Wells Fargo Championship
It was a ‘nearly but not quite’ week for us at the Valspar as our 60/1 pick Keegan Bradley who lead from day up till Sunday in the end fell short finishing in second place.
After Bradley had struggled with the putter on the back nine on Saturday I have to be honest I wasn’t overly confident going in to Sunday, however for the first dozen holes he looked composed and was holing all the testy putts he left himself. Unfortunately though a loose tee shot on 13, which found the water lead to a double bogey and Sam Burns took control of things from this point onwards.
The young man from Louisiana had struggled on the two previous occasions he had held a 54 hole lead however it was a different story this time around has he closed out his first PGA Tour title, no doubt the first of many, in fine style.
It was a full place return for us from Bradley though so we move on unscathed as the build-up continues to the years second Major, The PGA Championship in two weeks time.
This weeks stop sees the tour returns to Charlotte, North Carolina, for the Wells Fargo Championship for the first time in two years following the events cancellation last year due to the pandemic.
Quail Hollow has been the host course for the event since the inception of the tournament in 2003. The only exception to this was in 2017 when the event was held at Eagle Point Golf Club in Wilmington, whilst Quail Hollow prepared to host the 2017 PGA Championship later in the year.
With the event coming only two weeks ahead of the years second major, the PGA Championship, several big names are here to continue their build up. The market is headed up by Justin Thomas. Thomas is then followed by Jon Rahm, Bryson Dechambeau, Rory McIlroy and Xander Schauffele.
The question we will have to weigh up this week though is that with the change to the schedule this year, how much will these big names have ‘wound down’ after the Masters, and therefore how much will this event become more of a tune up/stepping stone for the PGA in a fortnights time?
The course is a George Cobb design, which has undergone subsequent redesigns under the supervision of Tom Fazio both in 2013 and 2016.
The course is a Par 71 and measures 7600 yards.
One important point to note is that from 2003 until 2016 the course played as a par 72 playing at just under 7600 yards but following the Fazio redesign prior to the hosting of the 2017 PGA Championship the course was changed to a Par 71.
This change was effected by reducing the 570 yard Par 5 5th to a 450 yard Par 4.
Following on from this the Par 4 1st hole was lengthened by approximately 100 yards to measure just over 520 yards. The par 3 2nd hole disappeared completely and a new Par 3 4th hole was built to replace this.
The greens are Champion Bermudagrass. These were changed from Miniverde Bermuda again in the run up to the 2017 PGA Championship.
As mentioned above the event has been held at Quail Hollow every year since it’s inception with the exception of in 2017. We can therefore dismiss 2017’s event at Eagle Point from our thoughts, however in addition to the years of course history we have here we should also focus on 2017’s PGA Championship.
So let’s take a look at the last ten winners on this course including the 2017 winner of the PGA;
2019 Max Homa
2018 Jason Day
2017 Justin Thomas [PGA CHAMPIONSHIP]
2016 James Hahn
2015 Rory McIlroy
2014 JB Holmes
2013 Derek Ernst
2012 Rickie Fowler
2011 Lucas Glover
2010 Rory McIlroy
So, what does this list tell us? Well, there’s no doubt that seven of these winners could all be bracketed as class proven winners who can ‘get it out there’ off the tee with the majority renowned more for their tee to green game than their skills on and around the greens.
There have though been three ‘curve ball’ winners over those ten years in the form of the 2019 winner Max Homa, James Hahn and, arguably the biggest shock winner on the PGA Tour this decade [alongside Adam Long], Derek Ernst.
One interesting point to note though is the year’s Hahn and Ernst won the scoring conditions were by far the toughest over that ten year period as they won with scores of -9 and -8 respectively.
We should also note that the 2019 edition was the first time the event had been played a fortnight before the years second Major, The PGA Championship and it is possible that Max Homa’s win has set a precedent for some more leftfield winners here while the bigger names present are playing with one eye on tuning up for the PGA.
Focusing on the 2018 and 2019 editions, the two held since the changes made for the PGA Championship, and it was certainly the case in 2018 that we saw bigger hitters coming to the fore with the top five home Day, Watney, Wise, Dechambeau and Casey all ranked in the top forty on tour in driving distance.
The same could not really be said for 2019 though as while Homa the winner is slightly above average in distance off the tee the likes of Dahmen, Dufner, Rose and Garcia all made the frame.
