The Charles Schwab Challenge
When the first players tee off on Thursday at Colonial Country Club it will be 92 days since a ball was last struck in anger on the PGA Tour at TPC Sawgrass.
In that time a lot has changed in the world that we live in and there will be many who feel that the PGA Tour is returning sooner than it should be, or that, allowing for what has unfolded in the world over the past three months, its return is of little significance in the great scheme of things.
Returning it is though, and the hope is that in its own small way the world of golf can do its bit to raise morale and bring a semblance of normality and comfort back to the lives its fans.
Our job here of course is to focus on the golf and to try and assess how the back drop of the three month break and the return to a spectatorless environment will influence the outcome of an event, which historically could be seen as one of the easier on tour to get a handle on with regards to course suitability, course form etc.
The event in question and the one that gets the honour of showcasing the PGA Tour’s return is The Charles Schwab Challenge held at the Colonial Golf & CC in Fort Worth, Texas, about 30 mins drive from Dallas.
One of the longest standing events on the PGA Tour dating back to 1946 Colonial 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 in 2018, however last year Charles Schwab took up the baton and the event became known as the Charles Schwab Challenge.
The tournament is one of six on the PGA Tour given ‘Invitational’ status. [The other five being The Genesis, API, RBC Heritage, Memorial & Quicken Loans], which would normally see a more restricted field, however this year allowing for the limited playing opportunities of late a field of 148 is set to tee it up, which includes all of the world’s top five.
The clear market leader is understandably world number one Rory McIlroy, however it is worth noting this is Rory’s debut at Colonial CC. Rory is then followed in the market by Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas, Webb Simpson and Brooks Koepka.
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 off the tee here is not an advantage here 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 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 Let’s take a look at the last ten winners;
2019 Kevin Na
2018 Justin Rose
2017 Kevin Kisner
2016 Jordan Spieth
2015 Chris Kirk
2014 Adam Scott
2013 Boo Weekley
2012 Zach Johnson
2011 David Toms
2010 Zach Johnson
As we can see from this list we have Zach Johnson [x2], Toms, Spieth, Kisner and Kirk [who was putting great at the time!], and of course last year’s winner Kevin Na, falling in the former category, while Rose, Scott & Boo Weekley were very much ones for the ‘ball strikers’ camp.
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, Jonas Blixt and Ben Crane have placed for the short game specialists.
The message therefore seems to be loud and clear, to get the job done historically 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.
Past course form here also appears to be significant as looking at the last ten winners eight of them had previously recorded at least one top ten here, with the exceptions being Justin Rose and Adam Scott.
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, in 2018 Rose triumphed with a total of -20, while last year the winning number for Kevin Na was -13
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.
Looking at the forecast as things stand the players will be greeted back on tour with a week of wall to wall sunshine and incredibly hot temperatures, which some may find challenging. As things stand we are looking at between 95-100 degrees every day!
Wind though, which is often a factor at Colonial and Texas in general, does not look set to play a significant part with gusts not forecast to exceed 15mph through the week.
As I always say though this could all change!
Before I run through my selections for the event I thought it worth touching on some of the significant factors in play this week [and over the next few weeks] arising from the Covid 19 related guidelines, which could well have a bearing on the outcome of the event.
With most players starved of serious competitive action for all but three months there is inevitably going to be an element of rust to most players games.
As those who follow golf twitter and who have kept a general eye on the game through the break will know though, as the weeks have gone on some players have dusted down the clubs and played in a combination of mini tour events, charity events and pop up or invitational events, which have been taking place and while I’m sure all of the players will have been working hard on their games for the past couple of weeks the players who have seen some competitive golf may just have an edge this week.
Perhaps of most significance, allowing for this weeks location, will be the two invitational events played at the Maridoe Club, Carrollton some thirty minutes drive from Colonial, which saw several of the Texas based players, including Scottie Scheffler who finished first and second in the two events, tee it up.
In addition we saw Joel Dahmen, Nate Lashley and Kevin Streelman line up at the Scottsdale Open in May, while there have been pop up events over at Sawgrass in Florida and at Sea Island in Georgia as recently as this last weekend. Finally of course we shouldn’t forget that McIlroy, Johnson, Fowler, Wolff and Mickelson have all been in action in high profile charity events to raise funds for Covid 19 relief over recent weeks.
Travel v Local Players
I can’t but help think the biggest advantage that some players could have this week is that of being based in the local area.
One mantra that has stood the test of time pretty well over the years is that ‘Texans play well in Texas’. Translate that to this week and you have a handful of players who live in the Dallas/Fort Worth area who will be able to sleep in their own bed and travel 30 mins to the course compared to guys who will be having to go through a new dawn of ‘Covid proofed’ flights and hotels, where you would have to think they will be pretty much confined to their rooms. Players do alternatively have the option to travel with their families in RV’s and some will no doubt choose this, however this still involves plenty of time on the road and surely can’t be ideal.
