AT&T Byron Nelson picks: Why our experts don't expect Jordan Spieth to turn it around in his hometown
Sure, we're all trying to hold back our excitement in anticipation of next week's PGA Championship. That's a little unfair to the AT&T Byron Nelson, which is held at the ultra-unique and interesting Trinity Forest Golf Club in south Dallas, Texas. The field has dampened the lead-up to the year's second major as we have a field that's one of the weakest of the year, as many of the world's best players appear to be focused on Bethpage Black.
But that's nothing a little action can't fix. Mix in some DraftKings or FanDuel lineups, in addition to a few friendly wagers, and you'll still be glued to the TV to see how the field fares at this distinctive Coore and Crenshaw design. This week's column again brings back a guest picker from the Action Network, a leader in premium handicapping data for sports fan, which is increasing its foothold in golf. Jason Sobel, the Action Network's senior golf expert, joins our weekly panel, which includes a PGA Tour caddie, offering insight from the range and putting green of this week's AT&T Byron Nelson, thanks to our partnership with The Caddie Network; two of the most respected fantasy golf experts, Pat Mayo of DraftKings and Brandon Gdula of FanDuel; and Columbia University senior lecturer and Ph.D. Lou Riccio, who uses predictive analysis and modeling to forecast winners in golf. Read on to see who they like this week.
2019 AT&T Byron Nelson Picks To Win (Odds from FanDuel Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie Guest Picker of the Week: Brooks Koepka (7-1) — This is a perfect golf course for Brooks and one that he can overpower. Aaron Wise won here last year – the first time the Nelson was played at Trinity Forest—and reached 23-under par. It’s going to be a birdie-fest. There’s not going to be much wind. I love Koepka’s chances here. And with another recent media snub, he might want to prove a point.
Pat Mayo, DraftKings/Fantasy National analyst: Keith Mitchell (29-1) — A driver-friendly track with Bermuda greens? That's Killah Keith's calling card. Closed Sunday at Quail Hollow HOT, churning out another top-10 finish, and returns to a course where he lead the field in ball striking a year ago, resulting in a T-3. He's a better player a year later and might actually improve on that result.
Brandon Gdula, FanDuel/numberFire editor: Henrik Stenson (29-1) — Stenson’s approach play has been really hot of late (he is second in the field in strokes gained/approach over the past 24 rounds and first over the past 100 rounds, via FantasyNational.com). He also leads the field in strokes gained on par 4s from 400 to 450 yards, of which there are six, and he leads in proximity from 200-plus yards. Stenson absolutely has what it takes to win in a watered down field.
Dr. Lou Riccio, Columbia University: Aaron Wise (21-1) — Last year's win was no fluke. Aaron Wise is one of the under-appreciated young players off the tee. He's ranked 19th on tour in strokes gained/off-the-tee this season, and that includes a stretch of three missed cuts in a row at the start of 2019. It seems Wise is turning it on—he finished a very impressive 17th at the Masters and 18th at Quail Hollow. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see Wise contend again at Trinity Forest: He is first on my stats model this week. You're getting a little bit of a discount on the odds because he's not a household name yet. If he wins this week, that could change.
Jason Sobel, Action Network senior writer: Rafa Cabrera-Bello (45-1) — My head says Marc Leishman, on the heels of his runner-up finish here last year, but my heart says Cabrera Bello is primed and ready to win his first PGA Tour title. Some of RCB’s best PGA Tour performances – T-3 at the Arnold Palmer this year; T-7 at the Dell Technologies and T-3 in Mexico last year – are less about similar course characteristics and more about his game trending in the right direction. On each of those three prior occasions, he had three or four good-but-not-great results entering that week. This time, he comes in on the heels of 16th-36th-24th-30th in his last four. That’s enough for me to get on-board.
Golf Digest editors: Henrik Stenson (29-1) — On a rain-soaked Trinity Forest, you'd figure bombers have a significant advantage. That is true. But this is a position golf course. Sure, length helps—if you're in the right spots. Henrik Stenson has proven his elite ball-striking is back, ranking first on strokes gained/approach-the-green this season and strokes gained/approach over the past 50 rounds, according to FantasyNational.com. You need control of your golf ball at Trinity Forest. Stenson has that right now. If he's on the right side of the draw, we like the Swede's chances of earning a second win since his Open title.
