CC in Fort Worth.
Will Zalatoris 22-1
Zalatoris missed the cut for the first time in 14 events last week at Quail Hollow, but this is not necessarily the time to jump off.
He has lost strokes off the tee in his last two starts but gained in 13 of his 14 previous starts. He is fourth in this week's field for SG: Approach over the last 24 rounds.
His price has been cut from where I bet him at 28-1 due to Dustin Johnson’s withdrawal late Monday, but 22-1 is still a fair price.
Charl Schwartzel 70-1
Schwartzel should fare well on the return to Bentgrass greens. Like most South African players, he seems to prefer them, considering the experience on and familiarity with this surface.
He looks like he is finally gaining some form after a wrist injury set him back in 2019. Schwartzel made the cut at the Masters (26th), was runner-up with countryman Louis Oosthuizen at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, took 21st at the Valspar and was 14th last week at the Wells Fargo.
Last week in Charlotte, Schwartzel was fourth in the field for SG: Approach and third for SG: Tee To Green.
Matt Kuchar 70-1
Kuchar seems to have found something of late with a third at the WGC-Dell Match Play, a T-12 at the Valero and a T-18 at the RBC Heritage.
Yes, he missed the cut at the Masters, but he is in better form of late.
Dating to 2016, Kuchar has played 12 times the week before majors. He has finished in the top 10 five times and has gained 68.8 total strokes in those events.
Thomas Pieters 80-1
Rust could be a factor, since he has played just once over the last six weeks. However, Pieters has five straight finishes of 15th or better dating to a T-10 in Saudi Arabia.
Pieters followed that finish with a T-15 in Puerto Rico, 13th in Qatar, T-13 in the Dominican Republic and eighth in New Orleans partnering with Tom Lewis.
He also has two top-10s playing the week before majors dating to 2016.
Doug Ghim 80-1
Ghim ranks third in this week’s field for SG: Approach over the last 24 rounds.
He has been in contention a couple of times this season, but Sunday collapses at the Players and the Arnold Palmer set him back.
Ghim has experience on this course, having played it for Korn Ferry Q-School in 2018, where he finished fourth.
Brandt Snedeker 105-1
Snedeker seemed to have found some momentum several weeks ago when he finished sixth at the Valero Texas Open.
He has finished in the top 11 in three of his last four starts, including the performance at the Valero and a fourth with Keith Mitchell in New Orleans.
Jhonattan Vegas 125-1
Vegas led the field last week at Quail Hollow for SG: Off The Tee and is third in this week’s field in that category over the last 24 rounds.
The short game has obviously not been in good shape as he ranks 165th on tour for SG: Around The Green and 168th for SG: Putting. However, if this turns into a bombers’ track, the Venezuelan should like this setup.
Betfred British Masters
Garrick Higgo matched Tiger Woods’ record to become the quickest to three tournament wins on the PGA or European tours since 1990 with his victory at the Canary Islands Championship at a 12-1 price. The South African had a hole-in-one on his way to a 7-under 64 that secured him his third European Tour title and second in three weeks on the Canary Islands. Higgo, 21, moves to No. 51 in the OWGR and will take a \week off before making his major-championship debut next week at the PGA. The European Tour now leaves the Canary Islands and heads to England for the Betfred British Masters.
Scotsman Robert MacIntyre (12-1) headlines the field after three weeks off from strong performances stateside in the WGC-Dell Match Play (T-9) and the Masters (T-12). Martin Kaymer (16-1) and Bernd Wiesberger (18-1) finished in the top 5 on this week’s course at the Belfry last summer for the ISPS Handa UK Championship. Sam Horsfield (20-1) missed the cut two weeks ago stateside at the Valspar but has finished top-10 in three of his four 2021 starts on the European Tour and was a two-time winner in 2020. Rasmus Hojgaard (23-1), who also missed the cut at the Valspar, won the UK Championship on this course last summer. Danny Willett (22-1) makes his first start in Europe in 2021 and will be the tournament host this week at the Belfry, having grown up about three hours from the course. Dean Burmester (25-1) followed his victory at the Tenerife Open two weeks ago with a fourth on the same course last week. Matthias Schwab (27-1), Thomas Detry (30-1) and Thorbjorn Olesen (31-1) round out the top 10 choices in the market.
The Betfred British Masters was founded in 1946 as the Dunlop Masters. Dunlop was founded as the rubber tire company in the late 19th century and was headquartered in Birmingham, England. It expanded its brand to many other areas, including the manufacturing of golf and other sporting equipment. Dunlop’s sponsorship expired in 1982, but the event continued from 1982-2008 under various sponsorships. However, a loss of sponsorship caused the event to take a hiatus from 2009-14. UK-based bookmaker Betfred took over sponsorship in 2019. The event got put back on the European Tour schedule in 2015 with the added wrinkle of having an outstanding British golfer serve as event host at a different course each year.
