Byron Nelson notes: SMU grad Kelly Kraft returns with momentum

Three years ago, Kelly Kraft turned pro with promise. At SMU, he was a first-team Conference-USA selection, an honorable mention All-American and the 2011 U.S. amateur champion.

Then, in 2012, he missed seven of 10 cuts and made less than $25,000 on the PGA Tour.

One of those was the AT&T Byron Nelson, where Kraft, a Dallas resident, returns this week with a sponsor’s exemption and a more refined approach to his game. Or maybe it’s less refined.

“You come out here and there’s a lot of people around and everybody has got their swing coaches and their TrackMans and blah, blah, blah,” Kraft said Wednesday. “You feel like you probably need to do that, even though that’s not what you’re used to.”

Kraft, with no other option, has toiled on the Tour, earning six figures in 2013 and making 15 out of 25 cuts last year. He played in only two PGA Tour events over that stretch, making the cut both times, but more chances will be coming when the 2015-16 season begins in October.

That’s because Kraft already has his PGA Tour card locked up with 10 events left on the schedule. Through 19 events, he’s second on the money list with $192,812, which will prevent him from falling out of the needed top 25 for a Tour card.

His win at the Chitimacha Louisiana Open in March and his recent second-place finish at the BMW Charity Pro-Am boosted his status. Those performances — and two other top-25 finishes — have come since Kraft started working under Troy Denton, an instructor at Dallas’ Stevens Park.

“I feel like I’m getting back to this draw that I used to hit in college and putting well like I used to and just kind of getting back to my old fundamentals and playing some good golf,” Kraft said. “[Denton] got me back on track, just having fun, and we play a lot of golf and go out and I’m just starting to love the game again with him and really just try to get back.”

Finau trending

After missing two cuts, Tony Finau has posted back-to-back top-20 finishes, tying for 19th at Colonial and tying for 16th at the Wells Fargo Championship. And this week, Finau feels like the AT&T Byron Nelson fits his game, even with the TPC Four Seasons course saturated from recent rains.

He said the course was “like a swamp” during his Tuesday practice round, and that was before a strong round of storms rolled through Dallas-Fort Worth later that night.

But on Wednesday he felt confident after a mid-day practice session.

“It’s a really good golf course for me. It’s playing soft. I think the fairways are a little more forgiving,” Finau said. “It’s different than in years past. Quite a few holes will work in my favor.”

Ortiz finding game

Two years into his pro career, North Texas graduate Carlos Ortiz is making PGA Tour cuts regularly. After a 19th-place finish at the Wells Fargo Championship, Ortiz, a Mexico native, tied for 58th at Colonial. He shot even par over four rounds.

The 24-year-old rookie is 82nd in the FedEx Cup rankings with earnings of $776,538 in 18 events this season. He has 13 made cuts and seven top 25 finishes, his best being a tie for ninth at the OHL Classic in November.

At the Nelson, where the Four Seasons course can toughen when the wind picks up, Ortiz could have an advantage.

“It’s kind of like a home game for me,” he said. “Starting in March until June, it blows like crazy here in Dallas. It’s been the last six years like for me, so I’m used to that. I’m comfortable in those conditions.”

More withdrawals

Jason Day, Ian Poulter and Louis Oosthuizen withdrew Wednesday, bringing the weekly dropout total to 11. Colonial contenders Kevin Kisner and George McNeill also dropped out of the field this week. Day experienced dizziness during Wednesday’s pro-am. Chris Smith, the 13th alternate, made the field when Tag Ridings and Tommy Gainey weren’t available.

Ryan Osborne, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @RyanOsborneFWST