The PGA Tour heads to Charlotte, North Carolina for the Wells Fargo Championship this week and our man has the lowdown ahead of Thursday's start here...
"As many as three of the last seven winners have gone off at 1000.0 so if you fancy a rank outsider here, don’t be afraid to go for it."
The Wells Fargo Championship was first staged as recently as 2003 and the tournament was cancelled last year because of the pandemic 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 strong field and it hasn't disappointed this time around with four of the world's top-five all in attendance.
Quail Hollow Club, Charlotte, North Carolina
Par 71 -7,554 yards
Stroke Index in 2019 -71.77
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 in eight-under-par, 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 September next year) 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 223 yards. It was the hardest hole on the course in 2019 but it should play slightly easier this time around as the back tees won't be used.
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 in 2017, 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 the 2018 renewal, they were also overseeded with poa annua and they should reach 13 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. In 2018 it ranked as the second hardest hole on the course - averaging 4.3 - but it played slightly easier in 2019 when it averaged 4.2.
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.
The last three holes have always played tough and are collectively they're known as the "Green Mile". They were the hardest three holes on the course in 2019, averaging 0.78 strokes over-par.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at midday on Thursday
Last Five Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices
2020 - Event Cancelled
2019 - Max Homa -15 1000.0
2018 - Jason Day -12 23.022/1
2017 - Brian Harman -10 120.0119/1 (Played at Eagle Point)
2016 - James Hahn -9 1000.0
2015 - Rory McIlroy -21 4.67/2
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. The 2019 winner, Max Homa only ranked 22nd for DD and James Hahn ranked 23rd when he won five years ago but Justin Thomas ranked first at the USPGA Championship four years ago and the two winners before Hahn in this event, Rory McIlroy and J.B Holmes, also ranked number one for DD the week they won. Jason Day ranked 14th in 2018.
Homa only ranked 45th for Driving Accuracy two years ago and eight of the top-ten and ties in 2018 ranked outside the top-30 for DA.
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 five winners have ranked outside the top-20 for GIR. Homa ranked 17th in 2019 and in 2018, 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 the last two winners, Day and Homa, have both ranked second for Scrambling.
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 five years ago, Thomas ranked second for P.A when winning the USPGA here in 2017 and Homa and Day both ranked first.
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?
When staged at the Golf Club of Houston between 2003 and 2018, the Houston Open used to correlate very nicely with this event, but that tournament has moved to Memorial Park now.
Vijay Singh, Anthony Kim and J.B Holmes all won here at Quail Hollow and at the Golf Club of Houston and Houston winners Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott and even D.A Points have come very close to taking this title as well but form at Riviera looks like our best angle in.
When Max Homa won the Genesis Invitational at Riviera in February, he became the third winner of that event in the last six years to have also won this event at Quail Hollow. Hahn and Holmes have also won both events and all three were matched at a triple-figure price before the off at Riviera. Holmes was matched at a high of 400.0399/1, Hahn was an unconsidered 600.0599/1 chance in 2015 and Homa was matched at a high of 120.0119/1 before the off in February.
Holmes was an 85.084/1 chance when he won here in 2014 and Homa and Hahn won here having both been matched at 1000.0 before the off so it's not like we're looking at three well-fancied players winning both events in the last six years and that looks like a very interesting angle in.
We've seen three men win the Genesis multiple times in the last 13 years. Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott have both won it twice and Bubba Watson three times. Mickelson and Watson have both finished second at Quail Hollow and Scott was third in 2006.
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 four 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, five years ago, another player matched at 1000.0 before the off, Hahn, beat 600.0599/1 shot, Roberto Castro, in a playoff, and as already stated, Homa was 1000.0 when he won two years ago, with 140.0139/1 shot, Joel Dahman, the only other player to trade at odds-on.
As many as three of the last seven winners have gone off at 1000.0 so if you fancy a rank outsider here, don't be afraid to go for it.
