Wells Fargo Championship
It wasn’t our week again unfortunately at the Zurich Classic. Things started well in round one with all of our teams at -6 or better but the round two alternate shot proved the downfall of three of our pairings.
Knox And Stuard did make it through to the weekend for us and were very handily placed around the turn of their third round, however they stalled coming home on Saturday missing several key putts between them and struggled to a birdieless 75 on Sunday to blow their place chances, which unfortunately was symptomatic of how things have been going for us of late.
So, swiftly moving on and the tour makes the 700 mile trip North East from New Orleans to Charlotte, North Carolina, for the Wells Fargo Championship.
Quail Hollow has been the host course for the event since the inception of the tournament in 2003. The only exception to this was in 2017 when the event was held at Eagle Point Golf Club in Wilmington, whilst Quail Hollow prepared to host the 2017 PGA Championship later in the year.
With the event coming only two weeks ahead of the years second major, the PGA Championship, the field is missing a few star names who have historically teed it up here, with Tiger Woods the most noticeable absentee who has, [unless he makes a highly unlikely last minute appearance at the Byron Nelson] chosen not to compete between his win at Augusta and the PGA at Bethpage Black.
We still do have several big names on show though and from a betting perspective the field is headed up by Rory McIlroy followed by last year’s winner Jason day, Rickie Fowler and Justin Rose.
The question we will have to weigh up this week though is that with the change to the schedule this year, how much will these big names have ‘wound down’ after the Masters, and therefore how much will this event become more of a tune up/stepping stone for the PGA in a fortnights time?
The course is a George Cobb design, which has undergone subsequent redesigns under the supervision of Tom Fazio both in 2013 and 2016.
The course is a Par 71 and measures 7600 yards.
One important point to note is that from 2003 until 2016 the course played as a par 72 playing at just under 7600 yards but following the Fazio redesign prior to the hosting of the 2017 PGA Championship the course was changed to a Par 71.
This change was effected by reducing the 570 yard Par 5 5th to a 450 yard Par 4.
Following on from this the Par 4 1st hole was lengthened by approximately 100 yards to measure just over 520 yards. The par 3 2nd hole disappeared completely and a new Par 3 4th hole was built to replace this.
The greens are Champion Bermudagrass. These were changed from Miniverde Bermuda again in the run up to the 2017 PGA Championship.
As mentioned above the event has been held at Quail Hollow every year since it’s inception with the exception of in 2017. We can therefore dismiss 2017’s event at Eagle Point from our thoughts, however in addition to the years of course history we have here we should also focus on 2017’s PGA Championship.
So let’s take a look at the last ten winners on this course including the 2017 winner of the PGA;
2018 Jason Day
2017 Justin Thomas [PGA CHAMPIONSHIP]
2016 James Hahn
2015 Rory McIlroy
2014 JB Holmes
2013 Derek Ernst
2012 Rickie Fowler
2011 Lucas Glover
2010 Rory McIlroy
2009 Sean O’Hair
So, what does this list tell us? Well, there’s no doubt that eight of these winners could all be bracketed as class proven winners who can ‘get it out there’ off the tee and ,with the exception of last years winner Day these eight are all renowned way more for their tee to green game than their skills on and around the greens.
There have though been a couple of ‘curve ball’ winners over those ten years in the form of James Hahn and, arguably the biggest shock winner on the PGA Tour this decade [alongside Adam Long], Derek Ernst.
One interesting point to note though is the year’s Hahn and Ernst won the scoring conditions were by far the toughest over that ten year period as they won with scores of -9 and -8 respectively.
Focusing on the 2018 edition, which was the first regular edition of the event since the changes made for the PGA Championship we saw a host of big hitters fill the top places with the top five home Day, Watney, Wise, Dechambeau and Casey all ranked in the top forty on tour in driving distance.
Of these players Day and Watney had both finished in the top ten here before, as had Mickelson who also featured prominently on the leaderboard, so I would suggest that course form prior to the 2017 changes is still important.
Course history in general has over the years been a reasonable pointer here with Glover, Holmes and Fowler along with Day and McIlroy [second time around] all having a previous top ten finish here prior to their victories, however Hahn, Ernst and O’Hair to name three had done nothing here prior to winning.
Form coming in of past winners has been fairly hit and miss though with Day, McIlroy, Holmes, Fowler and O’Hair winning here when in strong form but Glover, Ernst, JT when winning the PGA, and Hahn of course on the back of his eight consecutive missed cuts were all struggling for form when coming in.
I stated last year that historically, and similarly to Bay Hill, taking care of the par 5s has been key to getting the job done at Quail Hollow, and that in addition to Rory and Tiger two other past winners of the Wells Fargo, Glover and O’Hair, also had solid records at Bay Hill.
However I speculated with the course now only containing three par 5s, that par 4 scoring would potentially be as or even more paramount.
