Wells Fargo Championship
Sundays are beginning to feel a bit like Groundhog Day for us at the moment as once again we found ourselves in a great position heading in to the final round of an event only for the day to fizzle out with us in the end grateful to hang on for some place money.
The men in the box seat heading in to day four for us in Mexico were Cameron Champ who sat in second and two off the lead and Patrick Reed who started five back.
With Reed falling away tamely it was left to Champ and after he took a triple bogey on the eighth his race was all but run. In the end then it was another share of place money for courtesy of Champ while the pre-tournament favourite Jon Rahm produced the goods to land his first trophy since last years US Open.
Onwards we go then and this week it is time for one of the regular tour events, The Wells Fargo, however as opposed to the usual stop at Quail Hollow the tournament for this year only will head to TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm, in Maryland just northwest of Washington DC.
Quail Hollow has been the host course for the event since the inception of the tournament in 2003 with the only previous 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. This year similarly the Charlotte track is hosting the Presidents Cup hence the regular Tour stop heads elsewhere.
With the event coming only two weeks ahead of the years second major, the PGA Championship, several big names have chosen to swerve the event this year and the market is dominated by Rory McIlroy who is defending the trophy he won in Charlotte last year and will tee off at single figure odds.
Behind McIlroy we then have Corey Conners, Matt Fitzpatrick, Tony Finau and Tyrrell Hatton.
TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm is a Par 70 measuring at just over 7100 yards.
The greens are Bentgrass.
The course originally opened in 1986.
The venue was host to the Kemper Open/Kemper Insurance Open from 1987-2002, The FBR Capital Open in 2003 [won by Rory Sabbatini] and the Booz Allen Classic in 2004 & 2006.
More recently it played host to the now defunct Quicken Loans Championship in 2017 and 2018.
In addition it is worth noting the course hosted the Neediest Kids Championship & the Mid Atlantic Championship on the Web.com tour in 2012 & 2013 and several of those in the field this week played in one or two of those events.
In 2007 after ongoing criticism of the course lead to several top players swerving the annual PGA Tour event, and also with the course being plagued by drainage problems and flooding, a full course renovation/re design took place under the supervision of Stephen Wenzloff & Jim Hardy.
With the exception then of Molinari’s performance here in 2018 where he beat the next man home by eight the new TPC Potomac is no push over. The two par fives do not offer guaranteed birdies with the 641yard second a three shot hole and in all I expect the players to be challenged this week.
As mentioned earlier the event has been held at Quail Hollow every year since its inception with the exception of 2017 and now this year. In all honesty then we can dismiss the history at Quail Hollow and instead focus on what history we have for the two recent events held at this weeks venue, TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm.
The two events in question are the 2017 and 2018 Quicken Loans Championships. Let’s then take a look at the top ten and ties home in each of those events.
1 – Francesco Molinari.
2 – Ryan Armour.
3 – Sung Kang.
T4 – Tiger Woods & Abraham Ancer
T6 – Bronsoon Burgoon & Beau Hossler.
T8, Brian Gay, Chesson Hadley, Andrew Landry & Ryan Palmer.
1 – Kyle Stanley
2 – Charles Howell III
T3 – Rickie Fowler & Martin Laird
T5 – Keegan Bradley, Sung Kang, Marc Leishman, Spencer Levin, David Lingmerth, Curtis Luck, Ben Martin & Johnson Wagner.
So what do these leaderboards tell us? Well there is no doubt that based in particular on the 2018 result that this is an event where accuracy trumps distance off the tee. This can clearly be seen by the fact that we had a one, two of Molinari and Armour, two of the straightest hitters out there and it is accentuated further by the likes of Abraham Ancer, Brian Gay and Andrew Landry featuring in the top 10.
Equally the previous year a win for Kyle Stanley and a top five for Keegan Bradley reiterated that a strong tee to green performance here is the key to success.
From a winning score point of view we have seen two very different numbers in those two events. Molinari who was at the absolute peak of his powers at that time and went on to lift the Claret Jug a few weeks later trounced the field with a total of -21, winning by eight shots from Armour. The previous year though Stanley triumphed over Howell III in a play off after they both posted -7.
The weather heading in to the week is dry as a whole although Wednesday does show the possibility of showers. After a pleasant day on Thursday though things cool down a bit over the next few days with rain in the forecast on Friday and Saturday.
The wind also looks like it could pick up over the weekend with the potential for gusts over 20mph to cause the players some trouble.
I have gone with five players this week as follows;
BRIAN HARMAN – 55/1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 9th
I’ll start things off this week with Brian Harman.
As referred to earlier the 2018 leaderboard here was littered with shorter straight hitters like Molinari, Armour and Brian Gay and Harman certainly fits right in to that category currently ranking 16th on tour in driving accuracy.
Always known as a strong putter the area that has let the left hander down to date this season is his approach play for which he currently ranks 151st on tour.
