The Charles Schwab Challenge
It was a fantastic weeks viewing at the PGA Championship with Southern Hills providing a tremendous challenge to the players.
While the tournament was an incredible watch it was another disappointing week for us with regards to our picks. The opening day was certainly a frustrating one for us as both of our first round leader picks Cam Smith and Mito Pereira were unable to pick up a birdie in their closing holes, which would have given them a full place return and put a very different complexion on our week. Instead then both tied for seventh in a log jam of nine players.
From then on we had to look on in increasing frustration as while our picks struggled Pereira vaulted himself to the top of the leaderboard along with our headline pick from the previous week Will Zalatoris, who was transformed on the greens from the player we saw in Texas the week before.
Come Sunday then with our team well out of contention it was a watching brief for us as Pereira tried to hang on for a huge life changing win. Sadly though, as we have seen many times over the years in Majors the pressure finally told on the Chilean on the 72nd hole as after his tee shot found the water he took a double bogey six to not only fail to close the event out but to also miss out on the play off. It was a tough watch for Mito’s fans including his fellow countryman Joaquin Niemann, and lets hope he bounces back quickly.
Pereira’s demise left the way for Justin Thomas who had fought back from a disappointing Saturday to battle out a three hole aggregate play off and Thomas’ birdie on 17 was enough for him to bag his second Major.
If there ever was an example of the old adage of Jack Nicklaus’ and more recently Brooks Koepka’s, that you win Majors by hanging around while other beat themselves this was it and all credit to Thomas for managing to do exactly that and hang tough on Sunday.
So onwards we go and after heading from Texas to Oklahoma 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 headed up by Scottie Scheffler. He is then followed by last weeks PGA winner Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Collin Morikawa, Viktor Hovland and last weeks beaten play off protagonist Will Zalatoris.
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 coincidentally was the main designer of last weeks venue Southern Hills and there was plenty of talk in the build up to last week of some similarities between the two venues.
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;
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 and last years winner Kokrak 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 seven of them had previously recorded at least one top ten here, with the exceptions being Daniel Berger, Justin Rose and Adam Scott.
This is a trend that was emphatically rubber stamped again by Kokrak last year who triumphed on the back of third place finish here in 2021.
The other factor we need to consider is for the third occasion, after 2019, 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 Southern Hills.
I talked about this when previewing the RBC Heritage a few weeks back when noting that six of the past nine winners at Harbour Town had either missed the cut the previous week at Augusta or not played the Masters at all and this trend was again followed by a victory for Jordan Spieth who had missed the cut at Augusta the week before.
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. Last years winner Kokrak it should be noted had played all four days at Kiawah Island all be it he had finished a lowly 49th.
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 again continued last year by Kokrak who had finished 13th in his start prior the PGA at the Valspar. 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.
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.
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.
We look set for some heavy rain and a storm on Tuesday however the good news is that from their on in we look set for a dry sunny week with temperatures reaching the low 90s by Sunday.
Wind though, which is often a factor at Colonial and Texas in general, at the time of writing looks set to be an issue with gusts of over 30mph a possibility at the weekend. If these winds come to fruition this would certainly help keep scoring in check.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with four players this week as follows;
JORDAN SPIETH – 16/1 – 3pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED T7th
In a week that the old mantra of course form and current form seems to count hugely I am going to keep things fairly simple and start things off with Jordan Spieth.
Spieth as we know loves teeing it up in his home state of Texas and having triumphed here in 2016 and posted three further runner up finishes along with and three further top ten’s it is clear that Colonial CC must be one of his favourite layouts on tour. Indeed even when he was going through his tough spell in 2019 and 2020 he managed to post a couple of those top ten’s.
This year of course it is a very different story as Jordan arrives here on the back of a victory at Hilton Head and then a runner up finish a couple of weeks ago at the Byron Nelson before a disappointing week at Southern Hills.
Looking more closely at his performance at the PGA and while his performance was flatter than I had anticipated my expectation for Jordan heading in to the week was that the pressure of closing out the Grand Slam would lead to him coming up short and in the end he never really got going.
Behind Spieth’s 34th place finish in Tulsa though there were still positives to take, particularly in the long game department where he ranked 12th both off the tee and from tee to green for the week and 21st in approach play, with the putter, as has often been the case of late, the club which badly let him down.
As we saw at Hilton Head however on a course, which suits Spieth well he can win even without a cooperative putter and at the Byron Nelson where he ranked 36th for the week with the flat stick he so nearly triumphed again.
his week then the hope is that on greens he knows as well as any he can produce at worst an average putting display, which if so as long as his long game doesn’t desert him should see him have every chance.
We saw after the missed cut at the Masters that Jordan was hugely frustrated and therefore motivated to deliver the goods at Hilton Head, while last year after a similarly lack lustre showing in the PGA he produced the goods here. In fact lets not forget that last year Spieth had this event in his hands going in to Sunday before a very disappointing closing 73 so there will be further motivation this week to put that straight.
