PGA Tour Picks: Charles Schwab Challenge

By Tom LaMarre

Last year after a three-month hiatus because of the Coronavirus pandemic, the PGA Tour restarted with the Charles Schwab Challenge, which will celebrate its 75th Anniversary this week at historic Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas.

The tournament that started out as the Colonial National Invitational, was first played in 1946 at Colonial, which is the longest continuous host of a PGA Tour event.

And Daniel Berger (pictured) made for a memorable comeback event in 2020 when he closed with a birdie to shoot 4-under-par 66, and then claimed the third victory of his career by making par on the first playoff hole, where Collin Morikawa’s 3½-foot par putt to prolong he playoff lipped out.

Berger will try to join legendary Ben Hogan, who is memorialized by a statue at Colonial, as the only players to win in back-to-back years there, having done it in 1946-47 and again in 1952-53.

Colonial is one of two courses known as “Hogan’s Alley,” the other being Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades on the outskirts of Los Angeles, where he won three times in less than 18 months, including the 1948 U.S. Open.

“I’m not the biggest golf history guy,” said Berger, who claimed his fourth PGA Tour victory earlier this year AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. “But I saw the wall every time I teed off and I’m smart enough to know if you’ve won a tournament associated with Ben Hogan, you’ve done something pretty special.

“When you looked at the leaderboard Sunday, you knew it was going to be a shootout. I just needed a couple of birdies to stay in the mix. I made a big birdie on 15 and when I got to 18, I told myself I needed just one more. I just relaxed and poured it in.

“I left Colonial, headed to Hilton Head and tried stayed to stay safe. I always said if I won another PGA Tour event, we were going to Vegas to celebrate, but I guess that will have to wait. … I never got a chance to really celebrate.”

Annika Sorenstam of Sweden also made a bit of history at Colonial in 2003 when she became the first woman in 58 years to play in a PGA Tour event. Fans were gathering around the 10th tee an hour before the world’s top-ranked woman hit her first shot.

“I knew I was going to give it my best, but I was nervous I might not get my ball on the tee,” said Sorenstam, 32 at the time, who shot 71-74—145 and missed the cut by four strokes. “I was shaking.”

Other past champions at Colonial include Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Billy Casper, Lee Trevino, Jack Nicklaus, Nick Price, Tom Watson, Gene Littler, Cary Middlecoff, Julius Boros, Dave Stockton, Doug Sanders, Ben Crenshaw, Tom Weiskopf, Lanny Wadkins, Corey Pavin and Tom Lehman.

Past winners at Colonial in the field this week in addition to Berger are Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, Sergio Garcia of Spain, Zach Johnson, Kevin Kisner, Justin Rose of England, Zach Johnson, Kevin Na, Keith Clearwater and Rory Sabbatini of Slovakia.

Also playing are second-ranked Justin Thomas, fifth-ranked Morikawa, who went on to win the 2020 PGA Championship and the 2021 WGC-Workday Championship, and eighth-ranked Patrick Reed.

“I going to fly home first, but then I’m going to Colonial,” the 50-year-old Mickelson said after he became the oldest major champion in history by winning the 103rd PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, S.C., on Sunday.

Even though it’s the week after the PGA Championship, they’re all at Colonial to pay homage to Hogan, and every one would love nothing more to put his name on the trophy alongside “Bantam Ben’s,” even if it’s already there.