Looking at the leaderboards from the most recent two editions several players who finished in the top ten such as Day, Fowler, Perez, Dufner and Stanley had all finished in the top ten here before so I would suggest that course form prior to the 2017 changes is still important.
Course history in general has over the years been a reasonable pointer here with Glover, Holmes and Fowler along with Day and McIlroy [second time around] all having a previous top ten finish here prior to their victories, however Hahn, Ernst and Homa to name three had done nothing here prior to winning.
Form coming in of past winners has been fairly hit and miss though with Day, McIlroy, Holmes, Fowler and O’Hair winning here when in strong form but Homa, Glover, Ernst and Hahn of course on the back of his eight consecutive missed cuts were all struggling for form when coming in.
I stated in past years that historically, and similarly to Bay Hill, taking care of the par 5s has been key to getting the job done at Quail Hollow, and that in addition to Rory and Tiger two other past winners of the Wells Fargo, Glover and O’Hair, also had solid records at Bay Hill. However in 2018 I speculated that with the course now only containing three par 5s, that par 4 scoring would potentially be as or even more paramount.
Well, if we look at the 2018 final leaderboard we saw that the winner Day was a past Bay Hill champion and that in addition 2018 Bay Hill runner up Dechambeau was fourth here. Meanwhile 2019’s final leaderboard saw Keith Mitchell who had previously finished fifth at Bay Hill featuring prominently.
It’s also worth noting though that when JT won the PGA Championship here the club that actually got him over the line that week was the putter as he didn’t have one single three putt over the week, whilst he lead the field in putts made over 10ft and ranked 4th in SGP for the event, while Jason Day, the 2018 winner and a renowned flat stick wizard when at his peak was 2nd in SGP in 2018.
Most recently Homa lead the field here in putting in 2019 so it would appear that a strong week on the greens here is an essential for the winner.
From a winning score point of view we have seen Max Homa and Jason Day get the job done with totals of 14- under and 12- under respectively since the course changes were made.
The days leading in to the tournament show a decent chance of thunderstorms on Tuesday and Wednesday. It may then be the players face a softish course when things get underway on Thursday.
The good news is though that as I write all four tournament days look dry with temperatures in the mid to high 70s.
The wind doesn’t look like being too much of an issue for the first couple of days however the weekend does show a possibility for 20mph+ gusts so it may become an issue.
I have gone with six players this week as follows;
PATRICK REED – 30/1 - 2pts E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 6th
First cab off the rank this week is Patrick Reed.
While many of the biggest names lining up this week may well have one eye on the impending PGA Championship my hunch is that Reed in his quest to qualify outright for the Ryder Cup will see this event as a great opportunity to bag a chunk more points and will be fully focused on the job in hand.
Now a nine time winner on tour Reed often seems to fly under the radar from the layers point of view however yet again this season with his win at the Farmers the former Masters Champion has proven he has what it takes to close out the big events.
This week, based partly no doubt on last weeks missed cut at the Valspar, Reed is available at decent each way odds despite the fact that his record at Quail Hail is a strong one.
Looking at his past performances here and what particularly grabs me is that although he was solid here in years gone by, making his first five cuts here, he didn’t show his best in Charlotte until the course changes were made prior to the PGA Championship in 2017.
Firstly Reed posted his best Major finish at the time here in the 2017 PGA, a second place, and he then went on to finish eighth here the following year. Furthermore he added a solid 28th place finish here in 2019 despite being in really poor form for a player of his calibre coming in.
Coming back to this years form and as noted earlier Reed missed the cut last week in Tampa. Interestingly though Reed’s win this year at the Farmers came the week after he missed the cut at the Amex while last year his victory at the WGC Mexico came after a poor 51st place at The Genesis the week before. Clearly then Patrick is the sort of player who can easily put a poor week behind him and deliver the goods the following week if things click.
Finally I mentioned earlier that over recent years a strong putting week has been a big key to victory here and from that point of view the fact that Reed is one of the strongest proponents of the flat stick on tour and currently sits second in the SGP rankings this season, is obviously a big plus.
All in all Reed ticks plenty of boxes this week and as what I see as attractive odds in this company he makes plenty of appeal.
JOAQUIN NIEMANN – 35/1 – 1.5pts E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 18th
Next up this week I am going to return to a player who so nearly bagged a win for us at the beginning of the year, Joaquin Niemann.
Niemann who spent 44 weeks as the world’s number one amateur between May 17 and early 2018 before turning professional has pushed on in the pro ranks as many expected and is undoubtedly headed to the very top of the game.
