It’s quite possible that no one was more comfortable in his own skin than the legendary Byron Nelson for whom this week’s PGA TOUR stop is named. So, it’s only fitting that we review who’s most comfortable at TPC Four Seasons Resort-Las Colinas in Irving, Texas, host (and co-host) of the tournament since 1986.
In 1968, the Byron Nelson Golf Classic became the first PGA TOUR event to use the name of a touring professional to identify it. Today, it’s the AT&T Byron Nelson. Come 2019, the event is scheduled to move to the strikingly different challenge of Trinity Forest Golf Club located south of Dallas. The Coore & Crenshaw creation inked a 10-year deal with the TOUR in 2013.
Cottonwood Valley shared host duties before the cut in every edition from 1994-2007, so some of the data and results you see in the tables below reflect that time frame. Defending champion Steven Bowditch debuted here in 2011. TPC Four Seasons is the only track he knows in competition. He opened with a T60, and then went 0-for-3 before last year’s wire-to-wire title. That’s hardly an endorsement for a comfort level, but it’s entirely a microcosm of his career.
Oh, and he also tied the knot here in September of 2011.
“This is a very special place for me,” said Bowditch, opening his post-victory presser with those words. “Amanda and I got married here at TPC so this is unbelievable to be sitting up here on a Sunday afternoon talking to [the media.] It’s a pretty surreal feeling and one that I guess I thought about occasionally but didn’t quite think that would happen yet.”
The native of Australia calls the Metroplex’ northern suburb of Flower Mound home for most of the year. Home cooking is precisely what he needs right now, too. In his last 10 starts, the 32-year-old has missed seven cuts, including his last five. He failed to break 80 en route to 37-over 325 at Doral in early March. Only one of his last 16 rounds anywhere wasn’t over par.
Those are numbers reminiscent of his rookie season of 2006 when he was diagnosed with clinical depression, but the larger-than-life six-footer from Down Under has maintained a steady presence in the big leagues since 2011. He broke through for his first TOUR victory in San Antonio in 2014, so his adopted state of Texas has embraced him with the kind of support you’d expect in these passionate parts.
His current form aside, he obviously knows what it takes to become the first to successfully defend a title at TPC Four Seasons.
“The course is not a long golf course,” he said about the soft, 7,166-yard racetrack, following his opening, career-low-tying, 8-under 62 last year. “It’s more of a tricky golf course. You sort of got to place it in the right spots. I think the easiest part about it is how soft the greens are. Even if you get it in the rough, you can still get it on the green, whereas in past years that’s really been because the greens get so firm here.”
Rain will prevent the 6,000-square foot targets from exercising their full forces on this week’s field of 156 until maybe the weekend, but even prior experience isn’t as valuable as at most other sites. Three of the last six champions took home the trophy in their first appearance: Jason Day (2010), Keegan Bradley (2011) and Sangmoon Bae (2013). It was also the first PGA TOUR victory for each.
Most Comfortable: Dustin Johnson
Not unlike TPC Sawgrass last week, the stable of horses at TPC Four Seasons is light on thoroughbreds. Certainly, any winner could claim to be the most comfortable, but as Bowditch’s record suggests, the euphoria can exist for only the one visit.
Bradley is 5-for-5 in the tournament with the win, a solo second (2013) and no worse than a T29 (2014) in his other three appearances. At No. 2 in all-time earnings, owner of the course record (60) and a scoring average of 68.50, he mounts a strong case as the most comfortable. However, both of his best finishes occurred with the belly putter, so his record deserves both a star and an asterisk.
This is where Johnson steps ahead. He’s only 26th in career earnings in the tournament, but no one in this field has more than his four top 10s. Perfect in six trips, only Matt Kuchar has made more starts (eight) without missing a cut, but the older American has only two top 10s and hasn’t cracked the top five. Johnson’s best finish is a T4 in 2009. He backed it up with a T7 in 2010, the first of a pair of such finishes on what has turned into his personal playground.
“You know, this golf course, it just sets up well to me,” he said after opening with 67 in 2010. “I read these greens pretty good, and, so, if I’m putting well, I’m going to usually play pretty good, especially if I’m driving it pretty straight, and I feel like I drive it pretty well here.
“I don’t hit too many drivers, which is good for me, but I just got to keep it in the fairway.”
That’s when the greens aren’t recovering from punishing rain like last year when the par-4 14th hole was shortened to a 104-yard par 3 in the last three rounds due to flooding.
