The Punter's In-Play Blog: Schauffele shows the way at Colonial

Golfer Xander Schauffele
Third round leader - Xander Schauffele

There's just one round to go at the Charles Schwab Challenge, where Xander Schauffele heads a packed leaderboard. Read Steve's final in-running thoughts on the event here...

“This renewal is reminiscent of the 2014 edition, when as many as ten players entered the final round separated by just a stroke, and yet that ended in a playoff between two players that had begun the final day two strokes back in a tie for 11th.”

09:35 - June 14, 2020

World number one, Rory McIlroy, and a bulked-up Bryson DeChambeau were at the head of the Charles Schwab Challenge market at halfway but after a one-under-par 69 for Rory in round three and a level-par 70 for Bryson, the pair will tee off together this evening, a whole hour before the final pairing of Xander Schauffele and Gary Woodland. Here's the very tight 54-hole leaderboard at 9:30 UK time.

Xander Schauffele -13 4.94/1
Justin Thomas -12 6.411/2
Jordan Spieth -12 8.615/2
Colin Morikawa -12 9.89/1
Gary Woodland -12 10.519/2
Branden Grace -12 17.016/1
Daniel Berger -11 29.028/1
Harold Varner III -11 38.037/1
Rory McIlroy -10 15.014/1
Bryson DeChambeau -10 27.026/1
Patrick Reed -10 28.027/1
Justin Rose -10 30.029/1
Abraham Ancer -10 60.059/1
Corey Conners -10 75.074/1
J.T Poston -9 250.0249/1
-8 and 270.0269/1 bar

With such a congested leaderboard, this is still a very difficult tournament to weigh-up and looking back at previous renewals doesn't help tremendously.

As highlighted in the preview, three of the last four winners have been in front with a round to go but when Jordan Spieth successfully converted a one-stroke lead in 2016, he was the first 54-hole leader to do so since Phil Mickelson in 2008.

The leader, Schauffele, is a fair price given 33.2% of 54-hole leaders have gone on to win on the PGA Tour over the last 15 years and he's a cool and calm customer in contention but he's yet to convert a third round lead or co-lead (0/3) and he's yet to break 70 in round four when he's led or co-led. That could be doing him a bit of a disservice though as each of the three leads occurred in big events and he finished second every time - at the Open in 2018, the Tour Championship in 2019 and the Tournament of Champions back in January.

It would be ridiculous to suggest nerves will get to Xander but the fact that as many as five players are within a stroke, three of which are major champions, backing him at less than 4/1 makes no appeal.

This renewal is reminiscent of the 2014 edition, when as many as ten players entered the final round separated by just a stroke, and yet that ended in a playoff between two players that had begun the final day two strokes back in a tie for 11th - the winner, Adam Scott, and Jason Dufner.

It's going to be interesting to see if the absence of fans has a bearing on the outcome today, or even if it can be perceived to have done so, but it could well be different to the 2014 edition in that respect. Back then, Scott and Dufner would have been slightly out of the limelight before the final round and that may have helped them. With no crowds in attendance today, I'm far from convinced that feeling of slightly less pressure will apply to those outside the top-six. Either way, it's a minefield and it's too tough to call for me to get any further involved so I'm leaving the event alone now.

Pre-event pick, Corey Conners, is just within touching distance and both in-play picks, Justin Rose and Daniel Berger, both still hold an outside chance so I haven't given up entirely just yet. If absolutely forced to name someone to side with this morning, I'd plump for course specialist, Jordan Spieth, but I'm more than happy to sit this one out now.

10:00 - June 13, 2020

Harold Varner III and Justin Rose ended the first day tied at the top, after matching seven-under-par 63s, but they started round two of the Charles Schwab Challenge in vastly contrasting fashions.

Varner, playing in the morning, and starting at the 10th, triple-bogeyed his opening hole, while Rose, playing in the afternoon, and starting at the first, began his second round with back-to-back-birdies. Varner's day got a lot better, Rose's didn't.

The American went on to finish his round by birdying four of his last five to shoot 66, while Rose eventually dipped back under-par for the round with a birdie at the 18th. The Englishman's game didn't flow after the opening two holes and his putting was especially tentative.

Varner's recovering was a great performance but the two players to really catch the eye yesterday morning were Rory McIlroy, who's 63 was two strokes better than anyone else could muster, and Jordan Spieth, who for the vast majority of the morning, had looked in complete control. Although both had hiccups...

Rory ended his second round scruffily, requiring an eight-foot putt to save bogey at the ninth hole and it was painful to watch Spieth four-putt the third before bogeying the fourth. He missed two putts inside three feet at the third!

Playing alongside the stuttering Rose, Bryson DeChambeau was the star of the afternoon wave as he overpowered Colonial with some monstrous driving. Nobody's hit it further than bulked-up Bryson over the first two days and if he can continue to avoid trouble off the tee, he could be the one to beat. Here's the 36-hole leaderboard with prices to back at 09:50.

Harold Varner III -11 13.012/1
Bryson DeChambeau -10 6.411/2
Jordan Spieth -10 8.415/2
Rory McIlroy -9 5.49/2
Xander Schauffele -9 11.521/2
Colin Morikawa -9 12.5
Justin Thomas -8 11.521/2
Justin Rose -8 21.020/1
Gary Woodland -8 27.026/1
Daniel Berger -8 40.039/1
Branden Grace -8 46.045/1
-7 and 70.069/1 bar

The last four winners here have all been inside the first three places and no more than a stroke adrift at halfway and the vast majority of Colonial winners have been up with the pace at this stage - although we have witnessed four winners this century that weren't.

