(CBS DFW) — The Charles Schwab Challenge welcomed back the PGA Tour from its three-month COVID hiatus in 2020. This year it returns to its late-May spot on the calendar just after the PGA Championship. Because of last year’s reshuffling, the Charles Schwab will follow the major for just the second time since the Tour overhauled its schedule for the 2018-19 season.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the event by welcoming a strong field to Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas. Three of the world’s top-10 players and 10 of the top-25 will be on hand. That includes world number two Justin Thomas, who will be looking to shake off last week’s missed cut. It also features last year’s runner-up and world number five Collin Morikawa. Daniel Berger, ranked 16th in the world, returns to defend the title he won in a playoff over Morikawa last year.
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Some big storylines lay outside the top 25. Phil Mickelson jumped from 115th to 32nd in the rankings on the strength of his surprise PGA Championship win. He will hope to continue that newfound momentum in an event he’s won twice. The first of those wins happened in 2000, when Morikawa was three years old. The second came in 2008, only slightly less than forever ago.
“As we all know with Phil, you never count that man out,” says CBS Sports golf reporter Amanda Balionis. “I think it would be very difficult, considering the physical and emotional path you take to win a major. Especially doing it at almost 51 years old. You saw that scene on Sunday, and it was like that all week for him. It is draining having thousand and thousands of fans yelling your name and having to focus. I don’t know how you do that the very next week as well.”
Jordan Spieth will also be looking to extend his resurgence. The Texas native is ranked 28th in the world after starting the year 82nd. He has his own win at the Charles Schwab in 2016, bookended by two second-place finishes. Spieth has also found some success in his home state of late. He won the Valero Texas Open in early April and tied for ninth at the AT&T Byron Nelson a couple weeks ago.
“A guy like Jordan Spieth has to be a big storyline,” according to Balionis. “Historically he plays so well in the state of Texas and has finally gotten over that hump that we’ve seen him battle through for almost four years. And I think coming off of a week where he could have completed the Career Grand Slam. Couldn’t quite get it going enough on the weekend. I think he’s going to come back and try to put some emphasis on keeping that momentum going this week.”
Unlike at Kiawah Island, length isn’t a big challenge at Colonial Country Club. The course measures 7,209 yards and eases players into the par-70 track with an inviting start. The opening holes offer birdie opportunities to players who don’t get too greedy. The first hole is a par-5 dogleg right that stretches a manageable 565 yards. The second is another dogleg right, a shorter par-4 that only measures 389 yards. Both greens are flanked by bunkers designed to eat a short approach.
Then things get interesting.
The Horrible Horseshoe — Colonial’s third, fourth and fifth holes — consistently rank among the hardest three-hole stretches on the PGA Tour. And it’s easy to see why. The third hole, a long dogleg left par-4 at 483 yards, requires precision off the tee. The fourth hole is a straight 247-yard par-3 to a raised green. Players who survive three and four are left to face the hardest hole on the course, a 481-yard par-4 with a tough approach. On a shot-maker’s course, filled with tree-lined fairways, this series of holes can determine the winner.
Beyond the Horrible Horseshoe, Colonial offers a nice mix of holes that can challenge players across the spectrum, from bombers to shot-makers.
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“You have to be extremely accurate,” Balionis stresses. “It really demands every part of your game. It’s a second-shot golf course. Your irons have to be completely dialed in. You can get yourself into a ton of trouble if you’re not accurate. And then we talked about those small greens, it’s a small target. So, if you don’t have your iron game where it needs to be, this is the course that can eat you up, even though it’s not a long course. Just a great reminder that strategy is a very important part of the game.”
Here are the favorites:
Jordan Spieth (10-1)
Spieth has finished in the top 10 in seven of his 11 Tour events this year and tends to play well in his home state of Texas. At the familiar Colonial, he’s placed in the top 10 in six of his eight appearances, including a win and two runner-ups. Spieth has a strong short game, which helps immensely on a course like this.
Justin Thomas (12-1)
Thomas hasn’t done much since his win at the Players Championship two months ago. But the world’s second-ranked players remains a good ball-striker, third on Tour in Shots Gained: Approach The Green. He placed 10th last year in his only appearance at the Charles Schwab Challenge.
Collin Morikawa (14-1)
Morikawa is coming off a tie for eighth at the PGA Championship. The Tour’s best when it comes to Shots Gained: Approach The Green, he can thrive at a course like Colonial. Morikawa lost a playoff to Berger to finish second last year at the Charles Schwab.
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Watch the Charles Schwab Challenge Saturday, May 29, 5:30 – 7:00 p.m. ET and Sunday, May 30, 2:00 – 6:30 p.m. ET on CBS.