Best bets for the PGA Charles Schwab Challenge

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Charles Schwab Challenge

Brooks Koepka earned his third Wanamaker Trophy and fifth career major championship Sunday at Oak Hill by winning the PGA Championship by two strokes over Viktor Hovland and Scottie Scheffler. Koepka, an 18-1 pre-tournament price, now rises to No. 13 in the OWGR and is back to being a fixture in major championships for the next few years. He also rises to No. 2 in the Team USA Ryder Cup points list. Although he is no longer an active PGA Tour member, Koepka is still eligible to be part of the Ryder Cup since, unlike the Presidents Cup (which is administered by the PGA Tour), the Ryder Cup is governed by the PGA of America.

 

This weekend’s victory was Koepka’s first official victory on the PGA Tour since the Waste Management Phoenix Open in February 2021. Koepka has two victories in LIV Golf, where he will be playing this week at the Trump National Golf Club in Washington, D.C.

Co-PGA runners-up Scheffler (9-2) and Hovland (16-1) will be two of the headliners this week at the Charles Schwab Challenge held at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas. Scheffler lost in a playoff last year to Sam Burns (28-1). OWGR No. 1 Scheffler has finished in the top 5 in six of his last nine events, including victories in the Phoenix Open and The Players Championship earlier this year. Meanwhile, Hovland posted his best career major championship finish with a T-2 last week at the PGA following up a T-7 at the Masters in April. Hovland led the field last weekend at Oak Hill for Strokes Gained Approach and Scrambling, which has long been considered the weakest part of his game.

Jordan Spieth (14-1) won at Colonial in 2016 and is a three-time runner-up (2015, 2017, and 2021) in this event. However, he is still dealing with a wrist injury and battled through last weekend to finish T-29 but did rank fourth in the field for Strokes Gained: Off The Tee, which could be a good sign on another tight course like Colonial.

Tony Finau (14-1) was runner-up here in 2019 and finished fourth last year. He made the cut at the PGA last weekend but was a big disappointment, finishing +15 and with a T-72.

Collin Morikawa (18-1) lost in a playoff here in 2020 and finished T-26 last weekend and is looking to return to the form he had in January and February. Max Homa (22-1), Morikawa’s partner several weeks back in New Orleans, got off to a good start last week at the PGA but ended up finishing T-55. Sungjae Im (22-1) missed the cut badly last weekend after winning in his hometown on the Korean Tour two weeks ago.

Justin Rose (30-1) won at Colonial in 2018 by three strokes over Koepka and played well last week at the PGA before falling to T-9 on Sunday.

Tommy Fleetwood and Rickie Fowler (both 33-1) are both looking to get back in the winner’s circle and break winless droughts.

Cam Davis (40-1) was never in the hunt to win last weekend but gave this column its best PGA finisher with a T-4 as a 250-1 shot.

Other former Colonial champions in this week’s field include Chris Kirk (50-1), this year’s Ryder Cup captain Zach Johnson (400-1), Kevin Kisner (500-1) and Rory Sabbatini (500-1).

With some solid star power at the top of this field, the player who may draw the most eyeballs from solely a fan interest standpoint is 46-year-old PGA club professional Michael Block (300-1), who won over the golf world as not only being the only one of the 20 club pros to make the cut but actually being on the first page of the leaderboard on a major championship Sunday. Block ended up finishing T-15 and earning a return appearance to next year’s PGA at Valhalla courtesy of a terrific up-and-down on the final hole. He was invited to play this week at Colonial and will be in the field at the RBC Canadian Open as well in two weeks.

In total, nine of the OWGR Top 20 players are at Colonial this week.

The Event

The Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club was initially established in 1946 and is the longest non-major event to be held at the same site on the PGA Tour. Much like the Memorial Tournament is for Jack Nicklaus and Bay Hill is for Arnold Palmer, the tournament at Colonial is associated with the late Ben Hogan, who was a resident of Fort Worth and won this event five times (1946, 1947, 1952, 1953, 1959). Annika Sörenstam played in the 2003 tournament and became the first woman to play in a PGA Tour event in 58 years since Babe Zaharias made three cuts as an amateur in 1945. Sörenstam’s participation drew high media attention, but she shot 71 and 74 and missed the cut by four strokes. Because of its invitational status, the Charles Schwab Challenge field is just 120 players, with 65 players and ties making the weekend cut. In 2020, the tournament was held June 11-14 as the first PGA Tour event staged since the interruption of the regular schedule in mid-March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the interests of maximum health and safety, the event had no spectators, a PGA Tour first.

Charles Schwab took over as the title sponsor beginning a four-year deal in 2019. Previous sponsors were Dean & Deluca (2016-2017), Crowne Plaza (2007-2015), Bank of America (2003-2006), MasterCard (1996-2002), and Southwestern Bell (1989-1994).