(Results on the season: We’ve correctly predicted five of the season’s 23 events. Pat Mayo has correctly picked Bryson DeChambeau (12-1, Shriners); Matt Kuchar (60-1 at the OHL Classic) and Phil Mickelson (25-1 at Pebble Beach). Golf Digest editor Christopher Powers correctly picked Kevin Tway (55-1) to start the season at the Safeway Open. Lou Riccio called Rickie Fowler's win (16-1) in Phoenix. And Brandon Gdula has four picks of his who have finished runner-up. We're due for another winner.)
Sleepers/Dark Horses That Could Win at the AT&T Byron Nelson (odds from DraftKings Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie: Sungjae Im (36-1) — He’s played a lot of golf this year (21 starts already). In that stretch, he’s got five top 10s, highlighted by a T-3 at Bay Hill. With the winning score likely to be 20-something under par, I like a guy who makes a lot of birdies. Im is 26th on Tour birdie average and 25th in scoring average. This could be the week the 21-year-old picks up his first PGA Tour win.
Mayo: Rafa Cabrera-Bello (45-1) — In the midst of an uber-consistent season, RCB is one the few second-level players in the field who gains strokes off the tee and through approach almost every single event. Per FantasyNational.com, the Spaniard has gained strokes with his irons in seven of eight U.S. starts in 2019, with an average of +4.8 strokes gained/approach in his past two weighted starts (Heritage/Valspar). And, while dropping a few at the shorter Harbour Town layout (-0.2), RCB had averaged +3.0 strokes gained/off-the-tee in his three tournaments previous, in closing a scorching +3.9 at the very driver-heavy Arnold Palmer Invitational. Sitting at No. 31 in the world rankings, Cabrera Bello has been close so many times on American soil without breaking through. Put him at a course which deemphasizes short game and switches importance to lag putting, and he’s very live.
Gdula: Trey Mullinax (75-1) — Mullinax is an elite ball-striker, which is the mold I’m looking for this week. He gained 6.6 strokes with his approach play at the RBC Heritage (finishing 16th) and 7.0 at the Wells Fargo (finishing 50th). In a weak field, he could keep in contention with that type of performance.
Riccio: Abraham Ancer (55-1) — Australians always seem to play well in the windy Texas conditions. Who won the Australian Open this year? Abraham Ancer—not an Australian, but someone who possesses the same qualities to excel when the conditions get tough. Ancer is ranked in the top 20 in strokes gained/off-the-tee, and specifically, No. 1 in this field over the past 50 rounds in strokes gained/off-the-tee, as well as top-10 in other key ball-striking stats.
Sobel, Action Network: Brian Harman (100-1) — It hasn’t been the greatest season for Harman, but he’s criminally underpriced for a player of his talent level. A second-round 75 is the only score which kept him from seriously contending at Quail Hollow last week, but he’s at least showing signs of returning to form. Though he didn’t play this event last year, the course should suit him — and at this number, he’s worth a shot.
Golf Digest editors: Ryan Palmer (70-1) — On our Golf Digest podcast after his win, Palmer told us that he thinks his Zurich Classic team win might be the start of "multiple wins" from him. Why not this week? Palmer is a Dallas native, and he'll feel at home at Trinity Forest. He's a great wind player, in case the conditions get blustery like they can on this faux-links design. This will undoubtedly be a birdie fest, and Palmer is ranked fifth this season in birdie average. It's worth taking Palmer at these high of odds.
Players to Fade This Week (who will disappoint)
PGA Tour Caddie: Marc Leishman (29-1) — I know he tied for second here last year, but he hasn’t played well since the Genesis Open (T-4) in February. Marc started the wraparound season in great form with a win at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia, along with a T-4 in Maui and a T-3 in Oahu. But since Riviera, he hasn’t done anything that jumps off the page. I know he’ll be a popular pick this week, but I just don’t think the form is there at the moment.
Mayo: Jordan Spieth (15-1) — Jordan Spieth, well, he’s just been brutal this year. At least last season he could point to a horrendous run with the flat stick as the source of his issues. This year? The milk has been BADDD. In fact, Spieth's putting has been the sole thing keeping him afloat most weeks, that hasn’t been brutal, merely mediocre. In 2019, Spieth’s lost to the field in 62 percent of his rounds tee-to-green and ball-striking. In this field, that puts him in a bucket with Brendon Todd, John Chin, Whee Kim and Cody Gribble. Maybe a trip home ignites old Spieth, but that’s a big ask with how poorly he has played this year.
