Best bets for the PGA Wells Fargo Championship

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Wells Fargo Championship

Last year, Jon Rahm and Tony Finau finished 1-2 at the Mexico Open. Last weekend, the positions were reversed as Finau defeated Rahm by three strokes with a winning score of 24 under par. Brandon Wu, who finished T-2 last year, finished third at 19 under.

 

Rahm, who had carded a course-record 61 in the third round, was chasing a fifth win of the year, and the Masters champion kept his outside chance alive with a fourth birdie of the day on the 15th, only to bogey the 17th after his tee shot plugged in the bank of a greenside bunker.

Finau began the day with a two-shot lead and immediately extended it with a birdie on the first but was caught at the top of the leaderboard when Wu followed two early birdies with an eagle on the sixth and another birdie on the next.

However, Finau responded with a birdie of his own on the short seventh and Wu’s chances effectively disappeared when he drove into the water on the 10th to run up a double bogey.

Finau birdied the 11th and 14th to give himself some breathing room and parred the last four holes to finish a brilliant week and win the Mexico Open at 8-1.

OWGR No. 1 Rahm will forgo playing this week in the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C., as will No. 2 Scottie Scheffler. Finau (16-1) is in this week’s field.

Rory McIlroy (15-2), a three-time winner at Quail Hollow, is the tournament favorite. Patrick Cantlay (12-1) and Xander Schauffele (14-1), third and fourth, respectively, three weeks ago at the RBC Heritage, are the second and third choices on the odds board.

Jordan Spieth (18-1) has finished fourth or better in three of his last four starts, including a playoff loss three weeks ago at the RBC Heritage to Matt Fitzpatrick (20-1), who finished T-2 in this event last year. Next up are Collin Morikawa and Viktor Hovland, who finished third here in 2021, at 20-1.

Justin Thomas (22-1) has been down from his usual standards in 2023 but returns to Quail Hollow where he won his first major, the 2017 PGA Championship. Also at 22-1 is Max Homa, a two-time Wells Fargo winner having won here in 2019 and coming in as last year’s defending champion winning this event at TPC Potomac.

Along with the aforementioned Fitzpatrick, Cameron Young (22-1) finished T-2 at TPC Potomac behind Homa last year.

Several former Wells Fargo champions are also here this week, including 2018 winner Jason Day (28-1), 2012 winner Rickie Fowler (40-1), 2017 winner Brian Harman (80-1), along with long shots 2011 champ Lucas Glover (400-1), 2016 champ James Hahn (500-1) and 2014 champ J.B. Holmes (1000-1).

The Event

The Wells Fargo Championship has annually attracted one of the better fields on the PGA Tour since its inception as the Wachovia Championship in 2003. Wells Fargo acquired financial services company Wachovia in 2008 and has held the sponsorship of this tournament ever since, and its current agreement runs through 2024.

It has been held at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte each year since the beginning — except for 2017, when Quail Hollow hosted the PGA Championship and the Wells Fargo moved to Eagle Point Golf Club in nearby Wilmington, and last year when the event was held at TPC Potomac because Quail Hollow hosted the Presidents Cup.

The event’s charitable beneficiary is the non-profit organization Teach for America and the tournament is organized by Champions for Education, Inc.

Previous event winners include a who’s who of golf, including Vijay Singh (2005), Jim Furyk (2006), Tiger Woods (2007), Rory McIlroy (2010, 2015), Rickie Fowler (2012), and Jason Day (2018).

This year, the Wells Fargo is one of the PGA Tour’s “designated events” and the overall tournament purse has risen from $9.3 million to $20 million.

The Course

Quail Hollow Club was founded as a private-member club in 1959 by James J. Harris and the course was designed in 1961 by George Cobb, who is most famous for designing the par-3 course at Augusta National Golf Club. The layout has undergone several renovations under the auspices of Tom Fazio in 1997, 2003, 2012 and 2016. For the 2016 renovation leading into the 2017 PGA, Fazio changed the layout to a par-71 of 7,521 yards for tournament golf, but it still plays as a par-72 for the members.

This year’s layout is a par-71 of 7,538 yards. Since the renovations, the course is the fourth-longest on the PGA Tour and has played as the fourth-toughest (+1.05). Aside from the par-5s, there are four par-4s at 490 yards or longer.

The fairways run at a 33.4-yard average width (15th narrowest on tour) and are comprised of Bermudagrass with Ryegrass overseed as is the rough that will measure just two inches.

The renovations also entailed a changing of greens surfaces from MiniVerde Bermudagrass to Champion Bermudagrass overseeded with Poa Trivialis. Similar greens can be found at Sedgefield Country Club (Wyndham Championship), TPC Southwind (WGC FedEx St Jude Invitational) and the Country Club of Jackson (Sanderson Farms Championship). The greens will be fast running at 12+ on the stimpmeter and measure out to an average size of 6,578 square feet (15th largest of 46 courses on tour).

