AT&T Byron Nelson First Round Leader Picks & Predictions: Back Jordan Spieth for a Fast Start

Tom Jacobs is back with his latest First Round Leader predictions, this time for the AT&T Byron Nelson, where we have just one year of PGA Tour course form to peruse.
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AT&T Byron Nelson First Round Leader Picks & Predictions: Back Jordan Spieth for a Fast Start

The PGA Tour is back in Texas this week, and we know that golf in this state brings its own challenges, and generally tends to favour those used to the conditions and the golf courses. Let us see if we can identify some standout round 1 performers, alongside those that raise their game in the state of Texas!

Byron Nelson First Round Leader Strategy

With only one year of course form to go by, it is hard to have a strong strategy specific to this event. I do not anticipate any real draw bias, so in that case I would normally favour the earlier starters.

Looking at last year, J.J Spaun and Jordan Spieth both opened with rounds of 63 here, with Spaun off at 9:18 am EST from the 10th tee, and Spieth starting at 1:33pm off the 1st tee.

Four players finished one shot-shy of Spaun and Spieth, with three of them going off in the AM wave, and Joseph Bramlett the only one going off in the afternoon.

I would give a slight edge to the AM wave then, but not enough to worry. If you like a player and they way they stack up this week, back them without fear of their tee time.

Who Are The Fastest Starters in This Field?

Here are the 10 fastest starters on the PGA Tour this season, where they rank in Round 1 Scoring Average, along with their lowest Thursday score of the season.

Matt Kuchar:

5th in Round 1 Scoring Average this season

Lowest Opening Round: 62 (Sony Open)

Patton Kizzire

7th in Round 1 Scoring Average this season

Lowest Opening Round: 63 (Sony Open)

Jhonattan Vegas

T8 in Round 1 Scoring Average this season

Lowest Opening Round: 64 (RSM Classic, Valspar Championship)

Aaron Wise

11th in Round 1 Scoring Average this season

Lowest Opening Round: 63 (Mayakoba)

Scottie Scheffler

T12 in Round 1 Scoring Average this season

Lowest Opening Round: 63 (RSM Classic)

Talor Gooch

T15 in Round 1 Scoring Average this season

Lowest Opening Round: 64 (Three times)

Sam Burns

T17 in Round 1 Scoring Average this season

Lowest Opening Round: 64 (Valspar Championship)

Marc Leishman

T17 in Round 1 Scoring Average this season

Lowest Opening Round: 65 (Houston Open)

Keith Mitchell

T17 in Round 1 Scoring Average this season

Lowest Opening Round: 62 (CJ Cup)

What Score is Required to Lead After Round 1?

Last year, you needed to shoot 63 to lead after Round 1 here, and I would suspect a similar score will be required once again. This is an easy golf course, one of the most straight-forward on TOUR, and given the average opening-day lead hovers around 64 already on the PGA Tour this season, it would be no surprise to see the same score as last year leading. Even at TPC Potomac last week, which Max Homa won with a eight-under total, Jason Day opened up the week with a 63! Last year is a good guide, and given last year's runner-up, Sam Burns shot a 62 on Friday, 63 might not even be safe. It is the right target score though.

Byron Nelson: The First Round Leader Favorites

Scottie Scheffler +2600

I have said in these columns before, where Scheffler has been among the favorites, that while he is undoubtedly the class of the field right now, this isn't his market.

He did open with a 63 at the RSM Classic earlier this season, but he's otherwise more steady than he is an ultra-low scorer on Thursday, as he instead compile his scores everyday instead of relying on a shot out of the gate, to kickstart his week!

12 times in his career, Scheffler has been within two of the opening-day lead and just once has he led on day one. He opened with a 62 at the 2019 Bermuda Championship, and while there is always a chance he shoots a low one, he's not someone I rely on for the lowest Thursday yet.

Justin Thomas +3300

Despite starting slowly in his last two starts (76 Masters, 70 Heritage) we know JT is one of the fastest starters, historically in this field.

He has held 11 leads or co-leads in his career, going into Friday, and in total been within two 34 times, which is strong evidence he likes to start fast.