Last time out at the RBC Heritage on his way to 35th Brian once more started off really poorly in this area losing over three shots with his irons on Thursday. From there on in though things gradually got a little better everyday and on Sunday he ended up gaining over two shots in this department. Add that to the fact that he ranked third for the week off the tee and third with his ever reliable putter and there is plenty for him to take forward to this week.
Furthermore let’s not forget that prior to missing the cut at Augusta the week before, a course, which clearly does not play to his strengths, in his previous stroke play start at the Valspar he had finished fifth and that week he ranked 21st in approach play so there is more reason to think he is turning a corner in this area.
One thing we do not have to go on this week is any course form from Harman as he did not tee it up here in 2017 or 18 however what we do know is that he produces some of his best golf on par 70 layouts, posting back to back top tens at TPC River Highlands for example over the past couple of years and posting top tens at Colonial and Sedgefield over the years as well.
Finally, one other thing I like is that Brian’s last win on tour came the last time the Wells Fargo moved away from Quail Hollow in 2017, the year it hosted the PGA Championship. Call that a quirk if you will and obviously there is no correlation in the courses however I am sure it will be in the Georgia Bulldog’s mind and may just give him that extra spring in his step this week.
Either way a third tour win is long overdue for Harman and on a course, which should play to his accuracy strengths I can see a big week for him this week.
TROY MERRITT – 66/1 – 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 35th
Next up I am going to roll the dice once more on a player who has been on my radar fairly prominently of late Troy Merritt.
The normally inconsistent Merritt has actually been a model of consistency this season currently ranking 47th on the Fedex Cup standings with six top twenty five finishes to his name including two fourth places, once when were on board at Pebble Beach and more recently in Texas.
Short off the tee Merritt is strong on the greens and when on song he is neat and tidy from tee to green, something he showed when ranking 12th in accuracy and 11th off the tee last time out at the Heritage. Meanwhile at Texas in his previous start Troy lead the field in putting, performed better with his approach play but struggled with his accuracy on his way to fourth place, so it really is a case of him putting all the components together in one week.
Looking at Troy’s record on this track and it is not spectacular however he was 17th here in 2018, a finish that would have been much stronger but for a disappointing closing 72 on Sunday so we know he can handle the layout.
A look back through Merritt’s history also tells us that he is very much at home on shorter par 70 or par 71 tracks including TPC River Highlands where he has performed strongly before.
In addition, let’s not forget that Troy’s maiden tour win came in 2015 on the Robert Trent Jones course in Gainesville, Virginia, which is less than 40 miles from this weeks venue so one would think that he would have some very positive vibes returning to the area.
To sum up then Merritt has been playing some really strong golf this season and is clearly trending to a big result and I am happy to chance him again this week on a course, which I am hoping will suit his eye and in area we know he has an affinity with.
SUNG KANG – 125/1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Next up and obvious as it may seem I can’t avoid the ‘horses four courses’ play on Sung kang.
Of all the players on tour one time tour winner Kang must have been as delighted as anyone when it was announced that TPC Potomac was going to step in for Qual Hollow this year as the 34yr olds record at the track is superb.
To expand further and looking at Kang’s record here and in three visits he has finished sixth when he teed it up on the Web.com tour at the Mid Atlantic Neediest Kids event in 2013 and then improved on that to finish fifth and third here in back to back events in 2017 and 2018 in the Quicken Loans Championship.
Based on those performances at first glance you would think that three figure odds on the South Korean are extremely generous however what is reflected of course in those odds is the 2019 Byron Nelson winners recent form, which prior to last weeks Mexico Open had seen him miss his previous five cuts on the spin.
In Mexico though Kang broke that unwanted streak to finish 51st, a positive improvement in itself, however in addition if we look at his stats for the week they offer even more encouragement as he ranked 17th in approach play and 26th from tee to green. Furthermore his best day on both of these fronts came on Sunday so he should be heading up to Maryland in better spirits.
Looking at Kang’s record over the years and he has shown us that he is the type of player who can find his game pretty much out of nowhere if the mood and course so take him. He finished second at the Genesis in 2020 when in no form coming in while his win at the Byron Nelson the previous year, which it should be noted came at this time of year, was landed on the back of two missed cuts and a 42nd in his previous three starts.
Meanwhile if we go back to his third here in 2018 he had managed nothing better than 42nd in the previous four and a half months and the previous year his fifth here came after a best of 57th in his previous four outings.
To sum up what we have in Kang then is a player who can find his game from nowhere, loves this venue and showed some positive signs last week and that is enough to have me jump on board.
CHEZ REAVIE – 125/1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 10 - FINISHED 15th
Another shorter hitter known for his accuracy who caught the eye last week was Chez Reavie and while this is his debut here there is enough in his profile to think this venue could be to his liking.
Looking at Chez’ season to date and he currently ranks eighth in Driving Accuracy however his strokes gained stats off the tee are poor with a ranking of 180th, something, which can probably be attributed to his lack of length, which sees him 204th in distance. Meanwhile his problems continue on the greens where he is ranked 185th.
