The Punter

Charles Schwab Challenge: Two chanced in Texas at 69/1 and 79/1

Colonial Country Club
Colonial Country Club

The PGA Tour returns to Texas after Xander Schauffele's first major success in Kentucky and our man's here with his detailed preview ahead of Thursday's start.

  • Xander wins first major in Kentucky

  • Look to Deere Run for clues

  • Focus on SG:Tee-to-Green and SG:Putting


Tournament History

Formally known as, the Fort Worth Invitational, the Dean & Deluca, the Crowne Plaza, the Bank of America, the MasterCard and the Southwestern Bell, the Charles Schwab Challenge was first staged 78 years ago in 1946.

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.


Venue

Colonial Country Club, Fort Worth, Texas


Course Details

Par 70 - 7,209 yards in 2023
Stroke Average in 2023 - 70.73

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, but it will look significantly different this time around.

As soon as last year's event finished, renowned course designers, Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner, moved in to undertake a $20 million renovation.

Using footage and photos from the US Open in 1941, Hanse and Wagner have worked to restore the course as close as possible to the original design.

The clip below shows Hanse discussing the alterations prior to the start of the renovation and the project's journey has been documented nicely on the event's website here.

Colonial is a tight, tree-lined track with 12 dog-legged holes and small bentgrass greens that used to run at around 12 on the Stimpmeter. The course is littered with strategically placed fairway bunkers and when last seen, water was in play on six holes.

The par five first hole is consistently the easiest hole on the course and the par four second historically ranks as the second or third easiest, but the next three faced, which were the only holes Maxwell altered prior to the US Open in 1941, are tougher and nicknamed the 'Horrible Horseshoe'.

I very much doubt that they'll play any easier after the renovation but it will be interesting to see.

The fifth and the fourth were the hardest two on the course at the last two editions but they weren't horrendously tough. Combined, the Horrible Horseshoe (holes three, four and five) played exactly half a stroke over-par in 2022 and 0.65 over-par last year.

Colonial CC is often affectionately referred to as 'Hogan's Alley' after the five-time winner Ben.


Weather Forecast


TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 17:00 in the UK on Thursday


Last Eight Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices

2023 - Emiliano Grillo -9 90.089/1 (playoff)
2022 - Sam Burns -9 32.031/1 (playoff)
2021 - Jason Kokrak -14 75.074/1
2020 - Daniel Berger -15 120.0119/1 (playoff)
2019 - Kevin Na -13 90.089/1
2018 - Justin Rose -20 16.015/1
2017 - Kevin Kisner -10 32.031/1
2016 - Jordan Spieth -17 8.07/1


What Will it Take to Win the Charles Schwab Challenge?

The 2022 playoff protagonists, the runner-up, Scottie Scheffler, and the winner, Sam Burns, ranked first and third for Driving Distance and the 2021 winner, Jason Kokrak, ranked first for DD but that's unusual. As demonstrated by last year's winner, Emiliano Grillo, who ranked 66th for DD, this is not a track that can be overpowered and length off the tee is usually an irrelevance.

Colonial is short by modern standards and there are just two par fives. Irons are taken off several tees and the average DD ranking of the ten winners before Kokrak was exactly 30th.

Driving Accuracy is a more important stat than DD but hitting it straight off every tee isn't absolutely essential though. Grillo ranked 25th for DA last year, Jordan Spieth only ranked 54th when he won in 2016 and Chris Kirk ranked 60th nine years ago!

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 13 of the last 16 winners have ranked inside the top-ten for GIR and 11 of those 13 ranked inside the top-seven. Grillo ranked eighth.

Kevin Kisner ranked second for Scrambling when he won here in in 2017 and Spieth ranked first eight years ago but the last six winners have all got across the line with unusually ordinary Scrambling stats - ranking 42nd, 25th, 15th, 30th, 32nd and 46th but all six putted brilliantly.

The last six winners have had a Putting Average ranking of ninth, eighth, fifth, fifth, fourth and fourth, and other than Kisner in 2017, every winner in the last 20 years has ranked 17th or better. And 13 of the 20 have ranked inside the top-five for Putting Average.

