The Charles Schwab Challenge
It was a great week for us at the PGA Championship as we bagged the winner with Brooks Koepka as well as 50% of the place money with our 100/1 pick Justin Rose.
Koepka had come in to the week with plenty of question marks still around whether he was back to his best following his knee problems and whether his move to the LIV circuit would stunt his competitive edge in the heat of a Major battle, and that latter narrative was something certainly given credence following his, by his own admission, ‘choking’ at the Masters in April.
From my point of view though with Koepka always having been the kind of player who didn’t really ‘get up’ for regular tour events I felt the move to LIV might impact his competitive edge less than it might do with others and if we then took a view that the Masters was nothing more than him shaking of competitive ‘Major rust’ I felt he had an awful lot going for him heading in to the event.
After a slowish start on Thursday Brooks really hit the gas on Friday and Saturday with rounds of 66 to set up a fascinating Sunday duel with Viktor Hovland.
The Norwegian who had questions of his own to answer after disappointing Sunday efforts at St Andrews and Augusta hung with Koepka for 15 holes before a double bogey on 16 after he left his second in the fairway bunker ended his challenge. I still saw this as a great step forward in Hovland’s Major learning curve though as unlike at St Andrews and Augusta until the error on 16 he produced a strong performance and it looks to me that his time will come soon in the biggest of events.
If the victory belonged to Koepka the story of the week though belonged to Michael Block, a 46yr old club pro from California who had the week of his life to finish 15th.
After making the cut everyone, myself included, felt Block would tumble down the leaderboard over the weekend however he shot 70 71 in the company of Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy with the highlight being an incredible hole in one on 15 on Sunday which brought the house down.
As well as the paycheck for $288K Block earned a return to the event next year and a sponsors invite in to the this weeks Charles Schwab Challenge. As I say a week he will never forget I am sure!
So onwards we go in great spirits and after heading from Texas to New York its back to Texas again for 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 in 2019 Charles Schwab took up the baton and the event became known as the Charles Schwab Challenge.
The tournament is one of five on the PGA Tour given ‘Invitational’ status. [The other five being The Genesis, API, RBC Heritage and Memorial], which means a more restricted field of 120 is on display.
Despite the event being held the week after a Major the field is a strong one with the market being dominated by local man Scottie Scheffler. Scheffler is then followed by another local guy Jordan Spieth, Tony Finau, Viktor Hovland, Collin Morikawa and Sungjae Im.
Colonial Country Club is a Par 70 measuring at just over 7200 yards.
The greens are Bent Grass.
The course was co designed by Perry Maxwell who was also the main designer of the 2021 PGA Championship host venue Southern Hills.
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 winners since 2012;
2022 Sam Burns
2021 Jason Kokrak
2020 Daniel Berger
2019 Kevin Na
2018 Justin Rose
2017 Kevin Kisner
2016 Jordan Spieth
2015 Chris Kirk
2014 Adam Scott
2013 Boo Weekley
2012 Zach Johnson
As we can see from this list we have Zach Johnson, Toms, Spieth, Kisner, Kirk and Kevin Na falling in the former category, while Rose, Scott, Weekley, Berger, Kokrak and last years winner Burns were very much ones for the ‘ball strikers’ camp.
Furthermore you have the likes of Morikawa, O’Hair, English, Dufner, Glover, 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.
One other thing that can be seen from this list of winners is that Colonial CC is not a venue that tends to see players bagging their first tour title at. On the contrary of the last ten winners only one of them, Kisner was posting their second tour win while all the others were multiple winners on the PGA Tour prior to their success here.
Past course form here also appears to be significant as looking at the last ten winners six of them had previously recorded at least one top ten here, with the exceptions being Daniel Berger, Justin Rose, Adam Scott and Burns.
The other factor we need to consider is for the fourth occasion this event now follows on directly from a Major Championship, and therefore we need to factor in the old chestnut of ‘Major fatigue’ when considering backing players who were in the heat of the battle the week before, something, which could be particularly pertinent this week allowing for the gruelling nature of last weeks challenge at Oak Hill.
I talked about this when previewing the RBC Heritage a few weeks back when noting that seven of the past ten winners at Harbour Town had either missed the cut the previous week at Augusta or not played the Masters however the trend was bucked at Hilton Head this year when Matt Fitzpatrick won after a tenth place at Augusta.
Furthermore the 2019 winner here Kevin Na followed this trend by missing the cut the previous week in the PGA at Bethpage Black, on what it must be said was about as polar opposite a challenge you can get to Colonial CC, while 2021 winner Kokrak had played all four days at Kiawah Island all be it he had finished a lowly 49th. Similarly Burns last year triumphed on the back of a 20th place at Southern Hills.
