The Wells Fargo Championship was first staged as recently as 2003 but the tournament was cancelled in 2020 because of the pandemic so this is just the 18th edition but it's already established itself as one of the strongest tournaments on the PGA Tour.
The Wells Fargo is usually played at Quail Hollow in North Carolina but Quail's hosting the Presidents Cup later in the year so the tournament has been switched to TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm, which hosted the last two editions of the now defunct Quicken Loans National in 2017 and 2018.
TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm, Maryland.
Par 70, 7,107 yards
Stroke index in 2018 - 69.89
TPC Potomac used to be known as TPC Avenel and in addition to staging the last two editions of the Quicken Loans National, it was the host course for the now defunct Booz Allen Classic between 1987 and 2006, except for 2005, when the tournament was staged at Congressional, while Avenel underwent a redesign.
Situated between a housing development and a sewage works, Avenel was almost universally disliked and it was considered a much inferior venue to the tournaments previous hosts, Congressional and Quail Hollow.
The Booz Allen tumbled in stature until it eventually died a death and after the final renewal in '06, the course underwent a substantial renovation lasting two years and the course was renamed and rebranded.
All the greens, tees and fairways were rebuilt with Bentgrass (previously poa annua) and a new irrigation and drainage system was put in place. The greens were re-orientated and re-contoured, and all bunkers were re-positioned and re-shaped, adding tall fescue grasses to some. All holes were re-graded and they had their fairways reduced to approximately 30 to 35 yards wide. Accent features like stone walls and eight timber bridges create an older feel and charm.
To help make TPC Potomac a better course for hosting a PGA TOUR event, all of the spectator mounds were lowered to create a more natural look, with views of multiple holes now available from singular locations.
At the 2006 Booz Allen, the course was set up as a 6,987 yard par 71 so around 150 yards was added and the par was reduced. The par five sixth is now a par four.
The course in its old guise wasn't a tough examination and Ben Curtis won the final Booz Allen with a 20-under-par total but it's was a completely different beast in 2017 and a proper examination.
Kyle Stanley won the tournament, beating Charles Howell III in extra time after both men finished the week on seven-under-par and TPC Potomac was the hardest non-major course encountered on the PGA Tour that season. There were 225 double-bogeys or worse throughout the week but 12 months later Francesco Molinari hacked up by eight strokes in 21-under-par.
TPC Potomac also hosted the 2010 Senior Players Championship, which was also decided via a playoff after Mark O'Meara and Michael Allen had also reached a seven-under-par total (won by O'Meara ) and it was also the venue for the last two editions of the now defunct Mid-Atlantic Championship on the web.com Tour. David Lingmerth won with an eight-under-par total in 2012 and Michael Putnam took the title 12 months later with another seven-under-par winning score so Molinari's runaway success looks like a considerable outlier.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at midday on Thursday.
Last Six Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices
2021 - Rory McIlroy -10 21.020/1
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?
As alluded to above in the course notes, TPC Potomac is a proper test and accuracy is rewarded. Driving Distance is far from a crucial stat and hitting it straight is more important than hitting it long.
Only two of the first 16 ranked inside the top-ten for DD in 2017 and the first five home in 2018 ranked 32nd, 64th, 26th, 25th and 52nd for DD.
Kyle Stanley finished the week ranking third for Driving Accuracy and first for Greens In Regulation and Molinari also hit more dancefloors than anyone else. He ranked fourth for DA and neither man putted brilliantly.
Stanley was able to hoist the trophy despite ranking 60th for Strokes Gained putting - averaging 30 putts per round - and Molinari ranked 17th for SGP.
Bombing it miles off the tee is a huge advantage on the PGA Tour but this looks like one of those rare weeks when the shorter and more accurate driver can not only compete, but they can hold sway over the power hitters.
We do need to bear in mind that the Quicken Loans was played in July and that the course won't be so fast and fiery in May but I'd definitely favour accuracy over power this week.
Is There an Angle In?
Trying to find a link is perhaps a futile exercise given we've only got two (fairly) recent events to look at but it stands to reason that form at other tough tracks will hold up here and I did notice a possible link to both the demanding South Course at Torrey Pines and even stronger one to Muirfield Village.