Quail Hollow’s closing sequence (holes 16-18) is known as “The Green Mile,” which averages +0.27 over par. This stretch includes the course’s signature hole, the par-3 17th, which requires a tee shot over a large pond to a green protected by bunkers on either side.

There are 61 big bunkers on the course that mostly protect the greens and water is in play on six holes. Even with all the renovations, Quail Hollow is a typical Carolina, tree-lined design.

In terms of course correlations, Torrey Pines South, Bay Hill, Muirfield Village, Memorial Park, Riviera, Winged Foot, Southern Hills and Bethpage Black are among the classical designs that have crossover to Quail Hollow.

Other Tom Fazio designs that have been featured on the PGA Tour:

Atunyote GC: 2007-10 Turning Stone Championship.

Conway Farms GC: 2013, 2015, 2017 BMW Championship.

Corales GC: Corales Championship

Eagle Point: 2017 Wells Fargo Championship

Raptor Course Greyhawk GC: 2008/09 Fry’s.com Open.

Shadow Creek Golf Course: 2020 CJ Cup.

Fazio has also had redesign input into:

Merion: 2013 U.S. Open.

Oakmont: 2016 U.S. Open.

Seaside Course at Sea Island: RSM Classic.

Recent History/Winners

2022: Max Homa (-8/272); 40-1*

2021: Rory McIlroy (-10/274); 18-1

2020: Canceled due to COVID-19.

2019: Max Homa (-15/269); 500-1

2018: Jason Day (-12/272); 20-1

2017: Justin Thomas (-8/276); 35-1**

2017: Brian Harman (-10/278); 80-1***

2016: James Hahn (-9/279); 500-1****

2015: Rory McIlroy (-21/267); 7-2

2014: J.B. Holmes (-14/274); 66-1

2013: Derek Ernst (-8/280); 500-1*****

2012: Rickie Fowler (-14/274); 50-1******

2011: Lucas Glover (-15/273); 110-1*******

2010: Rory McIlroy (-15/273); 66-1

Held at TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm – *

2017 PGA Championship – **

Held at Eagle Point Golf Club – ***

Playoff win over Roberto Castro – ****

Playoff win over David Lynn – *****

Playoff win over Rory McIlroy and D.A. Points – ******

Playoff win over Jonathan Byrd – *******

Statistical Analysis

On approach, Quail Hollow ranks as the 11th-toughest ShotLink course on which to gain strokes. The average Greens in Regulation (GIR) rate over the past three events is 60.5%, which is well below the tour average of 65.8%.

Strokes Gained Approach (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Tony Finau 42.4
  2. Collin Morikawa 36.4
  3. Xander Schauffele 34.9
  4. Rickie Fowler 32.7
  5. Rory McIlroy 32.6
  6. Wyndham Clark 28.5
  7. Max Homa 27.7
  8. Gary Woodland 26.1
  9. Tom Kim 26
  10. Erik Van Rooyen 23.8
  11. Ben Martin 23.7
  12. Nick Hardy 23.6
  13. Jordan Spieth 23.3
  14. Sepp Straka 23
  15. Davis Riley 22.7
  16. Corey Conners 22.7
  17. Patrick Cantlay 22
  18. Eric Cole 21.4
  19. Viktor Hovland 21.1

Driving Distance has proven to be a strong indicator here as every winner since 2014 (with the exception of James Hahn) has ranked in the top 15 in Driving Distance in their last 36 rounds leading into the tournament.

Driving Distance Gained (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Rory McIlroy 24.3
  2. Alejandro Tosti 21.2 (10 rounds)
  3. Cameron Young 19.3
  4. Cameron Champ 18
  5. Trevor Cone 15.4
  6. Byeong-Hun An 14.8
  7. Keith Mitchell 13.1
  8. Will Gordon 12.8
  9. Brett Grant 12.3
  10. Gary Woodland 12.3
  11. Trey Mullinax 12
  12. Wyndham Clark 11.7
  13. Luke List 11.4
  14. Davis Thompson 10.6
  15. Kevin Tway 10.6
  16. Ryan Brehm 10.6
  17. Cam Davis 10.4
  18. Sam Burns 10.4
  19. Callum Tarren 10.2
  20. Pierceson Coody 9.4 (18 rounds)
  21. Viktor Hovland 9.3

Note: Average Yards Gained Per Drive

While the rough is not all that penal, the course is heavily tree-lined, so you want to have clear angles into the greens.