If we then take a look at recent form coming in and this also throws up another interesting trend. 2021 winner Daniel Berger had been in fine form just prior to the shutdown and if we take a look at the previous nine winners here to Berger eight of them had posted a top fifteen finish in their previous three starts. Furthermore the odd one out, the 2013 champion Boo Weekley had finished sixth at the Zurich Classic four starts prior to his win here. This trend was continued in 2021 by Kokrak who had finished 13th in his start prior to the PGA at the Valspar while Burns had lifted the trophy at the Valspar just four solo starts prior to his win here. It would clearly seem to be the case then that Colonial CC is not a venue where you find your game out of the blue.
Finally of course when in Texas we should never forget that players with Texas connections always tend to go well in the Lone Star State and last years top ten saw five such players, Scottie Scheffler, Davis Riley, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed and Mito Pereira feature.
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, in 2019 the winning number for Kevin Na was -13. In 2021 -15 got the job done for Daniel Berger while last year Kokrak triumphed with a -14 total. Finally again last year conditions were tough with 9- under the mark Burns posted to make the play off with Scheffler.
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.
The early part of the week shows the possibility for a storm on Wednesday, however beyond this at present the only day currently showing the potential for a storm is Saturday.
Temperatures look set to sit in the mid to high 80s all week while wind, which is often a factor at Colonial and Texas in general, doesn’t look to be too much of an issue this week with nothing more than 10-15mph currently in the forecast.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with five players this week as follows;
SUNGJAE IM – 22/1 – 2pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
I will start this week by chancing Sungjae Im.
As always following a Major there is always a fair amount of speculation as to which of the big names who are teeing it up will have their game face on and, which will perhaps fatigued or suffering a mental let down from a close call the following week, and as a rule I would certainly look to shy away from those who were in the heat of the battle.
In Sungjae though of course we have a very different situation in that we have a player who turned in a completely out of character performance at Oak Hill to miss their first cut since January at the Sony Open.
While of course there may be other mitigating reasons for Sungjae’s shocker last week that we are unaware of, on the face of it, it would appear to have been brought on by the fatigue of a round trip to Korea to win a tournament the week before. Admirable undoubtedly that he wants to help grow the game in his home country and of course he may well have had a sponsors obligation to be there, but hardly ideal prep for a Major Championship!
So having posted rounds of 80 and 73, and it should be noted having ranked second off the tee and sixth in Driving accuracy on Friday, Im headed down the road before Saturday’s mental grind in the rain came in and got a much needed you would think weekend off.
On to this week then and I have to think Sungjae will feel somewhat chastened by last weeks performance and will be looking to put things right at a venue, which I have to believe should suit his game.
Not the longest off the tee Sungjae ranks 19th on tour in accuracy and 14th from tee to green so he has the kind of neat and tidy game that sits well here, while his performances this season at Sawgrass and Hilton Head where he was sixth and seventh respectively show us that he is at home on tracks, which reward precision play.
In addition I also like the fact that he has a top five to his name at the Copperhead Course, which correlates nicely here through the likes of Burns and Kokrak.
Looking at Im’s record here at Colonial and this is something that I also find intriguing heading in to this week.
Sungjae has tee’d it up here on four occasions over the years as follows;
Firstly last year he played here after having missed the PGA Championship following a bout of Covid on…yes you guessed it…a trip home to Korea, which meant this was his first solo start on tour in nearly six weeks, meanwhile in 2021 he missed the cut here when on a patchy run of form that saw him miss four cuts in seven solo starts with nothing better than a 13th.
Roll the clock back a further 12 months and he was tenth here in the first start post covid, while on his one previous visit to that in 2019 he missed the cut when horribly out of form.
To sum up then if we put last weeks display to one side this is the first time Sungjae has played here on the back of a good strong current run of form, as of course prior to last week he had posted two straight top tens and five straight top 20s.
In a week then where we are going to have to speculate on players mindsets to a certain extent I am happy to risk Im to get back on track in style after last week.
KH LEE – 66/1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FININISHED 57th
Next up this week I am drawn to the chances of KH Lee.
As note earlier this event has not tended to be one over the years where maidens have broken their duck and as a two time tour winner Lee therefore fits the more experienced winners profile.
Furthermore of course as a two time winner of the Byron Nelson the Korean has landed both of his trophies 50 miles or so away from here and therefore you would have to think would have pretty positive vibes when returning to this part of the US.
While I would expect KH to enjoy his trips to this area it must be said that to date it hasn’t really translated to a great show of form in this event with two missed cuts and a 64th, however the thing I would note on this front is that last year he arrived here on the back of three straight weeks including a win and a Major appearance, so you would think he was running on empty by then, meanwhile the MC in 2020 was in the first post covid start.
