After a lengthy hiatus, the PGA Tour is returning to action on June 11th at the Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas for the Charles Schwab Challenge. The course will play as a par 70, measuring just over 7,200 yards, and the putting will take place on bentgrass greens.
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There will be quite a few changes the PGA Tour will be implementing moving forward. There will be no fans in attendance until further notice, and COVID-19 testing protocols will be incorporated during practice rounds and during the tournament. Another big difference will be the field, as the Charles Schwab Challenge has gone from a 120-player field to a 144-player field and then over 150 golfers after the Monday qualifier. The increased field includes rookies, previous winners like Phil Mickelson and Justin Rose, as well as four of the top five ranked players in the world.
Colonial Country Club is one of the longest-tenured courses played on the PGA Tour, and the course is just as tricky as it is historic. Since 2017, the course has ranked inside the top 10 in difficulty scoring relative to par twice. Over the last seven tournaments, the winning score has been 13 under par, with the highest coming in 2018 when Justin Rose finished at 20 under par and the lowest coming from Adam Scott at nine under par in 2014. The wind conditions can cause Colonial to be challenging, and three of the last eight years (2012, 2014, 2019) recorded either higher than average or severe wind, with the winning score averaging around 12 under. The previous iterations of the Charles Schwab Challenge have been played in May, so this could play a little different with the new schedule.
The two par-5s don’t yield very many eagles, totaling only 11 eagles last year and just nine eagles the previous year. Players can start quickly with the first hole being one of the par-5s, but they’ll also need to play the par-4s well on a par-70. Due to an extended time away from competitive golf, we should be rostering players who’ve been reliable with their approach. The hiatus isn’t the only factor in deciding to play pure ball-strikers, as approach proved to be around three times more effective than off-the-tee at Colonial for the top five finishers. Strokes Gained: Putting has also proven to be just as valuable as approach. The same top five finishers gained an average of 1.04 strokes on the greens over the field.
Justin Thomas ($10,600)
Thomas’ putting has been suspect over his last six tournaments, ranking outside the top 50, but his ball-striking has been elite, ranking second in Strokes Gained: Approach the Green over his previous 36 rounds. Thomas has already won twice this season and has gained an average of 6.4 strokes Tee-to-Green over his last 10 tournaments. He’s missed the cut twice in his previous four tournaments, but in the other two, he’s finished sixth and third, gaining an average of just under four strokes on the greens. Colonial Country Club is a shot-maker’s course, and Thomas is one of the best on the PGA Tour.
Webb Simpson ($9,800)
Simpson ranks ninth in Strokes Gained: Approach the Green over the last 36 rounds and ranks in the top 20 in birdies or better gained. Simpson does have an advantage over Thomas on the greens by quite a large margin, ranking third in Strokes Gained: Putting over his last nine tournaments. Dustin Johnson ($9,500) and Patrick Reed ($9,200) are other targets in this range, but Simpson’s game should set up nicely at Colonial Country Club, a course he’s played twice since 2016. Simpson has also done well at this tournament, finishing T3 back 2016 and fifth the following year.
Marc Leishman ($8,900)
Leishman was the runner-up at the Arnold Palmer Invitational back in March and has gained strokes through his approach in six straight tournaments via shot-tracker data. Leishman has already notched a win this season at the Farmers Insurance Open back in January and ranks inside the top 40 in Par-4 Gained in his last 36 rounds. A recurring trend with Leishman and the previous golfers mentioned is that they have all been winners this season.
Billy Horschel ($7,400)
Horschel ranks 97th in Strokes Gained: Approach the Green over his last nine tournaments but hasn’t lost strokes in his previous four starts. With a couple of top 10 finishes this season dating back to February, Horschel should shine at the Charles Schwab Challenge, where he ranks inside the top five on Par-4’s gained and seventh in birdies or better gained over his last three tournaments on Par 70 courses. Horschel hasn’t missed the cut in his previous two starts at Colonial Country Club and finished in the top 20 last season.
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