Those in the elite echelons of the game can circumvent this by hopping on a private jet and/or renting a property [which the tour are still allowing] however being in your own home one would think would still be a better option.
In addition away from the travel/accommodation side of things lets not forget that these guys who live locally will surely have been out on Colonial on a few occasions over the last few weeks, which has to help.
Finally on this front it is often said that being a locally based player [particularly a younger one who has recently joined the tour] can bring added pressures and headaches to the week, allowing for the combination of being desperate to play well in front of all your friends and family as well dealing with all the ticket requests from them. This week though, and for the next four, with no fans allowed in there will be none of these potential negatives for these guys to deal with.
Straight v Crooked!!
The final thing, which is worth mentioning is how much effect will the lack of fans and spectator grandstands have on the style of player who we see at the top of leaderboards?
One huge bone of contention on the PGA Tour is the lack of the cry of ‘Fore’ from a player when they hit a ‘wide’ off the tee and the suspicion is that some are quite happy to get a rebound back in to the fairway off a spectators arm as opposed to having the crowd disperse while their tee ball go wide in to the ‘native’. In addition of course a gallery of fans help to find that wide tee shot.
So the question is will having no gallery or stands to get a bounce back from favour the guys who regularly find the ‘cut and prepared’ or the greens compared to those who find themselves fashioning a shot from the rough more often than not, particularly on a course like Colonial?
The honest answer at the moment is we don’t know for certain but logic certainly dictates that the benefit of being accurate off the tee may well be accentuated over the next few weeks.
So, having weighed up all of the factors in play this week I have gone with five players as follows;
JORDAN SPIETH – 40 -1 – 1.5pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 10 - FINISHED T10th
There will be lots of different theories put out on social media in the lead up to Thursday as to the best way to approach this event, for me however there is a clear strategy I want to pursue and that is to stick with local players who should have a far greater level of comfort on the week for the various reasons noted above, as well as of course previous knowledge or form on the track.
First cab off the rank for me on this basis is a roll of the dice on Jordan Spieth.
There has been a lot written about Spieth’s ‘slump’ over the past 18 months or so and it goes without saying that for a long time prior to the break he was a shadow of the player he was when at his peak.
This week though the tour returns at a venue after its three month break, which if given the option, is arguably the one Jordan would have hand-picked for the job.
Born, raised and based in Dallas Spieth will be able to ‘commute to work’ this week to a course he knows like the back of his hand, has won on once, finished second at twice and finished in the top eight at on two further occasions in a total of seven career starts. Basically if anywhere is the venue for Spieth to reboot his career after the break this is it.
As is the case with pretty much everyone in the field this week there is of course a great deal of speculation involved in where Spieth’s game will be at compared to pre lockdown, however I am sure he will have been working hard on his game with the added advantage that his coach Cameron McCormick is local to him.
In addition it is worth noting that while Spieth has undoubtedly been a shadow of the player he was of late this is all relative and he has actually only missed one cut this season, and finished ninth just three starts ago at Pebble Beach.
To sum up an in form Spieth prior to lockdown would be vying for second favourite spot for this event and the quotes of 40/1 very much factor in his malaise, and on that basis I am happy to take a chance at the odds that something close to the old Spieth comes firing out of the blocks this week.
SCOTTIE SCHEFFLER – 40-1 – 1.5pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 9 - FINISHED 55th
The second Texan to make the team is young superstar in the making Scottie Scheffler.
Youth and a lack of tournament experience here historically hasn’t been the way to go at Colonial over the years, however allowing for the unique circumstances we are dealing with this week I am happy to overlook that and instead focus on the plenty of positives in Scottie’s favour this week.
Top of that list of course is that like Spieth he is another Texas man through and through having been born and bred in Dallas, while still living there.
Graduating last year from a stellar season on the Korn Ferry Tour, which saw Scheffler win twice, the 23yr old has made a seamless transition to life on the PGA Tour posting four top tens already and missing only two cuts in 13 starts.
Equally comfortable on any type of course Scottie has posted all of his top tens to date on shorter tracks such as at Sea Island or The Greenbrier so although he is one of the longer guys off the tee out there he should be more than comfortable at Colonial, particularly as of course he will undoubtedly know the track well.
Although this is Scheffler’s first full season on the PGA Tour and will be his competitive debut at Colonial, he has made four other starts in Texas already in his fledgling career making the cut in all four, including when finishing 22nd when still only 17 at the Byron Nelson.
On this basis Scottie will have undoubtedly have been looking forward to his ‘home games’ on the Texas swing as much as anything in his rookie season and with this week now being the only event left in the Lone Star State this campaign he will be desperate to make an impact.
Finally as noted earlier Scheffler has kept the competitive juices flowing over recent weeks finishing first and second at the two Maridoe Invitational events held nearby, so his game appears to be in decent shape and I am expecting a big performance from him this week.
RYAN PALMER – 70-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 9 - FINISHED MC
Next up in the ‘team of Texans’ for me this week is Ryan Palmer.
