Sensational scrambling the key at Quail Hollow
Look to Riviera for course correlation clues
Rory bidding for a fourth Wells win
Outsiders have a very fair record
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 and it's the 16th time it's been staged at Quail Hollow.
The 2017 edition was staged at Eagle Point because Quail Hollow hosted the US PGA Championship that year (won by Justin Thomas) and with Quail Hollow hosting the Presidents Cup in September, last year's renewal was played at TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm.
The Wells Fargo Championship has established itself as one of the strongest tournaments on the PGA Tour and now that it's a designated event, the field is robust once more, although the world number one, Jon Rahm, elected to defend his Mexico Open title last week instead of playing here and the world number two, Scottie Scheffler, is also swerving the event.
Quail Hollow Club, Charlotte, North Carolina.
Par 71 -7,554 yards
Stroke Index in 2021 -72.26
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.
The course underwent an extensive renovation by Tom Fazio in 1997, well in advance of the first edition of this event, there were several changes to the course prior to the 2013 and 2014 editions, and prior to the US PGA Championship 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 now usually play at around 13 on the stimpmeter.
The par four 11th hole was extended by 36 yards before the US PGA 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 were combined to create a long par four measuring 495 yards but that's actually a reduction in length since the US PGA Championship. 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 and 2021 when it averaged 4.2 and 4.21.
The fourth and fifth holes (a par three and four) were brand new at the US PGA 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 and the 17th and 18th were the toughest two in 2021. The 16th ranked 10th but the three holes combined still averaged 0.85 over-par.
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Last Seven Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices
2022 - Max Homa -8 46.045/1 (Played at TPC Potomac)
2021 - Rory McIlroy -10 21.020/1
2020 - Event Cancelled
2019 - Max Homa -15 1000.0999/1
2018 - Jason Day -12 23.022/1
2017 - Brian Harman -10 120.0119/1 (Played at Eagle Point)
2016 - James Hahn -9 1000.0999/1
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 seven years ago but Justin Thomas ranked first at the US PGA Championship in 2017 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 and Rory ranked second in 2021.
McIlroy ranked only 76th for Driving Accuracy in 2021 and Homa only ranked 45th here four years ago. And eight of the top-ten and ties in 2018 ranked outside the top-30 for DA so distance is clearly more important than accuracy off the tee.
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 six winners have ranked outside the top-20 for GIR.
Rory ranked third in 2021 and the first four home ranked third, first, tied seventh and tied seventh but 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 three winners, Day, Homa and Rory, have ranked second, second and first 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 seven years ago, Thomas ranked second for P.A when winning the US PGA here in 2017, Homa and Day both ranked first and although Rory only ranked 20th in 2021, he ranked third for Strokes Gained Putting
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 2021, he became the third winner of that event in 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.
Watch the Golf...Only Bettor Wells Fargo Preview
Holmes was an 85.084/1 chance when he won here in 2014 and Homa and Hahn won here having both been matched at 1000.0999/1 before the off so it's not like we're looking at three well-fancied players winning both events and that looks like a very interesting angle in.
Homa finished second at Riviera this year, two years after he'd won there, and we've seen three men win the Genesis multiple times in the last 15 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. It's a solid correlation.
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, 1000.0999/1 shot, Derek Ernst beat 350.0349/1 chance, David Lynn, in extra time, seven years ago, another player matched at 1000.0999/1 before the off, James Hahn, beat 600.0599/1 shot, Roberto Castro, in a playoff, and as already stated, Homa was 1000.0999/1 when he won here four 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 1000.0999/1 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
2022 - Played at TPC Potomac
2021 - Rory McIlroy tied second, trailing by two 3.55/2
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 - Played at Eagle Point
2016 - James Hahn T3rd, trailing by two 16.015/1
2015 - Rory McIlroy led by four 1.132/15
The 2018 and 2019 winners both 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 started slowly two years ago when he won the title for a third time, sitting tied for 73rd and eight off the lead but he was only two back in fifth at halfway and that was a lot closer to the front than when he first took the title.
When he won here 13 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 21 men have led or co-led through three rounds here but only seven have gone on to win.
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. Anyone safely in the house will have an advantage over someone tied with them with 17 and 18 still to play.
Rory McIlroy reached the semi-final stage of the WGC Match Play at the end of March, but he's missed each of his last two stroke play cuts either side of that performance - at the Players Championship and the US Masters - where some of his numbers were uncharacteristically poor. Especially around the green.
With three wins and nine top-20 finishes form ten tournament appearances, Rory's record at Quail Hollow is very strong so this is a great place for him to find his A game but he's too short for me before the off given his current form.
Patrick Cantlay arrives in fine fettle with individual stroke play form figures reading 3-4-19-14-3 since he missed the cut at the Phoenix Open in February. And we can add into the mix a reasonable effort at the WGC Match Play, where he won all his group matches before losing to the eventual winner, Sam Burns, and a reasonable defence of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans alongside Xander Schauffele. The pair finished fourth behind Nick Hardy and Davis Riley.
Much maligned for his deliberate approach, Cantlay has managed to ignore the noise surrounding his pace of play and this is somewhere that really should suit him.
In two appearances in the Wells Fargo here he's missed the cut and finished tied for 33rd but he won three of his four Presidents Cup matches here in September and he was third at Riviera back in February.
Cantlay's Zurich partner, Xander Schauffele, has all the correct credentials. Prior to the Zurich, he finished 10th at the US Masters and fourth in the Heritage, like Cantlay, he won three of his four matches at the Presidents Cup, and he has improving event form figures here reading MC-72-14, suggesting he's warming to the venue, but he doesn't win enough for me to justify odds of around 18/1.
Tony Finau has only ordinary Quail Hollow form, with figures reading 16-28-44-21-60-MC but he's twice finished second at Riviera and he's a different player to the one that teed it up in this event two years ago.
Since then, Tony's won five times on the PGA Tour including last week in Mexico where he ranked first for Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green, third for GIR, second for Scrambling and sixth for Putting Average.
Winning back-to-back is always tough but Finau did it with consummate ease last summer when hacking up at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, seven days after lifting the 3M Open trophy, and he's a fair price to repeat the feat here at 18/1 on the Sportsbook's Enhanced Win Only market.
Finau held off the world number one and defending champion, Jon Rahm, in fine style last week in Mexico and he has a habit of holding his form once he's found it.
Tony Finau @ 18/1 (Sportsbook Enhanced win Only)
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