The PGA Tour resumes again on Thursday with the Charles Schwab Challenge so read The Punter's comprehensive early preview here...
“Harris English has found his game of late and this is a course that suits. He was very unlucky to bump in to an inspired Jordan Spieth here in 2016 and he looks a fair price at [90.0].”
Exactly 13 weeks after the cessation of the PGA Tour, following the opening round of the now cancelled Players Championship back in March, the world's most prestigious tour is back, and back with a deep field ready to contend (albeit with no fans in attendance) around a fabulous old course.
First staged in 1946 and formally known as, the Fort Worth Invitational, the Dean & Deluca, the Crowne Plaza, the Bank of America, the MasterCard and the Southwestern Bell, the PGA Tour kicks off again with a tantalising renewal of the Charles Schwab Challenge.
Winners of the event are given a plaid tartan jacket and their names are etched on to a Wall of Champions adjacent to the first tee.
Local resident, Ben Hogan, won the first two renewals before going on to win it again three more times in the '50s. Nobody else has won the title more than twice.
Colonial Country Club, Fort Worth, Texas.
Par 70 -7,209 yards
Stroke Index in 2019 - 70.86
Designed by John Bredemus and opened in 1936, Colonial Country Club staged the US Open as soon as 1941, after Perry Maxwell had altered holes three, four and five. This wonderful classic course has hosted this event since its inception and on the PGA Tour, only the US Masters has been staged at the same venue for longer.
Colonial is a tight, tree-lined track with 12 dog-legged holes and small bentgrass greens that usually run at around 12 on the stimpmeter. Water is in play on six holes and the course is littered with strategically placed fairway bunkers.
The par five first hole once again ranked as the easiest hole on the course last year (averaged 4.64) and the par four second ranked the third easiest (3.90 but the next three faced, which were the only holes Maxwell altered prior to the US Open in 1941, are tough and nicknamed the 'Horrible Horseshoe'. Last year they ranked as the third, ninth and first, hardest combining at more than half a stroke over-par (0.58).
Holes 12, 13 and 14 is another tough stretch and last year those three ranked fifth, sixth and fourth hardest.
Colonial CC is often affectionately referred to as 'Hogan's Alley' after the five-time winner Ben.
Sky Sports are showing live Featured Group coverage from 12:45 on Thursday and Friday, with full coverage beginning at 21:00 (UK and Ireland time) for the first two days. The third and fourth round live coverage begins at 18:00 on Saturday and Sunday.
Last Five Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices
2019 - Kevin Na -13 [90.0]
2018 - Justin Rose -20 [16.0]
2017 - Kevin Kisner -10 [32.0]
2016 - Jordan Spieth -17 [8.0]
2015 - Chris Kirk -12 [38.0]
What Will it Take to Win the Charles Schwab Challenge?
Phil Mickelson ranked fifth for Driving Distance when he won in 2008 but none of the 11 winners since have ranked inside the top-ten for that stat and it's not one to consider at all. Colonial is short by modern standards and DD is an irrelevant stat. Last year's winner, Kevin Na, ranked 58th for DD.
There are just two par fives and irons are taken off several tees. The average DD ranking of the last ten winners is just 32.8.
Last year's winner, Na, only ranked 17th for Driving Accuracy but six of the last ten winners have ranked inside the top-ten for that stat. With no spectators in attendance this year, a combination of rough that hasn't been trodden down and the likelihood of a bounce back on the fairway eliminated, DA should be an important stat to consider but it's perhaps worth highlighting that Jordan Spieth only ranked 54th for DA when he won in 2016 and Chris Kirk ranked 60th five years ago! The average DA ranking of the last ten winners is exactly 21.
Kirk was one of the strangest winners, statistically, that I've ever seen on the PGA Tour. He basically just putted incredibly well all week long, averaging an amazing 1.57, so we should perhaps ignore the fact that (in addition to only ranking 40th for DD, 60th for DA and 39th for Scrambling) he ranked a lowly 62nd for Greens In Regulation. As many as nine of the last 12 winners have ranked inside the top-ten for GIR and eight of those nine ranked inside the top-six. The last two winners have topped the GIR stats and the average GIR ranking of the last ten winners is 14.1.
Na only ranked 15th for Scrambling last year but four of the top-seven ranked inside the top five for that stat and it's another key indicator. Kisner ranked second for Scrambling in 2017 and Spieth ranked first four years ago so an excellent touch around the green is usually a big plus. The average Scrambling ranking of the last ten winners is 16.4.
Length off the tee is just about the only stat we can disregard because in addition to the winners usually ranking highly for DA, GIR and Scrambling, they nearly always putt brilliantly too! The last two winners have had a Putting Average ranking of fifth and other than Kisner in 2017, every winner in the last 16 years has ranked 17th or better. And 11 of the 16 have ranked inside the top-five for Putting Average. The average Putting Average ranking of the last ten winners is only 7.1.
Given we're in Texas, an ability to handle windy conditions is usually essential but I'm a bit too early for any reliable forecasts.
Is There an Angle In?
There are two possible course links here - Deere Run and Augusta. They don't appear to correlate visually but all three venues reward excellent ball striking and short game skills and form at the three courses crosses over well.
David Toms, Kenny Perry, Steve Stricker, Zach Johnson and Jordan Spieth have all recently won this title and the John Deere Classic, staged at Deere Run in Illinois. The 2017 runner-up, Sean O'Hair's first PGA Tour success was at Deere Run and Brandt Snedeker and Tim Clark have both finished runner-up at both tournaments.
Zach Johnson has won this title twice recently so of the nine men to win the last 12 editions, four have also won the US Masters - Johnson, Spieth, Mickelson and Adam Scott. And the 2018 winner, Rose, arguably should have won the Masters.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
With length an irrelevance, the wily old pros have a really great chance to add to their silverware here and I say add because the vast majority of winners here have already bagged plenty of titles.
