Charles Schwab Challenge 2021: Fantasy picks, power rankings and analysis
Before we dive into the Charles Schwab Challenge, forever known as Colonial, let us take a rare peek in the rearview mirror and applaud the legend Phil Mickelson, a timeless wonder who stunned the golf world on Kiawah Island last week.
Not many saw it coming. Enough punters hit the big prize to punish the Vegas sports books, according to published reports, and more than one winning ticket circulated the interwebs over the weekend. He was a cheap addition to any fantasy roster and the biggest long-shot to claim a major prize in more than a decade. Hats off to anyone who predicted the unpredictable.
Being two years younger than Mickelson and just good enough at golf for him to stomp me a time or two in the junior and amateur days, there aren’t sufficient words to describe my admiration for his longevity in the game. We’ll appreciate his accomplishment even more in the years ahead and perhaps the victory is the first of many, igniting an unprecedented senior surge, as Phil suggested on Sunday evening. Regardless, my hats off to the lefthander. The dude has been a killer for 30-some years. Another inspiration, indeed.
Despite his heroics on the Carolina coast, Mickelson didn’t crack this week’s Power Rankings, calves and coffee be damned.
Rather, as we turn our attention back to Texas and one of the classic venues on the PGA Tour, an all-time favorite of mine for its style and grace, we’ve pointed the lens toward ballstrikers who have a strong record of piling on the birdies on courses measuring 7,200 yards or less. The bulk of the approach shots at Colonial fall in the 125-175 yard range and the greens are bentgrass, which has been a rare surface on the recent schedule. A sharp short game is another requisite for success. Course history at Colonial also factored into the model. Once players figure out the course they tend to appear on or around the leaderboard.
Expect a steady wind at Colonial, gusting to 20 mph on Thursday afternoon and into the mid-teens in the following three rounds. There’s a chance of thunderstorms – tis the season – in the middle two rounds and in reality every day for the next four months in the DFW area. Temperatures will be warm but not blistering, low 80s each day. Keep an eye on the forecast if the projected gust speed for Thursday increases, it may be wise to avoid the late / early wave or limit exposure at the least.
The Bargain Bin
- Tom Hoge, Denny McCarthy, Michael Thompson, Peter Uihlein, Richy Werenski
As always, good luck.
Golfer power rankings
25. Russell Knox – Anything but masterful on the greens, the Scottish lad has gained at least one stroke on approach in his last seven tournaments and finished 21-18-39 in his last three starts. Tied for eighth in 2019 and has three other top 25s at Colonial.
24. Chris Kirk – The 2015 Colonial champion has never missed the cut in 10 appearances, leads the field in par-4 scoring (400-450 yards) and is also top 5 in bogey avoidance on courses measuring less than 7,200 yards.
23. Brandt Snedeker – After 15 months in the wilderness, continues to show good form with two top 20s and a top 10 in his last three starts. Putts great on bentgrass and is 9-for-9 playing the weekend at Colonial with a T-2 in 2015.
22. Brian Harman – The fiery Bulldog has finished 31st or better in each of the last seven Colonial National Invitational tournaments and ranks top 10 in the field in SG: Putting on Bentgrass and SG: Short Game. The only negative is he ranks 111th in proximity from 175-200 yards. Had four consecutive top 20s before missing the cut by one shot at beefy Kiawah.
21. Matt Kuchar – Similar to Sneds, there’s been a quiet resurgence for Kuchar; he’s finished in the top 20 in three of his last five outings, missing the cut at the two majors. Colonial has often been kind to his bank account. He’s made the cut in 10 of 12 starts with a trio of top 10s.
20. Billy Horschel – Doesn’t stand out in the model this week, however, his iron game has been sharp since the WGC-Workday, producing a runner-up, a victory in the WGC-Match Play and top 25s at Hilton Head and Kiawah Island. Never worse than 38th in three Colonial appearances.
19. Will Zalatoris – Last week was tricky because of the venue and surface and obviously the dude feeding the computer can’t read so well because Zalatoris was high enough in the models to be included yet your friendly narrator decided to omit him anyway for reasons that shall remain unknown. Ballstriking palace, you say?
18. Corey Conners – Gone are the days when the ballstriking Canadian was the biggest steal in fantasyland. Finishing in the top 10 nearly every week tends to inflate a man’s price. Still, there’s always value in production and his scoring on 400-450 yard par 4s and birdie or better proficiency on shorter courses makes him a wise play yet again in Fort Worth.
17. Joel Dahmen – Bear poker extraordinaire gained 3.8 strokes on approach at Wells Fargo and 5.5 at the PGA. Ranks better than the field average in each of the nine categories in our model. Has two top 20s in three trips to Fort Worth. Putts poorly everywhere but thrives in moderate wind.
