Steve takes a detailed look at this week's PGA Tour action in Virginia where he fancies Rickie Fowler to kick on and win again. Read his comprehensive preview here...
“The cream has risen to the top in this formerly high-profile event and even though we’re playing at a new venue, it might make sense to concentrate on the market leaders.”
First staged as recently as 2007, the Quicken Loans National (formerly the AT & T National) was set up in a blaze of publicity as Tiger Woods' event but once his numerous extramarital dalliances were exposed in late 2009, with the then sponsors no doubt none too pleased with his conduct, he was encouraged to take a less public role. He is still the host and his foundation is still the charity benefactor for the tournament but his presence as host isn't as prominent as it was in the first few years.
Staged from the beginning at Congressional Country Club, the tournament spent two years (2010 and 2011) at Aronimink as Congressional was set up and then used for the 2011 US Open - won easily by Rory McIlroy. This year the tournament moves to the Robert Trent Jones Club and next year it will be played at TPC Potomac in Maryland.
Robert Trent Jones Golf Club, Gainsville, Virginia
Par 72, 7,425 yards
We should be in for a bit of a treat this week. Robert Trent Jones designed hundreds of golf courses but he considered this his finest piece of work so he put his name to it. He once said of the venue: "The terrain is aesthetically perfect...I don't think we could have done anything better anywhere."
The bentgrass course opened in 1991 and I've read that Trent Jones spotted the site while conducting an aerial survey of a completely different site.
Lake Manassas is the course's central feature and nine holes in total are situated on the shores of the lake. Only one hole demands a shot over the water though and that's the par 3 11th which is the course's signature hole. The peninsula green has steep banks and any errant tee-shots will feed back into the water.
We have very little to go on as this will be the first time the course has been used for a stroke play event on the PGA Tour but it was used for the Presidents Cup four times, in 1994, 1996, 2000 and 2005.
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Last Five Winners
2014 - Justin Rose -4 (playoff)
2013 - Bill Hass -12
2012 - Tiger Woods -8
2011 - Nick Watney -13 (Played at Aronimink)
2010 - Justin Rose -10 (Played at Aronimink)
Is There an Angle In?
With a brand new venue we're in the dark a bit this week so I thought I'd look at players that have a decent record in Virginia and players with a good record at other Robert Trent Jones venues.
I immediately hit a snag when looking for players that have performed well in Virginia though as we haven't had a PGA Tour event here since the final renewal of the now defunct Michelob Championship in 2002 and the last Web.Com event there was as far back as 2008! Matt Kuchar has won there before and David Toms and Zach Johnson have also played well there before but they're not in the field!
Other Trent Jones venues include previous venue, Congressional, Firestone Country Club - home of the WGC - Bridgestone Invitational, Spyglass Hill at Pebble Beach and Hazeltine National where Y.E Yang took down Tiger Woods at the USPGA Championship in 2009.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Every winner to date had already shown plenty of form earlier in the season. The first six winners had all won earlier in the season and the last two winners, Bill Haas and Justin Rose (second event win), had both recorded a couple of top-fives.
When Rose won for the first time, in 2010, he ranked 35th in the Official World Rankings and that's the lowest any winner has ranked and all eight winners have either won at least one major, a WGC event, a Players Championship or the FedEx Cup.
The cream has risen to the top in this formerly high-profile event and even though we're playing at a new venue, it might make sense to concentrate on the market leaders. The move in venue has taken its toll though and this is without doubt the weakest renewal to date.
Defending champion Justin Rose is bidding to win his third Quicken Loans National at a third different venue, having won at Congressional 12 months ago and Aronimink in 2010. Already a winner in 2015, having taken the Zurich Classic in April, he's also finished runner-up twice, at the US Masters and the Memorial Tournament, and he arrives in Virginia fresh off a top-six finish at St Andrews.
Rose clearly has a strong chance to defend but that's not something he's been particularly good at so far. Just three weeks ago he sat second at the halfway stage of the Scottish Open when defending but slumped to 74th over the weekend and this will be the seventh time he's attempted to defend a title in the States and so far he's not made a very good go of it. He's missed the cut four times and the best he's managed is tied 12th.
Rickie Fowler won the Scottish three weeks ago and that was probably behind his disappointing week at St Andrews. He looked a rock solid candidate to win the Open Championship so his tied 30th finish was below expectations but he took a while to adjust after winning the Players Championship in May, finishing 30th at the Irish Open before missing his next two cuts. That could be an ominous sign but in such a weak renewal I'm prepared to chance him. See below.
Jimmy Walker doesn't have particularly strong form at Congressional having missed two cuts there and finished 36th and 32nd and on his only start at Firestone, he finished 26th so there is nothing in the form book to say he's a big Robert Trent Jones design fan and he's not in brilliant form either.
With so little to go on, I'm being extremely cautious before the off but Rickie Fowler at double-figures looks worth chancing.
He has a very similar profile to Jason Day, who won in Canada yesterday, and that victory may just inspire Fowler to kick on and win his second PGA Tour event of the year and his third victory of the season, having won in Scotland three weeks ago.
The only negatives in Fowler's armour were his in-contention mettle and his focus and both appear to be improving rapidly. His coach, Butch Harmon, has spoken of how much more focussed he is now and you couldn't crab the way he finished off the opposition in Scotland. Like Day, Fowler seems to have matured nicely this year and I fancy he could go in again in what really is a surprisingly poor renewal.
Fowler has shown form on a Robert Trent Jones track previously as he was runner-up to Adam Scott at the 2011 WGC Bridgestone Invitational and he was 8th there behind Rory McIlroy last year.
Rickie Fowler @ 11.521/2
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