IRVING, Texas, May 7 (UPI) -- Byron Nelson has seen the finest golfers ever. In fact, he was one of them. But, he is certain who's the best of the best.
"Tiger Woods," said the Hall of Famer, who is hosting this week's Byron Nelson Classic for the 35th consecutive season.
Woods is playing for the first time since he earned his third Masters title a month ago. He hasn't won anything yet this week, except Nelson's vote as the best player ever.
"I saw Tiger play more than once every year from the time that he's 14," Nelson said. "And I never saw a player at the age of 14, 16, 18, 20, 22, 24, 26 that played as well at that age as he did.
"He's exciting to watch. I love to watch him play. Everybody does."
"But if you look at the way they played, every era, these players, they have gotten better," said Nelson, 90. "There's not any player that won in those years that wasn't better than the group before the leader, the top guys, not any of them."
Woods is the imcomparable star of his era, winning 31 PGA Tour titles in five-plus seasons. He also has seven major triumphs, including his last start at Augusta.
"Not sure how rusty my game will be," he said on his website. "But hopefully, I'll improve each day."
Woods won this event in 1997 and tied for third last year, finishing three shots behind Robert Damron, who is back to defend his only title in six years on tour. He defeated Scott Verplank on the fourth playoff hole last season.
The tournament gets under way Thursday at the TPC Four Seasons Resort Las Colinas and the Cottonwood Valley Course, both of which are par-70s.
Woods isn't the only star player in the field. Eight of the top nine golfers in the World Golf Rankings are chasing the $864,000 top prize.
Justin Leonard is back in action, returning to his hometown three weeks after winning the Worldcom Classic at Hilton Head, S.C.
Born and raised in Dallas, Leonard has seven PGA Tour wins, including the 1997 British Open. But he said a victory here would be significant.
"Well, it would be very special just being here in my hometown and have Mr. Nelson so involved in the tournament," Leonard said. "He's out here about 20 hours a day this week, so it is pretty special."
Nelson sent Leonard a note of congratulations a few weeks ago and said it would be nice for him to duplicate the feat at his event.
"Again, he's put it on me, as usual," Leonard said. "I think my game is in a little better shape to maybe make that come true this year."