Byron Nelson Preview, Picks & Analysis
Post by Sports Writer Derek Clements
THE resurgence of Sergio Garcia began 12 months ago when he defeated Brooks Koepka in a playoff to win the AT&T Byron Nelson at TPC Four Seasons Resort. It was the week when the world of golf saw a different Garcia for the first time, and it turned out that it was all because the Spaniard had fallen in love.
Gone was the petulant behaviour that had marked so much of his career. Gone were the temper tantrums. Gone was the blame game. Now, if things went wrong, Garcia shrugged his shoulders, accepted it and got on with his game, refusing to blame photographers, noisy spectators and bad bounces. He had finally accepted that it was time to take the rough with the smooth.
The 15th club in Garcia's bag turned out to be Angela Akins, to whom he is now engaged. And it was Akins who got the credit when Garcia finally won his first major, beating Justin Rose in such dramatic and emotional fashion to land The Masters. There is now a growing belief that, with the monkey off his back, Garcia could now go on and win several more majors. Suddenly, there is a joy both to his game and to his demeanour that we hadn't seen since he burst upon the scene as a 19-year-old in 1999. He has even found a way to hole putts, and that makes him dangerous every time he tees it up.
Can he make a successful defence of his title? The evidence of past years suggest not. The last man to do so was Tom Watson, who won in 1978, 1979 and 1980. Jason day won here in 2010, Keegan Bradley in 2011, Jason Dufner in 2012, Sangmoon Bae in 2013, Brendon Todd in 2014 and, most surprisingly of all perhaps, Steven Bowditch, of Australia, in 2015.
Bowditch's victory was a true feel-good finish, of the sort that golf has a habit of producing. Bowditch is a troubled man who has fought crippling depression all his life and experienced many troubling times in his personal life. Somehow, he kept it all together two years ago to produce one of the most emotional victories ever seen on the PGA Tour. Many people thought it might transform his career and while he has had some decent finishes since then, he has never come close to repeating that victory. Hopefully, this week will trigger some positive memories for Bowditch.
Day's 2010 success signalled his arrival as a world-class golfer and he followed it by soaring up the world rankings, climbing to number one in 2015 and remaining there throughout 2016. It came as a surprise that he didn't follow his 2015 US PGA Championship win with another major. Day has suffered from a series of niggling injuries. He thinks too much about the game, rather than trusting the very swing that took him to the summit. And earlier this year he revealed that his mother was suffering from terminal cancer. It helped to put things in perspective for the Australian. He is a huge talent who is trying to get on with his life against a tragic background. He played some decent golf at Augusta without turning it into good scores, and may well be worth a flutter.
This tournament will be won by somebody who makes a LOT of birdies, and that means it is difficult to look beyond the machine that Dustin Johnson has become. Even after his recent injury layoff, he very nearly won the Texas Open, despite insisting that he had hardly played at all since early April - and that is seriously bad news for his rivals. He looked rusty during the first couple of rounds but played brilliantly over the weekend. He is back, as if he had never been away. Sure, he wasn't at his brilliant best at Sawgrass, but he has never played well there. This is a different sort of challenge. Johnson is quite capable of bringing this golf course to its knees, and it would actually be a pretty big surprise if he failed to do precisely that.
J B Holmes is one of the few players who can live with the Dustinator's prodigious length from the tee. He has bene in pretty decent form of late, but, like so mahy of his contemporaries, sometimes struggles on the greens. He enjoys playing in this part of the world and he is due a victory.
It may also be time to start taking a long and serious look at an Irishman called Seamus Power who, having gaining his playing privileges on the PGA Tour, is now setting about proving that he belongs here. Power is a thoroughly personable young man with serious ambitions - and that includes winning tournaments. He has made the cut in 10 out of 15 starts and although he has yet to achieve a top-20 finish, you sense it won't be long before that happens. The 30-year-old spent time on various mini tours before finally making his breakthrough last season when he won the United Leasing and Finance Championship, becoming the first Irish player to win on the Web.com Tour. He then represented Ireland at the Olympic Games. Power is growing in confidence and is surely due a big finish soon.
To Win: J B Holmes. This could be his week
Each Way: Jason Day. Time for his troubles to end
Each Way: Dustin Johnson. Determined to get over his poor play at Sawgrass
J B Holmes. One of golf's entertainers
Dustin Johnson. Simply the best
Jason Day. Seeking inspiration
Marc Leishman. Genuinely decent human being and a fine golfer
Seamus Power. ready to fulfil his promise
Brandt Snedeker. At his best, there is no better putter in golf
Ryan Moore. Has turned himself into a consistent money winner
Ben An. The finest prospect in South Korean golf
Graham DeLaet. His time must surely come
Jason Dufner. There or thereabouts
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