It was strange and normal all at the same time. The PGA Tour made its return from a three-month layoff at the Charles Schwab Challenge, with the resounding sentiment of “Golf is back."
As the majority of professional sports continue to sit idle, 148 players teed it up at Colonial Country Club, in Fort Worth, Texas. The tournament steeped in history did not generate the traditional Sunday roars with no fans on site, but it did produce more than its fair share of drama. A loaded field, which resembled that of a major championship, translated into a star-studded leaderboard and a worthy champion, who was fittingly crowned after a sudden death playoff. Hey, after 91 days off, why not play an extra hole?
Xander Schauffele began Sunday with a one-stroke lead over a quartet of players, and actually held a share of that lead on the 71st hole until a costly missed putt from 3-feet de-railed his title hopes. The bogey paved the way for Collin Morikawa (67) and Daniel Berger (66), who were both in the clubhouse at 15 under par.
The 27-year-old Berger and 23-year-old Morikawa faced off on Colonial’s 17th hole for the sudden death playoff, and despite months away from the game, it didn’t take long for us to be reminded of the cruel nature of the sport. With Berger in with a par, Morikawa was left with a three-and-a-half-foot putt to extend the playoff. It rimmed in and out, giving Berger the third victory of his career.
Here are five takeaways from golf’s first week back on tour.
PGA Tour Coronavirus restrictions
All in all, the first PGA Tour event under the new coronavirus restrictions has to be viewed as a success. No, it wasn’t perfect, but the regulations laid out by Commissioner Jay Monahan and company have shown that sports can be played safely outdoors with restrictions.
The COVID-19 testing for players, and caddies playing in the Charles Schwab Challenge all came back negative. In all, the PGA Tour conducted close to 1600 tests of players and caddies on the PGA Tour and Korn Ferry Tour, with four tests coming back positive. One positive test was for a Korn Ferry Tour player and three were for Korn Ferry caddies and were all results from home testing.
Social distancing may have been the biggest challenge for players and caddies who are accustomed to intimately discussing club selection and handling golf clubs. Players and caddies were sent a group text from the PGA Tour reminding them of the social distancing guidelines after many were seen ignoring the restrictions during practice rounds. Coaches and swing instructors were also warned by the tour about getting too close to players on the range.
The next stage of restrictions and testing will now begin as the Tour heads to Hilton Head, S.C., for the RBC Heritage. We’ll see what the travel and addition of new players in the field does to the testing that began on Saturday following the third round in Fort Worth.
Daniel Berger returns to the winner’s circle
To many, Daniel Berger’s victory came as a surprise. The win was his first since 2017, but anyone paying attention to Berger in 2020 knew he had gotten healthy and sharpened his game. Back in 2017, Berger was one of the top young players on tour. A product of the famous high school class of 2011, along with Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, that had taken the golf world by storm. Berger had won the Fed Ex St. Jude twice and was a member of the 2017 U.S. President’s Cup team prior to suffering a wrist injury.
The road back to the winner’s circle has been a long one for Berger. He’d missed 10 cuts over the last two seasons but had found his game again earlier this year. Prior to the pandemic, Berger had reeled off three consecutive top ten finishes, so the fact that he was in contention this week shouldn’t have been a shock.
“I’ve grinded so hard over the last two months to be in this position," said Berger, who was holding back tears after the win. “When I came back, I came back stronger than I ever have before and I wanted it more than I ever have before.”
We will hear from Collin Morikawa again
The ascension of Collin Morikawa from college golfer at Cal Berkeley to winner on the PGA Tour has happened at warp speed. A year ago, Morikawa was a baby-faced rookie playing in his first PGA Tour event since turning pro. Four weeks into his career, Collin finished second at the 3M Open. Three weeks later, he won his first PGA Tour event, the Barracuda Championship. Two months removed from classes at Cal, Morikawa was a winner.
The fact that Morikawa was in a playoff at Colonial should come as no surprise. He’s already one of the best ball strikers on tour, ranking 4th in SG Approach this season, but his maturity and mindset is why the 23-year-old is built to win, and win often. A year ago at the Travelers Championship, Morikawa told me he knew he could win right away on Tour. That self-belief combined with fantastic shot-making skills was on display Sunday afternoon, and is ultimately what will help him recover from a devastating missed putt in the sudden death playoff.
Jordan Spieth may have turned a corner
One of the many refreshing storylines coming out of Colonial this week was the return of Jordan Spieth. Spieth opened with back-to-back 65s to put himself near the top of the leaderboard. Ultimately Jordan ran out of gas on Sunday, shooting a 1-over par 71 and finishing T-10. But the performance was a sign that Spieth may be ready to snap out of his funk.
Prior to Colonial, 2020 had been a struggle for Spieth. The 3-time major champion had managed just one top-ten finish since January with three finishes outside the top 50 and a missed cut, seeing his world ranking dip to 56th.
Spieth said he used the three-month layoff as a chance to look back at the first five weeks of the season and recognize what he was doing better than last year, and what needed improvement. Spieth’s ability to self-evaluate is a key factor in his propensity for bouncing back. The fact that he came out of the gates and was in contention over four days at Colonial is a sign that Spieth is close to returning to the form that produced eleven wins over the first seven years of his career. Once he solves his short-range putting woes, expect Jordan to be contending again on a regular basis.
The wait continues for Tiger
For a good chunk of the week, the buzz around Tiger Woods and his return to the golf course surrounded his massive yacht “Privacy." As the golf world waits to see when Tiger will play again, Woods’ yacht was seen making its way from south Florida up the coast to Sea Island, Georgia—not far from the site of the PGA Tour’s next event in Hilton Head, S.C. All signs pointed to Woods teeing it up at Harbour Town until Friday’s 5pm deadline, when Tiger’s name was not listed in the field for the RBC Heritage.
The wait will now continue with the Travelers Championship in Connecticut next up on the schedule. Woods hasn’t played since finishing last at the Genesis Invitational in February but looked ultra sharp during “The Match II” with Phil Mickelson, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.
At 82 career wins, Tiger is currently one win shy of the all-time PGA Tour wins mark. Will he give it a go at TPC River Highlands, a place he’s never played? We’ll find out by Friday 5pm ET.