CHARLES SCHWAB CHALLENGE: Though it isn’t one of the biggest or most important events on the schedule by any measure, this tournament, now known as the Charles Schwab Challenge after several iterations and name changes, has been an under-the-radar gem for decades, with a list of past champions that reads like a Hall of Fame brochure and an iconic host course that has stood the test of time.
The course, Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, is one of the rare layouts that presents a stiff challenge for the players despite being fairly short by modern standards, measuring a hair over 7,200 yards from the tips. Dubbed “Hogan’s Alley” after the legendary Iceman triumphed here five times, Colonial is an old-style track full of doglegs, narrow tree-lined fairways, and small, tricky green complexes. The course essentially forces the players to all hit the ball in approximately the same spot off the tee on several holes, so the longer guys won’t have much of an advantage this week– accuracy and precision are the name of the game at Colonial (it’s “Hogan’s Alley”, after all). Breezy conditions are forecasted for the next couple of days, and if the wind picks up too much, look out– between the tight fairways, sticky rough, and firm greens, the course can be an absolute bear at times. Defending champion Daniel Berger reached 15-under last year in mild conditions, but the winning score is usually in the 10-12 under range, and only twice in the past 10 years has anyone posted a score lower than Berger’s 265.
Tournaments held the week after a major are usually bereft of star power, but this week is unique in that regard, probably because of this event’s reputation and the players’ desire to keep their games sharp ahead of the U.S. Open, which is only three weeks away. Hometown favorite Jordan Spieth heads BETDAQ’s Win Market at 11.5 and he’ll have to fend off some quality players, with names like Thomas, Morikawa, Reed, Finau, Ancer, Conners, Berger, Niemann, and Rose all crowded near the top of the market. This event has given us some big-name winners over the past decade, but players like Boo Weekley and Chris Kirk have also donned the tartan plaid jacket in that time, so we shouldn’t discount the longer-odds guys, especially if they have a history of playing well on short, tight courses. With that in mind, here’s what I’m thinking this week:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Corey Conners (28.0)- Let’s not act like Conners is some flash in the pan who just started playing well this year: he won the Valero Texas Open in 2019, and his first top-10 on the PGA Tour came back in 2018… at this very tournament. That’s right, despite a relatively brief Tour career, Conners has already established a track record of success at Colonial, adding a T19 last year and a T31 in 2019 to his 8th-place showing in 2018. And though it would be a mistake to label him a one-year wonder, it is true that Conners has really emerged as an elite player this year, racking up more top-10s over the past six months than he had over the previous three years combined. He’s currently on a streak of eight straight made cuts and has four top-10s and seven finishes of 21st or better in that span, so there simply aren’t many hotter players in the world right now. This is shorter than Conners is usually priced, and with good reason– he’s one of the clear favorites this week and should be given serious consideration at anything better than 20/1.
Charley Hoffman (47.0)- Hoffman has stayed on Tour for a long time and has made a lot of money by following a simple formula: play to your strengths, and excel on the courses that are well-suited for your game. You’re not likely to see him in contention on the longest and most difficult courses in the world, or on those that require a lot of imagination around the greens. He’s found his spots, however– the courses that suit his game nicely– and he racks up the money at these same places, in these same tournaments, year after year. One of his favorite stops is Colonial– in 12 appearances at this event, Hoffman has missed the cut only once, and he’s found the top-25 five times in the past eight years. His steady, consistent, fairways-and-greens style is perfect for a tight little old-school track like Colonial, and he’s only three starts removed from a runner-up finish at another Texas course where you need to keep the ball in the fairway– TPC San Antonio. After a T17 at the PGA last week Hoffman has now found the top-20 in 6 of his past 7 starts, and with his aforementioned record in this tournament, he sure seems like a great value here at a price like 47.0.
Pat Perez (250.0)- As mentioned, we have seen the occasional triple-digit winner in this tournament, most recently Chris Kirk back in 2015. Perez is one of those guys who usually gets hot for one 3 or 4-week stretch every year, and lately there have been signs that such a stretch is approaching– his ball-striking stats have improved significantly over the past month and he’s made 6 of his last 7 cuts, going T29/T26/T39 in his last three starts. He has a long history at Colonial and it’s been a mixed bag in terms of results, but he has had some highlights, most notably a 5th-place showing in 2015, so he certainly knows his way around the place. An in-form Perez is always a threat on courses where distance off the tee is largely irrelevant, and he has such a course this week. If you’re looking for a deep longshot, you could do a lot worse.