By Norm Elrod
(CBS DFW/CBS Local) — The Charles Schwab Challenge, set to get going Thursday at Colonial Country Club, rolls out one of the stronger post-major fields the PGA Tour is likely to see this season. Defending champion Justin Rose, Jon Rahm, Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler are among the headliners, though they’ll enjoy plenty of company in Fort Worth. Nine of the world’s top 20 players are looking to put on the tartan jacket come Sunday, and pocket 500 FedExCup points and the winner’s share of the $7.3 million pot.
Why are the Tour’s best traveling halfway across the country so soon after the PGA Championship? It probably has something to do with the course, which has hosted this event for 73 years. Aside from Augusta with the Masters, Colonial boasts the longest run of any single venue for a tournament. And one stroll past the Ben Hogan statue guarding the clubhouse and onto the tree-lined fairways steeped in history reveals why the PGA Tour keeps returning.
Colonial is a classic course that plays much like it did when the golf legend won five championships here. Considered long in its early days, it plays shorter today than more modern — and modernized — courses. But length is far from the only challenge on a golf course.
Positioning rather than distance matters more on this par-70, 7209-yard track. Look for players to play for that second shot, rather than shave off distance from the tee.
Greeting players on the front-nine will be the Horrible Horseshoe, which consistently ranks among the hardest three-hole stretches on the PGA Tour. The trio — two par-4s and a par-3 — leaves players to make decisions, which then require precision in their execution. Scoring is hard in this section (though not impossible), but birdies can be carded elsewhere. Don’t count on too many eagles, however.
Colonial is a shot-maker’s course, filled with narrow fairways flanked by trees on both sides. The rough can be, well, rough. This course makes players work for their scoring opportunities. Justin Leonard and Kevin Na are among the seven players to have shot a course record 61, 9-under par, while Zach Johnson holds the tournament record of 259, 21-under par. Na and Johnson are both in the field this week.
Who are the favorites going into the Charles Schwab Challenge?
Justin Rose (11/1)
Justin Rose is the defending champion, having won the Fort Worth Invitational last year, with a score of 260 — 20-under par and one stroke short of the tournament record. The world’s third-ranked player dominated play for most of that tournament. Rose came in third at the Wells Fargo two weeks ago and sneaked into the top 10 at the Players back in March. Colonial is the type of course where a ball-striker like Rose thrives, so expect to see his name on the leaderboard. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him become only the second player (after Hogan) to win back-to-back events here.
Jon Rahm (12/1)
Jon Rahm, ranked 11th in the world, may try to overpower this course, rather than play for the second shot. He has the length to do it, if that length comes with enough accuracy. We’ll see. Rahm carded a T5 at the Fort Worth Invitational last year, so the chances are good. He missed the cut at the PGA Championship a week ago, but logged three top 10s in his previous three appearances. That includes a T9 at the Masters and a win at the Zurich Classic with partner Ryan Palmer (for what that’s worth).
Jordan Spieth (12/1)
Jordan Spieth is the hometown favorite at Colonial, where his finishes include a win and two T2s. Despite a T3 at the PGA Championship, he’s been mired in a slump all season, and that’s reflected in his post-major ranking of 30. Spieth’s strong putting saved him at Bethpage Black, and it could propel him to another strong showing at Colonial. But he’ll need more than accuracy on the greens to win this week. He’ll need consistency, something the Texas native has lacked of late.