Charles Schwab Challenge Preview

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Colonial Country Club will be the star of the show this week at the PGA TOUR heads to Fort Worth to unwind after the season's fourth major.

Don't worry, there are still two more majors to come on this super-season journey.

Back to the task at hand, a field of 121 golfers will take on Colonial CC this week with the top 65 and ties advancing on to play the weekend. That means more than half of the field will be guaranteed four rounds.

The 2020 playing of the Charles Schwab Challenge had the best strength of field it has ever seen, due to players itching to return from the COVID-19 break. This year we have a handful of superstars returning. Maybe a slight dip in strength, year-over-year, but still rock solid.

Notable names include Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tony Finau, Patrick Reed, Collin Morikawa, and even last week's big winner, Phil Mickelson. Let's get right into the course...

The Course

Colonial Country Club is a classical design that is tree-lined and features plenty of doglegs.

A result of that is the course typically plays as a positional-based layout where power is somewhat muted. There is no course on earth where distance is a bad thing but Colonial is definitely one where it's not required.

On the scorecard, it reads as a par 70 that plays to 7,209 yards. It plays longer when you consider club selection off the tee is not just driver everywhere. On the flip side, it plays shorter because of the firm Texas soil. Overall, distance is not a big factor, like I previously mentioned.

The tight fairways with firm soil lead to a low percentage of fairways hit (around 56 percent) and golfers parlay that into a 64% GIR rate, give or take a few percentage points from year to year. That is pretty average in terms of GIR rates on the PGA TOUR.

Weather typically plays a role here as it's one of the windiest events, on average, over the last decade. Of course, there are exceptions to that so make sure you check the actual forecast this week but golfers that can handle the wind have historically fared very well at Colonial Country Club. Last year they didn't see much wind and it was pretty warm as they played in mid-June but they are back to the typical late-May slot on the calendar this year. Spieth talked about how that June weather helped the bombers, but more on that in the quotes section.

Looking at the scoring conditions, Colonial CC features one of the lowest eagle rates on TOUR so don't expect many big birds from your golfers this week. In fact, scoring is quite boring overall at Colonial with the course yielding the third-highest rate of pars behind only Sea Island Resort (Seaside) and Innisbrook Resort's Copperhead Course. There aren't a lot of big numbers carded here, just par after par so patience is a prerequisite for success here.

Lastly, we can talk about the turf they will see. It's bermudagrass fairways and rough while the greens are pure, A4 Bentgrass. They typically run on the speedy side of the spectrum, around 12 feet on the stimp.

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Course Quotes

Sifting through some past quotes, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play.

Jordan Spieth: "Yeah, it actually has played very, very different. It’s played, I think, into bombers’ hands, because not only the lack of wind but the direction it’s been with that east — it was like east-northeast yesterday, east-southeast today, a lot of the holes where it’s normally straight into the wind and it’s blowing 10 to 15 in May, it’s blowing 2, 3 miles an hour straight off the left and you can fly all the bunkers. We’re looking back at Brooks, Rory and Jon Rahm, and some of these holes they’re just hitting flip wedges into. They’re just bombing it over everything. With how receptive the greens are, that makes it a bit easier." -2020 on the course playing differently in June

Harold Varner III: "Last time I was here, I hit a lot of drivers, and that obviously is not the key to this place. Just had a really good game plan. Just hit a lot of fairways so you give yourself a lot of chances to hit greens, and man, it’s just fun to just get back out there. "

Roger Sloan: "It’s not always a driver off the tee or 3-wood. Sometimes you have to lay yourself back and play some strategy into some pin positions."

Jim Furyk: "It’s not a power-dominated golf course. It’s a place you have to put the ball in the fairway. You’re going to have to hit some shots and hole them against the winds. It’s a golf course I don’t think favors any style, other than guys that can work the ball, control it in the wind, hit some shots. You’ve good got a good advantage there."