Since finishing second in back to back weeks in Hawaii in January Joaquin has performed strongly but unspectacularly making all of his cuts but until last week failing to post a top twenty in stroke play.
Last week at the Valspar however the young Chilean was back in the hunt entering Sunday four shots off the lead in fourth place.
Sunday at the Copperhead course didn’t quite go to plan for Niemann unfortunately as he posted a one over par round of 72 however it was encouraging to see his putter working strongly across the four days and with the exception of Sunday his tee to green game stats were really strong for the week as well.
Niemann has made two visits to Quail Hollow missing the cut on debut in 2018 before finishing 38th in 2019.
Returning this week as a tour winner Niemann is exactly the sort of young aggressive player that has thrived at Qual Hollow over the years and at eighth in driving distance on tour this season he has the distance we are looking for off the tee.
Finally with half an eye on the potential for some stronger gusting winds at the weekend Niemann’s low ball flight and general comfortability in the wind could be a great asset come Saturday and Sunday.
As regular readers will know Niemann featured in my ‘six to follow’ for 2021 and there is no doubt I expect big things from him this year. A one time winner to date I fully expect Joaquin to win again this season and I am keen to have him onside this week.
TALOR GOOCH – 90-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 10 - FINISHED 26th
Talor Gooch is one of those players who doesn’t grab the headlines in the way that some of the other youngsters breaking through do, however he is quietly improving season on season and a maiden win may net be too far away.
Now in his fourth full season on tour Gooch started out by missing the Fedex Cup Play Offs in 2018 before placing 101st in 2019 after winning his card back in the Korn Ferry finals.
The 2019/20 season saw further improvement from Gooch as a solid campaign saw him finish 60th in the standings, while this current season, which has already seen him post three top five finishes including recently at the Players see’s Gooch at 53rd in the standings heading in to this week.
No doubt then that Talor is getting more and more comfortable on tour all the time, however it is his strong performance here in 2018, which really makes him catch the eye this week.
On that occasion Gooch arrived in Charlotte on the back of three missed cuts however he was able to turn things around produce a 13th place finish, which was his best performance on tour at the time and indeed his best result that season.
A strong putter Talor finished seventh in SGP that week and having missed the event in 2019 he now returns here for the first time since a far better and more consistent player.
In addition to his good showing here Gooch has played nicely at Bay Hill over the past few years and his recent fifth place at the Players also on Bermuda greens was again hugely encouraging.
Talor missed the cut last week at the Valspar, however with four top five finishes over the past two seasons on tour including three this campaign, he is no stranger now to the top echelons of leaderboards and he makes plenty of appeal this week.
AARON WISE – 125-1 - 1pts E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 9th
Another player I am expecting big things from this year is Aaron Wise.
Twenty four year old Wise has had a tough time of things since he landed his maiden tour title in 2018 and although he popped up with the occasional good result he struggled through much of the 18/19 and 19/20 campaigns.
This season though things have started to improve and Wise came close to landing his second tour title before Christmas in Mexico.
Aaron’s long game is certainly in reasonable shape this season and he currently ranks 39th from tee to green and 44th off the tee. The problem undoubtedly though for Wise over the past couple of seasons and particularly this campaign is on the greens and he currently languishes at a woeful 210th in putting.
With this in mind I acknowledge that backing Aaron this week in an event where strong putting has been important over recent years would seem somewhat contradictory however my hope is that a return to a venue, which he has performed really well at on his two previous visits will lead to an upturn in this department.
Wise’s first visit to Charlotte was in 2018 and on that occasion he finished second here having arrived in poor form. He then returned here the following year to finish a solid 18th.
We saw both at the Mayakoba last Fall and more recently at the Honda that Wise is capable of producing a stronger putting week and as we know, and as we saw again with Keegan Bradley last week, when a stronger long game proponent finds their putting boots they have a serious chance of doing some damage.
Wise’s profile certainly fits the bill with regards to the young, aggressive type of player I am looking for this week and with his clear affinity to the course I am happy to chance him at decent three figure odds.
PATRICK RODGERS – 300-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 37th
Regular readers will know that Patrick Rodgers pops up in these previews at big odds from time to time as I am convinced that one week this hugely talented player will reward us at massive odds.
Rodgers has shown over his years on tour that he can find his game pretty much out of nowhere when the mood takes him and on a course, which I believe plays to his strengths, I feel he is worth chancing again this week.
