FORT WORTH, Texas -- It's quite common to hear the Charles Schwab Challenge referred to by locals as Texas' major. The PGA Tour's annual stop at Colonial Country Club -- colloquially known as Hogan's Alley -- is treated, at least among avid North Texas golf fans, with the same reverence received by the sport's most coveted championships given the history of the long-running event.
Now played on the heels of an actual major after the PGA Championship was moved from August to May three years ago, Colonial throws the world's best golfers into another test immediately at a time many are looking to recharge after giving their all on one of the sport's biggest stages.
Though a par 70 playing at 7,209 yards, Colonial demands elite ball striking and strategic target golf, all while navigating its narrow tree-lined fairways and cozy bentgrass greens. The considerable winds that often accompany the PGA Tour's traditional Memorial Day weekend visit to the club only adds to those challenges.
So, it was all the more reason for players to take advantage of Friday's conditions -- calm as Colonial will offer this time of year -- with the normally persistent winds reduced to a negligible breeze, if even that. Three-time major champion Jordan Spieth considered that to be his saving grace on a day he wasn't pleased with his ball striking but nevertheless posted a 4-under 66 to enter the weekend in contention sitting T11 at 5 under.
"I hit it worse [Friday than Thursday] and just made some more putts," Spieth said of his bogey-free round. "But there wasn't a breath of wind out there. It was a beautiful morning to play golf."
Thursday saw inconsistent but strong winds hold the top of a crowded leaderboard to just 4 under as more than half of the field finished above par. Come Friday, scores in the mid 60s were common with winds subsiding. Scott Stallings, Beau Hossler and world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler all reached 9 under to share the 36-hole lead.
The conditions will soon shift back toward what they were at the start of the tournament with winds forecasted to be even more severe over the weekend: at least 20 mph with higher gusts possible as temperatures sizzle into the upper 90s.
"The fact is you've got to always just take what the course gives you, and depending on the conditions, some days that's a lot and some days that's a little," Hossler said Friday. "Today, that's a lot. With that being said, I wasn't trying to do anything overly aggressive. I was just kind of taking what the course gave me, put the ball in play a fair amount and got some really good looks and made a few putts. That's kind of all you can do."
Hossler and his counterparts clearly know that Colonial is a course that does not reward golfers who try to play hero. Rather, keep the ball in play, and good things will eventually come. It surely came for Hossler in the form of two par-4 eagles late in a wild ending Thursday that helped him tie the lead before keeping pace with a 5-under 65 Friday.
Scheffler, the 2022 Masters champion, meanwhile remained bogey-free through two rounds in firing scores of 66 and 65 for a share of the lead.
As 2022 PGA Championship winner Justin Thomas emphasized before the event, Colonial ultimately serves as a reminder to the golf world that you don't need a long course -- even as the game evolves -- to test a player in every facet of the game.
"[Colonial] just puts a premium on ball-striking and playing good golf," Thomas said Wednesday. "I don't necessarily -- I just like the old-school designs because this place is a good example of you don't need length to make a golf course hard. … You step up on No. 9 out here, and it might be 400 yards, but you look at that fairway, and it looks like you're hitting [on] to one of these tables. And if you miss the fairway, then you're grinding or trying to figure out how to make par."
Thomas' performance served as evidence of what can go wrong, even for the world's best, when precision and accuracy are lacking at Colonial. The No. 5-ranked golfer in the world missed the cut just five days after lifting the Wanamaker Trophy, hitting only 19 greens in regulation over the first two rounds while shooting 3 over for the first 36 holes. The wheels came off Friday for Thomas during a four-hole stretch he played at 6 over; that included a triple-bogey on the par-4 9th.
Thomas isn't the only trending name who will be absent this weekend, either. Will Zalatoris, whom Thomas defeated in a three-hole aggregate playoff to win the PGA Championship, also missed the cut playing the first 36 holes 3 over. That came despite Zalatoris confidently telling reporters ahead of the Charles Schwab Challenge that he's never felt closer to perfecting his game after flirting with glory at Southern Hills less than 72 hours before.
Such is golf sometimes. As Thomas said himself, contenting at Colonial frequently boils down to the fundamentals of playing "good golf," which neither played in totality coming just days after contending at a major championship. 2020 Charles Schwab Challenge runner-up Collin Morikawa's fate was also uncertain much of Friday before he narrowly snuck into the weekend at 1 over.
Other past major champions find themselves in contention entering the weekend after two days of successfully plodding their way around the course. Patrick Reed enters the weekend one stroke back after dueling 4-under 66s the first two rounds. Spieth was joined by Webb Simpson at T11.
Plenty of golf remains before a plaid jacket and custom 1979 Firebird go to the winner Sunday afternoon. But the stage appears set for another weekend of entertaining golf in conditions that will force players to bring their A-games to the tee.
"These fairways aren't wide, and when it starts blowing like that, it can create some big gusts and awkward angles around this place," Scheffler said. "It's going to be a challenging weekend for sure."