The hope and indeed expectation this week then is that he will bounce back on one of his favourite events and deliver his second win of the year.
BRIAN HARMAN – 50/1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Next up this week I am going to return to a player who we were on board with at the Wells Fargo recently and who agonisingly at TPC Potomac came up one shot out of the places for us for us finishing ninth. That top ten did though give us the recent high finish we are looking for.
That week in Maryland the real cause of frustration from Harman was that his putter, normally one of, if not the, strongest club in his bag let him down massively, particularly on Sunday when he produced his worst strokes gained putting day in several years.
Following on from that I looked to chance Brian again at the Byron Nelson however he withdrew before the event, one would assume for scheduling reasons having qualified for the PGA.
Bringing us up to speed then and while Harman was never seriously in the mix at Southern Hills a 34th place finish on a course, which one would think was too long for him to really compete, was another solid performance in a season of them.
Looking at Brian’s stats for the week in Tulsa and his approach play, which had been a real cause for concern earlier in the season, continued to look really strong as it has of late and he finished the week 13th in this area. The putter meanwhile after three quieter days finally fired on Sunday as he produced his best round of the week a 69.
Turning to Harman’s course form and four top 15 finishes In his last seven visits here show he clearly loves the track. Following on from this I put him up for this last year for very similar reasons, a mix of good course form and strong recent form and when doing so I noted that “regardless as to what sort of form Harman has been in when arriving here over the years he always seems to turn in a solid performance here showing the course suits his eye, however it is clear that the times he has produced his best here is when he has had some strong results prior to coming in, for example his tenth in 2015 came two starts after his eighth at the Players and his seventh in 2017 came shortly after his most recent win at the Wells Fargo”. Well last year he duly rewarded us with an eighth place finish on the back of three top 20s in his previous four starts.
Let’s trust then that this week that arriving in good form Brian can once more step up at Colonial CC and if so he can make a bold showing at finally landing his third PGA Tour title.
SEBASTIAN MUNOZ – 50/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 48th
Following on the simple course form/current form mantra and another player who ticks all the relevant boxes for us this week is Sebastian Munoz.
A fortnight ago Munoz had a golden opportunity to bag his second tour title at the Byron Nelson where after opening up with a round of 60 he was in the mix right until the very end.
Unfortunately Munoz was unable to close things out however it was another strong performance in a season, which has now seen him post three top four finishes and make his last eight cuts on tour.
After that near miss at TPC Craig Ranch Sebastian tee’d it up in Tulsa and produced a 55th place finish. Look more closely though and there was still plenty to like in that effort as he gained nearly seven strokes from tee to green across Friday and Saturday, an area, which he was also really strong in at TPC Craig Ranch the previous week.
Looking at Munoz’ course form and after missing the cut here on debut in 2020 he produced a superb effort last year to finish third, interestingly though that performance relied very heavily on the putter as he ranked first for the week with the flatstick but well down the field from tee to green. This year then if he can produce another strong performance on the greens and marry it with his recent strong tee to green play he could do some serious damage this week.
Finally let’s not forget that Munoz was one of the players who hung back to support and then console his fellow South American Pereira at Southern Hills yesterday and it may just be that Mito’s great effort on the back of his own performance the previous week inspires the Colombian to produce another big effort for the South American contingent this week.
JT POSTON – 125/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Finally having sided with three players who finished down the field at Southern Hills I will wrap things up this week with a player who wasn’t in Tulsa at all last week, JT Poston.
Poston’s day in the sun on the PGA Tour to date came at the Wyndham Championship in 2019 when he went 72 holes at Sedgefield CC to bag the title.
That performance told us again what we already knew about JT, that he is at his best as a whole on shorter tracks where finding fairways and greens and riding a warm putter, historically his strongest suit, is the key to success.
Over the past couple of seasons though JT has somewhat lost his way with a regression with the putter from second on tour last season to a lowly 112th a key factor this campaign.
More recently however Poston has begun to turn a corner firstly with a third place finish at the RBC Heritage, an event he has shown a liking for before and, which certainly correlates well to Colonial, and then after a missed cut in Mexico, with a ninth place finish at the Wells Fargo last time out.
Looking at JT’s numbers at those events and in both his tee to green game was really solid, ranking coincidentally seventh in both weeks in this department. Furthermore his putter has started to turn around with a top 30 ranking in both events on the greens.
So Poston arrives here with the solid recent form we are looking for and if we then look at his record at Colonial we see that while he missed the cut here when struggling last year, in 2020 he posted a tenth place finish here when the tour returned after the break for Covid. Furthermore in 2018 having posted a 65 on Saturday his final standing could have been much better than the eventual 20th had he not faded with a 72 on Sunday.
Refreshed after a weeks break, while a large chunk of this field ground it out at Southern Hills, if Poston can deliver another tee to green performance in line with what we have seen from him of late, and warm the putter up further, he could well deliver a really big week, and even give us back to back JT winners on tour.