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2022 AT&T Byron Nelson: Joaquin Niemann continues to deliver strong short game as PGA Championship looms

Wow, that’s dirty was the phrase used on Thursday’s telecast to describe one of Joaquin Niemann’s chip shots in the first round of the 2022 AT&T Byron Nelson. Eventually signing for a 5-under 67 in the first round, Niemann backed things up Friday morning with an error-free 7 under 65 – good for a total under 12 Now Niemann finds himself tied for fifth and just three strokes off the pace set by Ryan Palmer as the afternoon wave starts the second round.

“You know before the start of the week…it’s one of those courses where they score pretty low, so you kind of have that mindset a bit before the tournament,” said Niemann. “I know 12 cents was really impressive, but yeah, you know they’re going to go down pretty low for four days. »

Although birdies are a prerequisite in low-scoring events, avoiding bogeys can be of equal importance. An abandoned shot will see a player’s name jump on the leaderboard, and few have done better than Niemann in that regard. Carding a single bogey through his first 36 holes, Niemann goes up and down to a 92% clip at TPC Craig Ranch. Top 10 in this category, it should be noted that the short game of the young Chilean has not always been so clean. His ranking around the green has taken a dramatic step up this season from his previous three years:

  • 2022: 12
  • 2021: T138
  • 2020: T152
  • 2019: 102

This part of his game was a liability until this season. Niemann’s presence off the tee and his ridged iron game were able to propel him into the race a few times a year, but around the green he was often looking for answers. 2021 has seen Niemann finish runner-up three times, and had he reached his current level, the two-time PGA Tour winner would be at least four-time winner.

I understand golf doesn’t work that way – growing pains are part of the process – but as a thought exercise, let’s pretend it does. What would Niemann’s resume look like if he had averaged +1.86 round-the-green winnings per tournament? That’s the current number the 23-year-old boasts of as he ranks 12th in said category on the PGA Tour this season (before AT&T Byron Nelson started).

Texas Open 2018

6

-2.04

of them

Memorial Tournament 2018

T6

-2.84

TO WIN

2018 Greenbrier Classic

T5

-1.92

of them

2019 John Deere Classic

T10

-1.64

3

2019 Wyndham Championship

T13

-0.80

5

Tournament of Champions 2021

of them

+1.64

TO WIN

Sony Open 2021

T2

+0.80

playoffs

Honda Classic 2021

T25

-5.12

of them

Wells Fargo Championship 2021

T18

-2.96

T6

2021 PGA Championship

T30

-3.64

T2

Rocket Mortgage Classic 2021

T2

+1.00

TO WIN

It’s not perfect math, and I’m sure 2018 Memorial winner Bryson DeChambeau would find fault with it, but that’s not the point. This is simply to illustrate how good Niemann is and will become with the addition of greenside presence currently better than every player in the top 10 of the Official World Golf Rankings.

Niemann is having a career season because of his short game, not in spite of himself, as evidenced by his triumph at the Genesis Invitational, where he posted +5.04 strokes won around the green. In a major championship-caliber field at a major championship-type venue, this kind of improvement has the potential to be the difference not just at the AT&T Byron Nelson, but next week’s 2022 PGA Championship.

“You have to work the ball a bit, you have to. You have to be really, really good around the greens. You can’t pretend to get around it,” Justin Thomas said after his reconnaissance trip to Southern Hills earlier this week. “And it’s hard to chip. I mean, the balls roll off the green, they go pretty far. You get gritty, elevated greens where it’s hard to get the ball around the hole and over the turn in a tournament that can be a number of strokes. And the person who I think does it best will have the best chance of winning. ”

If you had told Niemann last year, chances are doubts had crept into his mind. However, the aspect of his game that kept him from fighting seriously at Kiawah Island may be the reason he finds himself with an opportunity for his first major title at Southern Hills.

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