This week, the tour moves to The Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow, in Charlotte, NC. Quail Hollow is takes a little navigating, but ultimately it’s a bombers paradise. It stretches over 7,500 yards, and most recently hosted the 2017 PGA Championship. It’s a major venue in every sense of the word. The course is littered with long par 3s, long par 4s, and par 5s that the bombers can take advantage of. Hitting the fairways this week isn’t as important as hitting to the correct side of the hole, so as long as players control their misses, playing out of the rough isn’t going to be too difficult. Finally, the greens are bermuda, so as usual, take a look at players who perform better on these types of surfaces. Similarly, this is a course where previous winners have had other strong showings, so I’ll be weighing course history a little more than usual this week. Beyond strong showings in this event, many players reside in the area and have tons of experience playing Quail Hollow. Some names that pop out to me are Webb Simpson, Bill Haas, Chesson Hadley, Harold Varner III, Jason Kokrak, and JT.Poston.
Without getting to in depth with stats this week, I’m going to focus on bombers and players who excel with long irons. We’ve seen bombers like Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, and J.B. Holmes excel here, but also elite ball-strikers. Quail Hollow is an all-around tough test.
Strokes Gained Off-the-Tee (SG:OTT): Quail Hollow is a course that challenges every player, but I do believe that off-the-tee play is the most important element. We’ve seen bombers dominate here over the years, and I think the elite drivers will be my main target this week. Distance matters, but finding the correct side of the fairways matters as well. In terms of recent play, the players to target in strokes gained off-the-tee are Tommy Fleetwood, Francesco Molinari, Louis Oosthuizen, Keith Mitchell JT Poston, Gary Woodland, Luke List, and Bryson DeChambeau.
Strokes Gained Approach (SG:APP): Because the green complexes are so difficult at Quail Hollow, I’m adding a heavy weight on strokes gained approach. Players need to find the correct quadrants of the green in order to give themselves good birdie opportunities and to avoid three putts. These are the names – in terms of recent iron play – that I think will be staples in my lineups this weekend: Adam Hadwin, Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau, Keegan Bradley, Phil Mickelson, Stewart Cink, Tiger Woods, Luke List, and Trey Mullinax.
Birdie or Better % (BoB%): There are really not many weeks where we aren’t going to target birdie or better percentage, because that’s what fantasy golf scoring is all about. This is a difficult course, but much of the fantasy scoring will come from birdies and occasional eagles. The best players in this field in recent birdie or better percentage are Patrick Reed, Phil Mickelson, Trey Mullinax, Keith Mitchell, Grayson Murray, Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau, Tommy Fleetwood, and Emiliano Grillo.
Par-4 Scoring (P4): Par-4 scoring is always important, but I’m adding even more emphasis this week at Quail Hollow. Players will have to capitalize on any opportunities they get, and avoid trouble on the challenging holes. There will be a ton of bogeys on the long, difficult par-4s this week. Par-4 scoring is what will separate players this week, so I’ll have a heavy weight on strokes gained on par-4s. Some of the best par-4 scorers in this field are Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed, Trey Mullinax, JT Poston, Kevin Streelman, Phil Mickelson, Keith Mitchell, Rickie Fowler, Byeong Hun-An, and Luke List.
The King of Quail Hollow returns to the course where he got his breakout win in 2010, and has since posted five other top-10s including another win. Rory is finally turning his game around, having finished 5th at Augusta after winning Bay Hill. He’s the best driver in the world (arguably), and is great with his irons. The major issue for Rory is always his putting, but he knows these greens better than any in the world.
With Rory being the King of Quail Hollow, we could see depressed ownership on the best player in the world. Over the past ten events, JT ranks 1st in strokes gained tee-to-green and 7th in strokes gained putting. That’s a decent combination. Furthermore, he won last year’s PGA Championship here, so there will be plenty of fond memories for him this week. Thomas has his eyes set on world #1, which he can easily accomplish with a win this week.
Winning an event right between the Masters the Players Championship seems like a very Fowler-eque thing to do. I love his chances this week, as he’s got a perfect blend of recent form, recent stats, and course history. Fowler ranks 10th in my statistical model, and that’s mostly due to some poor putting recently. He has back to back top-10 finishes at Quail Hollow (where he’s won before), and is coming off a runner-up finish at the Masters.
Even though Day won earlier since season at Torrey Pines, his statistical performance hasn’t been good. He’s especially struggled with his irons this season, which gives me major pause this week at a demanding Quail Hollow. Day managed to sneak into the top-10 at last year’s PGA Championship, but really hasn’t contended in any of this three starts here. I expect him to play well, but he’s firmly behind the big three this week.
The Masters champion returns to Quail Hollow where he tied for 2nd at the PGA Championship a year ago. Perhaps it was that near-miss that gave him the extra boost to win his first major this season. In his career at Quail Hollow, Reed has made all five cuts, but only has one finish better than 28th. Reed has been playing lights out for the past two months, and his short game is as sharp as ever. Reed should have plenty of confidence after a solid week in New Orleans.
Fleetwood has been really impressive this season, and continues to put himself in contention. After blowing a final round lead at the Honda Classic whre he ultimately finished 4th, Fleetwood posted 14th, 26th, and 17th place finishes. He ranks sixth in my statistical model over the past ten weeks, really excelling off-the-tee and with his irons. The putter has gone cold, but we know he has the ability to catch fire.
It was a very disappointing Masters for Mickelson, whose Friday 79 saw him fall out of contention. He was playing some of the best golf of his career leading up to that week, highlighted by a win at the WGC-Mexico Championship. Statistically, Mickelson ranks 8th in my model, highlighted by his elite ball-striking and putting. He needs to hit some fairways though, or he’ll be punished this week at Quail Hollow. Mickelson has finished inside the top-10 in seven of his past ten appearances here.
The Finau win is imminent, and Quail Hollow could very well be the place. We saw studs like Rickie Fowler, Anthony Kim, and Rory McIlroy get their breakout wins here, and I could easily see Finau doing the same. He’s such a great ball-striker and driver that he can contend anywhere. He’s made four of his last five cuts on Tour, including a runner-up at Riviera and a top-10 at the Masters. He’s made all three cuts here, including at last year’s PGA Championship.
Matsuyama came back from a wrist injury and finished 19th at the Masters, so there’s no doubt that he’s back to full strength. I like him more for TPC Sawgrass next week, but Quail Hollow should be a great warm-up. He played with Justin Thomas a year ago during the final round of the PGA Championship, and ultimately finished 5th. At this event, Hideki has posted 38th, 20th, and 11th place finishes, showing improvement every year. He’s one of the best ball-strikers in the world, and that should be on full display this weekend.
It was a very disappointing MC for Paul Casey at Harbour Town, but I’m willing to discount that after the Masters hangover. Casey has been red hot all season, highlighted by his win over Tiger Woods at the Valspar Championship. He comes back to Quail Hollow where he’s made both cuts, including a 13th at last year’s PGA Championship. He’ll be a popular pick this week.