Well, if we look at the 2018 final leaderboard we saw that the winner Day was a past Bay Hill champion and that in addition 2018 Bay Hill runner up Dechambeau was fourth here.
It’s also worth noting though that when JT won the PGA Championship here the club that actually got him over the line that week was the putter as he didn’t have one single three putt over the week, whilst he lead the field in putts made over 10ft and ranked 4th in SGP for the event, well we can now add to this that Jason Day, last years winner, is renowned as a flat stick wizard and was 2nd in SGP in the 2017/18 PGA Tour season.
The first part of the week up to the weekend is forecast to be dry, hot and sunny. There is however the possibility of a bit of rain or even a storm on Friday or Saturday, however this is marked as I type as less than a 50% chance, so it may well not materialize.
With no rain in the lead up I would expect the course to be playing firm and fast for at least the start of the tournament.
The wind doesn’t look like being too much of an issue with 5-10mph being about the mark for the week.
I have gone with six players this week as follows;
AARON WISE – 50-1 - 1pts E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 18th
Regular readers will know that I am a fan of young Wise and that I am expecting big things from him both this season and throughout his career.
To this extent I have included Aaron in my six to follow for 2019 and to be honest to date he hasn’t really justified that big billing.
Of late however there have certainly been signs that the 22yr old’s season may be picking up some momentum with a 19th place at the WGC in Mexico and most noticeably his 17th place last time out at Augusta on his Masters debut, when carrying our money.
Wise’s 17/2018 debut PGA tour season started in fairly similar fashion with no top ten finishes before arriving in Charlotte however this is the fortnight that everything changed for him as he finished second here before winning the following week at the Byron Nelson.
Long off the tee [he currently ranks 24th in DD] and an aggressive player it is not surprising that Aaron took to Quail Hollow as he is exactly the sort of young, big hitting, attacking player that has flourished at this venue over the years.
If we look at Wise’s short career to date on the PGA Tour he has now played well at Firestone and Augusta along with here so it is clear that he can thrive on this type of track.
Wise is in my mind destined for the very top of the game and he is certainly not afraid to produce the goods in big name company.
As noted earlier my suspicion is that some of the bigger names in attendance this week will be using the event as a tune up for Bethpage and with Aaron having shown a liking for this venue last year I am happy to have him on side at a juicy e/w price this week.
WYNDHAM CLARK – 175-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
There has been a definite theme of young, up and coming players making there big breakthrough’s at Quail Hollow over the years with Rory, Rickie and the recently spotted Anthony Kim all grabbing their debut wins here and a player I think someone who could follow in their footsteps this year is Wyndham Clark.
Clark like Wise is a product of the University of Oregon and again like Wise he came on to the tour highly touted on the back of a stellar amateur career which saw him become a three time State Champion, win the Byron Nelson Award and be named GolfWeek Player of the Year, as well as picking up numerous other awards.
2017/18 saw Wyndham earn his PGA Tour card via the Web.com tour at the first attempt of asking and interestingly it was this upcoming fortnight of the calendar year that saw him go a long way to achieving that as he sparked to life with back to back top three finishes.
Having worked his way on to the PGA Tour it hasn’t taken Clark long to show that he belongs out here as after a low key start he hit his straps with five consecutive made cuts from the end of January, which included three top 20 finishes.
This run culminated in a seventh place finish at the Honda Classic at the end of February, which saw him take a lead in to the final round.
Not understandably that first time situation proved a bridge too far on that Sunday for Wyndham and he closed with a 72 to slip down the field, however there is no doubt in my mind that he will have learnt a lot from that experience and will be a lot better equipped when he finds himself in that position again.
Since that near miss Clark has continued to perform well with only a DQ after a poor start at Sawgrass and the MC in last weekends Zurich pairs blotting the copy book.
I mentioned earlier that big hitters appeared to have a distinct advantage here last year following the course changes for the PGA and Clark fits very much in to that category currently ranking fourth in DD. Furthermore currently ranking 12th in SGP he also fits the mold of the past two winners on the track who have both been strong performers with the flat stick.
In a week where my instinct is to side with young, big hitting aggressive players Clark is the perfect candidate and I am keen on his chances for a very big week.
SAM BURNS – 100-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED WD AFTER RND 1 [BACK INJURY}
Next young, big hitting, potential superstar, off the block for us this week is Sam Burns.
Burns is another who hits the ball a country mile and he currently sits 18th in DD on tour and 24th in putting so, like Clark he would seem to be a perfect fit for Quail Hollow.
The LSU grad has taken to the PGA tour like a duck to water and with four top 20s including two top tens and currently sitting 81st in the Fedex Cup standings, he is well on his way to locking up his PGA Tour card for next year.
Furthermore he is on a run of six consecutive cuts made in individual stroke play events, which culminated a couple of weeks ago in a top ten finish at the RBC Heritage.