Last week however, with golf being the game it is of course one of the tours shortest hitters in no form at all on arrival, popped up with his second best finish this season, a 13th place, on a track in Mexico, which was basically a bombers paradise!
Looking at Reavie’s stats last week and while his normal accuracy was down his approach play was strong with a ranking of 12th. Furthermore he was 13th around the greens and 16th in putting.
Looking at this weeks test and Chez’ most recent win came on another par 70 TPC track at River Highlands at the Travelers, an event also held in the North East part of the US, while he also popped up with two sixth place finishes on the par 70 TPC Southwind over recent years including one in the WGC event back in 2020. An event won last year by Abraham Ancer who performed strongly here in 2018.
Add in two top fives at TPC Scottsdale over the recent years and Chez clearly enjoys short TPC layouts.
Finally we have another nice little link with Reavie’s strong play at Riviera over recent years, a venue where course specialist here Kang has also really enjoyed himself.
Now obviously it is quite possible that last weeks effort was a false dawn for Reavie and he regresses to the level that he has seen him struggle most of this season and last however at the odds on offer on a short track that everything points to suiting his game he feels worth risking at the odds this week to push on.
HAYDEN BUCKLEY – 150/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 10 - FINISHED MC
Looking again at the outings on this track in 2017 and 2018 and we see that in the first edition Kyle Stanley took home the trophy with Keegan Bradley also finishing strongly. Following this line then to strong ball strikers who are known to struggle on the greens and it leads me to round things off this week with a speculative play on Hayden Buckley.
A rookie on tour this season Buckley has so far held his own currently sitting 97th in the Fedex Cup standings.
Looking at Buckley’s stats and it is clear he is a player from that Stanley/Bradley mould, strong from tee to green, ranking 14th off the tee, 15th in accuracy and 26th in old fashioned GIR, but once he gets on and around the dance floor his struggles begin, something evidenced by his ranking of 181st in putting and 187th around the greens
Looking at last week in Mexico and it was more of the same from Hayden as he ranked 14th off the tee and 36th from tee to green but struggled relatively again with the putter.
Ultimately though last weeks test was not one I would have particularly expected to suit the 26yr old with ‘grip it and rip it’ golf on wide open fairways clearly not up his alley whereas I expect a premium on accuracy this week to play far more to his strengths.
Returning to Hayden’s rookie season to date and his best work has come in three events, the Sanderson Farms, the Shriners and the Sony.
While the Sony gives us a positive link with a strong par 70 performance it is the Sandersons finish, where we were on board for his fourth place, that interests me the most. The reason for this is that if we look at the 2018 leaderboard here we’ll see that Ryan Armour who was runner up posted his lone tour win to date at the Sandersons in 2017 while the runner up to Armour in that event was Chesson Hadley who boasts a strong record here.
Furthermore a glance over other recent Sandersons Leaderboards will show us that Bradley, Andrew Landry and Bronson Burgoon have performed strongly at both venues while Sergio Garcia, who won the old Booz Allen Classic at Avenel back in 2005 has won on both tracks.
Random as it may seem then there does seem to be a link worth exploring between the two venues and with Buckley having performed so well at the CC of Jackson last year it is certainly a big plus.
Ultimately though I am happy to take my chances that on a course where a lack of knowledge on the greens for the field could be a leveller for Buckley’s putting weaknesses, that his ball striking strengths will come to the fore and he can thrive on what should be a suitable test.
UPDATED 3rd MAY
FANTASY DRAFT KINGS PICKS
PICK 1 - STEPHAN JAEGER - DK VALUE $6900 - FINISHED 6th - DK POINTS 78
First up in this section this week is Stephan Jaeger.
The German has been relatively quiet on his return this season to the PGA Tour however last week after a confidence boosting showing in the pairs event he arrived in Mexico and posted his best finish of the season to date 15th place.
This week Stephan returns to a track that saw him notch his best finish of the 17/18 campaign at the Quicken Loans event so he should be looking forward to his return to TPC Potomac.
A prolific winner over the years on the Korn Ferry Tour Jaeger still has time on his side to step up at this level and I can see him delivering another solid performance here this week.
PICK 2 - BILL HAAS - DK VALUE $6500 - FINISHED MC - DK POINTS 16
For my second selection I am going to go back to the well with the man who dif niceky for us in this section last week Bill Haas.
I put Haas up last week here on the back of his six straight made cuts and the fact that I thought his confidence would be boosted by the great week he had with his dad Jay in the pairs in New Orleans.
Bill duly obliged making the cut and after a great round on Saturday he was in a position to push on on Sunday and post his best finish in a long time.
Unfortunately maybe due to the pressure of the situation Haas slumped on Sunday down to 59th place however overall the week was another positive step forward.
Lets chance him again this week then to stick around once more for all four days and maybe if he is higher up the board come the weekend this time he will feel more comfortable and push on.