2021 Charles Schwab Challenge Preview: Back Will Zalatoris to Keep Momentum Going
Maddie Meyer/PGA of America/PGA of America via Getty Images. Pictured: Will Zalatoris.
Quick intro this week as I travel home from what was one of the most fun major championships I’ve ever covered — fun because Kiawah is an absolute gem, fun because the electricity of having fans back on the course added so much, fun because Phil Mickelson is the coolest coffee-drinking, aviator-wearing, birdie-making 50-year-old in the world.
Many of my favorite moments and favorite quotes from over the years have been the result of Phil being Phil and he didn’t disappoint this weekend.
I saw him minutes after the victory and offered the customary congratulatory fist-bump, but with a big smile on his face, he went full bro-hug instead. Then this happened:
Me: “Congrats, Phil. So happy for you.”
Phil: “Did you get a little payout on that? I know how you roll.”
— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelTAN) May 23, 2021
Trust me: Most major winners aren’t even thinking about things like this, let alone saying it right after they win. Dude is a legend.
Anyway, a few tidbits left in the proverbial notebook before I move on to this week’s Charles Schwab Challenge…
Brooks Koepka has kinda lost his armor of invincibility, hasn’t he?
I’m not saying the dude isn’t a great player or that he can’t win more majors. He was in contention at each of the four majors in 2019 but “only” won one of ‘em. He had another chance at last year’s PGA, then again this weekend. None of those were choke-jobs or titles that he absolutely should have won. But he’s a guy who earned a rep early as a player who stepped on throats at majors. All I’m saying is that he’s not quite as invincible as he once was.
I spoke with Rickie Fowler probably more than I spoke with any other player this past week. Not all of our conversations were wholly centered around golf and his desire to become one of the world’s best once again, but when we did talk about it, I could tell how confident he is.
When I suggested Fowler's game might peak in July for The Open Championship, he didn’t disagree with his ability to play well at Royal St. Georges, but I could tell he didn’t want to wait that long either. Based on his weekend play, he’s probably right.
Another guy who’s really close is Justin Rose. The man made 16 (!) birdies on The Ocean Course over the final two rounds, later telling me that he loves how he’s putting it right now. It’s been 11 years since Rose and Rickie went 1-2 at the Memorial Tournament and I’m not suggesting they’ll replicate that at the upcoming festivities at Muirfield Village, but each player will certainly be on my short list.
Last thing: I don’t really know how we can “rank” majors — not without some sort of categorical analyzation, at least — but even in the afterglow of this weekend, I’d still rank Jack Nicklaus’ 1986 Masters win and Tiger Woods’ 2019 Masters win ahead of Mickelson’s victory this weekend, and Mickelson’s victory ahead of so many others. But again, without any context, I don’t even know what I’m ranking them for, so it’s sort of a moot debate.
OK, we’re on to Colonial. Let’s get to the picks at the ball-striker’s paradise, an event which is usually one of the more predictable of the season.
One player to win the tournament.
Will Zalatoris (+2800)
In the moment, right after Mickelson’s victory, when he said what I tweeted above, I didn’t want to kill the vibe by explaining that Marc Leishman, not Phil, was my favorite longshot play last week and he missed the cut. So Phil might know how I roll, but he doesn’t know that my roll has a flat tire right now.
Admittedly a bit gun shy after two fave outright plays with longer prices in the past three weeks (Harold Varner III MC’d at the Wells Fargo, too), I’m going with a player who has a shorter number this week.
Zalatoris is fresh off his third top-10 in his third career major and I can see him stepping on the gas pedal soon, still trying to qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs as a member and with the Ryder Cup firmly in his sights. A win would guarantee the first of those and help the second become more of a reality.
On a course that I’m sure the Dallas native knows well, one which gives an advantage to the game’s best iron players, I think it’s time for a momentous first victory from a very obvious up-and-comer.
Potential selections for one-and-done options.