We've only had eight years' worth of Strokes Gained Data, but a pattern was emerging until last year.

Grillo only ranked 20th for SG: Tee-to Green but the worst any of the previous seven winners ranked was ninth (Burns in 2022).

Emiliano Grillo 1280.jpg

Justin Rose is the only winner in the last eight years to rank outside the top-eight for SG: Putting but the second and third that year, Brooks Koepka and last year's winner, Grillo, ranked second and first, so they're the two SG stats to concentrate on.

Given we're in Texas, an ability to handle windy conditions is usually essential and the forecasts suggest it will be again over the weekend.


Is There an Angle In?

Augusta form holds up well here but Deere Run, home of the John Deere Classic, is the course that appears to correlate the best.

Zach Johnson has won this title twice recently so of the ten men to win the last 16 editions, four have also won the US Masters - Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson, and Adam Scott.

The 2018 winner, Justin Rose, has contended at Augusta on numerous occasions and the two-time US Masters winner, Scottie Scheffler, has a great record here too but they're all top-class players that can win anywhere so Deere Run is the best place to start for clues.

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 in both tournaments.

Sebastian Munoz, who topped the Strokes Gained Putting stats when finishing third here in 2021 went on to lead the John Deere Classic through three rounds a couple of months later. Lucas Glover, who had finished eighth at Colonial went on to win, and the 2019 Colonial winner, Kevin Na, finished tied for second. And last year's result cemented the link between the two courses brilliantly...

The winner, Grillo, had previously finished runner-up at Deere Run and behind Grillo in sixth place 12 months ago was the surprise 2018 JDC winner, Michael Kim. That was only his third top-six finish on the PGA Tour since he'd won at Deere Run five years earlier.

Adam Schenk, who was beaten by Grillo in extra time, only had five top-six finishes on the PGA Tour prior to his second here and two of them were at Deere Run! He finished sixth in 2019 and fourth in 2021.


Is There an Identikit Winner?

With length an irrelevance, the wily old pros have a 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.

As many as three of the last eight winners have been in their 20s, and Grillo was 30 when he won last year, but prior to Spieth's victory eight years ago, Sergio Garcia, in 2001, was the last player under the age of 30 to take the title and eight of the last 25 winners have been aged 40 or over.

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 (Grillo had played here seven times previously) 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 here in 2019 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 Presidents Cup players have been successful here. The cream tends to rise to the top here, although the four of the last five winners have been fairly big in the market, going off at 90.089/1, 75.074/1, 120.0119/1 and 90.089/1.


Winner's Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four

2023 - Emiliano Grillo - T4 - trailing by four 24.023/1
2022 - Sam Burns T17 - trailing by seven 250.0249/1
2021 - Jason Kokrak - solo second - trailing by one 3.3512/5
2020 - Daniel Berger T7 - trailing by two 29.028/1
2019 - Kevin Na led by two strokes 3.45
2018 - Justin Rose led by four strokes 1.42/5
2017 - Kevin Kisner T5 - trailing by three 11.010/1
2016 - Jordan Spieth led by one stroke 2.111/10


In-Play Tactics

As illustrated above, three of the last eight winners were in front with a round to go but it's not always easy to convert from the front here and no 54-hole leader or co-leader won here between 2008 and 2016.

Being up with the pace is typically the way to go though and being on the heels of the leaders is usually the ideal place to be.

The two winners that preceded Spieth's victory in 2016 were seven and six strokes adrift and outside the top-ten at halfway but that's unusual.

Prior to Adam Scott's victory ten years ago, 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 18 of the last 22 winners have been no more than two strokes off the lead with a round to go.

Grillo trailed by four and recent winners, Kevin Kisner and Chris Kirk, trailed by three, so although it's hard to win from the front, winning from miles back is very rare but we did witness it two years ago.

Having been matched at a high of 570.0569/1 and having begun the final day trailing by seven strokes and trading at 250.0249/1, Sam Burns teed off an hour and 25 minutes before the final two-ball and when he set the clubhouse target of nine-under-par, it didn't look like it would be enough.