Thomas opened with a 64 at the nearby Charles Schwab Challenge in 2020, to sit one back on Thursday, so he does have memories of doing it in Texas on a Thursday and he's playing well enough for it to happen again.

I love his buddie's chances of doing it this week though, so will pass over him.

Dustin Johnson +4000

Dustin Johnson is one of my selections this week, so more on him below.

Jordan Spieth +4000

Jordan Spieth is my first selection this week, so more on him below.

Sam Burns +4000

Sam Burns shot a second-round 62 here last year, on his first start following his Valspar Championship win, which was the first of his career.

He has gone on two win twice more, and he finished 2nd to KH Lee here last year, so we know his chances of winning this golf tournament are high, but what is his round 1 record like?

Well in his career he has led outright once on his own, and co-led both the BMW Championship in 2021 and the Valspar Championship in 2022, so he's already got three first-round leads to his name, and he's been within two of the lead a further 11 times.

Clearly capable of a fast start then, Burns is one to keep an eye on, and he goes among the group of names here at 40-1 that are difficult to separate.

Will Zalatoris and Xander Schauffele are now also both 40-1 in this market.

Byron Nelson First Round Leader Selections

Jordan Spieth +4000

I love Jordan Spieth's chances of winning this week, as he performs incredibly well more often than not in his next start after a victory, and I can see that continuing here.

Spieth was 1st in SG Tee-to-Green at both the Valero Texas Open and the RBC Heritage, and he has just won the latter, so confidence will be high and his form should match.

Already in his career, he has been within two of the first-round lead 35 times, and 9 of those strong opening-day rounds have come in Texas. Add to that that he's led or co-led 14 times in his career, of which 3 have come in Texas, and it is always worth backing the Golden Child in his home state.

Two of those Thursday leads came last year, as he opened with a 63 here last year to share the lead with J.J Spaun, before going on to shoot the same score two weeks later at Colonial.

Spieth's form is great, it is a home game and a tournament that means a lot to him, as it is where he made his first PGA Tour start, and he goes into next week looking to complete the Grand Slam. There is a lot to like about Jordan Spieth both this week in general, and in this specific market.

Jordan Spieth will tee off #1 tee at 1:06 pm with Scottie Scheffler and K.H. Lee

Dustin Johnson +4000

58 times in his career, Johnson has been within two of the first-round lead, including most recently at the Masters two starts ago, and on a course where his currently errant driver won't be punished, he will be looking for a hot start again.

17 times in his career, Johnson has either posted the lowest or shared the lowest Thursday score, and while some will question his current form, I think he's playing plenty good enough to do it again.

6 times in his career, DJ has sat within two of the opening-day lead in Texas, and four of those times have come in this golf tournament! His one Thursday lead in Texas came at Colonial, but it is the Byron Nelson where he's opened up with good round on multiple occasions.

Johnson has played this event 8 times in his career, making all 8 cuts, posted 4 top-8 finishes and 3 more top-20's. In 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2016 he opened this event with a round of that was within two of the lead, with the lowest coming in 2016 with a 64.

There is every reason to suspect he will like this golf course, so I think it is time to jump on Johnson again in this market, as he went close for us last time we put him up, at the Masters.

Dustin Johnson will tee off #10 tee at 7:56 am with Kevin Kisner and Xander Schauffele.

Jhonattan Vegas +6000

Considering he had surgery at the start of April on an injured arm, Vegas has been in fine form, and that continued in his first start post-surgery at the Wells Fargo last week.

Vegas led the field in SG Approach last week, but was terrible off the tee, which I can assume will be due to not having full strength back yet, or a trust to commit to his tee ball. The good news is, errant driving will not be punished here.

On top of that Vegas has a fine Texas record, especially when it comes to the opening-day as on 10 occasions, he has been within two of the opening-day lead when playing in Texas. 37 times in total he has found himself in that position, so more than 40% of his best opening-day scores have come in Texas, showing a strong affinity.