Moving on to this year though and Lee returns to the event again on the back of three straight weeks on the road, however unlike last year when he had ‘peaked’ in the defence of his title at the Byron Nelson he arrives in a solid vein of form, which has seen him make his last six cuts, posting three top 25s along the way, including an eighth at the Wells Fargo recently, thus giving us the recent big finish we are looking for. In simple terms it looks like he’s building to something big.
Looking at the 31yr olds stats for the season and he has been doing everything really solidly gaining strokes in all key departments, meanwhile last week when posting a 29th he ranked 18th for the week in putting and second in this department on Sunday so we know the flat stick, which has been key here over the years, is working well.
We’ve certainly seen over time that the Korean players on tour perform well in the Dallas and Texas area in general and at the odds on offer I am happy to side with KH to keep that tradition going again this week.
HARRIS ENGLISH – 80/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 12th
Moving on and I am going to give another chance to Harris English.
After coming up trumps for us at the Wells Fargo recently English was undeniably disappointing at the PGA last week where he missed the cut with rounds of 74 and 75 and to be frank was poor in all departments.
As we know though if your game is not quite ‘on’ a Major Championship test can be a brutal one and if a player has been in solid form prior to that I am always happy to overlook that poor effort as just a ‘bad week at the office’.
Putting the PGA to one side then and prior to that Harris had been on a solid run of form this year, which had not only seen him finish third at Quail Hollow but second at Bay Hill and earlier in the year 12th at the Genesis.
Furthermore a look at his stats for the week at Quail Hollow tells us that his game was dialled in from tee to green, 11th in this department and second in approach play for the week. In addition, and perhaps just as significant for this week, English’s putter was firing that week, ranked 11th, and this is an area that he has been really strong on all season as overall he currently ranks 24th with the flat stick.
Moving on to course form and while the Sea Islan man has not bagged the trophy here he clearly enjoys his time at Colonial CC as he has a fifth place and a second place on his resume over the years. Furthermore while not a winner here Harris landed his maiden tour title at TPC Southwind, which links nicely here through Daniel Berger.
To sum up English has the course experience we are ideally looking for and the recent strong form so he makes plenty of appeal to me at the odds.
BRENDON TODD – 80/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 57th
Next cab off the rank for me this week is Brendon Todd.
In an event where over the years the old golf punters mantra of course form meets current form has often paid dividends I must admit to being pleasantly surprised by Todd’s odds this week.
Granted Todd missed the cut at last weeks PGA however a 7400yd par 70 with 600+ yd par fives was never likely to play to his strengths and Fridays 71 where he ranked 38th in Driving accuracy and eighth on the greens showed that his main attributes were still working pretty well.
Prior to the weekend off in New York though Brendon had been quietly putting a really strong season together which has seen him post four top tens and make his previous six cuts to the PGA culminating in an eighth at Quail Hollow, where he ranked second in accuracy and second on the greens.
Moving on to Brendon’s record at Colonial CC and in an event where strong putters have a great record it is no great surprise to see he has performed well here over the years, with the last two years seeing him place eighth and third. Furthermore, while he had been in reasonable enough form last year prior to this event in neither of those seasons was he on the kind of strong consistent run of form he has been of late.
A three time winner on tour Todd landed his first PGA title back in 2014 in this part of Texas at the Byron Nelson and arriving here this week in the midst of a really strong campaign I expect him to make a bold bid at landing another trophy in the Lone Star State.
SEPP STRAKA – 100/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 29th
Finally while I have as a whole shied away from players who performed really strongly last week I can’t resist chancing Sepp Straka at the odds.
As noted earlier really strong ball strikers have a great record here over the years and when on song Straka certainly fits that bill.
Sepp it must be said has been slightly up and down form wise this year to date, quite possibly as a result in the early part of the year of changing his schedule to fit in DP World Tour events in his quest to make the Ryder Cup. After a couple of missed cuts though ‘post Masters’ The Austrian had a great week at Oak Hill as his Sunday 65 saw him storm through the field to finish in seventh place.
Fifth in Driving Accuracy, 1st in Greens in Regulation, second in Approach Play and fifth from tee to green for the week in New York Sepp basically had it on a string and when he finds his long game like that, particularly when having a strong closing day he is player who has been known to ride that in to another great week.
The elephant in the room here is Sepp’s poor record in this event, which has seen him miss the cut on both previous visits and I am conscious this doesn’t give us the course history we are looking for however he posted an opening round of 68 here in 2021 and an opening 66 in 2020 in the first post covid event, so clearly he can score on the course. Furthermore from a correlating course point of view Sepp posted an excellent second place at TPC Southwind last year when in no form at all coming in.
To sum up Sepp’s tee to green game is on paper a superb fit for Colonial CC and I am happy at three figure odds to trust him to pick up this week where he left off at Oak Hill on Sunday.