With the first major of the season now behind us, and Phil Mickelson setting the “older guy” golfing world on fire, the PGA Tour rolls onto Texas, where the Charles Schwab Challenge will take place at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth. The location of the first event after the PGA Tour was halted due to COVID-19 in 2020, Colonial will be the setting for several stories this week.
Major winners and serious FedExCup challengers Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson will be looking to bounce back after missing the cut at Kiawah Island last week, while the likes of Rory McIlroy and serial top-10 finisher Jon Rahm will be hoping for better too. 2020 winner, Daniel Berger, who beat Collin Morikawa in a play-off having come from four shots off the lead on the final day, will be targeting a fifth career victory after disappointing at the PGA Championship last time out.
Colonial Country Club, Fort Worth, Texas
With only Augusta hosting an event for longer yardage, Colonial Country Club, which in addition to hosting the Charles Schwab Challenge, hosted the 1941 US Open, is a mainstay on the PGA Tour. Players at the highest level of world golf hit from the tee boxes and tread the fairways of the course designed by duo John Bredemus and Perry Maxwell year in, year out, so there should be few surprises, though that’s not to say that anybody will have it easy. Accuracy from the tee and finding the right position ahead of approach is of critical importance at Colonial, as there are doglegs aplenty, not to mention some rather tight fairways.
Though the course is tight, and accuracy from the tee is going to be important, though there are plenty of scoring opportunities. The short (385 yards) Par 4 2nd gives players the opportunity to card an early birdie, ahead of a tricky trio of holes from 3 to 5, which have often been referred to as the “Horrible Horseshoe”. Suffice it to say, you don’t get a nickname like that for no reason.
After emerging from that tough stretch, the Par 4 6th, which is 401 yards from tee to green, represents an opportunity to either further enhance a pleasing score or make amends. Unlike PGA tour venues in recent weeks, Colonial only features two Par 5’s, only one of which will be a serious target for the longer players looking to card a realistic eagle.
Unlike last week at Kiawah, where birdies were hard to come by and shots gained tough to cling on to, the scoring could be low in Fort Worth, where winds are expected to be as harsh as those experience in South Carolina. In 2020, Daniel Berger won at Colonial with a final score of -15, while the winner of each of the last six renewals of this tournament have carded a total score of -10 or better.
Strokes gained is becoming an increasingly important metric to consider, especially for fantasy players. Fortunately, with this course being used every year, there’s plenty of course specific strokes gained information to delve in to.
Here we look at the top ten players* across the six key areas at this venue in the last five seasons:
*players who’ve played at least four rounds at the venue during this time.
Strokes gained: off-the-tee – Sergio Garcia, Tony Finau, Cameron Champ, Billy Horschel, Cameron Davis, Sungjae Im, Jason Kokrak, Jhonattan Vegas, Luke List, Justin Rose.
Strokes gained: approach – Gary Woodland, Justin Thomas, Tyler McCumber, Collin Morikawa, Kevin Na, Doc Redman, Sam Ryder, Justin Rose, Corey Conners, Joel Dahmen.
Strokes gained: tee-to-green – Collin Morikawa, Justin Thomas, Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose, Kevin Na, Gary Woodland, Danny Lee, Corey Connors, Rory Sabbatini, Joaquin Niemann.
Strokes gained: around-the-green – Patrick Reed, Brian Gay, Austin Cook, Brendon Todd, Roger Sloan, Harry Higgs, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Rory Sabbatini, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas.
Strokes gained: putting – Jordan Spieth, Brendon Todd, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Patrick Rodgers, Troy Merritt, Kevin Kisner, Patrick Reed, Pat Perez, Denny McCarthy, Gary Woodland.
Strokes gained: total – Collin Morikawa, Jordan Spieth, Gary Woodland, Justin Rose, Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed, Kevin Na, Daniel Berger, Kevin Kisner, Matt Kuchar.
For me, Jordan Spieth is a must-have this week. There have been numerous signs that the man with three majors in his cabinet is on the up in recent weeks, while this is an event that the Texan simply relishes. In eight starts at the Charles Schwab, Spieth has registered one victory and no fewer than five top-10’s, posting an average score of 67.72. Moreover, we’re talking about the guy who since 2016 ranks as the number one player in terms of strokes gained: putting on this track, as well as the second-best for strokes gained: total. Fantasy players will be hard pushed to find a more fitting number one pick ahead of this week’s action.
There’s plenty to like about Justin Rose’s profile going into the Charles Schwab. Not only did he come through to finish strongly at Kiawah last week, but his results at this venue in recent times bode well. 1st in 2018 and 3rd last time around, the Englishman ranks highly in several strokes gained areas at this venue, hitting the top ten in five out of the six categories shown above, raking 4th when it comes to strokes gained: total at Colonial since 2016. If you want to look further than the Americans this week, Rose is the guy.
Canadian Corey Connors is in the middle of a superb season on the PGA Tour. The serial top-10 finisher has made the cut in each of his three outings at the Charles Schwab Challenge, placing 8th in 2018, before finishing 31st and 19th in 2019 and 2020. Such finishes, while respectable, aren’t outstanding, but this campaign has been something of a breakthrough one for the 29-year-old, who is an improving animal.
Three steady finishes make him the eighth-best average scorer in the field this time around, while the player who is currently ranked 12th on tour for driving accuracy also has some reasonably eye-catching strokes gained numbers tucked under his belt at this track, ranking 12th for strokes gained: off-the-tee, 10th for strokes gained: approach and 9th for strokes gained: tee-to-green. Such numbers make Connors a player to keep on side.
Were it not for a poor opening first round at Kiawah last week, Billy Horschel could’ve been challenging right at the head of affairs. Instead, the man who won the World Match Play back in late March finished in a respectable tie for 23rd. Horschel has enjoyed a solid campaign so far, adding a T7, T2 and T4 to his win. Accuracy off the tee will be important this week, so it bodes well that Horschel ranks 4th in terms of strokes gained: off-the-tee in events at Colonial since 2016.
Five-time PGA Tour winner Kevin Na may not be a man in hot form right now, but we’ve all seen how quickly things can change in this game, while crucially, he has some pleasing previous efforts in the bag at this venue. The 2019 winner finished 4th in 2018, while he also boasts three other top-10 finishes stretching back to 2007. In addition, the current world number 34 is quietly an accurate driver, ranking 20th for driving accuracy, which is positive ahead of a run at Colonials tight fairways. Those players looking for some value should consider the man who currently ranks as the sixth-best average scorer at the Charles Schwab Challenge.
It’s not been a vintage campaign for Rory Sabbatini, who has missed more than his fair share of cuts, but that doesn’t mean he’s a man to completely discount this week. Very much a horse for this course, the 45-year-old has played some of his best stuff at Colonial over the last two decades, grabbing five top-10s and a win.
Is 45 too old? Tell that to Phil.
He’s certainly into the twilight of his career, but that didn’t stop the six-time PGA Tour winner finishing in a tidy 14th last year, and in 6th in 2019, while he found some form last time out, finishing inside the top 30 at the AT&T Byron Nelson. Ranking outside the top 40 in just one of the key six strokes gained categories on this track, Sabbatini ranks 10th for strokes gained: tee-to-green and 9th for strokes gained: around-the-green. For fantasy players hunting for someone under the radar at a low price, the Slovakian fits the bill.
Let me know what you think about picks for The Charles Schwab Challenge. Who do you see coming out of nowhere? After this past week, anything is possible.