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Defending champ Day, hometown favorite Spieth headline Byron Nelson


McKINNEY, Texas (AP) — Jason Day was something of an oh-by-the-way winner of the Byron Nelson 14 years ago when Jordan Spieth generated plenty of headlines as the local teenager contending on the weekend.

Now Day is the defending champion, thanks to a victory perhaps just as important as that first one on the PGA Tour. Spieth is the highest-ranked player in a relatively weak field, still chasing an elusive win at the event now known as the CJ Cup Byron Nelson.

The fellow major champions are in the same group for the first two rounds, starting on what could be a rainy Thursday at TPC Craig Ranch, about 30 miles north of Spieth's hometown of Dallas.

“I’m excited about that,” Day said, “because it reminds me of old-school times playing in ’14, ’15, ’16 against him when he was No. 1 in the world and (it) was really tough to beat that guy.”

Because of those heady days, it won't be the first time Spieth is the top-ranked player in his hometown event. At the moment, the three-time major champion is ranked 20th and one of just three top-30 players in the Nelson. Day is next at No. 22.

The tournament is being held right before consecutive weeks of a $20 million signature event (the Wells Fargo Championship) and the PGA Championship.

It's usually a week playing at home for Scottie Scheffler, as well, but the world No. 1 is awaiting the birth of his first child. Another local favorite, Will Zalatoris, withdrew to rest his surgically repaired back.

“I think he wishes he could be in two places at once,” Spieth said of Scheffler. “For the tournament, it’s unlucky to have that be the case because they’re both tremendous players and big names and local guys. I love competing against them.”

The Nelson is two venues removed from 2010, when Day was a 22-year-old winner and Spieth was within three shots of the lead on the back nine before settling for 16th. That finish matched his age, and came a week after Spieth competed in the state high school tournament.

“I just remembered like being in my own little world but I’m like, ‘Who is this amateur, junior, that’s playing this week and playing really well?’” Day recalled. “Jordan has been a good friend for a while now. It’s been good to see the success he’s had.”

Spieth won all three of his majors — the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open — from 2015-17, but has just two victories since winning at Royal Birkdale almost seven years ago.

The best finish for the 30-year-old at the Nelson came in his most recent appearance two years ago, when he was the runner-up as K.H. Lee defended his title. Spieth was ninth in 2021, the debut of TPC Craig Ranch as a par 72 before a switch to par 71 last year.

“I would love to win this event,” said Spieth, who has three top 10s this year but missed the cut at the Masters. “It would mean more to me than most events. I think that can be a good thing to think about it that way.”

Now a 36-year-old father of five, Day ended a five-year drought with his 13th PGA Tour victory at the Nelson last year. The win came on Mother's Day, about a year after the Australian's mom died following a cancer battle that coincided with Day's struggles with injuries and vertigo.

“It’s amazing how mentally tough this game can be,” said Day, who won the 2015 PGA Championship. “I just kept on saying to myself, ‘It’s only a short period of time. Even though five years is a long time in a career. It’s going to happen.’ Ultimately it happened here last year, which was fantastic.”

The South Korean company CJ Group has taken over as title sponsor from AT&T. The CJ Cup started in South Korea but never returned there after the COVID-19 pandemic. It was played in the Las Vegas area twice and South Carolina once before the move to Texas.

Day ended a streak of three consecutive South Korean winners of the Nelson. This year, 16-year-old Kris Kim of England, the son of former LPGA player and South Korea native Ji-Hyun Suh, is making his PGA Tour debut on a sponsor exemption.


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