By Tod Leonard
There won’t be fans on the grounds when the PGA Tour resumes play on Thursday at Colonial Country Club, but the initial pairings certainly guarantee fireworks. The Tour announced its featured groupings on Sunday for the opening two rounds of the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth, and they looked like something out of the FedEx Cup Playoffs or a major championship. Or, actually, the first round of this year’s Players Championship.
The top three ranked players in the world—Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Brooks Koepka—will play together. They did so on the opening day of the Players in March, which was eventually wiped out when the tournament was canceled on Thursday night at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. (For the record, Rahm prevailed that day, shooting 69 to Koepka’s 70 and McIlroy’s 72.)
Another juicy grouping features members of the Bro Pack—Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth. Byrson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson and Justin Rose compose another pairing, and major winners Phil Mickelson and Gary Woodland are joined by defending Schwab Challenge champ Kevin Na.
With the Tour returning to action for the first time in 12 weeks, Colonial drew an impressive field, with 16 of the top 20 in the Official World Rankings jumping in.
McIlroy, the hottest player in the game with one win and five other top 5s in his last six starts, is making his tournament debut. Twice he has won in the same circumstance, at the 2010 Wells Fargo Championship and 2019 RBC Canadian Open. Koepka has played at Colonial only once, but the outcome was rather stunning—he shot a pair of 63s to finish T-2 in 2017. Rahm has two top 5s in the event.
Thomas enters the week No. 2 in the FedEx Cup standings, behind Sungjae Im, and, with wins in the CJ Cup and Sentry Tournament of Champions, joins Brendon Todd as the Tour’s multiple champions this season. Spieth captured the 2016 title at Colonial, and bookended that with runners-up in 2015 and ’17. The Texan remains one of the more compelling story lines of 2020, with only one top-10 finish (Pebble Beach) in five starts since the calendar turned.
Na seized last year’s Schwab by four shots over Tony Finau when it was pushed to a Monday finish, and he won again early in the wraparound season in Las Vegas. Mickelson has two wins at Colonial (2000, 2008), but has dropped to No. 63 in the World Rankings with four missed cuts in his last five starts.