Big Names Carry on Nelsons Legacy


2007 EDS Byron Nelson ChampionshipIRVING, Texas - For the first time in a long, long time, the Byron Nelson Championship will be missing the most important figure in event's history -- Byron Nelson.
Mr. Nelson passed away last fall at the age of 94. His name has been attached to this tournament since 1968. Surely the players will miss greeting Mr. Nelson and his wife after completing their rounds.
Phil Mickelson
All eyes will be on Phil Mickelson and how the coaching change affects his play. (WireImage)
Nelson won 11 consecutive events in 1945 and claimed 18 titles overall that year. In a two-year span of 1944-45, Nelson won 31 of 54 events he played in, including the 1945 PGA Championship. In all, Mr. Nelson collected 52 tour wins before retiring at the age of 34.
Last year, Brett Wetterich held off Trevor Immelman by a single stroke. Immelman, who blew a late lead the week before, needed to birdie the last to possibly force a playoff.
However, Immelman pulled his tee shot into a lake. He did manage to save par, but Wetterich calmly two-putted for par from 18 feet to secure his first PGA TOUR crown.
'This makes me feel really good,' said Wetterich after the win. 'To come out here and win this great golf tournament, it's just an unbelievable feeling. And being Mr. Nelson's tournament, also, it's truly an honor.'
With the new PGA TOUR schedule, this event is being played three weeks earlier than it was last year. The last several years, the Byron Nelson and the Colonial, were played back-to-back, but this year the Colonial will be contested the final week of May.
The event will use two courses -- TPC Four Seasons Resort Las Colinas and Cottonwood Valley Golf Course -- for the opening two rounds. Las Colinas will host the final two rounds once again.
The GOLF CHANNEL will cover the opening two rounds as usual before handing it over to CBS for the weekend. Next week, the PGA TOUR moves to North Carolina for the Wachovia Championship, where Jim Furyk won last year.
Here are five key players in the Byron Nelson field:
Phil Mickelson
Mickelson has played well in this event, although his best results came from 1996 through 2000 when he posted a win, a tie for second, a T-6 and a T-12. Lefty withdrew from the event last year for personal reasons and the year before had missed the cut. He comes into Dallas after a disappointing Masters Tournament, but should be refreshed and ready to add to his lone victory thus far of 07 at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. He ranks in the top-5 on both the money and FedExCup points lists. And, of course, all eyes will be on Phil to see if he will reap immediate results off the tee after leaving his long-time coach Rick Smith for Butch Harmon.
Sergio Garcia
Ever the enigma, Sergio had a great start to the 2007 season with three top-6 showings ' including an impressive T-3 at the WGC ' CA Championship - before falling flat on his face at the Masters, where he missed the cut. He does, however, like the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, as two of his six career PGA TOUR wins have come here and at the Colonial. But in true Garcia form, he has also missed the cut here in three of his last five starts. His win came in 2004 in a playoff over Robert Damron and Dudley Hart.
Shigeki Maruyama
Shigeki Maruyama hopes to continue to build on his recent success in Dallas. (WireImage)
Shigeki Maruyama
The Smiling Assassin has good reason to grin when he rolls into Dallas for the Byron Nelson Championship. In addition to it being the site of one of his three career PGA TOUR victories ' his win here coming in 2002 ' he has posted three straight top-7 finishes at Lord Byrons event, including back-to-back T-6s. He also owns the best scoring average of those who have played in the event over the past five years with a 67.83 average.
Vijay Singh
Right behind the aforementioned Maruyamas scoring average over the previous five seasons is Singhs 68.61. And that would be much lower if not for a couple un-Singh-like closing Sundays in 04 and 06, when he posted a 78 and a 73, respectively. His win here in 2003 preceded his monster nine-win season in 2004 and he also finished in a tie for third two years ago. The Fijian already has two wins this year and sits atop the FedExCup points list.
Bubba Watson
The hard-swinging style of Watson should be looking forward to playing on a couple of the shortest courses on TOUR, even though both play as par-70s. He leads the TOUR in driving distance at 314.2 yards and with a strong start to his sophomore season has risen to 90th in the world rankings after starting the year in the 162nd spot. Currently sitting 17th on the money list, Watson has yet to win on TOUR but has four top-10s already this season, including a tie for fifth last week and a runner-up to Adam Scott in Houston.
Four others to keep an eye out for in Dallas:
Justin Leonard
The Dallas-born-and-bred Leonard will be hoping that his hometown event will allow him to show friends and family in the area that his game is truly back on track. After a disastrous 2006 season and a rough start of 07, Leonard has made the cut in three straight events, including his best result (T-16) in over a year at the Verizon Heritage.
Scott Verplank
Like Leonard, Verplank was born in the area and, also like Leonard, is still looking for his first win in his hometown event. He will be making his 21st start; and although without a victory, Verplank has three top-6s in the last six years.
Chad Campbell
Campbell is another Texan who will be looking to build on his solid effort a year ago when he tied for fifth. He has struggled somewhat this year after his strong showing at the WGC Match Play Championship, where he made it to the semifinals.
Nick Watney
Confidence is a very powerful thing in golf and Watney has loads of it as he heads west into Texas. Although he missed the cut two years ago and finished T-61 last season, he did manage to shoot a second-round 64, one of the best rounds of the tournament. He won last week in New Orleans.
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