The PGA Tour returns behind closed doors this week almost three months after a shot was hit in anger. A revised schedule begins with the Charles Schwab Challenge at the wonderful Colonial Country Club and a seriously strong field has been assembled for it.
We have the top five players in the world on show this week as the game of golf begins its new normal in light of the world we suddenly live in. Kevin Na is the defending champion but he’ll have his work cut out to defend the crown.
2019 – Kevin Na
2018 – Justin Rose
2017 – Kevin Kisner
2016 – Jordan Spieth
2015 – Chris Kirk
2014 – Adam Scott
2013 – Boo Weekley
2012 – Zach Johnson
2011 – David Toms
2010 – Zach Johnson
The Colonial Country Club is the first venue the PGA Tour will use on its return to action. This is a regular stop for the tour although it is usually used a little earlier in the year than this. The one thing we know is needed around here is accuracy. That is the case when crowds and stands and everything else are in place to keep a check on loose and errant shots but when those factors are not in play accuracy is even more paramount.
If you look at the list of winners above, they are all clean ball strikers or exceptional putters and in some cases both, so that gives us an early indication of what to look for. There have been no actual changes to the course since last year so it remains a par 70 which measures 7,209 yards so it is far from long by modern standards. The rough is said to be 2.5 inches so it is significant whereas the winds are expected to be light. We are all set up for a big week for the ball strikers.
With this being the first official tournament anywhere since The Players Championship was curtailed back in March there is a queue of players wanting to get out. The field has been extended to 148 players and includes 21 of the current top 25 in the FedEx Cup standings and includes the top five in the world rankings, which controversially resumes this week too. Defending champion Kevin Na is joined by recent former champions in Justin Rose, Zach Johnson, Kevin Kisner and Jordan Spieth.
The field is headed by Rory McIlroy but the American powerhouses of Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka will be looking to give him a run for his money as will Jon Rahm. Justin Thomas is going quietly about his business while Patrick Reed has a decent enough record in this part of the world. Sungjae Im currently leads the way in the FedEx Cup and he is another man in the field. Webb Simpson, Bryson DeChambeau and Xander Schauffele are among the dark horses.
Rory McIlroy is the man who is favourite to return to action with a win. He played in a charity event during lockdown which might give him something of a competitive advantage over many in this field but whether Colonial plays entirely to his strengths remains to be seen. It is his first appearance here which is a bit of a negative and at 9/1 there is an easy argument to be made that he is a little on the short side, particularly given how loaded this field is. He isn’t for me at this price.
Jon Rahm is the 12/1 second favourite. You wouldn’t think Colonial met his strengths either but actually his record in the tournament is pretty formidable when you bear that in mind. He was T2 on his debut here in 2017 and back in the top five the following year. Whether this has been his best season so far is open to debate but you can never rule out the classy Spaniard. He just feels a little short at 12/1 even though he is respected for sure.
Justin Thomas is an 18/1 third favourite to win the tournament. This is his first appearance like McIlroy so that is a bit of a turn off it must be said, but in terms of credentials his certainly match up well to this test. He seems to be itching to get back to competitive action too which is the right attitude, and attitude is certainly important in these less certain times. Of all the market leaders, Thomas was the one I was closest to backing but taking someone shorter than 25/1 after such a break in a loaded field doesn’t feel like the best play.
Webb Simpson will start out as a 25/1 shot to win the tournament. The Phoenix Open champion has a pretty good record around here too with two top fives in 2016 and 2017. That shouldn’t surprise anyone because he has been a tee to green animal for a long time. We know that Simpson can deliver the goods in stacked fields as he is a former US Open champion and he has also won The Players Championship. Others feel more fashionable than Simpson but it would be no surprise if he were to win this. It is 28/1 bar.
I’ll go with a couple of main bets this week. I don’t want anyone who isn’t a pure ball striker. There weren’t many hitting the ball better before lockdown than Sungjae Im and the winner of The Honda Classic has all the tools to go very well here too. He further showcased that when he finished third at Bay Hill the week after and I read that he is an avid practicer so he will have been working hard on his game during lockdown. Im was crunching his irons before the sport stopped and we saw when he won The Honda Classic that he is a very good putter. He missed the cut here last year but he is much more established now. He looks a big threat at 35/1.
I don’t know if those unofficial events are going to count for anything but I don’t suppose playing in them could have done any harm and there were two in Texas just up the road from Colonial and Scottie Scheffler finished first and second in them. Admittedly they would not have had the depth of talent this field has in them but good golf is good golf at the end of the day, and Scheffler has been threatening a breakthrough for much of the season. Scheffler is pretty local so he’ll know conditions and will be used to them. We know he won’t have any competitive rust to contend with so at 45/1 he looks a standout bet this week.
I’ll throw some darts at outsiders this week and the first of them is another who has been turning his shoulders over in those unofficial local events in the form of Joel Dahmen. Dahmen hasn’t just turned his arm over but he actually shot a 58 during lockdown and regardless of courses and setups and anything like that you have to play good golf to be doing that. Dahmen went into lockdown in good form too with a run of T14, T5 and T5 and he already has a top 20 around here a couple of years ago. He is a much better player now and has a few more advantages this time round too. He is more than a sleeper at 80/1.
Corey Conners is someone I was eyeing up when this was announced as the first tournament to return and I’m delighted he is in the field because he has the perfect profile for this place. He is one of the best iron players on the PGA Tour and much of this place is about controlling the irons and hitting the ball close. Conners won in Texas last year at the Texas Open and has a top 10 around here. There is every chance he would have contended at Sawgrass is that tournament hadn’t been halted so there is a lot to like about the Canadian this week. I’m happy to take my chance on him at 125/1.
The break would have come at a good time for some and a bad time for others. Alex Noren probably fits into the former category because he was having a rotten season prior to lockdown however the one thing we know about the Swede is he is a monotonous practicer so it would be a huge surprise if he wasn’t using the time to work hard on his game and I expect him to come out firing. He certainly has the right track to find his form because Colonial sets up very nicely for him. Noren is one of the best iron players around and his putting is usually crisp. The breeze will do nothing for him coming from Scandinavia so there is a lot to like about Noren if he used lockdown wisely and found something in his game. At 150/1 I’ll pay to see the outcome.
Another player who was active during lockdown was Jim Furyk. He was posting on social media about being out on the course and carrying his own bag and all that caper so we know he has been shaking off the rust. We also know that he has the tools to go very well around here. He is relentless straight off the tee and is a very solid iron player. One thing competitive action will have done for Jim and anyone else is keep the putting stroke nicely oiled. That is the weakness of his game but if he can hunt down enough pins he still retains the solidity in his long game to go very well around here at a big price.
Back S.Im to win Charles Schwab Challenge (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 36.00 with William Hill (1/5 1-8)
Back S.Scheffler to win Charles Schwab Challenge (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 46.00 with William Hill (1/5 1-8)
Back J.Furyk to win Charles Schwab Challenge (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 151.00 with William Hill (1/5 1-8)
Back them here:
Back C.Conners to win Charles Schwab Challenge (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 126.00 with Betway (1/5 1-7)
Back J.Dahmen to win Charles Schwab Challenge (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 81.00 with Sky Bet (1/5 1-9)
Back A.Noren to win Charles Schwab Challenge (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 151.00 with Paddy Power (1/5 1-10)