T.J. Auclair is a Senior Interactive Producer for PGA.com and has covered professional golf since 1998, traveling to over 60 major championships. You can follow him on Twitter, @tjauclair.
2014 HP Byron Nelson Championship | Five players to watch
Series: Golf Buzz
Published: Wednesday, May 14, 2014 | 9:06 a.m.
The PGA Tour is at TPC Four Seasons Resort in Irving, Texas, this week for the HP Byron Nelson Championship, where Sang-Moon Bae is the defending champion.
Ever since a 2008 overhaul by Tour player and designer D.A. Weibring in 2008, the golf course has a lot more grit -- meaning it's not the birdie-fest we once knew it to be.
And, as with any course in the Lone Star State, the Texas wind can be a great equalizer. With that, here are five players you'll want to keep an eye on this week.
5. Gary Woodland
Best finish in 2013-14 season: Playoff loss at the CIMB Classic
Reason to watch: Woodland has quietly been one of the more consistent players on the PGA Tour this season. He lost in a playoff to Ryan Moore at the CIMB Classic in October and has since accumulated a total of eight top-25 finishes in 13 events, including two other top 10s. Furthermore, in his last six starts, Woodland's worst finish was a tie for 26th at the Masters. That's some solid golf. While Woodland doesn't have a sensational track record at the Byron Nelson Championship, he does seem on the verge of a breakout week.
4. Ryan Palmer
Best finish in 2013-14 season: Playoff loss at the Honda Classic; Second at Humana Challenge in partnership with the Clinton Foundation
Reason to watch: Palmer has been hit or miss on the PGA Tour this season. His two runner-up finishes, along with a T8 at the Sony Open and a T7 at the Shell Houston Open are no doubt impressive, but he's left something to be desired most other weeks. Early in his career, Palmer -- a Texas native -- had a brutal record in the Byron Nelson Championship, missing a lot of cuts. Something has changed in the last few years, where he's got two top-10 finishes, highlighted by a playoff loss in 2011. For most players, a "home game" is their "fifth major." And perhaps Palmer, recently, has learned to embrace that.
3. Keegan Bradley
Best finish in 2013-14 season: Second at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard
Reason to watch: Bradley enters this week in unusual circumstances for him -- he's missed the cut in two of his last three events, but did have a T8 in New Orleans between those missed cuts, so you certainly can't call it a slump. Plus, for the most part, Bradley has either been inside or just outside the top 10 in most of his starts this season. Shockingly -- seemingly because his name is in the mix so often -- Bradley has not won on Tour since the 2012 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. This week, though, he returns to the site of his first PGA Tour victory in 2011, which set the stage for his PGA Championship win later that summer... oh, and he was the runner up here a year ago. He's a horse for this course.
2. Matt Kuchar
Best finish in 2013-14 season: Won the RBC Heritage
Reason to watch: Kuchar is slumping right now. He tied for 17th last week at the Players. We're kidding. The man is far from slumping. It's just that the tie for 17th a week ago was the first time in his last five starts that he didn't finish in a tie for fifth or better. World Ranking (he's fifth) and FedExCup points (he's third) aside, Kuchar has been the best player week-in and week-out on the PGA Tour not only this season, but much of last season too. He's what you call a "Human ATM Machine." He might not win this week in Texas, but you'd be a fool to think he won't at least be in the mix.
1. Jordan Spieth
Best finish in 2013-14 season: Second at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions; T2 at the Masters
Reason to watch: Speaking of home games... that's precisely what this week is for Spieth, a Dallas native. Some might argue that Spieth has a hard time closing out a tournament. To that I'd argue back: he's 20 years old and putting himself in a position to win a majority of the time he tees it up! If you're anything less than impressed by Spieth, you're a tough critic. Of his six top-10 finishes this season, three have come at Pebble Beach, Augusta National and TPC Sawgrass. As an amateur in 2010 at age 16 at the Byron Nelson, Spieth tied for 16th. He's got a ton of game and he's going to win a lot of tournaments.
Follow T.J. Auclair on Twitter, @tjauclair.
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