Charles Schwab: Expect Varner III to Go Low

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Another major, another major hangover. After a historic PGA Championship last week at the Ocean Course, this week’s Charles Schwab Challenge has big shoes to fill. Daniel Berger broke through in a big way last year after an extended layoff due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but will once again need to ward off a strong field.

At 121 players, the field for the Charles Schwab Challenge features 35 less players than the PGA Championship. For our sake, the fewer the better, as our potential first-round leader selections are able to be narrowed down quite a bit.

Playing host this week is Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas. Everyone should be familiar with “Hogan’s Alley” at this point as it has been a longtime staple on the PGA Tour. This par-70 measures to just about 7,200 yards and favors shot makers and not so much bombers.

While distance is not required to successfully navigate Colonial CC, it doesn’t mean that it won’t help. For our purposes, we will favor those players who are able to find the short grass from off the tee, as trees-lined fairways are one of the many features of this course.

Coming into these greens, players will potentially have to face strong, swirling winds, ensuring that ball-striking is of the utmost importance. If they do fail to reach in regulation, a timely short-game will be needed to keep a good round going.

After nearly selecting two of the first-round leaders at the PGA Championship with Brooks Koepka and Keegan Bradley, it’s good to know our process is on the right path. We will try to keep our mini momentum going into what should be another great week of golf.

The oddsmakers at PointsBet Sportsbook have priced the first-round leader market ahead of the Charles Schwab Challenge. To no one’s surprise, Collin Morikawa, Justin Thomas, and Jordan Spieth lead the way at +2500. Last week’s PGA champion and the first-round leader at the Wells Fargo Championship, Phil Mickelson, is listed at +5000.

As mentioned in the past, weather is always important when discussing first-round leader selections, but that is especially true in the state of Texas. We will be sure to monitor winds as the week progresses to ensure our players have the better side of the draw, if there is one.

Odds to Lead After the First-Round (Odds via PointsBet):

+2500: Collin Morikawa, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas

+3300: Abraham Ancer, Daniel Berger, Patrick Reed, Tony Finau, Will Zalatoris

+4000: Corey Conners, Joaquin Niemann, Scottie Scheffler, Sungjae Im

+5000: Brian Harman, Charley Hoffman, Emiliano Grillo, Gary Woodland, Jason Kokrak, Justin Rose, Kevin Streelman, Phil Mickelson

To Lead After the First-Round (Odds via PointsBet):

Matt Wallace (+6000):

Wallace has slowly but surely made his way onto my radar and there’s a good chance that he doesn’t go anywhere anytime soon. He’s been knocking on the door of his first PGA Tour victory for the past couple of months and I like him to contend this week. First he’ll need to play well on Thursday and that’s exactly what Wallace has been doing over his past five first-rounds.

During this stretch mentioned above, Wallace has gained strokes off-the-tee, on approach, and putting in all five of his first-rounds. These performances include gaining two-strokes on the greens at both the RBC Heritage and the Wells Fargo Championship.

I’m not too concerned about Wallace’s missed cut here last season. Players were coming off an extended period of rest and he is a completely different player from a year ago. Ranking 47th on the PGA Tour this season in Round 1 scoring average, the Englishman should be able to get over any past scar tissue he has at Colonial.

Cameron Tringale (+6000):

I hate the term “auto bet” but Tringale may be in that category when it comes to first-round leader selections. While some may remember Tringale turning in 12-over 48 in the second round of the PGA Championship, I remember him nearly being the first-round leader.

That’s what we have grown accustomed to from the man who holds the honor of earning the most money without a win on the PGA Tour. Ranking 3rd this season in Round 1 scoring average, Tringale should once again be able to get off to a nice start.

He hasn’t had a ton of success at Colonial over the years. Tringale has never finished inside the top-40 and has typically struggled on these greens. I’m hoping that he’s in a different place with his game than in years past.

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Harold Varner III (+8000):

The first-round leader a year ago alongside Justin Rose, Varner has an uncanny ability to start fast, burn bright, and fade off. This sentiment is backed up by Varner ranking T-38 on the PGA Tour in Round 1 scoring average in 2021, coming in with an average of 70.18.

As of late, the East Carolina product has seemingly turned the corner with his biggest weakness, the putter. Before losing nearly four-strokes on the greens at the PGA Championship, Varner had gained strokes with his putter in four consecutive starts. I won’t put too much stock into last week’s putting performance as it appeared many struggled to deal with the coastal winds and paspalum greens.

His chances to repeat as first-round leader will likely come down to that club as the rest of his bag appears to be in tune. He’s gained strokes on approach in each of his last four first-rounds, including gaining 2.1 strokes on approach at Harbour Town. He’ll likely need to strike similarly to that week, but a shorter course that requires precise irons falls right into Varner’s wheelhouse.

Tom Hoge (+10000):

Despite missing three out of his last four cuts, Hoge has been great in the first-round, averaging a score of 69.83 on Thursdays. The main reason behind Hoge’s early success is his iron play as he ranks second in Strokes Gained: Approach over the last two months in the first-round alone.

Hoge is more than capable of finding the short grass from the tee box, but it is on and around the greens where this selection will make or break us. He’s only gained strokes putting on these greens once in his career and that was all the way back in 2016.

And while he has lost strokes putting in five out of his last six starts, that is of no fault of his play in Round 1. In that same stretch, Hoge has gained with the flat stick in half of his opening rounds, including gaining 1.4 SG: Putting at the Valero Texas Open and 1.1 SG: Putting at the RBC Heritage. If we get one of those putting performances from Hoge then he should be able to post a low one for us.

Kyle Stanley (+10000):

The biggest flier of the bunch, Stanley has long been known as a strong ball-striker that struggles on the greens. Outside of the Valspar Championship, where he lost 3.5 SG: Approach only to gain 4.3 SG: Putting, that sentiment appears to ring true in 2021.

The tee-to-green game has been fantastic as of late as well. He gained 7.1 strokes in the category at the Wells Fargo Championship and 7.6 strokes in the same category at the Valero Texas Open. Most of that can be chalked up to his play in the first-round. In those two starts, Stanley gained 4.9 strokes tee-to-green in Charlotte and 4.2 strokes tee-to-green in San Antonio.

If he hits the ball like that this week, he will have a chance to shoot a low round on Thursday. Obviously, the putter will need to cooperate and that simply has not been the case over his career, especially at Colonial. In five appearances, he’s never gained strokes on these greens, and at times, it has been ugly to watch. At +10000, I’m hoping he can be somewhat competent on the putting surfaces and that his ball-striking can carry the load.

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