16. Kevin Na – With his deft short game, considered by some peers as the best on the PGA Tour, and the ability to turn white hot with his irons and putter, Na is always one swing or stroke from a birdie barrage on shorter golf courses. Won at Colonial in 2019 and has four other top 10s in 14 starts. Good spot for first top 10 since Sony triumph in January.
15. Harold Varner III – There’s a lot to love about his skill set at Colonial. After making the cut on the number at Kiawah he shot even par on the weekend and finished T-49 despite surrendering 3.8 shots to the field on the greens. Better news is he putts the least worst on bentgrass and finished T-19 in his second Colonial start in 2020.
14. Justin Thomas – Watched most of Thomas’ two rounds at Kiawah and most of it was ugly. He drove it poorly, putted worse and looked confused, if not bewildered by the end. Other than the outstanding weekend at TPC Sawgrass it’s been a disappointing 2021 in many ways. Because the driver can remain in the bag on many holes, Colonial could be a good spot for a turnaround. T-10 in debut last year.
13. Patrick Reed – Scrapped his way to making the cut on the number at the PGA and fought to a tie for 17th, gaining strokes in every area except off the tee. His delicate touch will offset any driving woes this week. Finished in the top-15 in each of his last two Colonial starts.
12. Justin Rose – I’m telling you that Rose, who was top 5 in the world less than 18 months ago, is on the way back. That’s how much value I’m placing in a top 10 at Kiawah. Any weakness was exposed there. He won Colonial in 2018 and tied for third last year. Solid value play in fantasy formats and on betting boards.
11. Daniel Berger – The defending champion leads the field in SG: Total in the last 36 rounds in windy conditions. Fired a 69 in the gale at Kiawah on Friday, which was one of the day’s best. He’s also second in making birdies and avoiding bogeys on shorter golf courses. Closed with 63 two weeks ago in Dallas.
10. Matt Wallace – A strange third round sidetracked his shot at a high finish on Kiawah, however, his consistent play in 2021 should make him a factor in Fort Worth, where he missed the cut in his debut last week. He’s 11th in the field in SG: Approach and 19th in SG: Putting on Bentgrass over the last 36 rounds.
9. Charley Hoffman – Thrives on 400-450 yard par 4s and knows how to get around Colonial with 11 cuts made in 12 appearances and one top 10. Gained 6.6 strokes on approach at Valspar and 8.2 at the PGA for his fourth consecutive top-20 finish.
8. Scottie Scheffler – Strong proximity from the primary distances he’ll face at Colonial, where he was T-55 in his debut a year ago. Top 15 in the field in birdies gained and bogeys avoided on shorter courses. Bettered the field average in every area in his top 10 in the PGA.
7. Sungjae Im – Tied for 10th in his Colonial debut a year ago. Other than a handful of disastrous holes, played extremely well at Kiawah, landing in the top 25. His 2-yard fade seems like the proper shot shape for a place where Ben Hogan dominated.
6. Joaquin Niemann – Putts his best on bentgrass and is an absolute assassin with his irons. Poor chipping out of the paspalum proved costly last week yet he still extended his cut streak with a tie for 30th. He’s only getting better. Has finished 32nd, 31st and eighth in three trips to Colonial.
5. Gary Woodland – The driver has been costly but it’s not as important this week. A powerful player like Woodland can dissect Colonial with a driving iron and pinpoint approach shots. Finished ninth last year, shooting 12 under.
4. Tony Finau – Could this be the week Finau breaks through? We’ll keep asking the question until he answers it. He’s finished 34th or better in all five Colonial outings with a runner-up in 2019. Birdie machine on shorter courses and a respectable 45th in SG: Putting in last 36 rounds on bentgrass.
3. Jordan Spieth – Has six top 10s in eight starts at Colonial and a 67.72 scoring average over 32 rounds with a victory and two runner-ups. Putted poorly at Kiawah. He’ll find the bentgrass in his home state more to his liking.
2. Collin Morikawa – Easy to understand why he enjoyed his first look at Colonial, falling in a playoff to Daniel Berger after an unfortunate lipout. His smooth fade and flag finding iron shots should create one good birdie putt after another. Leads the field in proximity from 125-150 yards and SG: Approach, ranks 70th in SG: Putting on bentgrass.
1. Abraham Ancer – It’s time for Mr. Ancer to slip into the plaid jacket. Been on an absolute heater with eight consecutive top 25s and three top 10s in a row. Leads the field in birdies or better on courses measuring 7,200 yards or less. Ranks 45th or better in seven of the eight other categories we identified as barometers for success this week. Finished T-14 last year and has played the weekend in each of his three starts. His first victory on the PGA Tour comes on Sunday.