Gdula: Jordan Spieth (15-1) — Spieth’s woes off the tee have resulted in lost strokes in five of his past six measured events, and that won’t really cut it at Trinity Forest, a course that requires good drives. The short game has been solid, but that’s not what we should be looking for at this course.
Riccio: Patrick Reed (28-1) — Reed will be a popular pick after his early-round successes at Quail Hollow. It's good to see his game somewhat wrapping into form. But my model is not high on him. I have him ranked 50th in this week due to his total inconsistency with his ball-striking and par-4 scoring over the past year. You might point to last week as a turning point. I'll use the larger sample size to say these odds are way too high.
Sobel, Action Network: Hideki Matsuyama (13-1) — I’ve heard a lot of love for Matsuyama this week, but I’m just not feeling it. He was T-16 here last year and hasn’t finished inside the top-20 in any of his last three starts. If I’m playing a guy with the second-lowest odds in the field, I want to feel great about his chances and I definitely don’t feel great about Hideki this week.
Golf Digest editors: Rory Sabbatini (37-1) — These odds are crazy. Sabbatini has had a resurgent season—but he has better odds to win than players like Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Thomas Pieters and Ryan Moore, who we like way more than the shorter-hitting Sabbatini. Maybe he'll have another strong week. But his likelihood of winning are not worth laying these odds.
2019 AT&T Byron Nelson: Matchups
PGA Tour Caddie: Ryan Palmer (-115) over Alex Noren (Sportbet) — Palmer has been playing some really good golf lately, and this is his first start since the win in New Orleans with Jon Rahm. He's back in his hometown of Dallas, too. Noren, meanwhile, has yet to show the form he had last year.
Mayo: Aaron Wise (-110) over Jordan Spieth (Bet365) — Wise is beginning to peak after a rough stretch to kick off 2019. He followed up a T-17 in his Masters debut with a T18 at Wells Fargo, where he landed top 10 in strokes gained/tee-to-green, ahead of winner Max Homa, even. Homa just didn't miss a putt over the weekend. So, we know Wise is playing better lately and still rates out Top 10 in this field in birdies or better/gained, strokes gained/off-the-tee and par-4s gained from 400-450 yards over the past 36 rounds, per FantasyNational.com. That 400-450-yard range is a key stat this week.
Gdula: Ryan Moore (-106) over Patrick Reed (FanDuel) — Moore ranks third in strokes gained/approach and 12th in strokes gained/off the tee over the past 100 rounds and should do well to fit the ball-striking course. In total, Moore’s ball-striking puts him well ahead of Reed’s, and that should be the difference based on course fit.
Riccio: Henrik Stenson (-130) over Patrick Reed (Sportbet) — I'll double down here with my preference for Henrik Stenson over Patrick Reed this week. My model gives Stenson a 5-percent chance to win this week, whereas Reed is at a less than 1-percent chance. Reed is 50th on my model; Stenson is fourth. The oddsmakers don't have this accurately priced, so you can take advantage.
Sobel, Action Network: Scottie Scheffler (-110) over Lucas Bjerregaard (Sportbet) — This happens a lot in golf: A lesser-known player wins or seriously contends and immediately garners the attention of the betting public, lowering his price across the board for impending tournament starts. Such is the case for Bjerregaard, who defeated Tiger Woods en route to finishing in fourth place at the WGC-Dell Match Play Championship recently.
Since then, he missed the cut at the Valero Texas Open and finished an impressive T-21 at the Masters, but I don’t believe the lines have yet adjusted for him. This week, he’s a favorite over Scheffler, a University of Texas product who lost in a playoff on the Web.com Tour last week.
He’s already familiar with Trinity Forest, having played there in college tournaments and presumably while living in the Dallas area. This is a nice price for a guy who might go under the radar since he’s been playing on the minor-league circuit, but he owns a ton of game.
Golf Digest editors: Justin Harding (+130) over Bud Cauley (Sportbet) — Cauley is coming off a top-20 finish at Quail Hollow, so he's sort of a dangerous guy to fade. But plus-money with the South African who plays well in the wind is too good of value to pass up.