Strokes Gained Off The Tee (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Patrick Cantlay 34.1
  2. Hayden Buckley 31
  3. Keith Mitchell 28.8
  4. Luke List 27.9
  5. Rory McIlroy 26.2
  6. Gary Woodland 25.6
  7. Cameron Young 22
  8. Viktor Hovland 21.6
  9. Brian Harman 20.8
  10. Corey Conners 20.5
  11. Brett Grant 19.8
  12. Sungjae Im 19.6
  13. Cam Davis 18.4
  14. Tyrrell Hatton 17.2
  15. Jason Day 16.9
  16. Cameron Champ 16.9
  17. Tony Finau 16.1
  18. Davis Thompson 16

31% of the approach shots this week come from 200 yards or more.

Proximity Gained 200+ Yards (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Gary Woodland 29.5
  2. Adam Svensson 25.7
  3. Patrick Cantlay 25.6
  4. Alejandro Tosti 22.4 (8 rounds)
  5. Pierceson Coody 19.4 (18 rounds)
  6. Nick Hardy 16.5
  7. Tony Finau 15.5
  8. Chez Reavie 14.9
  9. Austin Smotherman 14.4
  10. Collin Morikawa 13.6
  11. Max Homa 13.1
  12. Luke List 12.7
  13. Davis Thompson 12.6
  14. Brett Grant 12.5
  15. Victor Hovland 12.4
  16. Davis Riley 12.1
  17. Taylor Moore 12
  18. Shane Lowry 12
  19. Danny Willett 12

Note: Average Feet Gained Per Shot

If you include 175 as a yardage, then over 50% of the approach shots come from 175 yards or longer.

Proximity Gained 175-200 Yards (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Taylor Pendrith 17
  2. Tony Finau 16.3
  3. Nate Lashley 15
  4. Rory McIlroy 14.8
  5. Collin Morikawa 14.1
  6. Si Woo Kim 14.1
  7. Chez Reavie 13.1
  8. Lucas Glover 12.1
  9. Gary Woodland 12
  10. Will Gordon 11.9
  11. Trey Mullinax 11.6
  12. Xander Schauffele 11.5
  13. Nick Hardy 11.3
  14. Greyson Sigg 10.5
  15. Sam Ryder 10.3
  16. Cameron Young 10.1
  17. JB Holmes 9.5
  18. MJ Daffue 9.5

Note: Average Feet Gained Per Shot

Six of the 11 Par-4s measure 450-500 yards at Quail Hollow.

Strokes Gained Par-4s 450-500 Yards (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Patrick Cantlay 23.6
  2. Hayden Buckley 21.8
  3. Sam Ryder 20.9
  4. Viktor Hovland 20.3
  5. Max Homa 19.7
  6. Si Woo Kim 16.7
  7. Chris Kirk 16.4
  8. Tony Finau 16.2
  9. Jason Day 15.3
  10. Taylor Pendrith 14.5
  11. Sahith Theegala 14.3
  12. Justin Thomas 13.6
  13. Akshay Bhatia 13.2
  14. Rory McIlroy 13.2
  15. Stephan Jaeger 13
  16. Byeong-Hun An 12.5
  17. Carson Young 12.3
  18. Eric Cole 11.9
  19. Xander Schauffele 11.6
  20. Mark Hubbard 11

The last three winners here were rated first (McIlroy, 2021), second (Homa, 2019) and second (Day, 2018) for Scrambling during their respective winning weeks.

Scrambling Gained (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Jason Day 19.2
  2. Byeong-Hun An 18.8
  3. Adam Schenk 16.4
  4. Sam Ryder 15.7
  5. Taylor Montgomery 15.5
  6. Ben Griffin 15
  7. Matt Kuchar 14.6
  8. Mackenzie Hughes 13.9
  9. Jimmy Walker 13.3
  10. Max Homa 13.3
  11. J.J Spaun 12.8
  12. Matt Fitzpatrick 11.7
  13. Danny Willett 11.6
  14. S.H. Kim 10.9
  15. Matthias Schwab 9.2
  16. Denny McCarthy 9
  17. Sam Burns 9

The Bogey Avoidance percentage for tour average the last five years is 83.2% but is just 78.9% at Quail Hollow.

Bogey Avoidance (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Jason Day 40.6
  2. Matt Fitzpatrick 29.7
  3. Matt Kuchar 25.2
  4. Xander Schauffele 24.3
  5. Tom Kim 22.8
  6. Sungjae Im 22.3
  7. Brian Harman 22
  8. Eric Cole 21.5
  9. Tony Finau 21
  10. Wyndham Clark 20.3
  11. Stephan Jaeger 20.1
  12. Alex Smalley 19.9
  13. Sahith Theegala 19.6
  14. Adam Schenk 19.5
  15. Sam Ryder 19.3
  16. Max Homa 19.3
  17. Jordan Spieth 18.5
  18. Michael Kim 18.3

Quail Hollow ranks as the sixth-toughest course on tour in which to gain strokes putting. The last three winners here — McIlroy, Homa and Day — ranked third, first and second during their respective winning weeks for Strokes Gained: Putting.