Here are the previous British Masters hosts:
2015: Ian Poulter, Woburn Golf and Country Club
2016: Luke Donald, The Grove
2017: Lee Westwood, Close House Golf Club
2018: Justin Rose, Walton Heath Golf Club
2019: Tommy Fleetwood, Hillside Golf Club
2020: Lee Westwood, Close House Golf Club
The event has lost a bit of luster over the years due to constant movement in the schedule but does have a storied history. Several huge names are multiple-time winners here, including Seve Ballesteros, Tony Jacklin, Bobby Locke, Greg Norman, Peter Thomson and Ian Woosnam.
The Brabazon Course at the Belfry, which plays host this week, has won several awards, including the World’s Best Golf Hotel at the 2019 World Golf Awards. It is ripe with history as it has hosted more Ryder Cups than any other venue (1985, ’89, ’93 and 2002). It has also been the stage for several European Tour events, including the British Masters and the Benson and Hedges International Open, but hosted its first European Tour event since 2008 last summer for the ISPS Handa UK Championship.
The property has three courses, but the Brabazon, designed by Peter Alliss in 1977 and redesigned by Dave Thomas in 1990, will be the course this week. The Belfry is a parklands layout with water in play on half the holes. The track measures 7,233 yards and is a par-72. It is unusual in that it has 12 par-4s instead of the more typical 10, which means there are just three par-3s and three par-5s. The rye and meadowgrass fairways are narrower than average, and the rough is a mix of ryegrass, fescue and meadowgrass with about 1.5 inches in the first cut and 3 inches in the second cut. The greens are Bentgrass/Poa Annua and roll about 10-10.5 on the Stimpmeter.
2020: Renato Paratore (-18/266), Close House, 50-1
2019: Marcus Kinhult (-16/272), Hillside, 175-1
2018: Eddie Pepperell (-9/279), Walton Heath, 30-1
2017: Paul Dunne (-20/260), Close House, 66-1
2016: Alex Noren (-18/266), The Grove, 18-1
2015: Matthew Fitzpatrick (-15/269), Woburn, 33-1
Trends and Angles
Tournament hosts have yet to win here, as they have obligations with sponsors and other duties. Those will be lessened this week with no spectators, but pressure is added since the course is usually near the player’s boyhood home or current residence. Here’s how tournament hosts have fared:
2020: Lee Westwood, 70th
2019: Tommy Fleetwood, eighth
2018: Justin Rose, eighth
2017: Lee Westwood, 15th
2016: Luke Donald, MC
2015: Ian Poulter, 33rd
The Brabazon Course at the Belfry hosted the ISPS Handa UK Championship in August. Here was the leaderboard for that event:
Position Player Score
1 Rasmus Hojgaard -14*
2 Justin Walters -14
3 Benjamin Hebert -13
3 Martin Kaymer -13
5 Craig Howie -12
5 Bernd Wiesberger -12
7 Marcus Armitage -11
7 Jorge Campillo -11
9 Calum Hill -10
9 Andy Sullivan -10
* - playoff
Three of the top four finishers on this course last year ranked in the top 4 for Strokes Gained: Approach. Here are the 2021 European Tour leaders for SG: Approach in this week’s field:
1. Maverick Antcliff + 1.32
2. Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano + 1.29
3. Sam Horsfield + 1.15
4. Martin Kaymer + 1.13
5. Rasmus Hojgaard + 1.03
6. Sean Crocker + 1.02
7. Adrian Saddier + 0.97
8. Matthias Schwab + 0.93
9. Fabrizio Zanotti + 0.89
10. Alexander Bjork + 0.88
Rasmus Hojgaard 23-1
In his first 2020 start post-lockdown, the Dane finished as runner-up in this event last year at Close House. He went on to finish sixth at the Hero Open and third at the English Championship before winning at the Belfry in a playoff over Justin Walters.
Twin brother Nicolai has three finishes of 15th or better, including a seventh and a fourth, in the last four weeks, so that could provide both some encouragement and motivation. Rasmus has been in the U.S. for most of the last couple of months, so a drop back down in class might be the best time to buy here.
Matthias Schwab 27-1
Schwab has three finishes of eighth or better in his last four starts.
He currently rates seventh on the European Tour for Greens in Regulation, 15th for SG: Approach and 16th for SG: Tee To Green.
Calum Hill 35-1
Hill finished T-9 in the UK Championship at the Belfry last year but rated fourth overall in the field for SG: Approach and SG: Tee To Green.
Laurie Canter 45-1
Canter made the cut the last two weeks in the Canary Islands but never really featured. He was T-13 at the Belfry last year but sixth for SG: Off The Tee and eighth for SG: Tee To Green. The last two weeks might have knocked the rust off after a six-week absence.
Jamie Donaldson 45-1
Apart from the event in Kenya several weeks ago, Donaldson has finished no worse than 16th in his last four events. The Welshman has found a bit of a career resurgence at 45.
Marcus Armitage 75-1
Armitage never really got going on the Canary Islands but posted a T-10 in Kenya and a T-4 in Austria for his previous two starts. He finished T-7 at the Belfry last year, ranking third in the field for SG: Approach and seventh for SG: Tee To Green.