(Matchup results last week: Mayo: 1 for 1 (Sung Kang (-110) over Chesson Hadley); Riccio: 1 for 1 (J.T. Poston (+100) over Rory Sabbatini); GD Editors: 1 for 1 (Joel Dahmen over Zach Johnson); Action Network: 1 for 1 (Luke List (-125) over Zach Johnson); Gdula: 0 for 1; PGA Tour Caddie: 0 for 1.)
(Matchup results for the year: GD Editors: 10 wins, 6 losses, one push; Riccio: 9-6; Action Network guest picker: 1 for 1; PGA Tour Caddie: 8-9; Mayo: 8-6-2; Gdula: 7-8-1.)
Top 10 (odds from DraftKings Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie: Charles Howell III (+410) — He’s a top-10 machine (four in 16 starts this year and nine top 25s). Uncharacteristically, Charles has missed the cut in each of his last two starts, the RBC Heritage and the Wells Fargo. This week is just what the doctor ordered to get Howell back on track—a tournament with a weak field at a course where he tied for ninth a year ago.
Mayo: Scott Scheffler (+580) — Fresh off a playoff loss on the Web.com Tour over the weekend, Scheffler's posted four consecutive top-seven finishes on the Web.com Tour. He was T-20 at Valero a week before The Masters. He was ninth in the field in strokes gained/approach (+4.8) at Valero and ranked 15th in driving distance/gained, according to FantasyNational.com. In fact, in two PGA starts on the season, he hasn't gained fewer than +4.6 strokes with his irons. Oh, and he's a Dallas local, too. Who doesn't love a good narrative along with a skill fit?
Gdula: Adam Schenk (+720) — Schenk has promising Bermuda putting splits in his career so far, and he did play here last year (59th) despite losing 2.5 strokes on the greens. He’s a great approach player, ranking sixth in the field over the past 50 rounds in strokes gained/approach, and there’s a lot of value for him for a top-10.
Riccio: Henrik Stenson (+290) — Everything is coming together for Stenson stats-wise. His iron play is back to elite Stenson level, and on these huge, undulating greens at Trinity Forest, placing your iron shots in the correct place is key to playing well. The Swede at nearly 3-to-1 odds to finish in the top-10 is very appealing, given his form and the weak field.
Sobel, Action Network: Matt Jones (+800) — It should come as no surprise that there were three Aussies in the top-13 last year. One of them was Jones, who not only owns a little course mojo, but has quietly been playing some solid golf lately. He’s put together a nice string of top-40 results over the last few months, which should translate to another good week here.
Golf Digest editors: Rafa Cabrera Bello (+370) — The Spaniard's ball-striking numbers are some of the best in the field. Over the past 50 rounds, RCB is ninth in strokes gained/off-the-tee; ninth in strokes gained/ball-striking; 10th in strokes gained/tee-to-green. He's a threat to win, but the Spaniard hasn't done it all that often. The safer bet is a top-10 wager, which at almost 4-to-1 are really nice odds.
(Top-10 results last week: Gdula: 1 for 1 (Keith Mitchell, +800); Everybody else: 0 for 1)
(Top-10 results for the year: Mayo: 7 for 17; Gdula: 5 for 16; GD Editors: 4 for 16; PGA Tour Caddie: 4 for 17; Riccio: 3 for 16)
Mayo: If you remove putting from the equation, which I did, no matter how short or long a sample you look at, Hideki is the top player in this field. Now, that’s unfair to Brooks, who everyone would agree is actually the best player, but Koepka does most his damage at events where Shotlink data is forbidden, so we lose a lot of his best rounds because of that. That kind of speaks to the Hideki over Brooks play this week, though. Brooks is focused on winning at the PGA Championship. Not to say he won’t just steam through everyone in Dallas, but Hideki is more likely to bring forth his best effort at a lesser event.
Trey Mullinax is close, and I want to be there when it finally happens for him. Second at Quail Hollow in strokes gained/approach, behind only Rory McIlroy, Mullinax has gained 13.6 strokes on approaches the last two events, along with being one of the longest hitters on tour. The guy's short game is not great, but on these enormous greens at Trinity Forest, he may not have to use his around-the-green game all that much.
