If winds are low, expect scores to be even lower at TPC Craig Ranch for PGA Tour's AT&T Byron Nelson

Players are preparing for low scores as TPC Craig Ranch makes its PGA Tour debut.

If winds are low, expect scores to be even lower at TPC Craig Ranch for PGA Tour's AT&T Byron Nelson

MCKINNEY, Texas — The PGA Tour’s AT&T Byron Nelson makes its first-ever appearance at TPC Craig Ranch this week, meaning the majority of the field will be seeing the Tom Weiskopf design for the first time.

But Texas native Ryan Palmer didn’t have to think long about his best memory of the course.

“I think I still own the course record here, either 60 or 61 from the back tees about 10 years ago,” said Palmer. “There are a few holes that the PGA Tour will alter to make it tougher for the pros, but they’re pretty good at that.”

While it’s still too early to tell if the par-72 layout — which roams through an affluent North Texas housing development — will yield those kinds of scores, the local players who have teed it up here in the past have already issued the red alert for the coming attack on par.

“I do think you will see a lot of low scores there, if you can hit your ball a lot of places and score,” said local Tour golfer John Senden. “A lot is depending on the wind, but with the houses being built there and apartments, along with the trees, it will block some of the wind and drive the scores lower.”

Byron Nelson: Fantasy rankings | Betting odds

The winning score at the last two AT&T Byron Nelson tournaments, held an hour south at Trinity Forest Golf Club, was 23-under by both Sung Kang and Aaron Wise.

This week the course is being converted from a par 71 to 72, same as when it hosted two previous Korn Ferry Tour events.

“The thing is we don’t play a lot of Zoysia grass fairways on the Tour,” said Will Zalatoris, another local player who estimates he has played at TPC Craig Ranch hundreds of times as a junior golfer. “That means you can aim at the flag more and around the greens, you can spin the ears off the golf ball. More than you can when playing those grainy Bermuda fairways.”

Another feature the 2021 Masters runner-up says players will notice is the tempting par-4 14th hole, which can be easily driven my most pros at 330 yards from the back tees but brings water into play all along the left side of the fairway up to the edge of the green.

“I can remember playing in a junior tournament here one time with Scottie Scheffler and we both drove the green on the 14th hole,” said Zalatoris. “It was like, wow, we didn’t drive the green much back then on a par 4 hole.

“I really all depends on the wind this week,” Zalatoris added. “If it blows, it can be tough, I was playing in Q-School one year and shot 72 and moved up about 16 spots.”

The forecast is warm temperatures and clear skies with low wind when the players tee off in the $8.1 million event, where $1.5 million will go to the winner.

Jordan Spieth also has memories at TPC Craig Ranch, just not very good ones. His last competitive round here came when he failed to advance in the second stage of Q-School in November 2012, leaving him without a place to play before his historic 2013 rookie season.

During his four days playing at Craig Ranch, he made 14 bogeys and one eagle, but counterbalanced that with 8 bogeys and a balky putter.

“I think the longest putt I made was about a foot and a half,” he recalled.

PGA Tour COVID-19 regulations have limited the crowd to just 12,500 fans this week, leaving tournament director Jon Drago in a unique situation.

“I’ve have to say no to a lot of people who want out to come which I never like to do,” Drago said.

Both those who are here in person or watch on TV should see a full Code Red when it comes to lower scores and aggressive golf at the longtime Tour event in North Texas.

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With thoughts of sushi on his Masters Champions Dinner menu, Hideki Matsuyama returns to action with a confidence boost

Japan's Hideki Matsuyama celebrated his victory at the Masters back home in his native land and brought the Green Jacket along for the (...)

With thoughts of sushi on his Masters Champions Dinner menu, Hideki Matsuyama returns to action with a confidence boost

At the 2019 Zozo Championship, the PGA Tour’s first official tournament in Japan, Jordan Spieth was paired in the first two rounds with Australian Adam Scott and Japan’s favorite son, Hideki Matsuyama. It gave Spieth a first-hand taste of what the life of a rock star must be like.

“I remember walking off the first tee talking to Adam and being like, I remember him saying, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this.’ I mean, it was six deep the entire first fairway,” Spieth recalled. “It was probably the biggest Thursday crowd and most like, maybe most exciting, most nerve-wracking crowd I had ever played in front of on like a Thursday and Friday. It was bizarre. And then I can only imagine, obviously, what this Masters impact has had over there.”

As Spieth, the 2015 Masters champ noted, he didn’t have an entire country living and dying with his every swing. If Matsuyama had rock-star treatment then, his popularity has soared since he became the first male Japanese golfer to win one of the four majors, capturing the Masters on April 11 by one stroke over Will Zalatoris.

When last spotted in the US, Matsuyama, 29, was strolling through a Chicago airport carrying the winner’s Green Jacket en route to a commercial flight to Japan, where he enjoyed showing off his new prized possession to his parents and friends. He also wore the Green Jacket on two other occasions – first for a press conference and then to receive the Prime Minister’s award from Japan’s Yoshihide Suga in Tokyo.

“I realize now the responsibility that goes with a major championship, especially the Masters,” Matsuyama said, “I’m honored. I’m flattered by the added attention, but at the same time, sometimes it’s difficult to say no. But it goes with the territory and, again, grateful that I have this opportunity and I’ll try my best to prepare well for what’s to come.”

Matsuyama hardly touched a club while he was in his native land, and he said he planned to use this week’s AT&T Byron Nelson at TPC Craig Ranch “to try to find my game again and prepare for the PGA Championship next week.”

Byron Nelson: Fantasy rankings | Betting odds

Hideki Matsuyama poses with a framed, autographed Masters flag that he gave to Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga at the prime minister’s office in Tokyo on April 30, 2021. Matsuyama received the Prime Minister’s Award in Tokyo on Friday for winning the Masters. (Photo: Masanori Takei/Kyodo News via AP)

If anyone can avoid a Masters hangover, it’s Matsuyama, who has never shied away from hard work. As a matter of fact, Zalatoris, the Masters runner-up, identified Matsuyama’s work ethic as the trait he most admires in the Japanese star.

“The guy just absolutely grinds his tail off,” said Zalatoris, who stopped to congratulate Matsuyama in the parking lot on Tuesday, and noted he’s a constant club tinkerer. “It’s just kind of cool to see a guy try to find the tiny intricacies in different clubs and his golf swing. It’s really admirable to see someone who is that passionate about excelling at this game.”

Matsuyama has been so busy since his life-changing triumph that he hasn’t watched the Sunday broadcast of the Masters yet, but seeing the highlights brought back a flood of emotions.

“I got nervous again, just like I was playing, and it was, at some points, difficult to watch because I was so nervous,” he said.

Matsuyama described winning the Masters as both a sense of relief after previous close calls at the majors and a confidence booster, one that he hopes can spur him to even greater heights.

“It had been awhile and now moving forward and looking forward I still have the drive to want to win more on the PGA Tour and hopefully the confidence or the relief,” he explained. “It’s kind of an unusual combination of the two feelings of how I look at myself and hopefully I’ll be successful in the future.”

While he has time to select his menu for the Champions Dinner held on the Tuesday of Masters week, Matsuyama said he’s leaning towards serving sushi.

“I’m a little worried,” he said. “I don’t know if everyone will really like sushi or not, but I’m going to check with some people and get their advice and what they think. There’s a lot of really good food from Japan, a lot of, some of the best beef in the world, so I’m thinking about that and looking forward to it next year.”

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