Charles Schwab Challenge Preview, Picks & Analysis
Justin Rose returns to the magnificent Colonial Country Club to defend his Forth Worth Invitational title, although, just to confuse matters, it now has a new sponsor and is called the Charles Schwab Challenge. The tournament also benefits from being staged the week after the newly-scheduled US PGA Championship, with a stellar field lining up to challenge Rose. The vast majority of the world’s top 100 competed at Bethpage Black last week, and a large number of them will be in the field this week.
Apart from Rose, they include Paul Casey, Tony Finau, Jordan Spieth, Francesco Molinari, Jon Rahm, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Tyrrell Hatton. Last year’s victory was Rose’s ninth on the PGA Tour on a golf course that is tailor-made for his strategic approach to the game. He didn’t have things all his own way, having to hold off a fierce challenge from Brooks Koepka, who shot a 63. But Rose carved out a 64 of his own, to finish on 20 under par, with a winning total of 260 - a score which seems utterly mind-boggling to a mere mortal such as myself. Emiliano Grillo had a 64 to finish third at 16 under.
The Englishman failed to equal Zach Johnson's stunning 2010 tournament scoring record of 259 because of a bogey on the 72nd hole, while Kevin Na shattered the course record with a closing 61 and finished fourth at 14 under. Rahm shot 68 and was tied for fifth at 10 under with Louis Oosthuizen (68) and Kevin Tway (67). The win at Colonial, the longest-running PGA Tour event still played at its original site (since 1946), added to an impressive list of traditional courses where Rose has won. Thankfully, it is only the tournament’s title that has changed - it remains at the magnificent Colonial CC.
Rose achieved his first PGA Tour win at Muirfield Village in the 2010 Memorial, and won the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion. His international victories include the 2014 Scottish Open and the 2007 Volvo Masters at Valderrama in Spain and he did, of course, reach number one in the world rankings last year as he continued to produce one sparkling finish after another. It came as a shock to his system to miss the cut at The Masters in April - the first time he has done so at what is his favourite major.
He was among the favourites for the year’s first major thanks to a superbly consistent record at Augusta National which included two second places in the previous four years and 11 top-25 finishes in 13 appearances.
However, the world number two could only manage rounds of 75 and 73 to miss the cut by a single shot after crucially dropping shots on the 17th and 18th in the second round.
“I got my preparation a little bit wrong,” he said. “I took a month off in February and that was designed to really freshen me up going into Augusta and for the rest of the season. I kind of came out of that month not playing as well as I would have hoped and the Florida Swing became a bit of a struggle and a bit of a grind.
“Even though I finished in the top 10 in the Players Championship and then got through the group stages of the World Match Play, I was always just sort of fighting my game a little bit, and then it’s like you’re sort of cramming for an exam. I started to practice harder than I would have liked in the days leading up to Augusta. I did something different this year, I went to Sage Valley and practised there Friday, Saturday and Sunday, then went and played nine holes at Augusta on the Sunday evening and it all felt like it was a really long run-up. I think by Tuesday I felt pretty good with my game and then by Thursday I tanked a little bit.”
“Of course, my season is now built around the four majors and I was looking at them this year as 10-day blocks.”
He will settle for a repeat of last year’s form as he defends his title this week. After birdies at the first and second holes for the third day in a row, Rose dropped a stroke at the difficult 459-yard third when his drive went into a fairway bunker and he hit from there into the rough. He got that stroke back with a 23-foot birdie putt at the 474-yard fifth hole, the toughest at Colonial, to restore his lead to four over Koepka.
Koepka's highlight shot of the day was a birdie from a greenside bunker at the sixth hole to get to 13 under. But Rose immediately responded by making his 12-foot birdie putt. Rose had a five-stroke lead, his biggest, after a 10-foot birdie at the ninth hole got him to 19 under. Na tapped in for a birdie at the 435-yard 18th hole to match his career-best score and become the seventh PGA Tour golfer with a nine-under round at Colonial - the first since Chad Campbell in the third round in 2004. Na also shot a 61 in the third round of the 2010 Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, North Carolina.
After an opening 62 that ended with a 92 foot chip-in from the rough when he ended his first round at the ninth hole, Na fell back with a bitterly disappointing 73 in the second round and then shot even par on Saturday so he went into the final day with nothing to lose.
Spieth made a birdie at the 18th for a closing 68 to finish five under and tied for 32nd at Colonial, where he had a win and two runner-up finishes the past three years. Just 12 short months ago he was ranked third in the world. It is now fast approaching two years since his last success - the 2017 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, but he made a welcome return to form at the PGA Championship.
Rose is certain to be among the favourites again this week, but Francesco Molinari and Jon Rahm will both fancy their chances too. On his day, Rahm can produce fireworks for fun, while Molinari, not withstanding his final-round blip at The Masters, continues to be one of the most consistent performers in the world game - and Colonial should suit him down to the ground.
The tournament was won in 2011 by David Toms, in 2012 by Zach Johnson (who also won in 2010, in 2013 by Boo Weekley, in 2014 by Adam Scott, in 2015 by Chris Kirk, in 2016 by Jordan Spieth, in 2017 by Kevin Kisner and last year by Rose.
Jon Rahm. Could bring this place to its knees
Justin Rose. Lots of good memories
Ian Poulter. Loves this course
Jon Rahm. Ready for another big win
Justin Rose. Brilliant ball striker
Ian Poulter. The older he gets the better he gets
Tyrrell Hatton. Looking too find his best form
Brandt Snedeker. Brilliant short game
Francesco Molinari. Should be made for his game
Tony Finau. Looking to rediscover last season’s consistency
Matthew Fitzpatrick. Still looking for that first victory on American soil
Beau Hossler. Capable of going low. Really low
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