Hideki Matsuyama ($11,000); Keith Mitchell ($9,100); Rafa Cabrera-Bello ($8,600); Scottie Scheffler ($7,900); Trey Mullinax ($7,600).
Riccio: With this lineup, you're getting six players in the top 14 of my statistical model for the AT&T Byron Nelson, which is also a well-balanced lineup. Even at the bottom, Ben Silverman hasn't lost strokes on his approach shots since early February. He also had a T-13 at a blustery Corales Puntacana tournament, so if he makes the cut, this lineup looks strong. Kevin Tway and Aaron Wise can overpower this golf course, and Hideki Matsuyama and Kevin Na are as precise as anybody with their irons.
Hideki Matsuyama ($11,000); Aaron Wise ($9,400); Kevin Na ($8,900); Kevin Tway ($7,600); D.J. Trahan ($6,900); Ben Silverman ($6,200).
Golf Digest Editors: This lineup is loaded. Any of these top-five players could win, and Jim Knous is coming off an impressive top-20 finish at Quail Hollow, a tougher track than Trinity Forest. Knous might not have the firepower to make enough birdies to replicate that top-20, but all you need is him to make the cut, and this should be a six-for-six lineup—with five players who could absolutely raise the trophy.
Henrik Stenson ($10,300); Keith Mitchell ($9,100); Rafa Cabrera Bello ($8,600); Justin Harding ($7,800); Trey Mullinax ($7,600); Jim Knous ($6,600).
Gdula: Everything starts with whether or not you’re spending up for Brooks Koepka ($12,600) in a weak field. In head-to-heads and double-ups, it makes sense to do so. Even in smaller tournaments you can justify it. In the massive tournaments, it’s probably best to consider pivoting away from the chalk and going with Hideki Matsuyama ($11,600) or Henrik Stenson ($11,000).
The $10,000 range offers lot of options this week — Aaron Wise ($10,900), Sungjae Im ($10,600), Rafa Cabrera Bello ($10,500), Ryan Moore ($10,300), Keith Mitchell ($10,200), Kevin Na ($10,000), and Scott Piercy ($9,800) — and can be a great place to build the core of your lineup, giving you multiple great golfers in a weak field.
Riccio: Again, I'm taking long shots with Trahan and Silverman, but I feel confident enough in them, where it allows me to go with four studs in a top-heavy lineup.
Hideki Matsuyama ($11,500); Jordan Spieth ($11,200); Henrik Stenson ($11,000); Aaron Wise ($10,900); D.J. Trahan ($7,700); Ben Silverman ($7,300).
GD Editors: This is the perfect lineup that's well balanced with top-heavy stars—and two guys who can light it up, including Brian Stuard, who has been sneaky good, and Brian Gay, who's in the top-5 in birdies made.
Hideki Matsuyama ($11,500); Henrik Stenson ($11,000); Keith Mitchell ($10,200); Abraham Ancer ($9,600); Brian Gay ($8,900); Brian Stuard ($8,800).
About our experts
Dr. Lou Riccio, a PhD senior lecturer, teaches rational decision making at Columbia's Graduate School of Business and has served on the USGA's handicap research team for three decades. His predictive analysis and modeling helps him make expert picks for our column.
Pat Mayo is known as one of the pre-eminent experts in daily-fantasy sports and golf handicapping specifically. Mayo is a 17-time fantasy sports-writers association finalist, the most of any writer this decade, and Mayo won the 2019 Fantasy Sports Writing Association Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year and Podcast of the Year awards, along with the Fantasy Sports Trade Association Best Video award. Mayo is on the board of governors at www.fantasynational.com. Here’s a link to watch his complete DraftKings preview of the AT&T Byron Nelson.
Brandon Gdula, a senior editor and analyst for NumberFire, a FanDuel daily-fantasy analysis company, recently won the 2018 fantasy sports-writers association Golf Writer of the Year (congrats, Brandon!). Gdula also co-hosts the DFS Heat Check podcast.
Jason Sobel is the Action Network's senior golf writer, and one of the most respected writers on tour, having previously covered the PGA Tour for ESPN.com and the Golf Channel. One of the Action Network's experts will join our weekly column every week. Click here to read Action Network's full AT&T Byron Nelson coverage.