Ben Coley has five outsiders to consider for the Charles Schwab Challenge, but it’s Collin Morikawa who rates the best bet among the favourites.
3pts e.w. Collin Morikawa at 16/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1pt e.w. Christiaan Bezuidenhout at 70/1 (William Hill, Sky Bet 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1pt e.w. Emiliano Grillo at 80/1 (Sky Bet 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1pt e.w. Sepp Straka at 100/1 (Paddy Power, Betfair 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1pt e.w. Davis Riley at 100/1 (Sky Bet, BoyleSports 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
0.5pt e.w. Chez Reavie at 300/1 (Paddy Power, Betfair 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
The Charles Schwab Challenge is a tournament which suffers for its place in the schedule, but benefits for its place in the country. Anywhere but Texas and Jordan Spieth would surely not be here, given a wrist injury which almost forced him out of the PGA. Anywhere but Texas and Scottie Scheffler might also have taken the week off.
Perhaps Scheffler’s motivations are wider than to win in his adopted home state. He knows he let this one slip last year, when he arrived frustrated following a bad draw and some bad play in the season’s second major. This time around he’ll have to overcome a different type of regret, having been a short price for the PGA Championship where yet again he put in a stunning tee-to-green display on his way to second place.
It’s no exaggeration to suggest that Scheffler’s two wins in 2023 could have been four or five or even six with a better putter. Seven is the number of times he’s ranked inside the top five in strokes-gained tee-to-green, that’s from 11 starts, not including his semi-final run at the Match Play. For the other three he’s been ninth, 15th and 16th.
To lose out by two in the PGA will have stung, but most of all he’ll feel he should’ve at least been the one asking serious questions of Brooks Koepka from the final pairing rather than from up ahead. And all this is without thinking further back to the Byron Nelson, here in Texas, for which he traded at even-money after just six holes of the tournament but lost out to Jason Day.
At no more than 9/2 you’re betting on his putter behaving and against a downturn in his long-game. Both seem feasible and I would rather back him than a less-than-fully-fit Spieth, even here, just as I would Viktor Hovland, wounded in a different way and entitled to take things easy if he’s unable to find top gear early on.
Don’t let me stop you backing the favourite, in other words, but this might be an ideal opening for COLLIN MORIKAWA and he’s considered the best bet from the front of the market.
Morikawa was never a factor beyond the first five holes of the PGA Championship, but I’m not all that surprised given the way the tournament unfolded. Yes, he’s the type of talent who can overcome bias in favour of longer hitters, but a lights-out putting week was needed to do so at Harding Park and anything less places too much strain on his long-game.
Nevertheless, he drove it well, was rock-solid with his approaches and showed improvements in his short-game, all of which sets him up for Colonial Country Club, the type of course which does not place him at an immediate disadvantage in the way that Oak Hill most certainly did.
This classical par 70 might have thrown up two long-driving champions over the last two years, but it is as close to a level playing field as you’ll find in terms of the distance and accuracy battle. Yes, there’s always a chance someone like Jason Kokrak produces an elite driving display, both long and straight, but typically there’s something for everyone and we’ve had champions of all shapes and sizes.
In part that’s why Morikawa loves it here and why he’ll keep coming back. On debut he was runner-up to Daniel Berger, beaten in a play-off he should’ve won, and in subsequent visits he’s shown no less promise in finishing 14th and 40th. His strokes-gained approach figures throughout these three appearances read 3-2-7, a regressive set of putting stats the difference between contending and not.
With that club having shown more this season including last week, and a field which has been weakened by a handful of Colonial-loving LIV departures (five of last year’s top 12) plus the absence of Berger and Justin Thomas, Morikawa may have no better opportunity all summer to end a winless run which stretches back to the end of 2021.
Spieth’s injury doubt and the fact that two of the favourites were in the heat of battle last week makes the front of the betting look potentially weak, or at least weaker than it might’ve been during another time of year, and I’d be hopeful Morikawa makes the most of it.
It should be noted that course form hasn’t always been a great indicator here, with one or two exceptions such as Kevin Na and Spieth himself.
Kokrak’s read 18-MC-55-MC-32 before he suddenly went 3-1, Berger’s previous visits had resulted in a missed cut and a share of 53rd, while Adam Scott played poorly on five Colonial starts but won on the other.
I’m more interested in the potential for the nature of this old-school golf course to suit a player even if they’re yet to really show it, and on that score the most exciting bet on the board this week is SEPP STRAKA.
Anyone who shoots a closing 65 for a backdoor top-10 can be viewed in one of two ways: either that’s a straightforwardly good performance upon which they can build, or they’re flattered by a single round of golf.
