Charles Schwab Challenge
After a tough start to 2019 we finally got the week we were looking for at the PGA Championship with Brooks Koepka bringing home the spoils for us.
It was a virtuoso performance from Brooks over the first three days as he basically took the event by the scruff of it’s neck on Thursday morning and by Saturday night with a seven shot lead things looked done and dusted.
Unfortunately as we all know though nothing comes easily in this game and Brooks suffered a mighty wobble down the stretch on Sunday before finally seeing off Dustin Johnson for a two shot victory.
Based on his play over the first three days the right man undoubtedly won and Koepka who returns to the top of the world rankings has now won four of the last eight Major Championships.
From our point of view a great week was made even better as not only did we have our four points win on Brooks but Gary Woodland also shot a best of the day 68 on Sunday, which aided by the increasing winds later in the day, allowed him to creep in to eighth place and bag us a further e/w return.
So we move on in good spirits and after last weeks trek across country to New York, the PGA Tour does an about geographical u-turn and heads back to within twenty miles of where we were a fortnight ago in Texas, as It’s time for the annual trip to Colonial in Fort Worth.
One of the longest standing events on the PGA Tour dating back to 1946 the Colonial event is closely associated with Ben Hogan who was a long time Fort Worth resident and won the tournament on five occasions.
Having been sponsored by Dean & Deluca in 2016 & 17 the tournament was without a sponsor last year, however from this year it will be sponsored by Charles Schwab and becomes known as the Charles Schwab Challenge.
The tournament is one of five on the PGA Tour given ‘Invitational’ status. [The other four being API, RBC Heritage, Memorial & Quicken Loans]. This means the field number is restricted to around the 125 mark rather than the normal 145 or so.
From a betting perspective the field is headed up by defending champion Justin Rose, John Rahm, a resurgent Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Xander Schauffele and Francesco Molinari.
Colonial Country Club is a Par 70 measuring at just over 7200 yards.
The greens are Bent Grass.
The course is seen as a classical test which can reward both short game specialists and ball strikers. Distance of the tee here is not an advantage though with the premium being on finding fairways.
The signature section of the course is holes 3, 4 and 5, which are collectively known as The Horrible Horseshoe.
This section is made up of the Par 4 3rd and 5th holes and the Par 3 4th and year in year out this is the toughest stretch on the course.
The two Par 5s are the 1st and the 11th with the 11th measuring over 600yds, often playing as a three shot hole to reach the green.
Looking at the winners over the past ten years plus and it is clear to see that two specific types of player seem to triumph here. Either the out and out short game wizards or the clinical ball strikers, with the former on balance historically getting most joy.
To back this up you only need to look at the list of winners going back to 2008.
This is Mickelson, Stricker, Z Johnson x 2, Toms, Kirk [who was putting great at the time!] Spieth [Who was also putting great at the time!!] & Kisner.
In the ball strikers camp you then have wins for Adam Scott , Boo Weekly and most recently Justin Rose.
Furthermore you have the likes of O’Hair, English, Dufner, Grillo & Conners popping up in the frame over the past few years for the ball strikers camp, while Sneds, Freddie Jacobsen, Kevin Na and Ben Crane have placed for the short game specialists.
The message therefore seems to be loud and clear, to get the job done at Colonial you either need to be a short game magician or an elite ball striker. A jack of all trades isn’t what you’re looking for here.
One other point you can see from this list of past champions is that you don’t get too many shock winners here with only Boo Weekly really being seen as someone who was not right up in the higher echelons of the game at time of their win.
The winning score has varied quite a bit here over the recent years with Adam Scott winning with a total of just -9 in 2014 and Kisner winning with -10 in 2017. However in 2010 Zach Johnson won with a total of -21, in 2016 Spieth won with -17 and last year Justin Rose triumphed with a total of -20.
As always this variation in score will be down to how firm or soft the course is playing and how much the wind picks up. In addition the year Scott won the rough was up more than average which put more of a premium on ball striking.
This year with winds predicted to get up to 25-30mph at various times of the week I suspect scoring will be on the higher side.
The other area I feel it is important to explore this week is the change in scheduling that sees this event now fall the week after a major.
We have gotten use to the fact over the recent years that the effect of the RBC Heritage falling the week after The Masters is that players who either missed the cut or who did not play at all at Augusta get the job done at Hilton Head and this was the case again this year with CT Pan claiming his first tour victory.
On this basis I see quite a strong parallel with players who arrive at Hilton Head on the back of grinding it out at Augusta for four days, to players who were grinding it out on a tough course at Bethpage Black for the week and performed strongly and I think we may well see some suffer a similar kind of Mental let Down this week.
In addition whilst it is early days in this scheduling change we need to look at the fact that the top players in the game are basically looking to peak once every 4-5 weeks at the moment for the Major Championships and that could well have something to do with why we have seen three big priced winners on the tour since Augusta in the form of Pan, Max Homa and Sung Kang, therefore whilst I am not ruling out an elite player winning this week, it is quite possible we get a few more of these three figure priced winners between now and the US Open at Pebble Beach.