Long hitters do work when drives don’t roll out. Fairways are wider as a result, thus increasing the margin for error. Johnson manufactured the lowest score on the modified par 69 when he signed for a bogey-free, 7-under 62 in the third round. He split just seven of 13 fairways, his third-lowest total of any round all week. He finished the tournament with 29 (of 53) fairways hit to rank T56 overall.
“Ever since I came here, I liked the golf course,” he said following the 62, one of three career-low-tying aggregates in 633 career rounds. “It’s a fun course to play. Got to hit all kinds of shots. If you’re hitting the ball well, you can make a lot of birdies.
“I think this is the first time I’ve played it when it was soft. Usually, it’s firm and fast, which I really enjoy. I’m hitting a lot more drivers of the tee than normal. Usually the fairways are so firm that I hit quite a few irons off the tees but this week wherever the ball flies is where it’s stopping.”
It was the classic bomber’s paradise.
HORSES FOR COURSES
Selected golfers with multiple cuts made sorted by rank on the tournament's all-time money list.
Rank Player Cuts Made/Starts Top 10s Best Finish Low Round^ Average# 2 Keegan Bradley 5/5 2 Win 60* 68.50 7 Jason Dufner 5/7 3 Win 64 69.25 20 Marc Leishman 5/7 3 T3 (x2) 63 68.63 21 Charley Hoffman 6/9 4 T2 64 69.10 22 Ryan Palmer 6/12 3 P2 64 70.47 26 Dustin Johnson 6/6 4 T4 62 68.75 44 Matt Kuchar 8/8 2 T6 64 69.28 72 Graham DeLaet 4/5 2 T7 66 (x2) 68.72 ^ - Low rounds at TPC Four Seasons only. # - Scoring averages may include rounds played at Cottonwood Valley and as many as three rounds in 2015 when TPC Four Seasons played to a par 69. * - Bradley's 60 in the opening round of the 2013 edition is the course record.
Sorted by best finish, selected golfers who are either finally finding form on the course or are still relatively new to the tournament but have enjoyed some success.
Player Cuts Made/Starts Best Finish Low Round^ Steven Bowditch 2/5 Win (2015) 62 Jimmy Walker 8/10 T2 (2015) 64 Scott Pinckney 1/1 T2 (2015) 64 (x2) Charl Schwartzel 3/3 3rd (2013) 63 Jonas Blixt 2/2 T3 (2012) 66 Zach Johnson 2/3 5th (2015) 63 James Hahn 2/2 T5 (2014) 65 (x3) Brandt Snedeker 3/4 T6 (2015) 64 (x2) Jon Curran 1/1 T6 (2015) 63 Colt Knost 4/9 T10 (2015) 64 Cameron Percy 3/4 T10 (2015) 64 Tony Finau 1/1 T10 (2015) 64 ^ - Low rounds at TPC Four Seasons only.
OTHER SIGNS OF COMFORT
Sorted by most recent top 10s, selected golfers for whom it's been a few years since their last.
Player Cuts Made/Starts Top 10s Last Best Finish Brendon Todd 2/5 1 2014 (Win) Win Charles Howell III 7/12 1 2014 (T3) T3 Boo Weekley 3/4 1 2014 (T5) T5 Gary Woodland 6/7 1 2014 (T7) T7 Scott Piercy 3/5 1 2013 (T5) T5 John Huh 3/4 1 2013 (T8) T8 (x2) J.J. Henry 11/14 2 2012 (T3) T3 Ken Duke 7/9 2 2012 (T7) T7 (x2) Robert Garrigus 7/10 1 2012 (T9) T9 Rod Pampling 9/14 3 2011 (T8) T8 (x2) Jeff Overton 6/9 2 2011 (T8) T2 Brian Gay 9/15 2 2010 (T2) T2 Cameron Beckman 6/12 2 2010 (T5) T5 Ben Crane 9/12 2 2010 (T7) 2nd D.A. Points 5/9 2 2010 (T7) 3rd John Senden 8/13 1 2009 (7th) 7th Carl Pettersson 7/12 1 2008 (T4) T4 Jerry Kelly 8/12 2 2007 (T3) T3 Freddie Jacobson 3/6 1 2007 (T7) T7 Steve Marino 5/5 1 2007 (T10) T10 Chad Campbell 10/14 1 2006 (5th) 5th Ted Purdy 7/9 1 2005 (Win) Win Sean O'Hair 5/8 1 2005 (2nd) 2nd Ernie Els 8/9 4 2005 (T10) Win Sergio Garcia 8/11 3 2004 (Win) Win Tim Herron 10/18 2 2004 (T4) T4