Prior to Spieth's victory four years ago, Sergio Garcia, in 2001, was the last player under the age of 30 to win and eight of the last 22 winners have been aged 40 or over. The average age of the winners here is 37 0 - the exact age Rose was two years ago. Na was 35 when he won last year.
Colonial is a course that takes a bit of getting to know and debutants have a poor record. Historically, the winners have already played the event eight times on average and it's rare to see someone win their first PGA Tour event here. Na was playing here for the 12th time when he won last year and he'd previously led the tournament three times after round one. He also led after round three (by a stroke) in 2015 before going on to finish 10th.
Garcia was the last first timer to win, in 2001, but he'd already won in Europe and before that, Ian Baker-Finch won his first PGA Tour title in this event in 1989 but he too had already tasted success, having already won Down Under. We all know how good the 2017 US Masters winner, Sergio, is and Baker-Finch won an Open Championship.
Given how impeccably good all areas of a player's game need to be to win here, it's probably not surprising to see so many major champions, Ryder Cuppers and WGC winners have been successful here. The cream tends to rise to the top.
Last Five Winners Pre Final Round Position and Exchange Price
2019 - Kevin Na led by two strokes [3.45]
2018 - Justin Rose led by four strokes [1.4]
2017 - Kevin Kisner T5 - trailing by three [11.0]
2016 - Jordan Spieth led by one stroke [2.1]
2015 - Chris Kirk T4 - trailing by three [13.5]
As illustrated above, three of the last four winners were in front with a round to go but it's not always an easy to convert from the front. Spieth was actually the first third round leader to win since Phil Mickelson in 2008.
Being up with the pace is usually the way to go though and being on the heels of the leaders looks like the ideal place to be. The two winners that preceded Spieth were seven and six strokes adrift and outside the top-ten at halfway but that's unusual. Prior to Scott's victory in 2014, Rory Sabbatini in 2007 and Sergio Garcia in 2001, had been the only two winners this century to be outside the top-ten and more than four strokes adrift through 36 holes and 16 of the last 18 winners have been no more than two strokes off the lead with a round to go. Kisner and Kirk are the odd men out and they only trailed by three so although it's hard to win from the front, winning from miles back is very rare.
It's no surprise to see world number one, Rory McIlroy, heading the market. He was in tremendous form before the break - finishing inside the top-five in each of his last seven starts - and if he returns to the fray in that sort of order, he's highly likely to contend but a couple of things put me off...
As highlighted above, debutants have a poor record at Colonial so playing here for the first time could put him at a disadvantage and it's certainly not a venue where one of his main weapons - his length of the tee - can be put to good use. It's obviously dangerous to dismiss Rory but he looks short enough to me.
World number two, Jon Rahm, looks a better bet towards the head of the market. He missed the cut here last year (a week after missing the cut at the US PGA too) but he was second on debut in 2017 and fifth in 2018. He had this to say about the track before last year's renewal. "It's a beautiful golf course that you need to learn how to play".
I get the impression Rahm would have been here teeing it up regardless and he's not just playing as it's the first opportunity to do so in 13 weeks. He has the course form in the bank and he's already demonstrated an ability to perform after a lengthy break given he won the DP World Tour Championship at the end of November, seven weeks after winning the Open de España.
World number four, and third favourite, Justin Thomas, may also hit the ground running. He won the Tournament of Champions in January having not played anywhere since October, so the enforced break may not have disadvantaged him at all but having not played Colonial before is a negative.
Andy Swales has written a great piece here that looks at how players might respond to their enforced absence but we're all in the dark to a certain extent. It's highly likely that the winner will point to something they've found during the break, a new putter, an old putter back in the bag, or a new/old putting technique they're now using. Or maybe they'll claim they needed the time off and it's refreshed them mentally but you can better your bottom dollar that only a handful of people (if any) will have known the info beforehand.
In short, this is a punting minefield and despite the long layoff, and the temptation to back umpteen players before the off, caution is undoubtedly advised. That said, I've still picked out five before the off, albeit for small stakes.
I've thrown a few pounds at world number three, Brooks Koepka, at [38.0], as the price is just too big for a player of his quality. He's been struggling to find his game since injuring his knee and he doesn't contend wholeheartedly in run of the mill PGA Tour events very often. He's won the CJ Cup in Korea and he won the Phoenix Open more than five years ago but they're his only regular event wins. That's scant return for a WGC winner and four-time major champion but I'm happy to play him here given he was second on his only previous appearance at Colonial (two years ago) and the break may have given his knee the time to heal it needed. He's returned from injury before and can do so again.
Harris English has found his game of late and this is a course that suits. He was very unlucky to bump in to an inspired Jordan Spieth here in 2016 and he looks a fair price at [90.0]. After that, I've played a trio of big outsiders in Corey Conners, Brendon Todd and Mackenzie Hughes.
Conners is brilliant tee-to-green, he's already won in Texas, and was eighth here on debut two years ago (31st last year). He needs to improve with the putter but he'll contend if he does.
Todd has already won twice this season and he was fifth here six years ago. He's very straight off the tee and he's been putting well.
And last but not least, Hughes was second last time out at the Honda Classic, thanks to a pair of 66s at the weekend and he sat second with a round to go here last year before slipping to eighth on Sunday. He's simply too big at [260.0].
Brooks Koepka @ [38.0]
Harris English @ [90.0]
Corey Conners @ [170.0]
Brendon Todd @ [190.0]
Mackenzie Hughes @ [260.0]
I'll be back on Friday with the In-Play Blog.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter
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