May 9, 2014

Byron Nelson field ranks as event’s strongest in recent years

Matt Kuchar, Jordan Spieth among large group of top 25 golfers headed to Irving.

Officials at the HP Byron Nelson Championship secured commitments from two of the world’s top seven golfers Friday, setting up one of the strongest fields in recent years for next week’s PGA Tour event in Irving.

The Nelson headliners include Matt Kuchar (No. 5) and Jordan Spieth (No. 7), with nine of the top 25 in the world rankings pledged to compete at the Four Seasons Resort and Club in Thursday’s opening round.

Because of a lingering thumb injury, Jason Day, the 2010 Nelson champion and No. 6 player in the world rankings, withdrew Friday.

Friday’s commitment deadline passed with Nelson officials holding commitments from Jimmy Walker, a former Baylor golfer who leads the 2014 PGA Tour in victories (3) and FedEx Cup points (2,046), as well as four of the past five Nelson tournament champions: Sang-Moon Bae (2013), Jason Dufner (2012), Keegan Bradley (2011) and Rory Sabbatini (2009), a Fort Worth resident.

All of that brings a smile to Patton Chapman, the Nelson tournament chairman.

“This is shaping up to be the best field we’ve had since 2005,” Chapman said, reflecting on a stellar year when all five of the world’s top-ranked golfers assembled in Irving to honor the tournament namesake on the 60th anniversary of his signature 1945 season.

Nelson, who died in 2006, established single-season Tour records in 1945 by winning 18 tournaments, with 11 consecutive victories. Both marks still stand in PGA Tour annals.

Since the tournament namesake’s death, the star power of Nelson fields has diminished. But this year’s field definitely represents an upgrade over last season, with Dustin Johnson (No. 13 in world rankings), Brandt Snedeker (No. 25) and Charl Schwartzel (No. 17), the 2011 Masters champion, among the notable names headed to Irving.

Regardless of the rankings, there is little question who projects to be the gallery favorite: Spieth, a Dallas resident who finished as the runner-up at the Masters.

Spieth, 20, made his Nelson debut as a high school junior in 2010, finishing 16th while playing on a sponsor’s exemption. He will be making his fourth appearance in his hometown event, his second as a professional.

“It’s home for me,” Spieth said. “Every year, I look forward to it and highlight it on the calendar.”

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