There’s definitely a risk we overvalue his seventh place at Oak Hill, but that’s where the market comes into it. At three-figure prices, a player who has a win and two play-off defeats over the past 15 months and is firmly in the Ryder Cup reckoning certainly hasn’t been treated with caution by the layers.
As for why that is, the answer might be based on a red herring. Straka’s form figures at Colonial so far read MC-MC, but he opened with a round of 66 on his first start here, in the pandemic-strengthened field of 2020, and shot 68 on his return. On both occasions he went on to struggle in round two and miss the cut on the number.
It’s two years since he played the course though and, having shown he can score here and improved since, he has to be worth the benefit of the doubt. Not only did he build on a decent Masters with a first major top-10, but his long-game was superb last week, leading the field in greens, ranking second in strokes-gained approach and fifth in tee-to-green.
If there is one statistical category to hold above all others this week, it is approach play, even more so than usual. Morikawa is back up at first, where he’s spent so much of his professional career, and Straka currently ranks 13th.
“My golf game was pretty sharp going into the week,” he said on Sunday, explaining that he’s felt close for a while. “I felt like I’ve had some good practice the last few weeks. Didn’t really show at Quail but definitely showed up today. So I think just staying on top of that and trying to keep improving your golf game.”
Straka is also a player whose best form has come on tough par 70s, namely Southwind and PGA National. Berger has a win at the former and a play-off defeat at the latter, with Southwind in particular a handy guide to Colonial down the years. So is Copperhead and while Straka has played there only once, he was the first-round leader.
If – and there are no such certainties in golf – Straka turns up in the form in which he departed Oak Hill, he can bag another good start in Fort Worth and this time kick on. He’s way overpriced at 100s.
Eric Cole is another Honda Classic runner-up who could go well but I’m going to leave him out based on two important factors: he’s a debutant at a course which favours experience, and he’s teeing it up for the seventh week running, somehow still managing to play some Minor Golf League events too.
Cole has played nicely each time he’s been selected on these pages this season, particularly when second at 175/1 in the Honda, and last week’s PGA Championship effort was another step up in the career of this late-blooming 34-year-old.
He’s produced some sensational around-the-green numbers over the past fortnight which is a bit of a red flag as they won’t continue forever, but he’s also improved his driving significantly over the past few months and, when he’s putted really well, he’s landed the place money.
That could well happen on these pure bentgrass greens but what we know for sure is that any course that revolves around approach play and putting is one which is likely to suit. The list of players who rank inside the top 50 in both categories this season is a who’s who of elite golfers at the front of this market – Scheffler, Finau, Homa, Fleetwood, Spieth, Rose – plus the name Eric Cole.
I just can’t get past the worry that this is one trip to the well too many so preference is for CHRISTIAAN BEZUIDENHOUT, who missed the cut last week because he putted really badly at a golf course which is straightforwardly too big for him.
Bezuidenhout is a short, accurate player capable of deadly approach play and even better putting, but he’s does need the latter part of his game to hold up if he’s to compete at the highest level. It didn’t, so he couldn’t.
That’s likely to change sooner rather than later and he showed last week that his approach play, which has been excellent on the PGA Tour for more than two months now, remains where he needs it to be. Bezuidenhout ranked fifth in round two having hit plenty of quality shots in round one, gaineing almost two strokes per round on average.
Having ranked 18th, 10th, 15th and 14th in that department over his previous four measured starts and on course for better still in the PGA Championship, Bezuidenhout is a good week on and around the greens from getting in the mix providing he has conditions in his favour.
While that wasn’t so at the Nelson with its wide-open fairways, he was 19th at Harbour Town and ought to have finished higher up the leaderboard, his short-game having proved costly. This is a player who led the PGA Tour in strokes-gained around-the-green early on in the season so again it’s likely a minor blip.
As for the course, we know he likes definition off the tee having won at Leopard Creek and Valderrama and he was 15th here last year, again on the back of a missed cut in the PGA. As with Harbour Town it might have been better still but for some iffy chipping and for the second time in as many visits, his approach work was of a very high standard.
There are only a handful of events Bezuidenhout has a realistic chance of winning on this circuit and this is one of them, so at 66/1 he looks worth chancing having been close to hitting the frame in some stronger tournaments already this spring.
Matthew NeSmith fits the bill on paper, boasts the Copperhead correlation and is in progressively good form, but I am slightly put off by his record at the course even if it’s not always been the best of clues. Given his profile I’d rather have the comfort of knowing he’s scored well at Colonial but he’s not done that in three previous starts.
Hayden Buckley also has a question to answer regarding the course, but while I’m not so concerned with a missed cut when badly out of form, his lack of experience and vulnerable short-game are enough to put me off. He has top-fives at three similarly classical golf courses since he last played here and is one of the most reliable drivers on the circuit but as with Cole, he might just be found out by lack of course knowledge.
