Nelson venue still adjusting to latest tweaks

May, 19, 2009

The PGA Tour plays Week 2 of three in Texas as the TPC Four Seasons Las Colinas hosts the 2009 HP Byron Nelson Championship. The course and tournament have both gone through several recent changes.

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The venue has been through a significant redesign by D.A. Weibring, and the tournament will be played solely on the TPC Four Seasons for just the second year.

Early indications are that the course has grown into its redesign, with the biggest change being switching the fairways from rye to Bermuda grass. Players have commented from their practice rounds that they like the faster track, especially around the greens.

The field of 156 recognizes there will be far fewer par-breakers this week compared to the birdie binge at the Valero Texas Open, but players are hopeful for lower scores at the Nelson than last year. The TPC Four Seasons Las Colinas proved a difficult test in 2008, ranking seventh in scoring difficulty out of 54 courses.

In 2008, the scoring at the 7,166-yard par-70 played to an average of 72.03, nearly two full strokes more difficult than 2007, when two of the rounds were played on the private member course. Adam Scott's 7-under-par 273 winning total last year was the highest in the 23 years the tournament has been at the Four Seasons.

There is one paradox of this redesign seen in last year's greens in regulation stats. The new layout here features large, undulating putting surfaces, tree-lined fairways and creeks and ponds that come into play. Despite the increased size in the greens, they were very difficult to hit last year.

In 2008, the TPC Four Seasons Las Colinas course ranked fourth most difficult on tour in GIR, with players only hitting 53.68 percent of greens. The course was also fifth-hardest in birdie average as players only managed 2.43 birdies per round.

From the positive feedback in early interviews, we can expect many more greens and birdies this year. Players have also commented that they really like that the areas around the greens have been cut way down. This fact, combined with the Bermuda grass fairways, should make for a faster but more birdie-friendly track.

Honoring Byron Nelson
Byron Nelson is known as the greatest gentleman in golf, but he is most remembered for his amazing streak of 11 consecutive victories in 1945. Though his career was short -- he retired at age 34 to be a rancher -- he was still very dominant. As the HP Byron Nelson Championship honors the legacy and life of one of golf's finest champions, the stats blog takes a moment to look at some of the best streaks in golf. Nelson's and Tiger Woods' careers are woven together in this list, and the connections in their cut streaks are uncanny.

1. Bobby Jones Grand Slam: In 1930, Jones won the U.S. and British Open, and the U.S. and British Amateurs, the four majors of that era.

2. Nelson's 11-tournament winning streak: In 1945, Nelson won an amazing 11 consecutive tournaments. Both Woods and Arnold Palmer have commented that they do not believe this record will be touched. Tiger once said DiMaggio's hitting streak would be broken before Nelson's win streak. Tiger is second all-time in consecutive PGA Tour wins with seven in 2006-07. He and Hogan are tied for third with six consecutive wins: Tiger in 1999-00 and Hogan in 1948.

3. Woods' consecutive cuts streak of 142: Woods did not miss a cut in more than seven years, from February 1998 to May 2005. Tiger's streak ended at the 2005 EDS Byron Nelson Championship. The connections don't stop there. Tiger broke Nelson's record of 113 cuts made, and in 2000, he also broke Nelson's single-season scoring average record of 68.33. The player with the lowest adjusted scoring average each year wins the Byron Nelson Trophy. Tiger has won this trophy eight of the past 10 years.

A key point here is that a cut is defined as getting a paycheck, even if there is no cut per se. In Nelson's time, not every player who made the cut received a check. That puts into perspective just how impressive Nelson's streak was.

4. The Tiger Slam: Woods is the only player to own all four modern majors at the same time: In 2000, he won the U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship and then captured the 2001 Masters.

5. Most consecutive years with a victory: 17 by Arnold Palmer (1955-1971) and Jack Nicklaus (1962-1978). Tiger has the longest active streak with 14 (1996-2009).

Fantasy Foursomes
With the course redesign and new tournament format, we have a very small sample of data to work with. If the very low GIR percentage from last year continues, we will want to favor the players best at scrambling. The Bermuda grass should lead to a more fast and firm course, and might take away a bit of advantage that the long hitters have seen historically.

The greens here are also bent grass, so that might favor the Texans that are most familiar with the track rather than the Florida players who know Bermuda greens or the California players who deal with more Bermuda and poa annua.

The nice item for this week's field is that it very deep. The headliners are Vijay Singh, Anthony Kim and Ian Poulter. There are also seven former winners of the event in the field: Scott (2008), Scott Verplank (2007), Ted Purdy (2005), Singh (2003), Shigeki Maruyama (2002), Jesper Parnevik (2000) and Fred Couples (1987).

For this week's fantasy picks, we will be going with the blue chips, focusing on those with scrambling skills and Texas ties.

Justin Leonard: Coming off his fifth-place finish last week at the Valero Texas Open, Texas native Leonard is a solid pick. He also has a strong record at the Nelson, making 14 of 15 cuts. Leonard ranks in the top 20 in scrambling, driving accuracy and putting average. He already has four top-10 this year in 12 starts.

David Toms: Toms has returned to form, but it hasn't been that publicized. He has five top-10s in 11 starts and ranks in the top 25 in total driving (2nd in accuracy), scoring average (2nd), scrambling, putting average, and all-around ranking. Toms hasn't played here since 2004 when he missed the cut, but in the two years before that he finished sixth and fourth.

Charley Hoffman: Hoffman finished T-7 last year at the Nelson, and he has been rock-solid this year. Hoffman has eight top-25s in 12 starts and he has made 21 consecutive cuts. He leads the tour in total birdies and he ranks in the top 25 in all the following: driving distance (with the longest drive this year at 467 yards), GIR, total putting, average putting, birdie average and scoring average.

Dustin Johnson: Johnson is more than just a bomber. He is coming off a top 25 last week, his fifth of the season in 13 starts. Johnson ranks third in birdie average, 13th in GIR, 11th in all-around ranking and second in par-5 par-breakers. He did make the cut here last year, but had an unimpressive weekend to finish T-63. This guy will continue to improve.

Rory Sabbatini: Sabbatini seems to be kind of an all-or-nothing-type player, but he has six top-25s in 12 starts in 2009. Sabbatini finished T-3 here in 2007. He ranks in the top 20 in putting average and birdie conversion.

Ian Poulter: Poulter has been great this year, finishing in the top 20 in six of his seven starts. He also finished third in 2007 and he leads the tour in scrambling at 73.2 percent.

Scott Verplank: The Dallas native has been solid lately, making nine consecutive cuts. He won here in 2007, and is coming off his fifth top-25 so far this year. Verplank ranks fifth in driving accuracy and 20th in scoring and putting average. We are going to go with another Texan here.

Kevin Na: When Na makes the cut, he finishes the weekend. Na has made eight of 12 cuts this year with eight top 25 finishes and five top 10s.

Though Na's record at the Byron Nelson is not good, (T-50th, MC, T-34th), his game is at a different level this year and he has already earned nearly as much money as his previous two years combined. Na ranks 7th on tour in scoring average, 3rd in putting average, 16th in birdie or better conversion percentage and 22nd in scrambling.

The starters: Justin Leonard, Charley Hoffman, David Toms, Ian Poulter

Next in line: Rory Sabatini, Dustin Johnson, Scott Verplank, Kevin Na

Send comments, suggestions and corrections to Information from the PGA Tour was used in this report.





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