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With Byron Nelson first, order restored for DFW tour stops

The PGA Tour begins its two-week trek through Dallas-Fort Worth this week, and the traditional order of events has been reinstated.

Golfers begin competing for $6.5 million in prize money in Thursday's opening round of the HP Byron Nelson Championship in Irving, then head to Fort Worth for the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial on May 21-27. Last year, the events were played in reverse order. But the traditional sequence -- Nelson first, followed by Colonial -- is back in 2012.

So is Nelson champ Keegan Bradley, the 2011 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year who followed up his victory in Irving by claiming his first major championship at the PGA in August. Bradley, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Padraig Harrington are among the expected headliners for this week's event at the Four Seasons Resort.

Below is a blitz of Nelson-related information to get you prepared for the first leg of the PGA Tour's two-week journey through DFW:

Keegan Bradley: defending champion

As he prepares for his title defense at the HP Byron Nelson Championship, Keegan Bradley finally is known in professional golf circles as more than the nephew of LPGA Hall of Famer Pat Bradley.

He's also the 2011 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, a reigning major champion (2011 PGA) and one of the front-runners to earn a spot on the 2012 U.S. Ryder Cup team.

For Bradley, 25, that's quite a journey since last year's final round at the Nelson, when he was the "other guy" in a Sunday pairing with Dallas teen phenom Jordan Spieth before knocking off Colleyville resident Ryan Palmer on the first playoff hole to claim his first tour triumph.

Bradley arrived at the 2011 Nelson ranked No. 203 in the world golf rankings. He returns as the No. 22 player in the world rankings, with two tour triumphs from 2011 and three top-10 finishes this season.

Bradley, a Vermont native who played college golf at St. John's, ranks fourth in the U.S. Ryder Cup standings and 18th on the PGA Tour's season money list ($1,609,692). He said he is "a lot more comfortable out here on tour at each event" than at this time a year ago. That has led to a significant reduction in missed cuts -- two this season, down from 10 last year. Bradley considers the trend significant.

"My biggest goal to start the year was to be in contention every time I played, pretty much," Bradley said. "That was what I wanted to do better ... be more consistent. For me personally, I'm having so much more fun when I'm in contention and playing good golf."

Bradley became the first major champion to prevail while using a belly putter at the 2011 PGA, making him a permanent footnote in golf history.

"I was a good putter before and... the belly putter just made me a better putter," Bradley said. "It just felt more comfortable to me."

Although he's creating his own name, Bradley credited his famous aunt with helping him hone his game and his mindset.

"Pat has been a huge influence on me," he said. "She's always giving me advice. It's cool. She understands what I'm going through, and I'm lucky enough to have someone else in my family that's been able to give that to me."

Mickelson returns

Phil Mickelson, a four-time major champion and the No. 10 player in the world golf rankings, will compete at the Nelson for the first time since 2007 and has made it clear this will be his lone stop in DFW this season.

Mickelson is not on the Colonial commitment list and said last month that he is not enamored of tweaks to the Fort Worth course -- mostly some new bunker locations -- that occurred after Mickelson won his most recent Colonial title in 2008.

Colonial officials expressed disappointment about Mickelson's decision but indicated they hope he will reconsider and return at a later date. Gina LaBarre, vice president of Americas Brand Management for InterContinental Hotels Group, Crowne Plaza's parent company, said Crowne Plaza executives "enjoyed our time with Phil" when he did commercials for the hotel chain in 2008 and "would love to have him back, at any point in time" as a Colonial competitor.

Colonial tournament chairman Chuck Scherer said: "Phil is one of our champions and we're very proud of all of our champions. And we hope Phil will be back. It's a good golf course for Phil. He's won a lot of money here."

But for this trip to DFW, Mickelson is focused on the Nelson. He has four top-10 finishes in 13 appearances in Irving, including a victory in 1996.

Pristine conditions

Paul Earnest, director of golf at the Four Seasons Resort, said the mild winter and early spring in North Texas created "remarkable growing conditions" that should be evident in a thicker rough and pristine greens for Nelson competitors during tournament week.

"If anything, we were growing too much grass," said Earnest, whose grounds crew had the TPC greens rolling at 11 on the Stimpmeter -- the target speed for tournament week -- by May 1.

That should make for lower scores than last year, when Keegan Bradley's 3-under-par total marked the highest winning score in relation to par by a Nelson champion since 1981, when Bruce Lietzke won at 1 over.

The wind howled throughout tournament week last year, with gusts of 35 mph or higher recorded during each of the final three rounds. The top recorded wind speeds from last year's rounds included: Thursday (15 mph), Friday (36 mph), Saturday (39 mph) and Sunday (35 mph).

That made Bradley's winning total for 72 holes the highest in relation to par at any tour event since the 2010 U.S. Open (even-par) and the highest at a non-major since 1999, when David Duval won The Players Championship at 3 under.

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @Jimmy_Burch

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