While the last six months have brought great personal joy to Rodgers with the arrival of his first son the 2020/21 season on the golf course has undoubtedly been a disappointing one to date and there has been nothing to note since his 12th place finish at Riviera in February.
Last week’s performance at the Valspar was pretty symptomatic of how things have been going for Patrick of late as after looking like he would comfortably make the weekend he bogeyed three of the last five holes including the par five 14th to miss the cut on the number.
It is worth noting though that with three MC in four visits the Copperhead course has never been much of a friend to Rodgers, however this weeks track is one that he has had some joy on before and significantly as well he has produced strong finishes at correlating courses such as Bay Hill and Muirfield Village.
Firstly in relation to Quail Hollow Patrick was memorably second here on his first appearance back in 2015. He also finished 34th here on his last visit in 2018. There is no doubt also that his length off the tee and strong putter play well here.
Secondly if we look at the Stamford grad’s form at the other courses I mentioned and he has top eight finishes on his CV at both of them.
Looking at Rodgers’ results on tour and it is littered with high finishes out of the blue on the back of poorer weeks making him undoubtedly a very tough man to catch right. Currently at 132nd in the Fedex Cup standings though he needs one of those big weeks soon and I am happy to chance him this time out.
BEAU HOSSLER – 400-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 77th
In an event that has seen the likes of Anthony Kim, Rickie Fowler and more recently Max Homa break through, I am going to finish things off this week with another big talent waiting to break through, Beau Hossler.
To be honest there is not a huge amount that would point you to Hossler this week, hence of course the massive odds available, however you could easily have said that about Homa in 2019 not to mention Hahn or Ernst.
What predominantly leads me to Beau this week is his eye catching final round performance at the Valspar where he closed things out with a bogey free 66, the second best round of the day behind Victor Hovland’s 65.
In this round Hossler gained just under 2.5 strokes from tee to green, just under three strokes in approach play and 2.7 strokes in putting so clearly something clicked. Furthermore it is worth noting that his day one 68, which was also bogey free showed similarly strong numbers so despite poorer second and third rounds he is obviously close to putting a good event together.
Looking at the 26yr olds season as a whole and after a solid start in the Fall, which saw him make his first five cuts 2021 has been a huge disappointment to date, with last weeks 39th at the Valspar his best result this side of Christmas, a run that has seen him miss eight out of 12 cuts this year. In fact you have to go back to January 2020 for his last top ten on tour, which came at the Farmers, which again gives you a clue to his odds this week.
Hossler has tee’d it up twice in this event before and while he hasn’t pulled up any trees here he has made the cut on both occasions, in addition when 34th here in 2018 he was fourth for the week in good old fashioned GIR so some encouragement there. From a bigger picture point of view though as a player who is longer than average off the tee and whose best attribute is on the greens he does fit the profile here, which is another thing which leads me to him this week.
As I said then a fairly tenuous case however Beau is the sort of talented player who will just ‘click’ one week and I am happy to roll the dice that this could be the week it happens.
UPDATED 4th MAY
FANTASY DRAFT KINGS PICKS
PICK 1 - DOC REDMAN - DK VALUE $6900 - FINISHED MC - DK POINTS 24.5
First up in this segment this week is Doc Redman.
Former US amateur champion Redman has had a fairly underwhelming 2021 to date however last week at the Valspar his long game stats particularly off the tee showed good signs of improvement.
This week redman returns to a venue, which is only a couple of hours from where he grew up and on, which he finished 18th on his only previous appearance in 2019.
I gave Doc serious consideration for my main betting team this week however I ultimately decided that his lack of length off the tee would prevent him from seriously contending. I do expect a solid performance from him though in his home state and he looks a good DK play to me at $6900.
PICK 2 - BRANDON HAGY - DK VALUE $6600. - FINISHED 26th - DK POINTS 64.5
At the other end of the spectrum to Redman in the distance off the tee front is Brandon Hagy.
Following a serious wrist injury it took big hitting Hagy a while to find his feet again however this season the results have started to come and he is currently comfortably placed at 82nd on the Fedex Cup standings.
His best performance on tour to date came just over a month ago when he finished second at the Honda Classic so the next step for Brandon is to now threaten the winners enclosure.
While that would be a big ask this week before his injury hit Hagy finished 18th here in 2017 so he should be looking forward to returning to Quail Hollow and with length clearly an advantage here I expect him to have a strong week.