Strokes Gained Putting (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Sam Ryder 41.9
  2. Sam Burns 35.9
  3. Taylor Montgomery 35.3
  4. Ben Taylor 33.1
  5. Harry Hall 28.9
  6. Taylor Moore 23.4
  7. Max Homa 23.4
  8. Jason Day 22.9
  9. Tyrrell Hatton 20.6
  10. Andrew Putnam 20.5
  11. Justin Suh 20.4
  12. Denny McCarthy 19.8
  13. Peter Malnati 19.6
  14. Chad Ramey 19.5
  15. Brendon Todd 18.8
  16. Chris Kirk 18.6
  17. Eric Cole 18.1

The three-putt rate at Quail Hollow is one of the highest on tour at 3.95%.

Three-Putt Avoidance (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Sam Ryder 12.88
  2. Eric Cole 12.34
  3. Nate Lashley 9.89
  4. Chris Kirk 9.83
  5. Justin Suh 8.92
  6. Nicolas Echavarria 8.69
  7. Mackenzie Hughes 8.35
  8. Matt Fitzpatrick 8.16
  9. Andrew Putnam 8.12
  10. Mark Hubbard 8.05
  11. Keegan Bradley 7.84
  12. Alex Noren 7.59
  13. Sam Burns 6.67
  14. Adam Scott 6.19
  15. Taylor Moore 5.88
  16. Richy Werenski 5.81
  17. Michael Thompson 5.7
  18. Brian Harman 5.63
  19. Jason Day 5.6

Selections

Cameron Young (21-1, Boyd Sports)

In his year and a half on the PGA Tour, Young has already finished second at Riviera Country Club, second at TPC Potomac, third at Southern Hills and second at St. Andrews. He was eighth after 54 holes on his debut at Torrey Pines (2022), plus two top-13 finishes at Bay Hill give more credence to the fact that Young is more than capable of playing well on tougher, long, classical setups such as Quail Hollow.

New caddie Paul Tesori and his former player Webb Simpson always had a quality track record here, but Simpson was never long enough off the tee to win at Quail Hollow, while Young has that power and then some.

Viktor Hovland (21-1, Circa Sports)

Hovland was third here on debut in 2021. That week he ranked sixth for Off the Tee, seventh for Tee to Green and 13th for Putting, while also ranking seventh for Greens in Regulation and second for Scrambling behind only the eventual champion McIlroy.

Finishes of second at Torrey Pines (2021), second at Bay Hill (2022), third at Muirfield Village (2020), third at Copperhead (2021); fourth (2022) and fifth (2021) at Riviera Country Club show a player who is at his best on classical designs like Quail Hollow.

This week looks like the perfect spot for Hovland to have his breakthrough victory in the States like happened for McIlroy in 2010.

Justin Thomas (25-1, Circa Sports)

Thomas has not won since last year’s PGA Championship at Southern Hills, so what better place to break his drought than at the venue where he won his first major at Quail Hollow?

He only has one top-5 and two top-10s in nine events for 2023, but the play has not been that poor as he is seventh in this field for Strokes Gained: Tee To Green over the last 36 rounds.

JT also went 4-1 at Quail Hollow last fall in the Presidents Cup, so this looks like a good spot to get right.

Sam Burns (33-1, BetMGM)

Burns has not shown well in his two career starts, but he is a big hitter off the tee who one would think could flourish on this course despite going 0-3-2 in the Presidents Cup here last fall.

He is just six weeks removed from his biggest career victory having knocked out defending champion Scottie Scheffler and defeating the aforementioned Young in the finals of the Dell Match Play.

Burns also ranks second over the last 36 rounds for Strokes Gained Putting.

Sahith Theegala (52-1, Circa Sports)

Theegala is making his debut this week at Quail Hollow, but he should take to this place with his length off the tee and the fact that he hits the preferred booming fade here.

His finishes of ninth in the Masters, T-5 at the RBC Heritage, T-4 at the Farmers Insurance Open and T-6 at Genesis Invitational show that he can compete regularly with the game’s best.

Keith Mitchell (75-1, Caesars Sportsbook)

Mitchell has a third and an eighth in his last two appearances here.

He rates third in this field for Strokes Gained: Off The Tee and seventh for Driving Distance Gained.

Wyndham Clark (75-1, Boyd Sports)

Clark has three top-6 finishes in his last five events and is so close to getting his maiden victory on the PGA Tour.

He rates sixth in the field for Strokes Gained: Approach over the last 36 rounds up there with the game’s elite like McIlroy, Finau, Morikawa and Schauffele.

Matchups (22-15-5)

Viktor Hovland -120 over Collin Morikawa (Caesars)

Sahith Theegala -120 over Tom Kim (BetMGM)

Emiliano Grillo -110 over Kurt Kitayama (BetMGM)

Wyndham Clark -135 over Brian Harman (BetMGM)