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Charles Schwab Challenge Preview, Picks & Analysis

By: | Mon 24 May 2021 | Comments


THERE is always a sense of anti-climax in the week following a major but that hasn’t stopped a world-class field from assembling for the Charles Schwab Challenge, with Daniel Berger back to defend his title at Colonial, one of the most iconic golf courses on the PGA Tour.

It is normally a pretty routine PGA Tour event but the eyes of the world were on last year’s tournament as it marked the return to action of competitive action after the lockdown caused by the Covid-19 lockdown. And the man who celebrated loudest and longest was Berger, who won in a playoff after Collin Morikawa missed a three-foot par putt.

Berger’s victory was no great surprise. He finished the week with a 66, which was his 28th consecutive round of par or better dating to October 11 the previous year at the Houston Open.

All that was missing was the sound of a gallery, with the PGA Tour not allowing spectators. It was the first PGA Tour event since March 12 when the spread of coronavirus shut down golf and other sports. PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said: "This has been a phenomenal start to our return."

Morikawa was bitterly disappointed but he made his 21st successive cut, the longest streak by a newcomer since Tiger Woods. The man who would go on to win the PGA Championship later in the year took a share of the lead with a 50-foot putt on the 14th hole. But he struggled with the short one, also missing a six-footer on the final hole that would have given him the title.

Berger, on the other hand, made a 10-foot birdie putt on the final hole that put him at 15-under 265. The last time Berger was in a playoff, Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to beat him at the Travelers Championship and he felt for Morikawa. "It's going to hurt for a little while, but he'll get over it and he'll be winning again," Berger said.

Xander Schauffele hit into the water on the 15th from a fairway bunker, hit a poor chip after the penalty shot and then made a 30-footer to escape with a bogey. He followed with a 25-foot birdie to regain a share of the lead. And then his three-foot par putt on the 17th hole dipped in one side of the hole and spun out of the other. His 25-foot birdie putt to join the playoff came up just short and he shot 69.

Bryson DeChambeau narrowly missed a 12-foot birdie putt on the 18th, giving him a 66 and leaving him one shot out of the playoff. And Justin Rose's 18-foot birdie on the last hole came up a fraction short. He finished with a 66. Jason Kokrak finished well ahead of everyone else and also missed a birdie on the last hole in his round of 64. Later in the year he would finally win his first PGA Tour title.

Before the lockdown, Rory McIlroy had played in seven straight tournaments, finishing no worse than fifth, a run that came to a stunning halt and signalled the start of a miserable run of form. Starting the final round three shots behind, he was five over par through seven holes and closed with a 74 to tie for 32nd.

"If there are fans and everything with the 'oohs' and 'aahs,' I'd probably be a little more ticked off," Schauffele said. "Maybe that's a good thing for me right now. But it was definitely weird. It was sort of an internal battle, which it always is for me, but more so internal this week just with no fans."

Monahan conceded his biggest concern going into the week, even with its testing and safety procedure, was positive tests popping up. "That's something, candidly, that I lost a lot of sleep over in the weeks that preceded coming in," he said.

All 487 tests at Colonial were negative, and the golf lived up to its part with a star-filled leaderboard and a half-dozen players still in the mix the final hour.  

So what of this year’s event?

Jordan Spieth

Berger has also continued to flourish, enjoying a wonderful 2020. He is a superb shotmaker with a swing that is very similar to that of Sergio Garcia. He also has a wonderful temperament and a glorious touch around the greens. 

Many people will be rooting for Chris Kirk, a former champion at Colonial. The 36-year-old finished second at the Sony Open and has enjoyed a further five top-10 finishes this season. He is a four-time winner on the PGA Tour but the most recent of those victories came six years ago, when he also reached 16 in the world rankings. But two years ago the American announced that he was taking what he described as “indefinite leave” from the PGA Tour as he was suffering from depression and alcoholism. 

He has spoken in depth about his problems, revealing that he struggled to cope with endless hours in hotel rooms on his own and that he turned to drink. Despite that, he continued to make a decent living from the game but he realised that he was on a downward spiral and knew that he had to seek treatment before it was too late. And he has returned to action this year with a new approach to the game. There would be few more popular winners.

Tournament Winners: 

It was won in 2015 by Chris Kirk, in 2016 by Jordan Spieth, in 2017 by Kevin Kisner, in 2018 by Justin Rose, in 2019 by Kevin Na and last year by Daniel Berger.

The Course: 

Colonial Country Club was designed by John Bredemus and Perry Maxwell. It is a par 70, measuring 7,209 yards and is bordered by the Trinity River and surrounded by luxurious homes. It hosted the US Open in 1941 and the US Women’s Open 50 years later, when Meg Mallon won.

Form Guide: 

Ahead of the PGA, Daniel Berger missed the cut at The Masters, one of only two missed cuts all season. He won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am back in February, was third at the Byron Nelson, and has has three other top-10 finishes. 

To Win: 

Daniel Berger. A man reborn

Each Way: 

Chris Kirk. Has overcome huge adversity

Five to Follow: 

Daniel Berger. Defending champion, and in form

Phil Mickelson. The PGA Champion!

Chris Kirk. There wouldn’t be a dry eye in the house if he were to win

Collin Morikawa. World-class iron player

Jordan Spieth. Firing on all cylinders again

Five Outsiders:

Dylan Fritelli. Big-hitting South African

Branden Grace. Too good to remain on the fringes

Matt Wallace. Getting closer all the time

Emiliano Grillo. Inconsistent, but at his best can win anywhere

Joaquin Niemann. Hugely underrated


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