EMILIANO GRILLO is not a dissimilar player to Buckley, strong off the tee but with an occasionally suspect short-game, and he’s preferred on the basis of his superior course form and experience at Colonial.
We all know that since winning on his debut as a PGA Tour member he’s yet to double his tally and it was painful viewing when presented with a good chance at the John Deere Classic last summer, yet he does look very likely to give his running here and at the prices I can take on board the Sunday question marks.
My view is that he’d have been a fair bit shorter had he come here on the back of his pre-PGA form figures of 7-5-23, all powered by world-class approach play as well as some really impressive short-game work in the Heritage.
I won’t be dwelling too much on a major missed cut, especially as his back-to-back runner-up finishes last summer were separated by a weekend off at the Open Championship. Last week was a US Open-like test and Grillo’s record in that event amounts to very little, so I’m not surprised he struggled.
Four top-25s from seven Colonial starts suggest we ought to expect better and as well as some consistently high-class ball-striking, he’s enjoyed the best putting week of his career here and a couple more good ones. Another would have him in the mix and I’m reminded of the fact that Spieth once talked up Grillo’s putting on fast greens, which he’s demonstrated both here and at Muirfield Village.
Back towards the top of the market I strongly considered Rickie Fowler, a frequent contender here in his early years and playing some wonderful golf throughout the past six months or so.
Fowler could’ve won on a tree-lined course in Japan back in October and has built on that since up until missing the cut last week. That wouldn’t worry me too much and he might just emulate Day in winning immediately after what looks like nothing more than a minor a blip.
It’s hard to argue he’s been missed at 28s though and the same goes for Russell Henley on just his second visit to this course. It’s one which ought to suit Henley, a superb iron player with a tidy short-game, and he played fine last week having not been seen since the Heritage as he adopts a light schedule in 2023.
They’d be two to consider along with Cam Davis if you’re looking for more assurance of a weekend runner, but on this occasion I’m inclined to be a lot more speculative and side with CHEZ REAVIE at 250/1 and bigger.
Reavie defied all logic to climb from 114th to 40th last week, playing some solid stuff over the final 54 holes after a poor start on a course which ought to have been too long for him. He did indeed struggle off the tee, but his approach play was typically solid and his putting was just as good.
Putter has been the big problem down the years but he’s making plenty right now, to the point where you’d have to wonder whether he’s ever been better on the greens. How long it continues is anyone’s guess (mine for the record would be ‘not much longer’) but if it does for just another week then he’s a live threat.
Whereas Reavie has given up a shot a day off the tee at two very long courses over his last two starts, here he can compete. He ranked 10th off the tee on his way to 27th last year, putting poorly, and has generally driven the ball well at Colonial down the years. At this golf course, ‘well’ can mean hitting it 280 yards down the middle of the fairway.
His last six appearances amount to little, that top-30 in 2022 his best, but throughout all of them he’s really struggled on the greens. Go back further and we can see that he can score at the course when he putts reasonably, having been fifth when ranking 41st and 11th when ranking 34th, shooting rounds of 62 and 64 along the way.
These are dated form lines but Reavie was sixth and then 11th at the beginning of April to give us something to work with and this is simply a good set-up for him. It’s longer than River Highlands but certainly not dissimilar and that’s where he won in 2019, one week after an impressive top-five finish in the US Open at Pebble Beach.
Another win followed last July and while this time he doesn’t quite arrive with such a strong major performance to his name, he must draw great encouragement from the way he battled through to the weekend and hung tough once there. Reavie knows this kind of course is far more suitable and is a place contender at a price.
Finally, DAVIS RILEY is just too big a price to omit.
Yes, he’s been up and down all year, largely the latter, but he was placed for us at 40/1 in a stronger renewal this tournament 12 months ago, defying his lack of course experience and again confirming that we have the right conditions for a southern boy whose approach play is his biggest strength.
The world number 74 has won in Louisiana since, albeit in a pairs event, and we’ve had flashes of high-class individual play such as at Bay Hill, the Valspar and the Honda Classic. The flip side of course is that he arrives on the back of three cuts missed in succession.
However, the latest was a major in which his driving, approach play and putting were all above average. Before that, he shot five-under in a Byron Nelson shootout which wasn’t quite enough. And before that, he was he was the same price he is now for a tournament headlined by Rory McIlroy, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele and more elite golfers.
This one has just a small group of them and Riley’s performance on debut, which saw him trade as favourite in round four, merits a place higher up the betting despite overarching form concerns. Anything larger than 66/1 just has to be taken and we’ll swallow the shocker if it does arrive.
Posted at 1400 BST on 24/05/23
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