By: Edward Egros

Nelson

Need Reasons Not to Pick Spieth at the Byron Nelson?

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Even the youngest of golf fans know how big of a favorite Jordan Spieth is at the Byron Nelson. Vegas odds have the Dallas native as a heavy favorite, he's the only golfer in the Top 20 in every Strokes Gained category except for putting (and putting is a volatile statistic), he's played at the tournament's new home at Trinity Forest a lot and the field is one of the weaker ones on the PGA Tour. In fact, only five of the Top 50 in the world will compete this weekend. Spieth is 3rd in the Official World Golf Rankings, by far the best in the field.

Then again, Spieth was also familiar with the tournament's old home at TPC Four Seasons and he failed to notch a Top 10 finish there. What makes Trinity Forest different is it's a links style, with wind playing a significant factor, no trees on the inside of the course—only outlining the exterior—and unusually large and detailed greens (this course even features one green with two holes). Because no PGA Tour event has been held here until now, there is no historical data to help determine who is likeliest to win. For my analysis, I am replacing course history with other links style courses, and wouldn't you know it? Jordan Spieth shines in this model too, the defending Open Champion with a 4th place finish in 2015 and a U.S. Open championship at Chambers Bay.

Here's one more perspective: as golf analyst
Mark Broadie points out, winners average about 35% of their total strokes gained from their approach shots. At a links style, it is possible that statistic inflates, what with handling the unique greens and unusual winds. Those playing this week who have better Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green numbers than Spieth are Scott Piercy and Sergio Garcia, who has handled other Texas tournaments well. There are a few players who could spoil Spieth's first win at this tournament, but it's hard to find them.

Here are my daily fantasy teams:

Jordan Spieth
Sergio Garcia
Robert Streb
J.J. Spaun
Hunter Mahan
Robert Garrigus

Adam Scott
Marc Leishman
Rory Sabbatini
Kevin Na
Scott Piercy
Bill Haas

Who Will Win the Byron Nelson?

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Last year, Sergio Garcia became just the fifth golfer ever to win multiple titles at the Byron Nelson. Given this tournament has been around since 1944, it shows just how difficult it is to predict this tournament.

It does help the field is stronger than usual; eight of the top 20 golfers in the world will participate, including Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, and of course Sergio. In fact,
Vegas Insider is giving these highly ranked golfers the best odds to win, most notably Johnson at 5/1. On the surface, this mark makes sense, given he has already won three times this year, more than anyone else on Tour.

But as with most golf predictions I have done, I place an emphasis on
strokes gained statistics. These measurements look at how well a golfer does in each phase of his game, compared with the rest of the field. For instance, strokes gained putting looks at how many putts a golfer needs to complete a hole at a specific distance, so if the average golfer needs 1.5 putts to complete a hole from seven feet, 10 inches, the golfer who sinks the putt gains 0.5 strokes, but a two-putt means they lose 0.5 strokes. These totals are then aggregated for the season.

ShotLink data has this information readily available since the 2004 season. Given the renovations TPC Four Seasons made to the course since that year, this time frame may be enough data for us to have a glimpse into what qualities a golfer needs to have to be successful at this particular tournament. I am using four statistics: Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee, Approach-the-Green, Around-the-Green and Putting.

The statistic with the best ranking for success is Off-the-Tee. In other words, how well a golfer does from the tee box on all par-4's and par-5's is the best predictor for winning the Byron Nelson. Here is how golfers ranked in this statistic just before competing in the Nelson:

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Other than Steven Bowditch in 2015, every golfer ranks in the Top 100, often in the Top 60. As of the end of the PLAYERS Championship, here are the top ten golfers in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee

1. Sergio Garcia
2. Dustin Johnson
3. Jon Rahm
4. Tony Finau
5. Bubba Watson
6. Kyle Stanley
7. Patrick Cantlay
8. Justin Rose
9. Hideki Matsuyama
10. Hudson Swafford

Of these ten, only Garcia, Johnson, Finau and Swafford are competing. Finau and Swafford have played this event far fewer times and Swafford has never finished in the Top 30. As for the other two players, Johnson has played at the Nelson seven times and has averaged a score of 68.54, including four "Top Ten" finishes. Garcia has played the event 12 times, has averaged a score of 69.07 and has the same number of "Top Ten" finishes. The difference is, Garcia has won the Byron Nelson twice and also has a third-place finish.

The volatility of this tournament might make this exercise seem foolish, but history does show, three of the five multiple winners won in back-to-back years. I am picking Sergio Garcia to become the fourth to win back-to-back Byron Nelson championships.