Phil Mickelson is favourite to land the spoils at the HP Byron Nelson Championship, which gets underway today.
There is a trend on the PGA Tour for the top players to take a week off following one of the big events but, despite the Players Championship only finishing on Sunday, a number of the top stars are back in action this week. Mickelson (11/1 Tournament Outright @ Betfred
) is the biggest name in the field but not the highest ranked, as last week’s winner, Matt Kuchar, gets straight back to work after lifting the trophy at Sawgrass.
‘Lefty’ has enjoyed considerable success so far this term, with victory in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am the undoubted highlight, but he also finished tied for fourth at the Houston Open and managed a top-three finish in the Masters. But the Californian has only broken 70 in one of his last eight rounds of golf and was never a factor in last week’s ‘fifth major’. There is no doubt that the hunger is still there for the 41-year-old and he is never far from the top of the leader-board, but he continues to rely on his superb short game to bail him out. If he can drive the ball straight then he is more than capable of winning this event despite the quality of the line-up.
Kuchar is now up to fifth in the world rankings and the amiable American will look to make it back-to-back wins this week. But history suggests that rarely happens on either side of the Atlantic and so he may be a player ‘best watched’ this week. A glance at his current form would suggest that there is every reason why he would challenge as, the Players aside, he has posted four other top 10s in his last seven events and looks to be in the form of his life. However, it remains to be seen how much stomach for the fight he has after last week’s effort in Florida.
Adam Scott (12/1) is next in the betting and surely it is only a matter of time before the Australian gets back on top of the podium. He has been knocking on the door all season with 15th, 13th, 12th and eighth-place finishes. The 31-year-old is a former winner of the event, having claimed the spoils in 2008, and it would surprise nobody to see him post a high finish this week (Scott 5/2 Top 5 Finish).
Defending champion Keegan Bradley is priced at 18/1 to win this one but he enters the tournament on the back of two missed cuts and a tie for 35th at Sawgrass. The 25-year-old does have a second place finish this year and two other top 10s and it may be that he is inspired by being the defending champion – but others look more attractive as possible winners.
Louis Oosthuizen is one of them as the South African has been in red-hot form of late if you forget the fact that he missed the cut last week. Third place at the Houston Open was followed by a play-off defeat at Augusta to finish second at the Masters before he finally got over the line to win the Malaysian Open on the European Tour. It is true that the Far East field was not nearly as strong as the one he will face in Dallas but a win is a win and it will have boosted his confidence for the busy summer period of the campaign. He just failed to make the weekend at Sawgrass and will be looking to bounce straight back this week as the players continue their build-up to the US Open. The 2010 Open champion is ranked 14th in the world at present and a decent finish this week could see him return to the top 10.
Jason Dufner failed to hit the heights last week and maybe his victory in New Orleans the previous week was still playing on his mind but, if his head is right this week, then there is no reason to suggest that he will not play a part in the business end of proceedings.
Ernie Els just keeps on going and should do well this week if the pattern of his season continues in the same way.
A missed cut at the RBC Heritage was followed by a second-place finish at the Zurich Classic, before he failed to make the weekend at the Players. So it is the turn of the real Els to show up this week and try to repeat his feat of 1995, when he took the title with a 17-under par 72-hole score. The veteran has played a lot of golf this season with four top 10s but his chances of winning will be getting fewer with his advancing years.
England’s Brian Davis will continue his search for an elusive maiden win on the PGA Tour after a disappointing final round at Sawgrass saw him finish down in a tie for 25th when it looked as though another top 10 might be on the cards. The Orlando resident has three top 10s in his last six events and is playing some of the best golf of his career.
He tends to start tournaments well before sometimes fading away and it would be great to see the London-born 37-year-old finally get the win he deserves (Davis 45/1 First Round Leader).
The season is really starting to come to the boil now with so many big events on the horizon and this has all the makings of another competitive event stateside.