Sergio Garcia, the last debutant to win, trailed by six in a tie for 24th at this stage in 2001, Rory Sabbatini was tied 40th and eight back in 2007 and Adam Scott, in 2014, and Chris Kirk, in 2015, trailed by six and seven strokes respectively, so it's clearly possible to win from off the pace but it's hard to envisage that happening this year given the strength of the leaderboard. It's also extremely difficult to pinpoint who might get the job done.

Rory is the man to beat but he's attempting to emulate Sergio and win it on his first visit. DeChambeau has been a colossus off the tee but can he maintain his accuracy? Spieth absolutely loves the venue but yesterday's mishap on the third was worrying, Justin Thomas needs to start finding more fairways, Collin Morikawa's also trying to win on debut, Xander Schauffele needs to putt slightly better over the weekend and the leader commands plenty of respect. He's ranking number one for both Greens In Regulation and Putting Average so far this week but he's yet to win on the PGA Tour. Holding this lot at bay is a big ask.

All the main protagonists have slight negatives but all have a great chance. It's a really tough puzzle to solve and caution is most definitely advised but one player I thought worthy of a very small investment was Daniel Berger. As Justin Ray points out below, Berger's on an impressive little run of form and I thought 40.039/1 was just too big given he's the only man it the field to have hit as many greens in regulation as Varner and that he only trails by three.

I'll be back again tomorrow with one last look before the fourth and final round.

11:00 - June 12, 2020

Exactly 13 weeks after the Players Championship was cancelled following the first round, due to the Covid-19 outbreak, the PGA Tour resumed yesterday with the opening round of the Charles Schwab Challenge at the Colonial Country Club in Texas and to a large extent, very little has changed.

The players, whether for comical effect or accidentally, often acknowledged a non-existent crowd with a hand raise or a hat tip whenever a putt dropped and for many, the absence of spectators didn't have a detrimental effect.

Being played at an easy-on-the-eye, tree-lined, traditional venue certainly helped and it will be interesting to see whether perception alters the nearer we get to the winning line this week but so far, the majority appear to feel that the absence of fans is not really a factor.

Inane cries of "in the hole" and "mashed potato" certainly weren't missed but opinion may alter somewhat on Sunday if a lack of atmosphere has a detrimental effect on the finish. We'll just have to wait and see.

The rough is lush so finding fairways is going to be key this week but with softer than expected greens, the scoring was excellent yesterday with two men firing seven-under-par 63s to share the lead. The 2018 winner, Justin Rose, put a poor run of pre-break form behind him in the morning before Harold Varner III found every green in regulation in the afternoon to emulate the Englishman.
Here's the very early state of play with prices to back at 10:50 UK time.

Justin Rose -7 10.519/2
Harold Varner III -7 28.027/1
Justin Thomas -6 7.06/1
Colin Morikawa -6 13.5
Abraham Ancer -6 23.022/1
Jhonattan Vegas -6 55.054/1
Jordan Spieth -5 15.5
Bryson DeChambeau -5 17.016/1
Xander Schauffele -5 17.5
-5 and 20.019/1 bar

Last year's winner, Kevin Na, trailed by six in a tie for 38th after the opening round and we've seen a number of winners overcome a slow start. Adam Scott also trailed by six after round one in 2014 and Rory Sabbatini was seven back after the opening round in 2007. All three failed to break 70 on day one so, in theory, the winner could be some way down the early leaderboard but I'm far from convinced.

With the greens so receptive, the wind so light and the scoring so good, making up ground from off the pace is going to be very hard and when we add in the calibre of the players at the top of the leaderboard, the chances of an off-the-pace winner look even more remote.

World number four, Justin Thomas, heads the market. He enjoys a tree-lined venue and he has an impressive strike rate but he ranked 130th for Driving Accuracy yesterday and this is his first appearance at Colonial. As highlighted in the preview, debutants have a poor record at this venue and that's just enough to put me off.

Course specialist, Jordan Spieth, recovered very nicely after a sloppy start and it's going to be fascinating to see how if he can keep it all going again when he tees off early today (yesterday's early starters enjoyed an advantage of 0.56 strokes over the PM starters) and the likes of Collin Morikawa, Xander Schauffele and Bryson DeChambeau command the utmost respect - although all three lack previous course form. Morikawa is playing here for the first time, Schauffele's course figures read 48-MC-MC and DeChambeau's are no better, reading MC-MC-42-MC.

Given the depth of field and the weather and course conditions, I fancy the winner will be up with the pace all the way this year and the one I like this morning is Rose. Winning from the front is hard but the experienced Rose has gone on to win on three of the last ten occasions he's led or co-led after round one and he looks likely to hang around.

It's almost exactly ten years since he won the Memorial Tournament after sharing the lead after round one and although he bombed at the Travelers Championship a few weeks later - finishing ninth having led by three with a round to go - he has an outstanding record when he starts well.

Since capitulating at the 2008 US Masters. when he finished 36th having led after the opening round (fell to 29th in round two!), Rose has never sat worse than second at halfway when he's led or co-led and his results when leading after the opening round read a very respectable 4-1-9-1-2-2-2-4-1-2-3.

His game was in poor shape exactly a year ago when he couldn't keep tabs with Gary Woodland at the US Open (finished third having led after round one) and there's a chance that yesterday's fine round was a one off but given his record when starting well, his very obvious course form, and the likelihood that up with the pace is the place to be given the benign conditions, 10.519/2 looks a very fair price.

I'll be back tomorrow with a look at the state of play at the halfway stage.

Pre-Event Selections:
Brooks Koepka @ 38.037/1
Harris English @ 90.089/1
Corey Conners @ 170.0169/1
Brendon Todd @ 190.0189/1
Mackenzie Hughes @ 260.0259/1

In-Play Picks:
Justin Rose @ 10.519/2
Daniel Berger @ 40.039/1

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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