MCCARTHY: Three to watch at Byron Nelson … TPC Craig Ranch makes debut … Deep thoughts with DJ

Feb 13, 2021; Pebble Beach, California, USA; Jordan Spieth plays his shot from the 16th tee during the third round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am golf tournament at Pebble Beach Golf Links. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: IMAGN-442183

Some top golfers don’t like to play the week before a major, some do, and a few almost have to.

Three of the favourites for next week’s PGA Championship fall into the last category and are in Texas trying to figure out where exactly their golf games stand at the moment.

For very different reasons, Jordan Spieth, Hideki Matsuyama, and Brooks Koepka are each making their first start since the Masters at this week’s AT&T Byron Nelson.

Let’s start with the fan favourite and proud Texan.

“I wasn’t planning on taking a month off in the spring,” Spieth said on Tuesday from TPC Craig Ranch in McKinney, Texas.

After winning the Valero Texas Open and contending at the Masters, Spieth later tested positive for COVID-19 and quarantined at his house in Dallas. He had planned to play the Valspar Championship two weeks ago but couldn’t, and didn’t want to rush back for last week’s Wells Fargo.

“I was out for a little while,” he said. “So I’m just kind of starting to get it back the last week or so and kind of get back on track. So I’ve only played a couple rounds and so I’m looking to kind of maybe knock a little rust off that I didn’t think would necessarily be here.”

Before Rory McIlroy broke a mini-slump last week at Quail Hollow, the comeback story of the year was Spieth busting out of a nearly four-year drought to win and play like the three-time major champ he is. Spieth is a mainstay at the Byron Nelson, the tournament he made his PGA Tour debut at as a 16-year-old amateur and finished 16th. A win this week would be great, but a win next week would be historic. Spieth is a PGA Championship victory away from becoming just the sixth man to win the career grand slam; Kiawah Island will be his fourth attempt at the feat.

“If I could pick one more to win I would pick that one,” Spieth said. “While I’m playing the tournament, it hasn’t really hit me and added any pressure or anything like that. It just kind of excites me a little bit more going into it.”

It was a very different month off for the new Masters champ, well, except for quarantine.

Matsuyama left Augusta National with the green jacket and went home to Japan where he spent time with his wife and daughter, was honoured by his prime minister, and celebrated by a nation.

“I was quarantined for two weeks and I was able to probably read every news article and newspaper and magazine and TV, and seeing how the Masters win was portrayed in Japan was great, really unforgettable,” he said on Tuesday. “A bit embarrassing. I’m not used to all that attention, but grateful that people took notice.”

Matsuyama said he wore the green jacket just twice; once for a press conference with Japanese media, and when he met the prime minister. When asked if the Masters win changed the way he looks at himself Matsuyama’s answer gave a glimpse into the extreme pressure athletes from Japan feel to succeed representing a self-reflective and sports-obsessed nation.

“It was a relief, really, to win the Masters” he said. “I still have the drive to want to win more on the PGA Tour and hopefully the confidence or the relief. It’s kind of an unusual combination of the two feelings of how I look at myself and hopefully I’ll be successful in the future.”

Matsuyama is already thinking ahead to next year’s Champions Dinner and says he’s going to ask around to see if Masters champs like sushi, but he knows they like steak.

“Yeah, sushi does come to mind, I’m a little worried, I don’t know if everyone will really like sushi or not,” he said. “There’s a lot of really good food from Japan, some of the best beef in the world, so I’m thinking about that and looking forward to it next year.”

The biggest question mark heading into next week is Koepka.

The two-time PGA Champion is coming back from a dislocated right kneecap that required surgery. His last tournament before the injury was the WGC Workday Championship in late February where he finished tied for second. Koepka tried his knee out last month at the Masters but he couldn’t bend his leg to read putts and was last seen crawling up a hill at Augusta on all fours before missing the cut.

The biggest story of this week’s Byron Nelson might well end up being how three of next week’s biggest stories look on their first days back at work.


This week will be the first PGA Tour event at TPC Craig Ranch, which has a five-year deal to host the Byron Nelson, so to get an inside look we’ll pass it over to a man who has played there for half his life.

“I played TPC Craig Ranch a bunch going back, I think, to when I was actually 12 years old,” 24-year-old Texan Will Zalatoris said on Tuesday. “I think the biggest defence of this place really is the wind. Typically, when I’ve played here, it’s fairly wide open, it’s very long, especially when you have Zoysia grass, the ball doesn’t roll very far.”

Zalatoris said to expect some great play around the greens as the ball sits up nicely on Zoysia grass allowing players to put as much spin as they want on the shots. If the wind is down, expect a shootout; if the wind is up, players can attack the par 5s but might have their hands full the rest of the way.


Dustin Johnson withdrew from the Byron Nelson on Monday citing a knee injury. If you read the exquisite statement released by “him” it sounds like the world No. 1 might be nose-deep in some Bill Shakespeare. “It is with deepest regret that I must withdraw from this week’s AT&T Byron Nelson. Unfortunately, the knee discomfort I occasionally experience has returned.” And that’s just the intro … There are three Canadians in the field this week: Roger Sloan, Michael Gligic and David Hearn … There are three Canadians in next week’s PGA Championship: Corey Conners, Adam Hadwin and Mackenzie Hughes.

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