Palmer who lives in Coleyville, less than twenty minutes away from Fort Worth is a member at Colonial CC and naturally has been a regular visitor here over the years, having tee’d it up in every one of the last 16 editions of the event.
In the early years Ryan struggled to make an impact in the event perhaps due to the local level of expectancy. In the last eight years however his record here has dramatically improved and he has posted four top six finishes over this period.
Over the past couple of years Palmer has produced some really solid golf and prior to the break his level of consistency for the 2019/20 season was hugely impressive as he had posted four top 20 finishes in nine starts with only one MC.
One of those top 20s came at the Sony Open in Hawaii in January when we were on board and where Ryan finished fourth, and this near miss highlighted the main issue when backing him, his seeming inability to turn the opportunities in to victories, with his last solo trophy coming over ten years ago at Waialae. [He did win the Zurich Pairs event alongside Jon Rahm last year].
As we have seen though with players like Kevin Na and Charles Howell III over the last couple of years a return to the winners enclosure after a lengthy absence is perfectly possible and it may just be that the lack of galleries plays in to the hands of a nervier player like Ryan this week.
Palmer tee’d it up in the Maridoe events of late, so while he didn’t set the world alight in them, he has kept himself ticking over. In addition of course he is certain to have been out at Colonial CC over the past few weeks.
There is no doubt when backing Palmer you know you are running the risk of Sunday afternoon heartache, however at odds of 70/1 for 9 e/w places in my book he represents cracking each way value and I am keen to have him on side.
HARRY HIGGS – 200-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 9 - FINISHED 38th
For my final two selections this week I’m going chance my arm on a couple of bigger priced Texans starting with Harry Higgs.
Another member of the ‘Dallas Massive’ 28yr old Higgs has taken to the PGA Tour like a duck to water on his debut season and currently sits a commendable 42 in the Fedex Cup standings with just shy of $1,000,000 in the bank.
A winner on the Korn Ferry Tour last season Higgs has posted two top tens to date in the big league including a second place in Bermuda and prior to the break had made his previous five cuts posting three top 25s in this run.
Higgs’ strengths are off the tee and with the flat stick, attributes which should both come to the fore at Colonial and therefore while this is his competitive debut here I would like to think he will be well suited to the track. In addition of course, like our other protagonists, he is certain to have plenty of local knowledge in the bank.
Finally, Higgs is another who has kept sharp at the Maridoe events finishing fourth in one of them and I am happy to take a chance with him this week.
BEAU HOSSLER – 200-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 9 - FINISHED MC
Finally I shall finish nailing my colours firmly to the Texan mast by including Beau Hossler in our team.
I sided with Hossler in this event last year and while he didn’t disgrace himself finishing 40th he didn’t produce anything of note either, basically it was a performance symptomatic of his season.
The end result of Beau’s lacklustre 18/19 campaign was a trip back to the Korn Ferry finals and to his credit he took this in his stride finishing second and 25th in the first two events to wrap up his card.
This time around while the 25yr old is yet to seriously threaten a victory he has looked a lot more solid making 11 of 14 cuts and posting two top 15 finishes.
A native of California originally Hossler is another now based in the Dallas area after attending the University of Texas, so like the rest of our team he will be able to sleep in his own bed this week.
Renowned for being a great putter and currently ranked 10th in this department on tour Beau certainly fits the profile of great proponents of the flat stick who have done well here over recent years.
Close to bagging his debut tour title in Houston a couple of years ago Hossler is clearly comfortable playing in his adopted state and with plenty of experience on tour now I don’t believe he would get overly rattled if he was in the mix with some of the big names on display.
I am therefore happy to finish our team, on what is undoubtedly a week with a huge amount of speculation involved, by bringing him on board.
UPDATED 9th JUNE
FANTASY DRAFT KINGS PICKS
PICK 1 - JIMMY WALKER - DK VALUE - $6700 - FINISHED MC
As those who were following me prior to the break will know, as well as putting forward my betting selections each week I also add a couple value DK picks in the sub $7000 range to help fill out your rosters. So with $1,000,000 first prize up for grabs at Colonial lets get in to this weeks plays.
First up is Texas resident Jimmy Walker. Walker never seems to fail to produce in his adopted home state and this has continued to be the case even since his form tailed off. Testament to this is his record at Colonial where he has finished top 20 in the last two years and made all six cuts over the past decade.
Prior to the break Walker had found a bit of form finishing top 25 in his last two starts and I would expect a solid showing from him this week.
PICK 2 - SAM RYDER - DK VALUE - $6600 - FINISHED MC
Prior to the break the bulk of Ryder's 19/20 campaign had been pretty disappointing, however he did post a third place finish in Puerto Rico three starts ago.
Perhaps more pertinently Ryder showed as recently as last week that his game is in decent shape by posting a 62 around TPC Sawgrass to bag the spoils in the two round unofficial money game, which featured several tour names.
Ryder is making his debut at Colonial this week however the strength of his game, his ball striking, should serve him in good stead here.and I expect him to be here for all four days.