2022 AT&T Byron Nelson: Fantasy Golf Picks, Power Rankings Include Justin Thomas, Sam Burns, Will Zalatoris

Caddie Travis Perkins and Sam Burns at the 2021 Byron Nelson. (Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports)

When the AT&T Byron Nelson debuted at TPC Craig Ranch a year ago, the field encountered a soggy course requiring a lift, clean and place provision for the opening rounds and favorable scoring conditions throughout.

The second edition at the new host of the tournament held outside Dallas should present a firmer test with minimal rain expected and the typical Texas winds freshening each afternoon. Still, this 7,468-yard, par-72 course, with generous Zoysia fairways and benign Bentgrass greens, is geared to once again yield a bevy of birdies. But maybe not a 5-under 36-hole cut and 25-under winning score like the 2021 tourney.

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TPC Craig Ranch is a Tom Weiskopf design serving as the final tuneup before next week’s PGA Championship in Oklahoma. These will be the keys to success this week:

  • Attacking the four reachable par-5s is essential
  • Several players referred to the setup as a “putting contest” in post-round comments a year ago, so creating makeable opportunities with reasonable driving and precise iron play is critical
  • The areas around the green are forgiving for the occasional miss. In last year’s receptive state the pros hit the greens in regulation 70.8 percent of the time compared to the Tour average of 65.6

The field is quite strong. Eight of the top 20 players in the world are on hand, each searching for something that might carry over to the year’s second major at Southern Hills. In our fantasy golf picks and power rankings below, we focused on golfers who enjoy a high birdie or better percentage on easier courses; those thriving in SG: Ballstriking and Approach in recent tournaments; players with a solid track record in moderate wind; and golfers whose results haven’t matched their recent Tee-to-Green game.

Fantasy Golf Picks: Longer Shots

25. Sahith Theegala. The only other Weiskopf design on the PGA Tour is TPC Scottsdale and the rookie from Pepperdine was in contention there in January for four days, finishing third. He’s made five consecutive cuts.

24. Sebastian Munoz. The Thursday King ranks seventh in the field in Birdies or Better over the last 36 rounds and 13th in SG: Tee-to-Green over the last 24. Finished 39th or better in his last six starts, gaining shots on approach in five of them.

23. Matthew NeSmith. Excellent ballstriker seems to be settling in during his third season, slotting top 30 in this field in SG: Approach, SG: Tee-to-Green and par-5 scoring. Gained 2.6 shots with his irons in a T-31 last week at TPC-Potomac.

22. Alex Noren. Finished T-21 in last year’s Byron Nelson despite losing 1.3 shots on approach. Arrives showing more control over his irons this year, having gained shots on approach in five of the last six tournaments.

21. Adam Scott. Making his first start since the Masters, we’ll hope the affable Aussie is engaged on the pedestrian layout. He builds his schedule around the classic courses and biggest events these days. Has shown flashes with the irons and putters in limited action this season.

Mid-Range Contenders

20. Sepp Straka. Let us down last week but still believe there’s value at his current fantasy price. Top 20 in Birdies or Better and par-5 scoring, and he finished T-26 at Craig Ranch a year ago.

19. Seamus Power. Finished T-9 at 2021 Byron Nelson, doing most of his damage on and around the greens. Has been shaky with his irons of late but ranks fourth in the field in scoring on easy courses over the last 50 rounds and third in par-5 efficiency.

Caddie Michael Greller and Jordan Spieth. (David Yeazell-USA TODAY Sports)

18. Jordan Spieth. The Dallas native completes the career Grand Slam with a victory next week in Tulsa. Won his last start in Hilton Head despite putting worse than the field average. Ranks eighth in the field in SG: Tee-to-Green over the last 24 rounds. Finished T-9 here a year ago.

17. Dustin Johnson. Have to question how many rounds the newlywed played in recent weeks and imagine he signed up for the Byron Nelson to find a swing for next week. The broad fairways and short par-5s should enable a bomber to gain confidence quickly.

16. Aaron Wise. A board member of Team No Putt won this tournament at a different course in 2018 but more importantly gained 7.2 shots on approach in a T-6 at a similar layout in Mexico two weeks ago. Ranks sixth in SG: Tee-to-Green over the last 24 rounds.

