Your Guide To the Hottest PGA TOUR Players Heading Into the Charles Schwab Challenge
Warren Little/Getty Images. Pictured: Jon Rahm
Ninety-one. That’s how many days it will have been between the first round of the subsequently-canceled Players Championship and the opener of this week’s Charles Schwab Challenge — a shutdown so lengthy that it eclipsed last year’s official offseason by two and a half months.
There’s been a lot going on in the world (to put it lightly), and you’ve had plenty on your mind (lightly again), so you’re excused if you need a refresher on the world of professional golf.
That’s what I’m here for.
So, let’s take a look at what’s already taken place, which players were hot and what trends might carry over to this week and the second half of the season.
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Which player was most trending in the right direction?
If your definition of the game’s hottest player doesn’t extend past the most recent round that was played, then Hideki Matsuyama is your guy. He posted a course record-tying 63 at TPC Sawgrass in the final round before the schedule was suspended.
That would be a narrow answer to this question, though. It also wouldn’t help you this week, as Matsuyama has elected to skip this event.
It’s fairly inarguable that the world’s current No. 1-ranked player, Rory McIlroy, isn’t the game’s best player and is the one most trending in the right direction. With top-five finishes in each of his past seven worldwide starts, including all four this year, he’s kicked things into another gear without suffering any off weeks.
As McIlroy makes his debut at Colonial, it remains to be seen just how well this course will suit his game, though it’s hard to imagine there’s any course in the world that doesn’t suit him right now.
Yeah, we remember Rory, but who else?
OK, I’ll admit it: You’d have to have a pretty poor memory over the past few months to forget McIlroy’s recent run of strong performances.
Just slightly further down the list are a pair of guys who have similarly been lighting it up.
The first one you’d probably get, yet for as great as Jon Rahm has been over the past year, his results still tend to go overlooked. He’s made 20 starts since last year’s U.S. Open, winning three times while finishing second four times, third three times and missing just one cut.
The world’s second-ranked player probably still doesn’t get enough credit for his play.
The second one might be a bit tougher. Webb Simpson isn’t a guy who wows people with driving prowess or makes every putt he sees, but he just does everything consistently well. Prior to a T-61 in his most recent start, he had finished top-10 in his previous five, including a win at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
What about one player who was about to break out before the suspension?
My favorite play for a month before the shutdown was Bryson DeChambeau, who kept coming close every time he teed it up.
From his notably slow play to his scientific breakdowns to his commitment to swole-ness, BDC hasn’t exactly endeared himself as a fan favorite, but I’m convinced he’s on the verge of some very big wins, very soon.
He was T-5 at Riviera, then solo second at the WGC in Mexico and fourth at Bay Hill over his last three starts. As one of the game’s hardest workers, I have a tough time believing DeChambeau won’t return in midseason form, ready to improve on those results.
Gee, thanks for listing the best players. How about someone further down the list?
Nothing like calling yourself out in a fake question in your own column. But hey, that guy is right — there are plenty of other lesser-known players who are ready to break through, as well.
One guy right near the top of this list for me is Joel Dahmen. He’s turned himself into a ball-striking machine, ranking 11th in strokes gained tee-to-green while finishing T-5 in each of his last two starts. (Daniel Berger also has top-fives in each of his last two starts, making him another guy to watch in upcoming weeks.)
By all reports, Dahmen spent the past few months playing a ton of golf near his home in Scottsdale, so I’d expect him to be in solid form this week and beyond.
In fact, if there’s ever potential for a run of first-time PGA TOUR champions, it might be right now, with some of the superstars trying not to peak before the majors and other players just not quite in form yet.
Don’t be surprised if we see Abraham Ancer win a tournament soon. The world’s 29th-ranked player has been on the verge for a while now, with two runner-up finishes in the past 10 months and a handful of other top-10 results.
Other candidates for a first career victory soon: Scottie Scheffler, Matt Fitzpatrick, Byeong Hun An, Maverick McNealy, Jamie Lovemark and Denny McCarthy.
Are there any other betting trends we should watch?
Glad you asked.
One of my favorite current trends says as much about the state of the game as it does about wagering on it: Of the 11 PGA TOUR events held during the 2020 calendar year, only one favorite (Viktor Hovland, 10-1 at the Puerto Rico Open) won, while only one second-favorite (Justin Thomas, 5-1 at the Sentry TOC) and one third-favorite (Webb Simpson, 14-1 at the Waste Management) went on to the victory circle.
On the other side, only two real longshots have claimed titles so far: Nick Taylor was 125-1 at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and Andrew Landry was 200-1 at the American Express.
That still leaves us with a majority of the winners from this year — a half-dozen of whom have all lived in the 30-1 to 50-1 pre-tournament range.
You know the type: A guy who isn’t quite capable of being the field fave, but certainly isn’t a no-name outta nowhere. Adam Scott (30-1), Sungjae Im (30-1), Cameron Smith (40-1), Patrick Reed (40-1), Marc Leishman (50-1) and Tyrrell Hatton (50-1) each fit the mold of a certain player we should continue looking at to win PGA TOUR titles at a decent price.