Looking at the forecast and the days leading in to the event show the potential for a strong storm on Tuesday so it is quite likely the players will be greeted by a soft course on Thursday.
At the time of writing the good news is that tournament days look to be dry, however at this time of year you can never completely rule out a storm in Texas.
The wind looks like it could be a factor all week with gusts of 15mph plus in the forecast all four days and again, at the time of writing, Thursday is showing them to be at their strongest, reaching 20mph plus.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with six players this week as follows;
JON RAHM – 12 -1 – 2pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Having said that it may well be that we see a few bigger priced winners over the next few weeks the one player from the top of the market I am keen to have on side this week is Jon Rahm.
Rahm suffered a rare missed cut at Bethpage Black last week, however from the point of view of what lies ahead this week he will now be fully recharged and raring to go in Texas, rather than recovering from four bruising days in New York.
Rahm’s undoing last week was his inability to find the fairway, hitting only ten out of twenty eight across the first two days.
This week however he returns to a course that he has clearly stated in the past suits his eye.
Testament to this is that in two visits to Colonial CC the Spaniard has finished fifth and second, and it should be noted both of these efforts came on the back of a poor performance in his previous outing.
Although Rahm was one half of the winning team with Ryan Palmer at the recent Zurich Classic he is winless on the PGA Tour since the CareerBuilder Challenge in January 2018 so a third PGA Tour title is long overdue. [Although he did win the Hero World Challenge last December].
With several other leading contenders potentially arriving here jaded from Bethpage my hunch is that Rahm will be the freshest of the ‘big guns’ and raring to go and I am confident on his chances of adding another trophy to his cabinet this week at a venue he clearly loves.
KEVIN KISNER – 33-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Another man who I’m sure couldn’t wait to see the back of Bethpage Black and return to Colonial CC is the 2017 champion here Kevin Kisner.
At 161st in Driving Distance on tour simply put Bethpage Black was just too much for Kis to handle and his missed cut there did not come as a big surprise.
Prior to this however the 18/19 campaign for Kevin has been a hugely successful one, with his victory at the WGC Matchplay the highlight.
In addition to this win Kisner has not missed a cut this calendar year and has been a model of consistency.
Clearly Colonial CC is a venue, which suits the 35yr old well as after missing the cut here on debut he finished fifth and tenth in 2015 & 16 before taking home the trophy in 2017.
In 2015 his tenth place finish here came on the back of two missed cuts and nothing better than a 23rd place since January, so Kevin is obviously comfortable at Colonial even when he is struggling with his game, so on that basis I am not going to be put off by his MC last week on a course he was clearly unsuited to.
After struggling here somewhat last year when defending his title I expect Kisner to resume normal service at Colonial this year and I see a big week for him ahead.
JOEL DAHMEN – 66-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Next up for us this week is a player who did play all four rounds at Bethpage Black last week and that is Joel Dahmen.
Regular readers will know that Joel did us a nice favour at the Wells Fargo a few weeks ago when finishing second to the inspired Max Homa and there are sound reasons he can perform well again this week on his second visit to Colonial CC.
As already mentioned strong ball striking is a key component to success at Colonial and Dahmen has been one of the most consistent performers tee to green on the PGA Tour this season and currently ranks 33rd in Ball Striking.
Considering Joel currently ranks 112th on tour in DD his performance over the first three days at Bethpage was admirable and at the 54 hole stage he sat at +3. Unfortunately the conditions on Sunday got the better of him, however despite a final round 79 he still finished the week tenth in DA and eighth in SGATTG so his long game is still obviously in good order.
When Joel finished second at the Wells Fargo three weeks ago it was the first time he’d been in really serious contention and on this basis it was a hugely impressive performance from him on the Sunday. Granted there were a couple of nervy moments from him on Sunday however he held himself together nicely down the stretch.
Similarly on Saturday when he got off to an awful start he bounced back really well to stay right in contention.
To me next time he is in contention he will have learnt an awful lot from that experience and I can see him being far better in the heat of the battle for it.
20th on Debut at Colonial last year this should really be a course, which suits Joel down to the tee and I can see him building on last years effort with a really strong performance this week.
GRAEME MCDOWELL – 80-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED - 73rd
Another shorter hitter who performed admirably at Bethpage Black was Gmac and like Dahmen and Kisner you would have to think that a trip to Colonial CC will be far more to his liking.
As has been well documented Gmac is something of a man on a mission this year as he looks to book a spot in the Open Championship at Royal Portrush in July.
Currently ranked 48th in the Fedex Cup standings one route that is open to him is to be in the ‘First 5 and tied PGA TOUR members, not exempt, in the top 20 of the FedEx Cup list as of 23rd June’.
