Wells Fargo Championship: Outsiders chanced at Quail Hollow

Golfer Russell Henley
Russell Henley -one of three outsiders backed at the Wells Fargo

Rory McIlroy is a warm favourite to win his third Wells Fargo but our man fancies a trio of outsiders. Read Steve's comprehensive preview ahead of the Charlotte showdown here...

"I suspect the winner will whack it miles, get it up-and-down regularly when greens are missed, and putt really well."

Tournament History

The Wells Fargo Championship was first staged as recently as 2003 so this is just the 17th edition but it's already established itself as one of the strongest tournaments on the PGA Tour.

The Wells Fargo always attracts a fairly strong field and it hasn't disappointed this time around with the likes of Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose and defending champ, Jason Day, all in attendance,

Venue

Quail Hollow Club, Charlotte, North Carolina

Course Details

Par 71 - 7,554 yards
Stroke Index in 2018 -72.13

Designed by George Cobb in 1961 and built on a former dairy farm, Quail Hollow was the host course for the Kemper Open between 1969 and 1979 and, apart from 2017, when it was used for the USPGA Championship (won by Justin Thomas), it's been the host venue for this event since its inception in 2003.

The course underwent an extensive renovation by Tom Fazio in 1997, well in advance of the first edition of this event, and in preparation for the 2017 USPGA and the Presidents Cup (to be staged here in 2021) there were several changes to the course prior to the 2013 and 2014 editions of this event.

The 8th hole was straightened and reduced to 346 yards and is now drivable and the 16th hole was changed dramatically. The fairway was shifted and lengthened to bring water in to play and the par three 17th hole, which was tough enough before the changes were made, was lengthened and now measures 223 yards.

After lots of negative publicity about the poor state of the greens at the 2013 edition, all the putting surfaces were changed from bent grass to Bermuda and tress were removed to allow light to get to them. The trees that framed the fairways were also thinned out considerably and prior to the USPGA two years ago, even more changes were made to the venue.

All the greens were changed from MiniVerde Ultradwarf Bermuda to Champion G-12 Ultradwarf Bermuda and prior to last year's renewal, they were also overseeded with poa annua and they should run at around 11.5 on the stimpmeter

The par four 11th hole was extended by 36 yards before the USPGA but other than that, holes six to 18 remained the same. The major changes were to holes one to five...

Back in 2016, the first hole was a 418 yard par four and a birdie opportunity and the second was an innocuous par three averaging 3.1 but the two holes have since been combined to create a long par four measuring 495 yards but that's actually a reduction in length since the USPGA. It measured a monstrously long 524 yards then. Last year it ranked as the second hardest hole on the course - averaging 4.3.

The fourth and fifth holes (a par three and four) were brand new at the USPGA and the second and third holes now (both par fours) are the old third and fourth holes. So, we now have a very difficult opening three holes that ranked as the second, 13th and seventh hardest 12 months ago, as well as a really demanding finish. The last three holes have always played tough and are collectively known as the "Green Mile". They ranked as the third, fifth and first hardest in the USPGA and third, fourth and fifth hardest in this event last year. The par four 11th, averaging 4.31, was the hardest on the course

Weather Forecast

TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 19:00 on Thursday. Live featured Group coverage begins at midday on Thursday.

Last Five Winners

2018 - Jason Day -12
2017 - Brian Harman -10 (Eagle Point)
2016 - James Hahn -9 (playoff)
2015 - Rory McIlroy -21
2014 - J.B Holmes -14

What Will it Take to Win the Wells Fargo Championship?

Length has always been an important asset at Quail Hollow (Jim Furyk in 2006 is the only course winner to rank worse than 28th for Driving Distance) and recent evidence suggests it's even more so now. James Hahn only ranked 23rd for DD when he won three years ago but Justin Thomas ranked first at the USPGA two years ago and the two winners before Hahn, Rory McIlroy and J.B Holmes, also ranked number one for DD the week they won. Jason Day ranked 14th last year.

Driving Accuracy is almost an irrelevance according to the stats and eight of the top-ten and ties 12 months ago ranked outside the top-30 for DA. Day ranked 49th.

Historically, Greens In Regulation and Scrambling were the two main stats to concentrate on but I'd definitely favour the latter stat now.

Looking back, ten of the first 13 winners ranked inside the top-12 for GIR but three of the last four winners have ranked outside the top-20 for GIR and Day manged to win ranking 69th! The first three home in 2014 ranked inside the top-six for Scrambling and it was a similar story 12 months later with only one player inside the top-eight ranking worse than 16th for Scrambling. Hahn only ranked 53rd in 2016 but Day ranked second last year.

Now that greens have been changed, there appears to be a much greater importance on putting. Hahn ranked fifth for Putting Average when he won this event three years ago, Thomas ranked second for P.A when winning the USPGA here in 2017 and Day ranked first 12 months ago.

I suspect the winner will whack it miles, get it up-and-down regularly when greens are missed, and putt really well.

Is There an Angle In?

