AT&T Byron Nelson 2018

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Aaron Wise made bogey on the final hole to set up a tie with Marc Leishman at 17 under entering the final round. They’re four shots ahead of the field and looking to duel it out come Sunday.

4:30 p.m.: Kevin Na in for birdie at 14 to get to 14 under on the week, now just two shots back of Wise and alone in third. Just one top-10 this season but he made it count, with a T-2 at the Genesis Open in February. Has a good chance to snag his first PGA Tour win since 2011.

3:50 p.m.: Plenty of talk about golf being a young man’s game these days and that will likely continue with Wise on top, but this leaderboard proves the PGA Tour isn’t just for the millennials. Inside the top three alone we have 21-year-old Wise, 34-year-old Leishman, 38-year-old Matt Jones and 46-year-old Brian Gay. Speaking of 20-somethings, Jordan Spieth is even par for the day and 7 under on the week, currently T-29 through 17.

3:30 p.m.: With the course playing quite a bit tougher today than it did earlier in the week, Aaron Wise leads by one at 16 under for the week. He’s 2 under today through 10 and Marc Leishman is even through 10, remaining at 15 under where he began the day. Wise, 21, finished T-2 at the Wells Fargo Championship his last time out and is once again proving he’s comfortable when the pressure is on.It takes a special brand of something to move a highly successful PGA event from an extremely efficient locale and transport it to a venue that fans are likely to find more challenging while designing a course that runs counter to everything that tour pros come to expect on a weekly basis.

Courage is one word that comes to mind to describe that something. Crazy might fit just as easily.

Regardless, the AT&T Byron Nelson Championship moves into its final round Sunday with a leaderboard that’s not likely to inspire huge ratings on the national scale. Rookie Aaron Wise and veteran Marc Leishman are tied at 17 under par in what will be a match play finish unless one of the four men gathered four or five strokes back makes a significant charge on the Trinity Forest layout.Leishman is one of just six players in the golf world’s top 55 to enter this event and one of three still standing. Two of the biggest names, Sergio Garcia and Matt Kuchar, failed to make the cut and Kuchar expressed his preference for the TPC Four Seasons layout after Thursday’s round.

The one golfer who matters perhaps even too much to the success of this event — Dallas’ own Jordan Spieth — shot an even par 71 to remain at 7 under, just as the world’s 9th-ranked player, Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, did Saturday when the wind finally showed up and created a more challenging environment.

Before going any further, let me stand back and applaud the move to the new course. Like many, I never thought much of the last Nelson layout that meandered between clubhouse-sized homes in Las Colinas. In hindsight, it registers as claustrophobic when compared to a links style course that looks like nothing around here. In fact, whether your south-of-Dallas golf taste carries you to Stevens Park or Dallas National, this course truly transforms you to another place, if not time.

Over the last three days as I made a Ulysses S. Grant-style search for high ground, I never found a spot where you could see downtown Dallas less than 10 miles away. And that’s not a knock on our wonderful skyline. It’s just that if you walked these grounds and someone told you it was a U.S. Open course in, say, Rhode Island, you’d be inclined to believe it.

I didn’t say a British Open layout because courses in the celebrated home of golf are not maintained in the pristine fashion that this one offers players.

Thousands of golf fans have made their way here, which is saying something in itself. It’s not just the 35 years of attendance habits built into the last Nelson venue. Let’s be honest, for those who call north Dallas or Frisco or Plano home, there’s a greater chance of bumping into your neighbors this time of year in Seaside, Fla., than there is while exiting the Hawn Freeway.

I’m equally guilty of confining myself to a certain comfort zone. Having never been to Trinity Forest until Thursday, I was shocked to learn I could drive here in 12 minutes.

Whatever the final attendance numbers, I suspect they will be even greater next year. An improved field the week before the 2019 PGA Championship would help, of course. But I have to believe word of mouth from those who traversed Trinity Forest will be better than those who merely watched on TV which fails to do the quality of the layout justice.

There are things to be fixed for sure.A surprising decision to send threesomes off both nines was made both for Saturday’s third round due and Sunday’s final round, due largely to incredibly slow play here. The final group featuring Leishman, Wise and Brian Gay teed off at 11:25 a.m. — something you normally see on a Saturday only if rain is expected to approach by 4. Instead, the Tour was just hoping to get this thing wrapped up before CBS signed off at 5!

The final group left the 18th green at 4:42 p.m. A five-hour, 17-minute round is absurd under any conditions. The modern player bears some responsibility but the lack of course knowledge along with winds that weren’t so threatening the first two days made for a long, long day for all involved.

With 18 players at 10 under par or better, it will be intriguing to see what kind of challenge is thrown at Sunday’s players. Although the par-71 layout is listed at 7,380 yards, it has been confined to below 7,160 the first three days.

This week’s Nelson is all about new challenges, new risks. I sometimes express fear at the most basic alterations in sports but I also hate unnecessary change especially when it’s pursued solely for greed (think Rangers and ballparks).

In this case, a bold decision was made to change how golf is viewed and played around here. This is, by no means, the same old Byron Nelson. And that’s a good thing.

 

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