Sungjae Im (+3300) and Billy Horschel (+7000)
I’m going to repeat myself a lot in this preview, but we should be all about the ball-strikers this week. Sungjae and Billy are two of the best when they’re on – and there were signs this weekend at Kiawah that each one is ready to play some more good golf. For OADs, I don’t mind a shot on either one.
One player to finish top-five.
Abraham Ancer (+400)
There are plenty of great things about finishing near the top of the leaderboard every week — and most of ‘em end with a lot of zeroes.
At some point, though, it’s gotta get frustrating for Ancer to continually play great golf and not take home a trophy. I think it’s coming soon, but then again, I’ve been saying that for two years now.
One of the bigger positives is that Ancer has been playing some of his best golf on the weekend, posting final-round scores of 65, 66 and 69 in his last three starts to finish 8th-2nd-5th.
It won’t be long until one of these low Sundays leads him to the winner’s circle, but I’ll just take him for another top-five here.
One player to finish top-10.
Talor Gooch (+650)
Before looking it up, I would’ve guessed that Gooch was top-25 in strokes gained on approach shots this season, but instead he’s a mere 55th. That’s still obviously better than average and while his record at Colonial isn’t anything too special, with a T-29 his best result in three starts, I do think this one should suit his skillset.
One player to finish top-20.
Harry Higgs (+400)
Whether you call him Big Beautiful or the Big Rig (that one’s a Scott Van Pelt special), to watch Higgs is to love him, as the dude with the deep V has an infectious personality. Fresh off a T-4 in his first career major, a trip home to Dallas could be just what he needs to keep the momentum going.
One player to finish top-30.
Doc Redman (+17500)
As a charter member of the Doc Redman Fan Club, I’m disappointed that he continues to play poorly when I pick him, then play well once I jump off the bandwagon. Apparently the play is to just continually take him for conservative props and see which way it goes.
One player to finish top-40.
Maverick McNealy (+16000)
Usually it’s the older players who lick their chops for the few weeks like these, on a shorter track where speed and power aren’t directly correlated to success. McNealy is a mere 25 years old, but he’s already established himself as a player who might only feast on these types of tracks. He finished runner-up at Pebble Beach and T-4 at Harbour Town in a pair of comparable courses to Colonial.
DFS Free Bingo Square
A safe plug-and-play option for DFS.
Did you really think you’d get through this entire preview without a Spieth reference?
He didn’t quite have his best stuff at Kiawah, but it didn’t seem like he was that far off, either. As I wrote a few weeks ago, the AT&T Byron Nelson is the hometown event that first gave him a start, but the dirty little secret within Spieth circles is that Colonial has always suited his game better, as evidenced by six top-10s in eight career starts.
I won’t bet him this week at such a short price, but he should be a perfect anchor for DFS lineups.
A lower-priced option for DFS.
He hasn’t exactly been challenging for titles but with five consecutive made cuts, NeSmith is a safe pick with plenty of value this week. Ranked eighth in strokes gained on approach shots, this should be a nice course for him, as well.
One player to post the low score Thursday.
Cameron Tringale (+6600)
This one isn’t exactly an auto-bet yet, but it’s coming close. Tringale is a long-time starter on the Thursday All-Star Team — and I mean that in the nicest way possible. The man tends to get off to quicker starts than most others, so he’s always a solid FRL play.
One player who should beat comparable players.
Emiliano Grillo (+4500)
Solo third here three years ago and fresh off a T-38 at the PGA, I don’t know that Grillo is my favorite play out there, but I do like him a lot this week.
The Big Fade
One top player to avoid at this tournament.
Wyndham Clark (+20000)
I watched part of Clark’s final round on Sunday and, well, let’s just say he let out some frustrations on the course.
What made that so intriguing is that I happened to be watching Clark while hosting PGA Championship Radio with my buddy Drew Stoltz, aka Sleeze. Well, Sleeze happens to be on Clark’s bag at Colonial this week and while I’m not rooting against them by any means, I am hoping that Clark lets out some more of those frustrations on his looper.
This isn’t so much a fade of Clark here, but a fade of Sleeze. The player will only be able to carry his caddie just so far this week.