Looking at his actual first-round leads, he has posted the lowest score on Thursday 7 times in his career, and while none of those have been in Texas, one did come recently at this year's Valspar Championship, where he opened with a 64, and the 3M Open in 2021 where he again shot a 64. The latter is an event people are drawing comparisons to this week, so if that plays out, that only works in Vegas' favour as well.

He might not be fit enough to keep up with scoring for four days, but he can certainly post the lowest one of the day on Thursday.

Jhonattan Vegas will tee off #1 tee at 12:11 pm with Andrew Putnam and Henrik Norlander

J.J Spaun +1000

It might seem lazy to take the two co-leaders from last year in Spaun and Spieth, and odds generally suggest they are not going to post the lowest scores here in back-to-back years, but I like the value on them both, in all markets this week.

When you look back at Spaun's PGA Tour career throughout 2017 and 2018, he was consistently posting some good finishes, including a T3 finish in this event in 2018, albeit at a different course.

His form dipped significantly, but we have since learned that he was misdiagnosed for Diabetes, and now he has the right diagnosis of Type 1 instead of Type 2, his career looks to be back on track.

Why is this important? Well to me it suggests that he can now recapture the consistent form he was showing throughout his first two seasons on the PGA Tour, and that he might be a better talent than he is being given credit for. He has only recently won his first golf tournament, which also came in Texas, at the Valero and since then he has finished T23 on his Masters debut.

His win and T23 at the Masters were his 5th and 6th top-25's of the season, showing a strong bank of form, and he has always been a lively runner on a Thursday, historically.

Last year, as we know he tied the Thursday lead with a 63, and in 2019 in this same event he opened with a 64 to sit one back, and closed with a 63 that week too. While that was on a different course, it is not insignificant, and he's posted a 66 or better four times in four starts in this event, averaging one a tournament. He could easily find a low one on Thursday, as he has done so many times in general in the past, and I like the odds for him to do so.

Spaun has held 5 first-round leads in his career, and been within two of the opening-day lead a further 11 times, including at the Texas Open which he won recently. A low one could well be out there for him again this week, as he's posted five rounds of 67 or better on Thursday already this season, and I will bet he can do so again.

I really considered Patton Kizzire in this spot, as he is due a second career opening-day lead, but you cannot back them all, and I am high on Spaun this week!

J.J Spaun will tee off #10 tee at 12:33pm with Branden Grace and Chez Reavie

Kurt Kitayama +1000

Kurt Kitayama has been in the spotlight of late, as he ran Jon Rahm close at the Mexico Open, finished 3rd a short while ago at the Honda Classic, and finished 15th last week.

DP World Tour fans knew all about Kitayama, as the American came over and played some great golf in a short spell, winning in both 2018 and 2019.

What is particularly appealing about Kitayama this week is his first-round scoring record, and his knowledge of the golf course. In total, Kitayama has been within two of the first-round lead 20 times in his career, and just recently led the Honda Classic by one going into Friday, and co-led at the Mexico Open on Thursday two starts ago as well.

Baring in mind, Kitayama only turned pro in 2015, and the first time he was within two of the lead came in 2016, to be within the golden number 20 times already in his career, is mightily impressive. A quarter of those were leads or co-leads as well, so he can convert in this market when he gets into the hunt, and has done so, in two of his last three starts!

100-1 odds about a player who has been within two of the lead three times already this season, has led on Thursday in two of his past three starts, and is in the form of his life, seems very generous. This is no fluke, looking at past success, so I have no fears he can keep it going, especially on a course that yields birdies! Kitayama has seen this golf course in the past at Korn Ferry Tour Q-School, and he can parlay that prior knowledge, and his current form into a third first-round lead in four starts!

Kurt Kitayama will tee off #10 tee at 8:40 am with Austin Smotherman and Cooper Dossey.

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Tom Jacobs is the host of the Lost Fore Words golf podcast and has been writing betting articles on golf for the past decade. Tom also co-host the DP World Tour Picks & Bets show on the Mayo Media Network, so has his finger on the pulse on the tours on both sides of the pond. A long-suffering Nottingham Forest fan, Tom also enjoys watching Soccer at the weekend, but his main passion remains golf, and every year he holds onto the hope of Lee Westwood winning his first major championship.

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