The Houston Open looks to correlate nicely with this event. Vijay Singh, Anthony Kim and J.B Holmes have all won both tournaments and Houston winners Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott and even D.A Points have come very close to taking this title as well.

Look for a rising star this week as three truly world class players have all won their first PGA Tour titles here. Anthony Kim has disappeared off the face of the earth after serious injury forced him away from the game but he was a player of undoubted ability, destined for major success, and he won here 11 years ago. Rory McIlroy announced himself to the American public with a course record 62 in round four to win the 2010 edition from the cut mark and Rickie Fowler won the first of his five PGA Tour titles here in 2012.

The classy Aaron Wise finished runner-up last year before winning the Byron Nelson Championship the very next week.

Is There an Identikit Winner?

The roll of honour here is a real mixed bag. Major winners David Toms, Vijay Singh, Jim Furyk, Tiger Woods, Lucas Glover, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day have all won the title and we've seen several really top-class winners too but this event has produced three separate results that have had us all scratching our heads.

The 2004 edition saw 200/1 shots Joey Sindelar and Aaron Oberholser playoff to decide the outcome, in 2013, 1000.0 shot, Derek Ernst beat 350.0349/1 chance, David Lynn, in extra time and three years ago, another player matched at 1000.0 before the off, James Hahn, beat 600.0599/1 shot, Roberto Castro, in a playoff, so if you fancy a rank outsider, don't be afraid to go for it.

In-Play Tactics

Having sat tied for 17th and just four off the lead, Jason Day sat second at halfway last year, just one off the lead, and he led by two with a round to go but a slow start can definitely be overcome at Quail Hollow.

Thomas sat tied for 44th and six back after round one in the USPGA and he was still five adrift at halfway. Hahn and Castro (first and second in 2016) were five and six back after round one and Hahn still trailed by five in a tie for 13th at halfway. The two winners before Hahn both opened up with 70s and trailed by four and five strokes and yet they won with ease and one or two winners have come from a very long way back. Rory won here nine years ago having only just made the cut. He sat tied for 48th and nine off the lead at halfway and he still trailed by four after day three but incredibly, he went on to win by four!

A total of 17 men have led or co-led through three rounds here but only six have gone on to win and the likes of Phil Mickelson, Nick Watney, Webb Simpson and Zach Johnson have all failed to convert a 54-hole lead but the prize for the worst collapse goes to Sergio Garcia who managed to give up a six-stroke lead in 2005. This is not an easy place to make the running.

If you're trading in-running, watch out for the tough finish. Hideki Matsuyama hit the front and hit a low of 1.9110/11 in the USPGA two years ago but failed to get home and in the 2016 renewal of this event, the third round leader, Rickie Fowler, was matched at a low of 2.0421/20 and Justin Rose hit 1.625/8 but both disappointed their followers. Mickelson led by one with three to play six years ago and he was matched at just 1.42/5 but he didn't even make the playoff! And Holmes dropped two shots over the 'Green Mile' five years ago but fortunately for him and his backers, he was far enough clear for it not to matter.

Market Leaders

Having won the event twice and having been placed inside the top-ten on four other occasions, Rory McIlroy is something of a standing dish around Quail Hollow but he's finished only 22nd and 16th on his last two visits and his Scrambling stats haven't been great of late either.

His chance is very obvious but after a poor effort at Augusta last time out, when he could only finish 21st, I'm more than happy to swerve him.

The 2012 winner, Rickie Fowler and the defending champion, Jason Day are vying for second favouritism and of the two I much prefer the latter. Fowler is simply too expensive to follow given his meagre strike-rate and despite a missed cut at the quirky pairs event in New Orleans last week, Day arrives in fair form following his fifth at Augusta. He's never defended a title before but he's won a couple of events twice previously and he really should have won the Byron Nelson twice too (lost a playoff).

As already stated, Justin Rose has traded at odds-on here previously so we know he likes the venue but he's not been at his best this year yet and his missed cut in the US Masters last time out was a bizarrely bad effort.

Tony Finau continues to be backed at ridiculously short prices given his woeful record in-contention and Quail Hollow member, Webb Simpson, was the only one towards the head of the market, other than Day, that I was remotely interested in. Simpson has come close to winning here on a couple of occasions and he arrives in fair form this time around but I can easily pass at around 25/1.

Selections

Nobody grabbed me towards the head of the market and I can't say I'm brimming with enthusiasm about any of my three picks either. This is a tough tournament but I have picked out a trio of outsiders to chance and the shortest of the three is the one I like the best - regular punt, Sam Burns...

The 22-year-old American is going places, he's in fine fettle, he absolutely loves Bermuda greens and all his stats look good for the venue. He was only 55th on debut last year but I can see him improving on that considerably.

My only other two are great Bermuda putters and Houston Open winners - Russell Henley and Matt Jones.

Selections:
Sam Burns @ 130.0129/1
Russell Henley @ 250.0249/1
Matt Jones @ 260.0259/1

I'll be back on Thursday or Friday with the In-Play Blog.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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