Top talent set to test mettle at AT&T Byron Nelson

The legacy that’s been established at the AT&T Byron Nelson through the decades is on display this week as the PGA Tour begins its famed two-week stretch in Texas.

The tournament will be competed for the final time at the TPC Four Seasons Las Colinas in the Dallas suburb of Irving, Texas.

Nelson’s larger-than-life statue overlooks the 18th green here, and his presence is ubiquitous among the trees and along the twists and turns of the course that has been the host for his event for the past 34 years.

That’s the stage as 156 golfers from around the world will compete over 72 holes of stroke play for a total purse of $7.5 million, with $1.35 million going to the winner along with 500 FedExCup points.

This tournament was the first Tour event named for a specific player and has been a constant on the professional golf circuit since Nelson won the inaugural event in 1944. In 2018, the tournament will move to Trinity Forest Golf Club (a links-style course designed by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore), located just 10 minutes south of downtown Dallas.

Nine of the top 20 in the Official World Golf Ranking will tee it up here at the 7,166-yard, par-70 course beginning Thursday, including four of the top six — Dustin Johnson (No. 1), Jason Day of Australia (No. 4), current Masters champion Sergio Garcia of Spain (No. 5) and hometown favorite Jordan Spieth (No. 6).

Garcia shot a final-round 68 for a 15-under 265 total and then outlasted Brooks Koepka in a playoff to win the AT&T Byron Nelson for the second time. Garcia’s win at Augusta National in April was his 10th PGA Tour victory, breaking out of a tie with Seve Ballesteros for the most Tour wins by a player from Spain.

It’s been a heady six weeks for Garcia since that win, and he played well enough to be in contention last week at The Players Championship before fading to a tie for 30th with a final round 78.

“I don’t think things have changed that much,” Garcia said about winning the Masters. “Obviously winning at Augusta was amazing, and it’s the highlight of my career. But, at the same time, like I said there and I’ve been saying, I don’t want it to be over.

“I still feel like I can achieve a lot of things and I want to keep moving forward. So I need to focus on every week and stop thinking (about) what’s happened. If I manage to do that then we should have an amazing year.”

Garcia’s first start as a pro in the United States came at the 1999 AT&T Byron Nelson (he finished tied for third) and he won this event in 2004. Garcia will attempt to become the first repeat winner of this tournament since Tom Watson won three in a row from 1978-80.

“I’m going to be sad to leave here not only because I won twice here and I’ve done well but it’s where I started my PGA Tour career as a professional,” Garcia said Tuesday. “It’s always going to have something extra special in me, this golf course. I’m sure the new place we’re moving to, it’s going to be amazing, too, but a little piece of heart is always going to stay here no matter where we go.”

Eight of top 20 in the FedExCup standings will compete, highlighted by Johnson (No. 1), Spieth (No. 7), Russell Henley (No. 12), Garcia (No. 13), Koepka (No. 14), Marc Leishman of Australia (No. 15), Gary Woodland (No. 19) and Hudson Swafford (No. 20).

“I’m always happy to be back here,” said Spieth, who was in the final group in 2016. “I got on the golf course, it’s in beautiful shape. I’m excited for the week — it’s a really fun week.

“I would like to obviously have a fantastic kind of last go-round here on this course. I’ve actually played the course very well and kind of fallen off at the end a couple of times. I feel that last year was a big confidence booster for my chances this year, because I had chance (to win) on Sunday.”

This tournament celebrates Nelson’s life and legacy. Above and beyond his accomplishments on the golf course, Nelson (who passed away in 2006) is universally regarded as one of the game’s most respected and revered individuals.

Nelson, who was born in Waxahachie, Texas, about 30 miles south of Dallas, reached the pinnacle of his golfing career in 1945, winning 18 tournaments — including a record 11-tournament win streak that will likely stand the test of time. Throughout his relatively brief career, he won 54 times, including the 1939 U.S. Open, the 1937 and 1942 Masters and the 1940 and 1945 PGA Championships.