BEST BETS

  1. Jordan Spieth, United States – Even though he finished a disappointing tie for 30th in the PGA Championship while trying to complete the Career Grand Slam, Spieth is back in his native Texas, where he won the Valero Texas Open last month. He also won at Colonial in 2016 and has six top-10 finishes in this event, including two ties for second.
  2. Justin Thomas, United States – The second-ranked Thomas, who won the Players Championship earlier this year, will try to bounce back from only his second missed cut of the season in the PGA Championship. In his first start in the Charles Schwab Challenge last year, he opened with 64-68-66, but tied for 10th after closing with 71.
  3. Collin Morikawa, United States – The fifth-ranked Morikawa tied for eighth in defense of his PGA Championship, closing with a 68, to record his fifth top-10 finish this season, including a victory in the WGC-Workday. In his first appearance at Colonial last year, he posted four rounds in the 60s but lost to Daniel Berger on the first playoff hole.
  4. Daniel Berger, United States – Claimed the third of his four PGA Tour victories in the Charles Schwab Challenge last year, closing with a 66 and defeating Collin Morikawa with a par on the first playoff hole. Struggled to a tie for 75th in the PGA, but has five top-10 finishes this season, including a victory in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
  5. Sungjae Im, South Korea – Even though he didn’t break 70 in the difficult conditions at Kiawah Island, Im finished in a tie for 17th in the PGA, his 11th top-25 this season, including a tie for second in the Masters. Posted four scores in the 60s last season to wind up in a tie for 10th in the Charles Schwab Challenge after missing the cut the year before.
  6. Patrick Reed, United States – The eighth-ranked Reed bounced back from 74-75 with 69-70 in the last two rounds of the Masters to tie for 17th, his 10th top-25 finish of the season, including a victory in the Farmers. He posted four scores in the 60s, including 63 in round three, to finish in a tie for seventh in the Charles Schwab Challenge last season.
  7. Sergio Garcia, Spain – Shot 77-73—150 to miss the cut in the PGA, the fourth straight start in which he has missed the weekend. However, he won at Sanderson Farms, tied for fifth in the WGC-Match Play and tied for ninth in the Players, and this could be where he snaps out of it. Garcia won at Colonial in 2007 and has three other top-20s.
  8. Gary Woodland, United States – Coming off a tie for fifth in the Wells Fargo, the 2019 U.S. Open champion was in the hunt in the PGA Championship before closing with a 77 and slid to a tie for 38th. Woodland started with scores of 65-67-66 in the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial last season before closing with 70 that left him solo ninth.
  9. Corey Conners, Canada – Led the PGA Championship with an opening 67 and three rounds in the 70s left him in a tie for 17th, but he has seven top-10 finishes and 14 top-25s on the PGA Tour this season. Conners tied for eighth in 2018 at Colonial, shooting 63 in the third round, and slid out of the top 10 to tie for 19th with a closing 71 last year.
  10. Phil Mickelson, United States – It’s a big ask, but if Lefty can get himself right physically and mentally after winning his sixth major in the PGA on Sunday, he might be a factor. Mickelson posted two of his 45 PGA Tour victories at Colonial, winning by two with a closing 63 in 2000, and prevailing by one shot with four rounds in the 60s in 2008.

OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH: Zach Johnson, United States; Will Zalatoris, United States; Justin Rose, England; Rory Sabbatini, Slovakia; Branden Grace, South Africa; Carlos Ortiz, Mexico; Kyoung-Hoon Lee, South Korea; Kevin Kisner, United States; Tony Finau, United States; Louis Oosthuizen, South Africa.

SLEEPERS

  1. Abraham Ancer, Mexico – Still hasn’t won on PGA Tour after T-8 in PGA, a third straight T-10 and fifth this season, plus 13 T-25s. Had a 64 to T-14 at Colonial last year.
  2. Scottie Scheffler, United States – Also looking for first PGA Tour win after a T-8 in PGA Championship, his fifth T-10 and eighth T-25. Was T-55 in the Schwab last season.
  3. Harry Higgs, United States – Coming of a T-4 in the PGA Championship after a solo second in Safeway this season. Shot 65 while finishing T-38 last year at Colonial CC.
  4. Cameron Davis, Australia – Two-time winner as a pro was solo third in AmEx and T-6 at Sanderson Farms. Shot 73-68—141 but missed cut in only Schwab start last season.
  5. Joseph Bramlett, United States – Opened with 64, closed with 68 and was seventh in AT&T Byron Nelson in last start, his third T-25. Making debut in the Schwab Challenge.

For first-round tee times, visit: https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard.html

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