Looking at the PGA Tour schedule there are five events including this week that Graeme has left to achieve this in and based on course suitability you would have to think that this week, and of course the return to Pebble Beach in three weeks time, represent his best chances.
The omens leading in to this week are certainly good for The Northern Irishman as all parts of his game appear to be in good working order.
Third on tour in SGP for the season he ranked sixth in this category at Bethpage, 13th for the week in DA and 27th in GIR on his way to highly creditable 29th place.
McDowell has not missed a cut on the PGA Tour this calendar year and since winning the Corales event he has kept the momentum going with some really solid stuff including a seventh place finish in Texas a few weeks back.
Returning this week to a venue where he performed well a couple of years ago I can see a motivated and in form McDowell putting in a really strong performance this week.
KRAMER HIKCOK – 150-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
I have been keeping a close eye on Hickok for a while now and there have been a couple of times I have been tempted to pull the trigger on him and this is finally the week in my eyes to do so.
Before going on to the specific case for Kramer the first thing I should say is I am keen to have a player on side this week who didn’t have to contend with Bethpage Black at all last week and this was the case with Hikcok.
Instead the 27yr old will have been at home in Dallas honing his game at a course he knows like the back of his hand for an event that to him will no doubt be his fifth Major.
A Texas man through and through Hickok received a sponsors exemption to play in this event in 2016 and at the time he talked about meeting Fred Couples here as an 11yr old on Pro Am day and how he can pinpoint that as the time he realised he wanted to be a pro golfer.
In addition to that the Texas Longhorn has been here following his former college roommate Jordan Spieth over recent years so this is basically his backyard.
As we know a ‘home game’ can sometimes be a double edged sword however a shorter hitter currently ranked 14th on tour in DA, Kramer is right out of the Kisner mold of player who should perform well here.
Currently in his first full season on tour it has to be said it has been a struggle for Hickok this year, however he has found some consistency of late with only one missed cut in his last eight starts. Furthermore last time out at the Byron Nelson in what was basically another home game for him Kramer managed the pressure well to finish in a very solid 16th place, closing with two rounds of 66, so he has showed he can handle the expectations of a ‘home game’.
The problem club for Kramer this year has undoubtedly been the putter and he currently ranks 198th on tour in putting. Obviously backing a man who is struggling this much with the flatstick is potentially a concern, however to put it bluntly if he can putt well anywhere you would think it would be here, in his own backyard and on a course where he must know the greens inside out.
Hickok showed he has what it takes to win when triumphing on the web.com tour last year and in my eyes he has the game to win in the big league on a course to which he is suited, and I am hopeful for a big week from him this week.
BEAU HOSSLER – 150-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 40th
I shall finish this week with somewhat of a hunch play on Beau Hossler.
24yr old Hossler’s talent and long term potential to be a huge success on the PGA Tour is not in doubt however he has been struggling this season with what could be classed as ‘sophomore blues’ and based on his current standings he could even find his card in jeopardy come the end of July.
Losing his card is something that would have been unthinkable for Beau based on his performances in his full debut year last year. However looking at Beau’s stats for the season it is clear to see that his struggles have been in his accuracy both off the tee and with his irons.
At Trinity Forest a couple of weeks ago where he finished 43rd there were signs that, all be it on a course he knows well with wider fairways, that his long game was returning as he finished the week 5th for DA and 45th for GIR despite a poorer final round.
Similarly at Bethpage where Beau finished 36th, he was 19th in DA and 34th in GIR so a definite sign of improvement again.
A Dallas resident this is very much a home game for Beau this week and he showed last year he can handle the track when opening up with a round of 64.
Long term followers will remember that we sided with Beau at Houston in 2018 when I speculated that a return to his adopted home state of Texas could trigger an upturn in form and if it hadn’t been for ‘Pesky Poulter’ that week we would have been rewarded with a 150-1 winner.
This week I am happy again to chance Beau at big odds based on his upturn in form and a return to the Lone Star State to a course that his excellent short game should be ideally suited to.
UPDATED 21st MAY
TRADER - MATT EVERY - FINISHED 17th - LOWEST PRICE TRADED 150
For this weeks trader pick I am going to take a chance that the second place last time out from Matt Every at the Byron Nelson was not a flash in the pan.
To be fair to Every this result did not come completely out of nowhere as he is in the middle of his best season for many a year with five individual top 20s already to his name across both tours prior to the showing at Trinity Forest.
At Trinity Forest Matt talked about how his game had felt good for a while and how he had also been working really hard on his chipping and short game after seeing how strong KH Lee was in that area when they paired up together at the Zurich, and this seemed to have an immediate effect at the Byron Nelson.
At his best Every is a quality ball striker who should find Colonial to his liking and this is backed up by the fact that he does have a fourth place finish here to his name.
The archetypal definition of mecurial you never quite know what you are going to get from Matt however I am happy to roll the dice and take a chance that he can go well again this week after his great showing last time.
CURRENTLY TRADING @ 210