Free-swinging like a rookie again, Davis Riley cruises past field to take 2024 Charles Schwab Challenge title

FORT WORTH, Texas — Two years ago, then-PGA Tour rookie Davis Riley was emerging as a player who could challenge for multiple titles in a season as the University of Alabama product put together a stretch of six straight top-15 finishes, including a tie for fourth at the 2022 Charles Schwab Challenge.

Riley’s ball-striking was precisely where he wanted it, but he felt a little short-game improvement could put him over the top, especially as he sat just outside the top 60 in the Official World Golf Ranking. He finished his debut season with six top-10 finishes, second to only Cameron Young’s seven, and ranked eighth in total driving.

But golf is a finicky sport, one that seems to take as much as it gives. While Riley’s short game improved, his ball-striking slipped and after a difficult stretch in which he missed the cut in six of eight tournaments earlier this year, the Mississippi native plummeted in the rankings. He entered this week’s tournament at No. 250, right behind the likes of Asian Tour golfer Gaganjeet Bhullar and Ricky Castillo of the Korn Ferry Tour. Davis’ odds at at Colonial Country Club were 350-1 in one casino, meaning his chances to win on the recently renovated course were less than two-tenths of a single percent.

Riley had an ace up his sleeve, however. He’d recently reunited with swing coach Jeff Smith and a few tweaks had him hitting the ball just like he did two years ago. With Smith back in his corner — who has also mentored the likes of Viktor Hovland, Patrick Rodgers, Aaron Wise and Brandon Wu — the magic seemed to return to Riley’s driver.

“I feel like I’m starting to get some of the better golf I played, certainly pro golf, and, yeah, just trying to get back to that a little bit,” he said after Saturday’s round, as he finished the day with a four-stroke lead. “Not saying I need to entirely be the player I am two years ago, I feel like I progressed in a lot of areas of the game, but just some of that ball-striking form, some of that consistency and some of that just freedom of mind that goes along with that, so that’s all really I’m trying to get to.”

But while Riley’s 54-hole lead was commanding, one cause for trepidation was the man closest in the rearview mirror — world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler. Playing less than 50 miles from his childhood home in Highland Park, Scheffler came storming back into the picture in the third round with a 63. And the two were certainly familiar competitors: In 2013, when Riley was making his second straight appearance at the U.S. Junior Amateur, he lost to Scheffler after he called a one-stroke penalty on himself at Martis Camp Golf Course. He also lost to Scheffler in the WGC-Dell Match Play.

On Sunday, though, Riley didn’t falter, nor did he need to call any self-imposing infractions.

In fact, the 27-year-old increased his lead to seven midway through the final round, watched as Scheffler struggled, and Riley coasted to a comfortable five-shot victory for his first individual PGA Tour title. He did share the crown at the 2022 Zurich Classic with teammate Nick Hardy.

On Sunday, he finished at 14 under and five in front of Scheffler and Keegan Bradley.

May 26, 2024; Fort Worth, Texas, USA; Davis Riley hits his tee shot on #9 during the final round of the Charles Schwab Challenge golf tournament. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Dieb-USA TODAY Sports

On a day when the winds were howling at Colonial, keeping scores high, Riley mixed and matched birdies and bogeys to run away from the field. He had a pair of bogeys on the front, but added birdies on Nos. 4 and 9. He did the same thing on the back (two birdies and two bogeys) en route to a solid round of 70 that produced a payday of $1.628 million.

Scheffler, meanwhile, had come into Colonial by winning four of his previous six starts and with a final-round scoring average of around 66, it seemed the world’s top player would mount a challenge. Instead, he had a number of putts lip out and made bogey on three of his first 10 holes, to fall out of contention.

“I had that tough first round, but I battled back very nicely on Friday and Saturday,” Scheffler said. “As far as today goes, I just wasn’t able to put as much pressure as I would have hoped to put on Davis early in the round and he just kind of cruised all day. He played great golf. He made that bogey on 2 and answered it really quick with a birdie on 4 and didn’t really give us much of an opening today, just continued to cruise and play great golf. So it was a well-earned win for him.”

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek