The PGA Tour and golf are making the most of this comeback moment


FORT WORTH, Texas — Before this week, Rory McIlroy had never played the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club because it never fit with his schedule.

Over the years, it conflicted with a prestigious event on the European Tour and last year it would have meant playing four straight weeks.

McIlroy’s answer was not unlike a lot of golf’s stars that have skipped Colonial, but this year’s event has had more cachet among the golf world than Annika Sorenstam’s appearance in 2003 as the first female in a PGA Tour event since 1945 or certainly Tiger Woods‘ one and only appearance in 1997.

And the weekend leaderboard has turned into a dream for the Tour and the event organizers, even if fans are not allowed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“From watching from afar, this is a golf course that’s always let the best players rise to the top,” McIlroy said after his second-round 63 moved him into contention. “You have to be in complete control of your game, hit fairways, hit greens, convert some putts. And yeah, the leaderboard is a who’s who of golf right now. I’m just happy to be in the mix.”

While most of the talk during the week has been about the guidelines regarding the coronavirus, like social distancing and cleaning flagsticks and rakes, as well as the lack of fans on-site for the Tour’s return, the golf storylines are endless going into the weekend.

Harold Varner III, one of two African American golfers in the field this week, backed up his first-round 63 with a second-round 66 — and that came after he opened his day with a triple bogey on No. 10. He ended his day with five birdies in his last six holes. In between, there was a symbolic moment in his first shot after the 8:46 a.m. moment of silence the Tour has instituted as a remembrance for George Floyd, when Varner drained an 11-foot birdie putt on the par-3 16th hole.

“They told me not to putt, and I was like — I just wanted to make that putt just to get me back to even [on the day],” Varner said. “I was really just focused on playing some good golf. It’s pretty cool that the Tour is doing that, but when you’re out there you’re just so in the moment. Well, I was anyway. I don’t know, man, I was just trying to make a birdie.”

While Varner is looking for his first PGA Tour win, Jordan Spieth is looking for his first victory since The Open in 2017. The former top-ranked player in the world is now No. 56. Earlier in the week, he said the layoff helped him refocus and improve his ball-striking. While he equaled his first-round 65, it came with what he called a “20-minute hiccup.” He went double bogey, bogey on Nos. 3 and 4, including his first four-putt since 2019 and the first he has ever had at Colonial.

“It’s just trying to feel like I’m even in more control of my swing than I was the day before, and sometimes that translates to lower scores and sometimes it doesn’t,” Spieth said. “But ultimately it’ll make me much more consistent as I start to get the club into the places I want to get to and it feels like it should.”

Spieth, a Dallas native, has a ton of local knowledge from having played here so much before he joined the Tour. He won the event in 2016 and has two runner-up finishes.

“I’m happy with where I’m sitting,” he said, “and looking forward to the battle with some of the greatest players in the game for the next two days.”

Bubba Watson is one of six major winners inside the top 11 near the lead at 6 under.

Collin Morikawa, at 9-under, is in contention after making his 21st straight cut to start his professional career, the second-longest to start a career in the past 30 years. Woods has the longest streak inside the past 30 years at 25.

Justin Thomas, No. 4 in the world, played the first two rounds with Spieth and finds himself close to the lead entering the weekend after opening with rounds of 64 and 68.

“I think the leaderboard speaks for itself. I looked up there at one point and I did notice that there was a lot of big names up there,” Thomas said. “Not that everybody playing isn’t a big name, but some of the top players in the world, so I think that that’s a testimony to a good course and a good setup, so hopefully we’ll give them some fireworks this weekend to watch at home.”

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