Commentary

The ones to watch at HP Byron Nelson

Updated: May 20, 2010, 10:46 AM ET
By Richard Durrett | ESPNDallas.com

The HP Byron Nelson Championship might not have any of the top 10 players in the world in the field at the TPC Four Seasons Resort & Club, but that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of players worth keeping an eye on.

In honor of Byron Nelson's 11 straight victories in 1945, here are 11 players to watch at this weekend's Nelson (in alphabetical order):

BEN CRANE: He played golf briefly at Baylor University and has had a solid season, including a tie for fourth at The Players.

Why he's worth watching: Crane has the type of game with which he can get a run of birdies going. He shot 65 on Sunday to finish second at the Nelson in 2002. He is ninth in fairways hit and 10th in greens in regulation.

Best Nelson finish: Runner-up in 2002. He was also in the top 30 in 2006 and '07.

[+] EnlargeRickie Fowler
Allan Henry/US PresswireRickie Fowler, who played his college golf at Oklahoma State, has four top-10 finishes in his rookie season on the PGA Tour.
RICKIE FOWLER: He's playing well with two top-10 finishes in his past three starts, and he's another former Oklahoma State golfer.

Why he's worth watching: Only 21, it's clear Fowler has the game to compete, and he has some flair to go with it. The Nelson officials gave him an exemption, but he earned his way into the field.

Best Nelson finish: This is his first time to play the Nelson.

J.B. HOLMES: He may seem an odd one to make this group, but he's played well entering this tournament. He was tied for 13th in San Antonio last week, which included a No. 2 ranking for the week in greens in regulation.

Why he's worth watching: He can crush the ball, ranking fifth in driving distance at just under 300 yards. But he's not simply a long hitter. Holmes has three top-3 finishes this season, thanks in large part to good iron play and a putter that can get going at big moments. He's someone who can create oohs and ahs, but also roars.

Best Nelson finish: Missed the cut in 2006 and 2007.

DUSTIN JOHNSON: The 25-year-old has made the cut in 10 of the 12 events he's played and won at Pebble Beach. He's won at least one event each of the last three seasons.

Why he's worth watching: He's ninth in the FedEx Cup standings, meaning he has the most points of any player in the Nelson field. He's a long hitter, sitting third in driving distance at 302.2 yards. He's fifth in birdie average.

Best Nelson finish: Tied for fourth in 2009.

[+] Enlarge Justin Leonard
Marc Feldman/Getty ImagesTour veteran Justin Leonard has had back-to-back top-20 finishes at the Nelson, so it wouldn't be surprising to see him in the hunt.
JUSTIN LEONARD: The Dallas resident and Longhorn is 37 now, but he seems to enjoy the Nelson. He has two top-20 finishes the last two years.

Why he's worth watching: Leonard has three top-25 finishes this year. He's isn't a long hitter (169th), but he's accurate. Leonard sits eighth in driving accuracy. He'll have to be on with his iron play, but he's capable of contending with the longer hitters on this course.

Best Nelson finish: Tied for sixth in 2001 and has had seven top-25 finishes.

HUNTER MAHAN: He just turned 28 this week and comes in as the highest-ranked player in the tournament. He played college golf at Oklahoma State, so he should have plenty of fans rooting for him.

Why he's worth watching: He leads the PGA Tour in total driving and is sixth in greens in regulation. If he putts well, he can certainly win this tournament.

Best Nelson finish: T-42 in 2008.

KENNY PERRY: The 49-year-old can still score in large part because he's fifth in total driving. Rarely does Perry get himself into major trouble, as evidenced by the fact he's made the cut in eight of his nine events this season.

Why he's worth watching: Perry has a solid record in Dallas-Fort Worth tournaments. He's won the Colonial twice (2003 and 2005) and can certainly play with the young pups on tour.

Best Nelson finish: Tied for fifth in 1995. This is his 20th Nelson and he's finished in the top 15 four times.

CARL PETTERSSON: He's a smart bet to make the weekend, considering he has made seven straight cuts and plays well at the Nelson.

Why he's worth watching: He has an impressive 16th ranking in putting and is seventh in sand save percentage. The Swede's nice touch around the greens helps offset his 135th ranking in driving accuracy.

Best Nelson finish: Tied for fourth in 2008.

[+] EnlargeSabbatini
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesFort Worth resident Rory Sabbatini has always fared well close to home, winning both the Colonial (2007) and the Nelson (2009).
RORY SABBATINI: The Fort Worth resident was runner-up in the SBS Championship in January and always feels good when playing near his home.

Why he's worth watching: Sabbatini has won both the Colonial (2007) and the Nelson (2009) and has his "Rowdies," a group of fans who are fun to watch in their own right. He is fourth in save saves and top-60 in putting. He is capable of getting hot and going low.

Best Nelson finish: Won in 2009 (shooting 65-64 on the weekend). He was tied for third in 2007.

JORDAN SPIETH: The 16-year-old from Dallas Jesuit was the youngest amateur ever given a sponsor's exemption by the Nelson and the first amateur in 15 years to get one.

Why he's worth watching: He seems destined for a great career. He won the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship last summer, shortly after winning the Class 5A state title with a final-round 65. He has the game to make a run at the cut and that would be fun to watch.

Best Nelson finish: This is his first PGA Tour event.

Y.E. YANG: The defending PGA Championship winner calls Southlake home and is playing in his third consecutive Nelson.

Why he's worth watching: He was third in Phoenix and tied for eighth at the Masters. He was also top-20 in the Northern Trust and the SBS Championship. Plus, he's now officially a hometown player.

Best Nelson finish: Tied for 50th in 2008. Final rounds have hurt him the last two years (shot 76 in 2008 and 73 last year).

Richard Durrett covers golf for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

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