Eight of the last nine winners of the Byron Nelson Classic tee it up on Thursday – but Players’ champ Soo Wi Kim swerves it to rest his back.
Kim would have been looking to become the second South Korean to win the title after 2013 victor Bae Sang-moon but a cautionary note for golf’s ‘next big thing’ is that Bae is still on national service in his homeland as only a bona fide Major or Olympic glory, helps you dodge the draft.
Paddy’s paying 7 places again in the Lone Star State and here’s who is on your mind as the likely winners.
1. Noh Seung-Yul
It’s Wikipedia time again as the world goes mad for the latest South Korean wunderkid. He’s tipped away this season with three Top 10 finishes at Wells Fargo (T5), Sanderson Farms (T8) & AT & T (T8) which is good, right?
What is not so good is that three visits here in four years have seen 69-70 & a MC last year. Will South Korean lightning strike twice? Hands up who thought it would even strike once in Florida – and it didn’t stop Bae Sang-moon four years ago.
2. Ian Poulter
There’s nothing like losing a revenue stream to shake you out of a slump and the threat of his US Tour card going south seems to have worked a treat on the loudmouth in the even louder trousers.
Poulter has yet to win a stroke-play event in the States but recorded his highest finish (T2) at Sawgrass, days after a last-minute reprieve on his exempt status – on a count-back.
A couple more high-placed finishes should see ‘Poults’ qualify for the Fed Ex Cup at season’s end. However, his form here reads a patchy 3-35-MC before posting another MC last year after a six-year hiatus.
3. Smylie Kaufman
A newbie to the Byron Nelson roster, but the 25-year-old caught the eye with a closing day 69 at the Players Championship last weekend. Kaufman finished T12 to back up a T5 finish at Wells Fargo a week earlier.
He desperately needed those results as he’s had plenty of weekends free recently, having missed seven of his last eight cuts before Sawgrass. Too early to say if he’s trending – but looks to have turned a corner.
4. Bud Cauley
The 27-year-old Floridian didn’t qualify for Sawgrass, however his three runs in April make him worth a second look in Texas.
BC hasn’t been outside the Top 10 in his last three tournaments and brings the added bonus of finishing a two-shot fourth here to Sergio last season, after thee rounds in the 60s.
Rested and raring to go – he could be a player this week.
5. Brooks Koepka
Starting to shift through the gears this season after a tepid start and has positive memories of the Four Seasons resort. On just his third visit as a pro last year, he was beaten by Sergio Garcia in a play-off and will be hoping to go one better this year.
A T16 berth at Sawgrass gave him a fifth straight Top 20 finish, so he’s heading in the right direction and has been touted as a possible future PGA Championship winner.
6. Patrick Reed
No great course form for Patrick Nathaniel Reed to boast of – and he would, if he could – despite being a son of the Lone Star State.
Reed has a MC & 83 in his form figures and this is his first time back at the track in three years. Not in the best of form since his Ryder Cup heroics, but did at least get to see out the weekend at Sawgrass.
7. Dustin Johnson
DJ never really threatened to win the Players Championship but did bounce back on the final day to finish T12.
In fairness to the World No.1, that was a personal best form him at Sawgrass but he’s much more at home at Los Colinas where he’s finished 4-7-20-7-8-12 in his last six visits.
We all know the score with DJ and considering he’s going to start single digits for most Majors this year, it’s no surprise he’ll head the market in Texas this week.