15. Jhonattan Vegas. Has a strong record at TPC Scottsdale and another birdiefest, TPC Deere Run. Cruised to a top-10 here last year and has finished 18th or better in each of his last three starts, gaining 10.1 shots on approach to easily lead the field last week.

14. Xander Schauffele. Needs to win an individual PGA Tour tournament. Soon. His par-5 proficiency and outstanding record at TPC Scottsdale elevated him in our model this week and he’s top 20 in most of the targeted statistics. Difficult to trust in a putting contest, though.

13. Keith Mitchell. Struggled off the tee in nasty conditions last week but should savor the 90-degree temperatures and pleasing sightlines in Texas. We’ll focus on the two shots gained on approach at TPC Potomac and his par-5 prowess.

12. Adam Hadwin. Not afraid to go low, playing well at PGA West Stadium Course, TPC Summerlin and other Tour shootouts in the past. Game is sharp, gaining at least 3.3 shots on approach in the last four tournaments with a trio of top-10s and a 26th to show for it.

11. Lanto Griffin. One of the most reliable players in his price range in recent weeks, I see him continuing the fine play. Ranks ninth in scoring on easy courses and Birdies or Better and 10th in SG: Approach over the last 36 rounds.

Best Bets

10. Matthew Wolff. No one is more volatile. Could wreck your lineup with a 41 on the first nine Thursday or shoot 63 and lead by two. Neither would be surprising. But other than a few wayward tee shots, last week’s T-25 was encouraging.

9. Jason Day. Let’s remain reckless. Yes, last Saturday was a disaster but the conditions were miserable. For the week, Day gained 6.4 shots on approach, perhaps a sign that his swing changes are taking hold. Moving the body will be much easier this week and the penalty for errant drives is less severe.

8. Scottie Scheffler. He can’t win ‘em all. Or maybe he can? Sheer probability indicates the No. 1 player in the FedEx Cup and World rankings is due to cool down. Has gained shots on approach and in putting in 18 of the last 24 rounds.

7. Jason Kokrak. Appears to be regaining form after a brief dry spell. Finished 14th at the Masters and gained 3.3 shots Tee-to-Green at Hilton Head. Has won twice in Texas and can get hot on bentgrass. His talent exceeds his price.

Will Zalatoris. (Andrew Wevers-USA TODAY Sports)

6. Will Zalatoris. Easy to make a case for Zalatoris to claim his first PGA Tour victory in his hometown. Led the field in SG: Approach (9.5) at Craig Ranch last year. If the greens are indeed firmer, his towering iron shots should enhance his advantage. Making only his second individual stroke play start since mid-March.

5. Talor Gooch. Iron game has been inconsistent the last two months. Still, he’s top-10 in scoring on easy courses over the last 50 rounds. That he’s sixth in Opportunities Gained reveals he only needs one hot week with the putter to claim Tour title number two.

4. Joaquin Niemann. Gained 1.6 shots Tee-to-Green per round over the last 36 (second in the field) and has thrived when low scores are required to contend. Must tidy up the par-5s (66th in the field) but not sure eight players should have a higher price this week.

3. Justin Thomas. Like many, I expected the partnership of Thomas and Jim “Bones” McKay to produce regular victories for the 14-time winner. Hasn’t been the case. Instead, Thomas is 14 months removed from his last oversized paycheck. But he’s won his share of birdiefests from Kapalua to Malaysia and all points in between.

2. Sam Burns. Fired a course record 62 in the second round at Craig Ranch last year to seize the 36-hole lead. Of course, he’s won two more tournaments since, pushing his total to three. Leads the field in par-5 scoring, ranks third in easy course scoring and seventh in SG: Approach. Selfishly, hope he waits until next week to claim another trophy.

1. Maverick McNealy. Tour winner is the logical next step for the former Stanford star. Craig Ranch is the kind of course where he can flourish. He’s a birdie-making machine who bombs the par-5s and has made 13 of 14 cuts in the 2021-22 season with a runner-up at Fortinet and top-10 at Riviera.

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