The South Course was the US Open last year and it also hosts the Farmers Insurance Open on the PGA Tour. The first four players home here in 2017 - Stanley, Howell III, Rickie Fowler and Martin Laird - all have form in that event and Tiger Woods, who's won at Torrey Pines eight times, was fourth in 2018. Molinari has never won at Torrey Pines, but he has a decent bank of form there with figures reading MC-14-45-MC-10-13-62 and both winners have form at Muirfield Village...
Molinari was third in the Memorial Tournament there when playing the course for the first time and Stanley has Memorial form figures that read 37-MC-3-74-6-2-MC-MC-42.
In addition, David Lingmerth, who led the 2017 Quicken Loans through rounds one, two and three, has only ever won once on the PGA Tour. He beat Justin Rose in a playoff at Muirfield Village to win the 2015 edition of the Memorial Tournament.
In addition to the Memorial tournament, Muirfield also hosted the Workday Charity Open in 2020.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
The list of event winners 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, six years ago, another player matched at 1000.0 before the off, Hahn, beat 600.0599/1 shot, Roberto Castro, in a playoff, and Max Homa was a 1000.0 chance when he won three 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 eight winners have gone off at 1000.0 so this has been a great event for outsiders but we have to bear in mind the venue change.
The 2017 and 2018 course winners were both quite well-fancied and they were both in fine form.
Stanley, a pre-event 55.054/1 chance, had finished fourth in the Players Championship and sixth at the Memorial Tournament and Molinari was playing the best golf of his career.
In his three previous starts, the Italian had won the BMW PGA at Wentworth, finished second in his national open and 25th at the US Open and after hacking up here, he finished second in the John Deere Classic before going on to win the Open Championship the following week.
Course Winner's Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four
2018 - Francesco Molinari - tied for the lead 2.35/4
2017 - Kyle Stanley - tied 7th, trailing by four 19.5
It's perhaps not wise to give too much credence to just two results but the frontrunners may well be worth taking on here.
Molinari sprinted away to win by eight, having been tied for the lead with Abraham Ancer with a round to go, but the first four home in 2017 came from miles back at halfway and Ancer had sat 11th and four back at halfway in 2018.
Stanley and Howell trailed halfway leader, David Lingmerth, by ten strokes in 2017, Laird was nine adrift of Lingmerth through 36 holes and Fowler trailed him by a dozen strokes. The four sat tied 23rd, tied 16th and tied 37th. Stanley was matched at 210.0209/1 in-running and Howell hit 370.0369/1!
There were five players within three strokes of Lingmerth's 54-hole lead but none of them (or Lingmerth who traded at odds-on before round four) finished inside the top-four places or within three off the lead after 72 holes so it's pretty clear that if that renewal is anything to go by, taking on the leaders and risking a few from off the pace is the way to go here.
The defending champion and three-time winner, Rory McIlroy, who absolutely loves the usual venue - Quail Hollow - has been well-supported already but I'm not convinced he'll enjoy this place as much.
This is Rory's first tournament since he finished second to Scottie Scheffler in the US Masters, where he ranked fourth for Greens In Regulation and seventh for Scrambling and if he produces figures that strong he's likely to contend but this isn't a track that can be overpowered and I'm more than happy to swerve him.
Although he's missed a couple of cuts this year, at the Players Championship and The Heritage last time out, England's Matthew Fitzpatrick has been in fine fettle for some time.
Since finishing second at the DP World Tour Championship in November last year, he's produced for figures reading 6-10-9-MC-5-18-14-MC and this looks a great venue for his neat and tidy game but we're still waiting for the Sheffielder's first PGA Tour success and he's fractionally short for my liking.
Canada's Corey Conners only finished 41st here in 2018 but he's bang in form, and he'll always be well supported at a venue like this, where accuracy trumps power and where strong putting isn't essential but whether he's value at less than 30.029/1 is debatable.
As highlighted in today's De-brief, Tony Finau really caught the eye last week in Mexico and if it wasn't a one-off, he's sure to go close if he holds his form at a course where there isn't a premium on putting.
Finau finished 29th on his only visit here in 2017 but given he has Muirfield Village form figures reading 8-11-40-13-MC-8-32 and Torrey Pine numbers that read 24-18-4-6-13-6-2-MC-MC, he's a very interesting runner.
Tony Finau's tee-to-green game was just too good to ignore last week and with course form figures reading a quite remarkable 6-5-3, Sung Kang can't be ignored, despite his poor current form.
Tony Finau @ 28.027/1
Sung Kang @ 150.0149/1
I'll be back shortly with my British Masters preview.
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