Byron Nelson: Matt Wallace leans on Masters contenders to jump to early lead

Like so many golf fans around the world, Matt Wallace sat at home and watched The 2024 Masters Tournament unfold from his couch.

He did not receive an invite to Augusta National this year, thanks to his five missed cuts so far this season. His best finish came at the Valspar Championship, where he tied for 17th.

Instead of pouting about his poor play, Wallace decided to hone in on Scottie Scheffler, Ludvig Åberg, Max Homa, and Collin Morikawa—the four players in contention on Sunday—to see how they approached each shot. Wallace wanted to learn from them.

“They’re so focused on their shot and not worrying about the outcome or what’s out there,” Wallace said of these players after the first round of the CJ Cup Byron Nelson.

Matt Wallace, PGA Tour, THE CJ CUP Byron Nelson

Matt Wallace and Cameron Champ shake hands after the first round of the 2024 CJ Cup Byron Nelson.
Photo by Sam Hodde/Getty Images

“That’s what I’m trying to do now. But taking care of my business and my swing is the most important part, and I’m able to do that at the moment because I’m in a good place.”

Wallace certainly took care of business on Thursday at TPC Craig Ranch, carding eight birdies and zero bogies to shoot a solid 8-under 64.

He leads Taylor Pendrith, Alex Noren, and Chesson Hadley by a stroke after round one.

“It was great. Really solid day. Got off to a great start. Three birdies to start any tournament is nice,” Wallace said of his opening round.

“The wind started to pick up at the end, but the course is in amazing condition considering the rain we had and the delay this morning. Ball in hand is really important, so I drove it nice for the most part. A few times, I was in the semi-rough with a bit of mud on the ball, which can cause a little bit of doubt. Top up on those, really focus on hitting my tee shots well for the next few days, and we’ll be in good shape.”

One could say that Wallace drove it like Åberg, the Ryder Cup star who has impressed everyone in the game of golf over the past 12 months. The young Swedish phenom drives the golf ball better than most, which has impressed Wallace. But so, too, has his approach to every shot.

Ludvig Åberg, RBC Heritage

Ludvig Åberg at the 2024 RBC Heritage.
Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

“I look at Ludvig, the way he plays his game for someone who is so young. The new breed that’s come out on Tour, so fast and so good anyway,” Wallace added.

“I feel like he’s so focused on his own shot and looks down here rather than out here at the target. His dispersion pattern is so tight because he’s hitting it so well, and his swing is in good shape that his dispersion patterns come together and become tighter. I’ve seen that over the last two or three weeks when I’ve been practicing, and last week as well, on tough holes and tough shots. Just really focusing on the ball rather than out there as much.”

That strategy paid off for Wallace on Thursday; now we must wait and see if it holds up for 54 more holes.

If it does, perhaps Wallace will win his second career PGA Tour event and earn a trip to Augusta in 2025. That would mark an incredible full-circle moment for the Englishman.

Jack Milko is a golf staff writer for SB Nation’s Playing Through. Be sure to check out @_PlayingThrough for more golf coverage. You can follow him on Twitter @jack_milko as well.

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