FORT WORTH, Texas — The afternoon wave of tee times were just getting started in the second round of the Charles Schwab Challenge on Friday at Colonial and still, the leaderboard looked like major championship material entering the weekend.
Jordan Spieth’s revival from a two-plus-year tumble is in gear, with the native Texan, commuting to Colonial from home this week, at 10-under and one shot off the lead held by Harold Varner III, who’s 11-under after shooting 66 Friday.
Rory McIlroy, the No. 1 ranked player in the world, followed his pedestrian (for him) opening-round 68 with a 7-under 63 on Friday and is two shots behind Varner at 9-under. So, too, is rising star Collin Morikawa, who’s about a year removed from playing college golf at Cal.
Justin Thomas, at 8-under, is three shots back. Reigning U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland is four back at 7-under. Two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson is five back at 6-under.
In and around those stars are a number of other accomplished players that figure to make the weekend a potential thriller in the PGA Tour’s first tournament back after the three-month COVID-19 pause.
“The leaderboard is a who’s-who of golf right now,’’ McIlroy said. “I’m just happy to be in the mix.’’
McIlroy, like Thomas and Morikawa, is playing Colonial for the first time.
“From watching from afar, this is a golf course that’s always let the best players rise to the top,’’ McIlroy said, “You have to be in complete control of your game, hit fairways, hit greens, convert some putts.’’
Interestingly, McIlroy helped get control of his game at the home he’s renting this week.
“Actually, the rental home we’re staying in this week has a simulator in the basement, and I’ve actually hit a few balls in there (Thursday) night, and that helped,’’ McIlroy said. “It’s hot here; you don’t want to take too much energy out of yourself. But the fact that where we’re staying has a simulator and you can hit some shots (to get) some numbers … I just needed to sort of dial them in a little bit. I did that and seemed to help this morning.’’
Spieth, whose last win came at the 2017 British Open, said before the tournament that he used the three-month pause to rejuvenate himself and his game, working overtime to return to the form that once had him ranked No. 1 in the world with three major championships won early in his career.
“I actually wasn’t looking at scores like everybody else would be,’’ Spieth said. “To me, it’s about feels. So I know how the club feels when I’m starting to really gain control of it. There’s certain shots that I really haven’t been able to hit when I was off that when I hit them in competition, whether it’s just a cut 3-iron off the tee or it’s even a high draw wedge that stays right.
“For me, I’m looking for the feels, and I was giving myself grace on the outcome, and as long as I stay focused on doing that this weekend, that keeps me progressing forward. 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.
“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.’’
Asked if the 36 holes played this week has proven to him that the work done the past three months is paying dividends, Spieth said, “They’re certainly much improved, that’s for sure. Are they at the level I want them at yet? No. But they’re almost pretty much there on the range, and then when I go to the course, it’s 90 percent.’’
Spieth played with his friends Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas the first two days. Fowler missed the cut, but Spieth and Thomas are in position to win, along with a lot of other power brokers in the game.
“I think the leaderboard speaks for itself,’’ Thomas said. “I looked up there at one point and I did notice that there was a lot of big names up there, some of the top players in the world. So, I think that that’s a testimony to a good course and a good setup. Hopefully, we’ll give them some fireworks this weekend to watch at home.’’