With a win already in the pro ranks to his name on the Web.com tour it is only a matter of when not ‘if’ Sam adds a PGA Tour victory to his CV and having had a solid ‘sighter’ to finish 55th her last year on course debut I can see a great week ahead for him second time around.
RORY SABBATINI – 80-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 18th
Not wanting to put all of my eggs in a basket of young, aggressive types I am keen to include seasoned campaigner Rory Sabbatini in my team this week.
I sided with Slovakia’s number one in this event last year and whilst he didn’t unfortunately deliver for us then with the form he has shown recently I feel compelled to give him another chance this time around.
Of late Sabbatini has found something of a groove and he had made six individual stroke play cuts with a tenth most recently at Hilton Head, before finishing third with his partner Brian Gay at the Zurich.
Rory has shown over the years with three top 10s in his past ten visits here that he can handle the challenges of Quail Hollow.
What’s particularly interesting is all of those high finishes have come in years when Rory was already on a roll so, as I stated last year, it’s clear that when his game is in good working order Quail Hollow is a venue that he is comfortable at.
With reference to last year Rory finished a solid 27th here so in hindsight, as his game had slightly stalled compared to his form of a few weeks prior, this represented a decent showing and evidence that he could handle the course changes.
This year, however there are no such issues with the veterans form coming in and as a streak player whose wins historically have all come after a run of high finishes I expect a really strong showing from him this week.
JOEL DAHMEN – 90-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 2nd
Another steadier hand who makes our staking plan this week is 31yr old Joel Dahmen.
Dahmen is rapidly turning in to one of the tours most consistent performers who regularly goes on lengthy cut making streaks without so far quite being able to produce that really big performance to turn one of these efforts in to a victory.
Currently on a run of five individual stroke play cuts made including three top 16 finishes Dahmen arrives at a venue that he finished 16th at on his debut visit last year with four rounds at level par or better.
With accuracy off the tee being the 31yr olds strength the club that tends to hold him back is the putter and this can be seen by the fact that he currently ranks 131st in this department this season.
Interestingly though when finishing 16th at Hilton Head recently he improved in that department considerably and finished the week 16th in SGP, which was hugely encouraging.
Talking of Hilton Head it is worth noting that the event was won by another University of Washington grad CT Pan and whilst Dahmen is a few years older than CT, meaning they would not have attended Uni at the same time, I am sure this will be seen as a huge positive for the golf programme there and as both a grad of the Uni and a Washington native, one would think Joel would take some inspiration from that win.
We often see strange quirks on the PGA Tour and back to back wins for players from the same College/Uni is one of those and I am confident Joel can go close to making that happen this week.
JOAQUIN NIEMANN – 150-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 38th
For my final selection this week I am going to return to my theme of highly talented youngsters, destined for the top and roll the dice on Joaquin Niemann.
I mentioned earlier that this event has a history of throwing up maiden wins or big performances from future superstars and if you looked through the list of this weeks entrants the name that arguably leaps of the page as fitting this bill the most is the young Chilean.
Niemann spent 44 weeks as the worlds number one amateur between May 17 and early 2018 before turning professional and he had a stand out amateur career.
After turning professional Joaquin finished sixth on his pro debut at the Valero Texas Open before going on to post three further top ten finishes including a sixth place at the Memorial, which I would see as a correlating course to here.
The one slight negative with Niemann this week is that he did miss the cut here on debut last year, however I am willing to overlook this.
This season has seen only one top ten finish to date however the 20yr old played solidly from February in to March before struggling slightly of late on the PGA Tour. It should be noted though he did choose to compete in his home country event on The Latino Tour Of America a couple of weeks ago and he finished third so his game is clearly in reasonable shape.
With players at Niemann’s stage of development you can never quite be sure what you will get from one week to the next, however I am happy to round off my team for the week by taking a chance on the fact that Joaquin can follow in the footsteps of other young stars of the game and deliver a really strong performance this week.
UPDATED 1st MAY
TRADER - ROBERTO CASTRO - FINISHED MC
Regular readers will know that Castro featured in my 'six to follow for 2019' piece as my hunch was/is that after returning to the big league from the web.com he can finally notch his first tour PGA Tour victory.
If this is to happen there is a strong possibility that Quail Hollow might just be the venue it does so at as Roberto has finished second and eigth here in his past two visits, with the 2nd place finish being an agonising play off defeat to James Hahn in 2016.
Since posting a top five finish at the Sandersons Farms back in the fall [when we were on board] its been a fairly slow time for Roberto with nothing better than a 20th place at the Honda in individual stroke play to show for his efforts.
Last week however the Georgia Tech grad posted his second top five of the season at the Zurich Classic when paired with Cameron Tringale and it may just be that this gives him the shot in the arm to push on at a venue, which you would think must rank among his favourite on tour.
I was close to including Roberto in our main team however in the end their were others I preferred more at the prices. I am though keen to have him onside and on this basis he goes in the books as our trader pick this week.
CURRENTLY TRADING @ 240