PGA Core Plays
By Derek Hill
The Charles Schwab Challenge
After what seems like a lifetime, we are finally going to see an official PGA Tour event this week. While the Driving Relief and The Match 2 were fun to watch, it just isn’t the same. I think the tour is well aware of the excitement for the return for golf. It is very apparent they want to capitalize on this opportunity when you look at the featured groups they have lined up.
• D. Johnson
While the Charles Schwab Challenge typically has a solid field from year to year, this year might be the strongest it has ever had. It is an invitational format which usually results in smaller fields, but the field was expanded this year to 144 players to make up for lost time. All of the top 5 and 15 of the top 20 players in the world will be in the field. It will also include 17 of the top 20 in the FedEx Cup rankings. This is likely due to guys chomping at the bit to get back into competitive form. This makes the golf exciting to watch, but it can make predicting the results a little difficult. There will more talented players competing this week, and most of them haven’t played much over the past few months, so they will be shaking off some rust. We don’t have the luxury of knowing who has been playing well and who has been struggling. Before you just go ahead and pick guys like Rory McIlroy or Justin Thomas, it’s important to consider that neither one has ever played in the Charles Schwab Challenge.
Colonial Country Club is a familiar site. It is the longest running host of any non-major event. It’s a par 70 course which has some challenging aspects, including some lengthy par 3s and the “Horrible Horseshoe.” However, the winning score will be pretty low, likely better than -10. The bentgrass greens usually run around a 12 on the Stimpmeter which gives average putters a chance at winning. Usually the guys who are successful here are the good ball strikers who can find fairways and greens-in-regulation. Kevin Na lead the field in GIR last year and ended up winning by 4 strokes.
Let’s break down the guys who have the best chance at winning this week:
Top-End Pick: Webb Simpson
Simpson fits the mold of the typical winner at Colonial. Winners tend to have several appearances in this event (but not more than 7) and tend to be between the age of 30 and 35. His ranking of 7th in Greens-in-Regulation sets him up for success. Finished T3 in 2016 and 5th in 2017. He was as hot as anyone before the hiatus.
Jon Rahm: A very surprising missed cut last year after an opening round 75. Don’t expect that to happen in back to back years. He’s proved to be too good on this course. T2 finish in 2017 in his debut. Also finished T5 in 2018.
Rory McIlroy: While a debutant has not won this event since Sergio in 2001, if anyone can do it, it would be McIlroy. His absolute dominance this season could carry over to a course that he is seeing for the first time. 7 consecutive top 5 finishes. 18th in GIR.
Others to consider: Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas
Mid-Tier Pick: Kevin Na
Na has played 14 tour events at Colonial and has 5 top ten finishes to show for it. 4th in 2018 and is the defending champion. He also has a 61 and a couple 62s under his belt on this course in just the last 2 years so he has the ability to make a lot of birdies here.
Other mid-tier guys I like:
Tony Finau: Only 1 win in his PGA Tour career, but Finau is the type of player who can adapt pretty well to every course he plays. He consistently makes cuts and finishes well. He has yet to miss a cut at Colonial. He finished in 2nd place last year.
Ryan Palmer: Palmer is a member at Colonial which likely makes him more comfortable here than anyone. This might be a bigger advantage this week under unique circumstances. He has yet to win this event, but has 4 top 10 finishes.
Others to consider: Harris English, Kevin Kisner, Jordan Spieth
Value Play: Russell Knox
In 4 starts at Colonial with all 4 resulting in top 25 finishes. 2019 was his best finish (8th). 15th in GIR.
Other guys I like:
Emiliano Grillo: Grillo is a solid player from tee to green. When he gets to the putting surface, he can struggle at times. This course is less about the driver and putter and more about shot making into greens. This venue suits him well. He hasn’t missed a cut in 4 appearances. He also has a 3rd place finish in 2018.
Others to consider: Jim Furyk, Nick Watney
If you are unsure of why I like a guy in the “others to consider” category, reach out to me on twitter @DerekHillGolf. I would love to share my thoughts.