Many of golf’s legends have won this tournament, including Ben Hogan (1946, 1947, 1952, 1953, 1959), Sam Snead (1950), Cary Middlecoff (1951), Roberto Di Vincenzo (1957), Tommy Bolt (1958), Julius Boros (1960, 1963), Arnold Palmer (1962), Billy Casper (1964, 1968), Gene Littler (1971), Lee Trevino (1976, 1978), Ben Crenshaw (1977, 1990), Fuzzy Zoeller (1981), Jack Nicklaus (1982), Lanny Wadkins (1988), Nick Price (1994, 2002), Tom Watson (1998) and Phil Mickelson (2000).

Here are the criteria for entry into the Charles Schwab Challenge field of 120 players:

Colonial winners before 2000 and in the last five years

Colonial Winners in top 150 of prior year FedEx Cup points list

The Players Championship and major championship winners in the last five years

The Tour Championship and World Golf Championships winners in the past three years

Arnold Palmer Invitational and Memorial winners in the past three years

PGA Tour tournament winners since the last Colonial tournament

Playing members on the last-named U.S. Ryder Cup team

Current PGA Tour members who were playing members on the last-named European Ryder Cup team, U.S. Presidents Cup team and International Presidents Cup team

Two players to be selected by the current and former champions of the Colonial tournament (Champions Choices)

Top 15 finishers and ties from the previous year’s Colonial Tournament

12 sponsor exemptions — two from among graduates of Web.com Tour finals, six members not otherwise exempt and four unrestricted

Top 50 Official World Golf Ranking through the Masters

Top 80 from prior year’s FedEx Cup points list

Members in the top 125 non-member category whose non-WGC points for the previous season equal or exceed the points earned by the player finishing in 80th position on the prior year FedEx Cup points list

Top 80 from current year’s FedEx Cup points list through the tournament two weeks prior

If necessary to complete a field of 120 players, any remaining positions are filled from the current year’s FedEx Cup points list.

The Course

Colonial Country Club was designed in 1936 by John Bredemus and Perry Maxwell with a Keith Foster redesign in 2008. It is in Fort Worth, just five minutes northwest of Texas Christian University (TCU). The course is nicknamed “Hogan’s Alley” in honor of Ben Hogan, who won five times here on his home track. Colonial is a classical par-70 tree-lined parklands design that plays at 7,209 yards. It has played at a scoring average of 70.24 (+0.24) and has ranked as the 10th-most difficult course on the PGA Tour over the last five years.

What makes Colonial difficult are the tight fairways (28 yards average fairway width — fourth-narrowest on tour) and the smaller greens (5,000 square feet — sixth-smallest on tour).

The fairways and rough (three inches) are Bermudagrass and the greens are Bentgrass. The greens will roll fast at around 12.5 to 13 on the stimpmeter.

Power and distance are not necessarily much of an advantage. Players will also tee off in a different direction after every hole. Colonial is a much tighter course off the tee than what we see out of other Maxwell designs like Augusta National and Southern Hills. Gil Hanse redesigned Southern Hills for last year’s PGA to rave reviews. Colonial Country Club is hoping for the same thing as Hanse will begin the renovation here after this year’s event.

Four water hazards are in play on six holes along with 84 bunkers. Twelve of the 18 holes are doglegs. Long-term history shows that the best way to win here is to hit the fairways, be precise with the irons, be able to shape shots in multiple directions and putt the lights out as this is seen as a “ball-strikers course.”

Colonial opens with a par-5 and a short par-4 that are the two easiest holes on the course. Then, the “Horrible Horseshoe” (holes 3-5) begins and those are three of the toughest holes on the layout. Since 2003, this is the second-most difficult three-hole stretch on tour and play a combined 0.49 shots over par.

The two par-5s are the first (565 yards) and the 11th, measuring over 635 yards, often playing as a three-shot hole to reach the green.

Correlated courses to Colonial include Harbour Town, Sedgefield, Innisbrook, Pebble Beach, Southern Hills, TPC Sawgrass and Waialae.

Here is a breakdown of the course from the official scorecard:

Recent History/Winners

2022: Sam Burns (-9/271); 30-1*

2021: Jason Kokrak (-14/266); 50-1

2020: Daniel Berger (-15/265); 70-1**

2019: Kevin Na (-13/267); 70-1

2018: Justin Rose (-20/260); 20-1

2017: Kevin Kisner (-10/270); 33-1

2016: Jordan Spieth (-17/263); 7-1

2015: Chris Kirk (-12/268); 35-1

2014: Adam Scott (-9/271); 18-1**

2013: Boo Weekley (-14/266); 100-1

2012: Zach Johnson (-12/268); 16-1

2011: David Toms (-15/265); 33-1

2010: Zach Johnson (-21/259); 50-1***

Playoff win over Sam Burns – *

Playoff win over Collin Morikawa – **

Playoff win over Jason Dufner – ***

Tournament Scoring Record – ****

Tournament Trends

Age is more than just a number

  • Other than Sam Burns in 2022, Daniel Berger in 2020 and Jordan Spieth in 2016, 17 of the last 20 winners at Colonial have been over the age of 30.

Experience matters

  • Of the last 13 winners, only Burns in 2022, Berger in 2020 and then-World No. 1 Adam Scott (2014) had fewer than three career starts at Colonial.
  • You have to go back to 2001 for the last time a player (Sergio Garcia) won his first PGA Tour title at Colonial.
  • Four of the last seven winners posted a T-14 finish of better at Colonial the season before their win.

Incoming form

  • Each of the last 10 winners of the Charles Schwab Challenge have posted a top-8 finish within their six most recent starts heading into Colonial.

Statistical Analysis

With the sixth-smallest greens on tour and the fifth-most penal rough, there is a high emphasis on strong approach play. Last year, Colonial ranked as the ninth-toughest course in which to gain strokes on approach.

Strokes Gained Approach (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Scottie Scheffler 39.5
  2. Collin Morikawa 39.4
  3. Tony Finau 34.4
  4. Tom Hoge 31.8
  5. Rickie Fowler 31.5
  6. Viktor Hovland 28.4
  7. Max Homa 25.3
  8. Nate Lashley 24.9
  9. Sepp Straka 24.8
  10. Tommy Fleetwood 22.5
  11. Jordan Spieth 22.4
  12. Stephan Jaeger 21
  13. Ben Martin 20.1
  14. Scott Piercy 19.7
  15. Ryan Palmer 19.5
  16. Eric Cole 18.8
  17. Davis Riley 18.6
  18. Alex Smalley 17.5
  19. Erik Van Rooyen 17.3
  20. Emiliano Grillo 15.9

12 of the last 15 winners ranked inside the top 10 for GIR% and 11 of those 12 ranked inside the top seven at Colonial.

GIR Gained (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Scottie Scheffler 69.9
  2. Stephan Jaeger 55.3
  3. Joseph Bramlett 44.5
  4. Collin Morikawa 38.1
  5. Hayden Buckley 36.3
  6. Will Gordon 36.1
  7. Tyler Duncan 34.8
  8. Luke List 32.4
  9. Jordan Spieth 30.3
  10. Dylan Wu 29.7
  11. Viktor Hovland 29.4
  12. Nate Lashley 28.4
  13. Akshay Bhatia 28.1
  14. Tony Finau 27.8
  15. Sepp Straka 27.8
  16. Michael Kim 27.4
  17. Aaron Rai 25.4
  18. Sungjae Im 25.1
  19. Tommy Fleetwood 22.2
  20. Rickie Fowler 21.8

Colonial is the fifth-toughest course on tour to gain strokes off the tee. Furthermore, because it also has the fourth-narrowest fairways at an average of only 28 yards wide, it cannot be overpowered.

Good Drives Gained (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Russell Henley 39.3
  2. Scottie Scheffler 39.1
  3. Tyler Duncan 38.8
  4. Collin Morikawa 38.5
  5. Hayden Buckley 37.1
  6. Matthew NeSmith 28.6
  7. Stephan Jaeger 27.3
  8. Nate Lashley 25.6
  9. Luke List 25
  10. Denny McCarthy 24.9
  11. Brian Harman 24.7
  12. Viktor Hovland 24
  13. Akshay Bhatia 23.5
  14. Sungjae Im 23.4
  15. Chez Reavie 22.7
  16. Carson Young 22.4
  17. Michael Kim 22
  18. Aaron Rai 20.5
  19. Will Gordon 20.4
  20. Ben Martin 19.5

Accuracy is certainly at more of a premium typically at Colonial despite bombers like Burns and Kokrak winning here the last two years.

Fairways Gained (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Russell Henley 73
  2. Adam Long 55.8
  3. Tyler Duncan 47.5
  4. Zac Blair 44.7
  5. David Lingmerth 43.4
  6. Brendon Todd 43.2
  7. Collin Morikawa 41.1
  8. Brian Harman 38.3
  9. Chez Reavie 38.1
  10. Sungjae Im 37.6
  11. Aaron Rai 36.2
  12. Austin Eckroat 35.9
  13. Hayden Buckley 33.5
  14. Carson Young 32.7
  15. Si Woo Kim 32.5
  16. Scottie Scheffler 32.2
  17. Zach Johnson 32.2
  18. Mark Hubbard 31.1
  19. Ben Martin 30.9
  20. Kramer Hickok 30.6

12 of the 18 holes at Colonial are par-4s on the par-70 layout.

