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Stat attack!: HP Byron Nelson Championship preview

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IRVING, TX - MAY 19: Sang-Moon Bae of South Korea celebrates with the championship trophy after winning the 2013 HP Byron Nelson Championship at the TPC Four Seasons Resort on May 19, 2013 in Irving, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

At the HP Byron Nelson Championship at the TPC Four Seasons Course at Las Colinas, it’s not so much how many greens you hit, but how close you can hit your approaches. Failing to put the ball in the right position on the large, undulating putting surfaces can take birdie out of the equation. Knocking at pins is more important than just hitting greens, so there's more of an emphasis on proximity to the hole on approach shots than there would be on a course with smallish greens. If you can hit it close and still make the long putts, you’ll go a long way toward winning.

That’s the recipe Sang-Moon Bae used last year to win his first PGA Tour event. The Korean was T-9 in greens in regulation, T-13 in proximity to the hole and T-1 in putting from more than 10 feet.

Key stats by winners of the Byron Nelson Championship

 Year Player GIR (rank) Proximity to
hole (rank)
Putting from
10+ feet (rank)
 2013 Sang-Moon Bae 73.61% (T-9) 31' 1" (T-13) 12/43; 27.91% (T-1)
 2012 Jason Dufner 80.56 (1) 27' 0" (1) 8/46; 17.39 (T-24)
 2011 Keegan Bradley 65.28 (T-6) 37' 7" (T-32) 3/43; 6.98 (T-71)
 2010 Jason Day 59.72 (T-50) 37' 9" (53) 10/38; 26.32 (T-2)
 2009 Rory Sabbatini 68.06 (T-38) 30' 0" (T-11) 10/34; 29.41 (1)
 2008 Adam Scott 63.89 (T-9) 39' 8" (33) 10/40; 25.00 (5)
 2007 Scott Verplank 73.61 (T-5) 26' 10" (5) 6/29; 20.69 (17)
 2006 Brett Wetterich 75.00 (T-3) 29’ 0”(2) 5/36; 13.89 (T-44)

Bae’s percentages in the above stats were better than his season averages, going a long way toward explaining how a player who had just one top-25 finish all year could post four rounds in the 60s. In 2014, Bae hasn’t shown much seasonal improvement in the three statistics.

Bae’s statistical ranking at the Nelson, and on Tour in 2013

  GIR Proximity to hole Putting from 10+ feet
 Nelson 73.61% (T-9) 31' 1" (T-13) 27.91% (T-1)
 2013 season 63.72 (127) 35’ 3” (T-103) 18.70 (6)
2014 season 62.29 (T-166) 39’ 2” (T-177) 17.73 (16)

 

It was Bae’s first visit to the Byron Nelson Championship and he became the third player in four years (with Keegan Bradley in 2011 and Jason Day in 2010) to win in his first appearance at TPC Four Seasons. They are among the 11 players who claimed their first career wins at the Byron Nelson Championship. Six of them have done so since 2000.

Players who got their first win at the Byron Nelson Championship

 Year Player
 2013 Sang Moon Bae
 2011 Keegan Bradley
 2010 Jason Day
 2006 Brett Wetterich
 2005 Ted Purdy
 2001 Robert Damron

The greens at TPC Four Seasons might be larger than most, but they’re not necessarily easy to hit. The field averaged 65.45 percent in 2013, which was the highest percentage in the last six years. The fairways also ranked among the hardest to hit since 2008.

GIR and Fairways hit percentage at the Nelson: 2008-2013

 Year GIR Pct. Acuracy Pct.
 2013 65.45% (23) 55.53% (9)
 2012 62.40 (17) 52.47 (8)
 2011 56.22 (3) 52.74 (6)
 2010 62.01 (13) 48.94 (2)
 2009 65.06 (26) 55.05 (9)
 2008 53.68 (4) 54.95 (10)

Most of the top players on the Official World Golf Ranking are taking the week off, with only 14 of the top 50 players in the world making the trip from Ponte Vedra Beach. The best of this group has had success at Las Colinas. Fifth-ranked Matt Kuchar, eighth-ranked Jordan Spieth and 14th-ranked Dustin Johnson have never missed the cut at the Nelson.

Kuchar, Spieth and Johnson at the Byron Nelson Championship

 Player 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007
 Matt Kuchar T-33 T-15 T-6        T-39 T-42 T-39
 Jordan Spieth T-68   T-32 T-16      
 Dustin Johnson     T-20 T-7 T-4 T-63  

But it isn’t the top-ranked players who have been winning on Tour in 2013-14, has it? Even Martin Kaymer, for all his world-class talent, was ranked just 61st in the world before winning last week’s Players. That’s a ranking that fits right in with who has been lifting trophies this season. Only three Tour winners were ranked in the top 20 in the world at the time of their victory, seven ranked between 21 and 50, and eight ranked between 51 and 100. Here’s a look at the nine players in this week’s field who rank between 51 and 100.

Players in the Nelson field ranked between 51-100 on the world ranking

 Rank Player Nelson starts Best finish
 71 Marc Leishman 6 T-3, 2012
 73 Boo Weekley 2 T-63, 2012
 77  Peter Hanson None  
 78 Charles Howell III 11 T-7, 2013
 83 Brendon de Jonge 3 T-51, 2007
 84 Brooks Koepka None  
 85  Ryo Ishikawa 1  
 86 Angel Cabrera 1 T-10, 2013
 95 Paul Casey None T-12, 2013

One final thought: Although Americans have dominated the PGA Tour in 2013-14, at least in the heavy lifting categories – trophies and paychecks – and players from only four countries have won this year, the Nelson’s roll of champions has a cosmopolitan feel. Since 2000, players from eight different countries have won the Nelson, with six Americans leading the way. There have been two Australian champs and one winner from Sweden, Japan, Fiji, Spain, South Africa and South Korea.