Bill Nichols

Monday, May 14, 2012

TPC: Means Tough Playing Conditions at HP Byron Nelson

Predicting the winning score of the HP Byron Nelson Championship is as challenging as forecasting the Texas weather.

But we do know that if conditions are calm, players will go relatively low this week at the TPC Four Seasons at Las Colinas. If the wind blows, then scores will rise.

Mild winter temperatures extended the growing season for Bermuda grass, creating lush fairways and uniform rough on the 7,016-yard layout. Ball striking conditions should be optimal.

``I’m putting the number at minus12,’’ said Paul Earnest, director of golf at the Four Seasons Resort and Spa at Las Colinas. ``It’s been a calm spring.’’

The TPC’s redesign after the 2007 event toughened the track considerably. Last year’s winning score of 3-under 277 was the highest of any tournament, including the four majors.

Only two events surrendered fewer strokes to its winner than the Nelson’s 10-under total in 2010, and just six courses played tougher in 2008.

When Plano-based Weibring-Wolfard Golf Design overhauled the TPC, undulations were built in the greens. Those have increased the importance of shot placement and putting.

Wind adds dramatic complications, blowing tee balls and approach shots off track.On the day before last year’s event, crews scrambled to repair greens damaged by an overnight hailstorm. The jagged ice chunks set the tone for a wild week in which the average score on the par-70 layout was 72.35 strokes.

With 25-40 mph winds the final two rounds, a combined 123 over-par rounds were posted with only 17 sub-par rounds. Five players finished under par. Keegan Bradley and Ryan Palmer were tied at 3-under 277 through 72 holes and then Bradley won with a par on the first playoff hole.

It was the second-highest winning score in tournament history. Joe Ogilvie, who tied for third, may have summed things up best after the third round.

``You’ve got trees and rough and greens that are built for not a lot of wind, and undulations,’’ he said. ``It’s like the movie, ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ You’ve got a lot going on here. And it’s an exceedingly difficult golf course. We’re pretty good players but it’s making us look like amateurs.’’

Players will notice a few changes this week:

The par-4 No. 8 should play a little easier with the loss of some big tree limbs right of the landing area in the fairway. The par-4 No. 10 should play more difficult with the maturation of trees in the right rough.

Based on player feedback about the tough tee shot on 18, the right fairway on the closing hole has been extended about five yards, providing a little more wiggle room in the landing area.

The forecast calls for isolated thunderstorms on Monday and Tuesday and then sunny skies with southerly winds of about 10 mph on Thursday through Sunday.

``With the mild winter, the course is in really good shape,’’ said Scott Abernathy, director of golf course operations. ``We’ve had an ideal growing season for Bermuda. Based on feedback from the Tour, they think so, too.’’

Settling the Scores

How the TPC Four Seasons has ranked among PGA Tour venues in terms of scoring difficulty since its redesign:
Year    Score      Rank       Winner
2011    3-under    First        Keegan Bradley
2010   10-under   T-3         Jason Day
2009    19-under   T-34      Rory Sabbatini
2008     7-under   T-7         Adam Scott


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