With still eight holes to play, the third-round leader, Scheffler, who had started the day trading at odds-on and leading by a stroke on -11, was tied with four others on ten-under-par and although conditions weren't great and the wind was still picking up, it was still very long odds-on that someone would remain ahead of Burns but nobody got past him and he ended up beating Scheffler in a playoff.

Last year's finish was extremely dramatic with three men trading at odds-on and Grillo was matched at as low as 1.041/25 and for more than £30k at 1.051/20 when he stood on the 18th tee with a two-shot lead before he hit a dreadful tee-shot that led to all sorts of drama...

Adam Schenk, who had been matched at 600.0599/1 earlier in the day, hit a low of 1.528/15 as the Grillo drama unfolded on 18 but he eventually lost to a birdie at the par three 16th at the second playoff hole.


Market Leaders

Had this week's PGA Tour event been anywhere but his hometown, world number one, Scottie Scheffler, would have surely taken the week off following last week's arrest in Kentucky and the very recent birth of his son.

Punters need to decide whether either or both of those factors will affect his performance at a course (pre changes) he clearly loves.

Scheffler finished only 55th on debut in 2020 and he missed the cut the following year, but he really should have won here in 2022 and he was third 12 months ago.

He said he was running on fumes after closing out the US PGA Championship with a 65 on Sunday to finish eighth (his lowest round of the week) and with a newborn in the house it's no certainty he'll arrive at Hogan's Alley refreshed.

All things considered; he looks short enough at 3/14.00.

Anyone that backed Collin Morikawa last week (me included) won't be in a rush to side with him here after watching him miss putt after putt over the weekend.

The world number nine was tied for the lead with the eventual winner, Xander Schauffele, with a round to go but he couldn't buy a putt in round four.

Given such a premium is put on putting at this event, he looks one to swerve this week.

Max Homa has been playing nicely enough of late and he'll be far better suited to this week's test than last week's rain softened bombers paradise in Kentucky.

His third at the US Masters last month and his top-eight finish at the Wells Fargo Championship two weeks ago suggests he's back to something close to his best and he was ninth here last year.

With three seconds and a win to his name, Jordan Spieth loves it here, but his form has been poor of late and I'm happy to leave him out too.


Selections

Denny McCarthy looks a great fit this week but he's short enough at 55.054/1 given he's still in search of his first victory on the PGA Tour and the man that held of his late rally in Texas last month, Akshay Bhatia, looks a better bet at the prices.

McCarthy closed the Texas Open out with a sensational run of birdies on the back nine on Sunday but when it came to the crunch, it was Bhatia that held his nerve in the playoff and in search of third PGA Tour title in 24 starts, he looks a great bet at 70.069/1.

Bhatia finished 56th on debut last year but he was inside the top-20 at halfway and he shot 66 in round one on his only visit to Deere Run to sit inside the top-ten.

He's ranked eighth and first for SG: Tee-to-green on the last two occasions he's played in Texas and he's ranked fifth for SG: Putting two weeks ago at the Wells Fargo so looks a good fit statistically if it all comes together again.

At ten points bigger than Bhatia, last year's Valspar Championship winner, Taylor Moore, looks a very fair price back in his native state of Texas.

He finished alongside Scheffler in a tied for second at the Houston Open on his last appearance in Texas in March and he's ticked along very nicely since.

Taylor Moore wins Valspar.jpg

The 30-year finished inside the top-20 at the US Masters and after tied 58th at the Heritage and a missed cut in the Zurich Classic alongside Matthew NeSmith, he sat fourth at the halfway stage of the Wells Fargo Championship (finished 38th) and he finished inside the top-12 last week in Kentucky.

Moore has missed the cut here on his only two previous visits and that's clearly a negative, but his game should be suited to the track. He sat seventh at halfway on his Deere Run debut two years ago (finished 24th) and the man he beat in a playoff in the Valspar, Adam Schenk, traded at odds-on here.


Now read Steve's preview of this week's Soudal Open


*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter


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