Winner's Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four
2020 - Event Cancelled
2019 - Max Homa tied for the lead with two others 9.617/2
2018 - Jason Day led by two 1.8810/11
2017 - Brian Harman T4th, trailing by two 21.020/1 (Played at Eagle Point)
2016 - James Hahn T3rd, trailing by two 16.015/1
2015 - Rory McIlroy led by four 1.132/15
The last two winners have sat tied for 17th and just three and four off the lead, they both sat second at halfway, just one off the lead, and they were both in front with a round to go. Homa was tied for the lead with Joel Dahmen and Jason Dufner and Day led by two 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 McIlroy won here 11 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 20 men have led or co-led through three rounds here but only seven 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. The prize for the worst collapse goes to Sergio Garcia though. He managed to give up a six-stroke lead in 2005 so this is not an easy place to make the running.
If you're trading in-running, watch out for the tough finish. This year's Masters winner, Hideki Matsuyama, hit the front and hit a low of 1.9110/11 in the USPGA four 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 eight 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' seven years ago but fortunately for him and his backers, he was far enough clear for it not to matter.
In addition to his USPGA win here in 2017, Justin Thomas has event form figures reading 7-MC-21 with his major win sandwiched between his two worst efforts.
Following a disappointing WGC-Match Play and US Masters, after his win at the Players Championship, Thomas was in great form tee-to-green last week at the Valspar Championship, where he eventually finished tied for 13th. The world number ranked first for Strokes Gained off the Tee, SG Tee to Green and SG on Approach but he ranked 67th for SG Putting, with a negative of 6.455! That's the worst his flat-stick's behaved in a very long while and it could easily be a one-off.
World number three, Jon Rahm, is playing here for just the second time, and for the first time in this event - although he finished fourth at Eagle Point in 2017. The Spaniard finished only 58th here in the USPGA Championship but there's every chance he'll improve on that considerably given how consistent he's been of late.
Including his seventh place finish alongside Ryan Palmer in the Zurich last month, Rahm has finished inside the top-10 in nine of his last 11 starts. This is only his third outing since the birth of his new son, so we can't rule out the boost of the Nappy Factor either.
Bryson DeChambeau has improving course form figures reading MC-33-4 but his last two starts have been poor. Following his win at the Arnold Palmer and his third behind Thomas in the Players, Bryson won just one of three group matches at the WGC Match Play before finishing 46th at the US Masters.
Having missed the cut in the USPGA here, Xander Schauffele finished 72nd in the event here in 2018 so he hasn't got any course form to speak of and he needs to rebound here in his first start since the US Masters where he held every chance to win before dunking it in the water off the tee on the par three 16th on Sunday. He looks like one to take on.
Rory McIlroy loves this venue and he's already won the event twice but his game has been in disarray for some time is perhaps best watched.
Although he's playing here for the first time, Norway's Viktor Hovland is playing too well to ignore. He finished third last week at the Valspar at an equally challenging circuit and I may yet have a saver on him before the off.
I've got a couple lined-up up here for the Find Me a 100 Winner Column and I'll be back tomorrow with those but for now I've just chanced two players that could have also qualified for the column.
Bubba Watson has been backed at a high of 120.0119/1 but he's been steadily shortening up since the market opened so he's too short now for the column. In addition to his course form and correlating course form, he appears to be in good heart if his 13th place in the Valspar last week is anything to go by so I've chanced him at 85.084/1 and I've had a had a silly little bet on 1000.0 shot, Bill Haas, who won the Genesis Invitational in 2012. His form has fallen off a cliff but he has a pair of fourth placed finishes here in 2006 and 2011.
Silliest bet of the week for me (so far). Bill Hass at 1000 in the Wells Fargo. Bill's bidding to become the fourth H to win at both Riviera and Quail Hollow in seven years following Holmes, Hahn & Homa. And two of those three also went off at 1000! More in the preview later...? Steve Rawlings (@SteveThePunter) May 4, 2021
Bubba Watson @ 85.084/1
Bill Haas @ 1000.0
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter