Charles Schwab Challenge ⏤ Picks & Analysis

Fantasy Golf

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At long last, the PGA TOUR returns to action this week with the Charles Schwab Challenge at famed Colonial CC in Fort Worth, TX. It’s been a long few months since we last saw the PGA TOUR when the PLAYERS Championship was cancelled in March. We’ve seen some limited golf action from some of the star players at exhibition events staged at Seminole and Medalist, but this week we are finally getting back to something that actually looks like normal PGA TOUR competition. There won’t be any fans on-site and the television production won’t quite look like what we are used to, but we will nevertheless have a full field of players and 72 holes of stroke play competition at the end of which will be awarded Colonial’s iconic tartan jacket.

The field is a lot stronger than we would have thought given the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 protocols at this first event back in the post-virus world. Sixteen of the top twenty players in the official World Golf Ranking are in the field. The only notable absences among that group are Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Tommy Fleetwood and Tiger Woods. World number one Rory McIlroy is scheduled to compete and looking to extend his impressive streak of seven consecutive events in which he records a top-five finish. He’ll be paired with the second and third highest-ranked players in the world (Jon Rahm and Brooks Koepka) when he makes his post-COVID debut on Thursday.

Colonial is a historic track that oozes an old-school cool vibe derived from its close association with Texas golf legends like Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson. It is a shotmakers golf course with a higher premium than usual on accuracy from the tee and into the greens. Wayward drivers of the ball are likely to struggle at the tree-lined venue and we expect the winning score shouldn’t be too far from the 10-12 under par range if the weather forecast for no rain holds up.

Group A 

Group A is filled with most of the odds-on favorites at Colonial this week. It includes the top five players in the world alongside the 13th-ranked player in Bryson Dechambeau. Strong cases as usual can be made for each of these players and with very little to work from in terms of recent form it’s no bargain trying to determine which of these players will emerge from this star-studded group. It might be easiest to try to make picks in this group starting with who to eliminate.

We’re going to sit Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka this week. Both players are more of the bomb and gouge style of golfer and that has historically not been the best fit at a ball striker’s golf course like Colonial. In particular, Johnson’s game looked pretty lackluster during his play in the TaylorMade charity event a few weeks ago at Medalist and we see no reason to select him over a number of the more attractive choices in Group A. Koepka seems like another guy who probably didn’t do much work at home during the layoff and we expect him still to have some rust to shake off as he returns to play.

Our selection in this group is Rory McIlroy. At the end of the day, he’s the highest-ranked player in the world and his form prior to the pause back in March was beyond impressive. He looked reasonably decent during the TaylorMade charity event and didn’t give us any reason to believe too much of that form has eroded during the downtime. The only factor that might wave us off of Rory is that he is likely to be the highest owned among the players in this group.  

Group B 

This group features the next crop of contenders lurking just behind the star-studded Group A. Tony Finau is a player on the rise and he’s expected by many to be the next player to take a giant step forward. Xander Schauffele’s performance in the major championships has earned him a lot of respect as well. Of those two guys, we definitely think that the golf course is a better fit for a more precision player like Schauffele as Finau’s prodigious distance off the tee won’t serve him as well at Colonial as it might at some of the more expansive tracks.

Patrick Reed and Matt Kuchar both have the kind of small-ball game that would fit this golf course as well. Reed had started to show some flashes of form prior to the pause with a win in Mexico and a top-15 finish at Bay Hill. Kuchar had started to show some game as well with a runner-up performance at Riviera and a top-25 finish in Mexico. Of the two, we believe Kuchar to be the more consistent ball-striker so if you want to pick either of these guys we’d suggest Kooch.

Nevertheless, our pick in this group is Rickie Fowler. He looked really solid during the TaylorMade match at Seminole—recording seven birdies and dazzling viewers with another brilliant display on the greens. That match we think will have kept him sharp and it’s always tough to pass on picking a player who is probably the best putter of those in his group.

Group C 

This group features a number of up-and-coming young players on the PGA TOUR. There is a decent mix of PGA TOUR winners in here (Homa, Morikawa, Hovland) and players yet to win on the PGA TOUR (Uihlein, McNealy, Scheffler) but the common thread among all six is they had standout amateur careers with their associated large expectations upon turning professional. Since we have very little recent form to draw from, we’re going to limit our potential choices to the three players who have won on the PGA TOUR.

Between those three players, our selection is going to be Viktor Hovland. Viktor had a breakout year in 2019 after a strong performance as an amateur player in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and his rise in the game came to head when he won the opposite field event in Puerto Rico just a few weeks before COVID-19 pause. Ordinarily, we’d expect a player to have something of a letdown in the weeks that follow a win. However, with all the time off that each of the players have had in the last few weeks, we expect that the post-victory glow has worn off Hovland by now and expect him to have a strong week at a golf course that demands much of the same required of those players who have success at Pebble Beach.

Group D 

This group of American major champions strikes us as the easiest to pick from among the six groups. Straight off the hop, we think that you can eliminate Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson as neither one of them drives the ball well enough in our view to have success here at Colonial. Granted, Mickelson has won this event before and you’d think his driving would have made that impossible. However, that win came all the way back in 2008 and he’s played here sparingly in the decade-plus since that victory. We also think that you can eliminate Jordan Spieth as his slide from the pinnacle of the golf world has shown no signs of stopping over the last eighteen months.

Conversely, Webb Simpson has been on the rise since a dip in his play following the change away from the longer putter. He is back among the top ten players in the world and has only managed to finish outside of the top 30 finishers just a single time since the 2019 Masters Tournament. He doesn’t miss cuts very often and his precision iron and wedge play should suit him perfectly here at Colonial.

Group E 

This group features six European Ryder Cup stalwarts all of whom we’d expect to see this October at Whistling Straits should the Ryder Cup proceed ahead as planned. On paper, the obvious choice in this group should be Justin Rose as he is the one among the six who has spent the most time consistently ranked among the top ten players in the world. However, this season has been something of a disaster for Rose. The pause might have come at just the right time for him as he had missed three of his previous four cuts leading into the PLAYERS Championship. During the time off, he announced his split with his equipment company (Honma) and returned home to the TaylorMade clubs that served him so well.

While he may be the least accomplished of the six here, we’re going to go with Matthew Fitzpatrick. Fitz is quietly ascending to the highest echelons of the game and his winning ways on the European Tour are sure to carry over across the pond sooner rather than later. He isn’t a power player, but Colonial doesn’t require that from its champions. He’s a great putter which is an asset anywhere and his consistency off the tee should serve him in good stead at this venue.  

Group F 

This group features six names that we’re extremely used to as they are all veteran players on the PGA TOUR that have been around the highest levels of the game for the better part of the last decade or more. However, all of these players may have most of their best golf behind them with Jason Dufner and Charles Howell III in particular looking like shades of their former selves over the last few years. Dufner’s putting woes have crippled him and while Howell still can compete on the right golf courses the rise of power players seems to have left him behind.

Our choice among these six players came down to a battle between Billy Horschel and Kevin Kisner, but we’re going to have to go with the latter as we think there is a great fit for him here at Colonial. Since we don’t have a lot of form to go from, we certainly are more highly weighting course fit in our picks this week and the Kiz fits that criteria. He’s a very accurate driver of the golf ball and a solid putter and those are two elements we think will be required for success at Colonial.

Winning Projected Score: -15