Jhonattan Vegas: "This course is all about precision. There is nothing about power around this place. You can on the fairways, on the wrong side of the fairway, and still not have a clear shot to some of these holes.It’s about thinking your way around this place. Obviously all the past winners are guys that are able to do that really well. "

Correlated Courses

Looking at grass types, geography, course attributes, and past performance, here are a few courses/events that I think could prove to be a good pointer this week:

Harbour Town Golf Links
Innisbrook Resort's Copperhead Course
Sea Island Golf Resort
Waialae Country Club
TPC Sawgrass

The theme this week is less-than-driver courses where power is not a requirement. Most of these courses require a good game plan, and it's not just bomb-and-gouge off the tee.

The Weather

Thursday: Partly Sunny with a high of 86 degrees. Winds at 15 MPH.

Friday: Light Rain with a high of 79 degrees. Winds at 10 to 15 MPH.

There is a lot of precipitation in the forecast this week which is not ideal but if they can avoid the thunderstorms then it shouldn't be a major concern. Certainly, a situation to monitor as the first tee time draws nearer.

Golfers to Watch

Jordan Spieth
The Dallas native feels right at home this week and it shows with his history at the course. He arrives with a win and two runner-up finishes in eight tries at Colonial and he's also found his game again in 2021 so it's easy to see why he's the pre-tourney favorite.

Tony Finau
If you want a boom-or-bust option this week then Finau might catch your eye. Why is he so boom-or-bust in my eyes? His strategy off the tee has been very aggressive here in the past. This is what he said after one of his rounds in 2019, "I hit a lot of drivers. Only hit an iron off the tee once and 4-wood one time. I mostly hit drivers. I do think it’s a golf course you have the opportunity to push it up if you want to, and I was able to take advantage of some of my length there today." He went on to post a runner-up finish that week and overall has a 5-for-5 record at Colonial with all five landing inside of the top 35. Okay, maybe it's not such a risky game plan after all.

Brian Harman
Speaking of top 35s at Colonial, this lefty has tossed together top 35s in his last seven trips to Fort Worth. I would be very willing to forgive a missed cut at Kiawah Island when you consider the style of play that is required there compared to Colonial.

Kevin Na
Similar to Harman above, Na is another name that missed the cut at Kiawah Island but has a game more suited for the second-shot nature of Colonial Country Club. Na has six career first-round leads or co-leads on the PGA TOUR and three of them have come here.

Sahith Theegala
The youngster out of Pepperdine is 6-for-6 on the Korn Ferry Tour this season as he looks a way to play his way into a full-time gig on the PGA TOUR. He reached as high as 3rd on the World Amateur Golf Ranking during his time at school. HE is just 3-for-8 on the PGA TOUR but I think his time spent grinding the KFT this year should only help him moving forward in terms of being comfortable in pro events. You may not feel comfortable investing in the youngster yet but he's certainly a talented name to watch on the leaderboard any time he pegs it, just to monitor his career progression.

Gary Woodland
It was a rough 2020 for Woodland but he's feeling healthy again and has tossed together top 10s in two of his last five starts while he was also T7 thru 54 holes last week at Kiawah Island before fading on Sunday. This big hitter is someone who historically plays well when courses force you to club down off the tee. Woodland settled for T73 in his 2012 Colonial debut but returned last year to land a solo 9th.

Branden Grace
Similar to Woodland, Grace has also found his game again recently, winning the Puerto Rico Open in February to prove he still has the winner's gene. He was also in the mix thru 54 holes last week at the PGA Championship, dropping from T5 to T38 on Sunday. Now he heads to a course where he is T53 and T19 in two tries. Back when he showed up for Harbour Town for the first time I remember him telling a story about Ernie Els recommending he play it because the course would suit him so well. That same idea should apply at Colonial CC since so many golfers list it as a correlated course.

Ranking the Field

1. Jordan Spieth
2. Justin Thomas
3. Patrick Reed
4. Tony Finau
5. Collin Morikawa
6. Daniel Berger
7. Abraham Ancer
8. Joaquin Niemann
9. Will Zalatoris
10. Brian Harman
11. Charley Hoffman
12. Scottie Scheffler
13. Sungjae Im
14. Emiliano Grillo
15. Jason Kokrak
16. Cameron Tringale
17. Chris Kirk
18. Billy Horschel
19. Ryan Palmer
20. Sergio Garcia