Strokes Gained Par-4s (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Scottie Scheffler 65.7
  2. Max Homa 44.6
  3. Viktor Hovland 42.4
  4. Taylor Moore 37.6
  5. Chris Kirk 36.1
  6. Jordan Spieth 35.8
  7. Akshay Bhatia 33.6
  8. Stephan Jaeger 32.9
  9. Denny McCarthy 32.7
  10. Thomas Detry 31.3
  11. Nick Taylor 31.2
  12. Tony Finau 30.8
  13. Eric Cole 30.4
  14. Justin Rose 29.8
  15. Collin Morikawa 29.4
  16. Tommy Fleetwood 28.6
  17. Michael Kim 28.4
  18. Ben Martin 27.9
  19. Joseph Bramlett 26.8
  20. Dylan Wu 26.8

Since the GIR rate at Colonial is only 62.8%, players will have to grind out pars regularly and avoid plus numbers because they can add up quickly.

Bogey Avoidance (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Scottie Scheffler 44.2
  2. Eric Cole 27.6
  3. Alex Smalley 23.6
  4. Max Homa 22.7
  5. Jordan Spieth 22.7
  6. Brian Harman 21.7
  7. Sungjae Im 21.4
  8. Thomas Detry 21.2
  9. Tony Finau 20.2
  10. Michael Kim 20.2
  11. Rickie Fowler 19.2
  12. Justin Rose 18.9
  13. Russell Henley 18.8
  14. Tommy Fleetwood 18.5
  15. Viktor Hovland 17.8
  16. Stephan Jaeger 17.5
  17. Joseph Bramlett 15.9
  18. J.J. Spaun 15.5
  19. Aaron Baddeley 15.2
  20. Sam Ryder 15.2

Putting is pretty easy on these Bentgrass greens, so typically the better putters have flourished at Colonial.

Strokes Gained Putting Bentgrass Greens (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Maverick McNealy 30.4
  2. Justin Lower 30.4
  3. Beau Hossler 29.1
  4. Christiaan Bezuidenhout 28.8
  5. Justin Rose 28.7
  6. Brendon Todd 26.3
  7. Alex Noren 24.9
  8. Max Homa 24.3
  9. Adam Svensson 23
  10. Denny McCarthy 22
  11. Lucas Herbert 21.6
  12. Sam Burns 21.1
  13. Andrew Putnam 19.5
  14. Patrick Rodgers 19.5
  15. Harry Higgs 18
  16. Harris English 17
  17. Justin Suh 15.2
  18. Sungjae Im 14.3
  19. Zach Johnson 12.8
  20. Tony Finau 12.1

Selections

Justin Rose (30-1, Circa Sports)

Rose finished T-9 last weekend at the PGA Championship but was third in the field for Strokes Gained: Approach.

He has finished 13th (2005), first (2018) and third (2020) at Colonial.

Rose ranks fifth in this field for Strokes Gained: Putting on Bentgrass and has seven of his 11 PGA Tour titles on Bentgrass greens.

Tommy Fleetwood (35-1, Circa Sports)

Fleetwood fell from the top 10 last weekend to finish T-18 at the PGA, but he appears to be getting closer to that first PGA Tour win in America with a third at the Valspar and a fifth at the Wells Fargo over the last two months.

He gained in all Strokes Gained categories last weekend at Oak Hill.

Fleetwood ranks ninth in Total Strokes Gained this season.

Chris Kirk (42-1, Circa Sports)

Kirk, the 2015 winner at Colonial, got back in the winner’s circle a little less than three months ago at the Honda Classic.

He has never missed a cut in Fort Worth and has finished 16th or better seven times here.

Kirk was also the first-round leader last year.

Harris English (90-1, Caesars Sportsbook)

While he missed the cut at the PGA last week, English has shown signs of returning to his 2021 form with a runner-up at Bay Hill and a third at the Wells Fargo.

English is better suited on these shorter courses as evidenced by having victories at TPC Southwind and TPC River Highlands.

He also fits the bill for veteran (now age 33) winners in this event.

Hayden Buckley (100-1, Caesars Sportsbook)

Buckley made the cut last week at the PGA and finished T-26.

He ranks fifth in this field for both GIR Gained and Good Drives Gained over the last 36 rounds.

Buckley finished fifth at the RBC Heritage and 10th at the Valero Texas Open over the last two months, so he has good recent form.

Emiliano Grillo (100-1, PointsBet)

Grillo missed the cut last week at the PGA, but he has a good history here with a third in 2018 and an eighth in 2021.

He also has good recent finishes with a fifth in Mexico and a seventh at the RBC Heritage.

Matchups (27-19-5; 2-0 last week)

Chris Kirk -125 over Denny McCarthy (BetMGM)

KH Lee -150 over Min Woo Lee (BetMGM)

Emiliano Grillo -145 over Ryan Fox (South Point)

Placement markets and other golf events (LIV DC, Senior PGA Championship, etc) will be up at VSiN.com/picks later this week.