Golf matchups: Plodders, not bombers, at Potomac

May 3, 2022 07:25 PM

Another week, another difficult handicap on the PGA Tour.

The Wells Fargo Championship, played annually at Quail Hollow Club, is moving to TPC Potomac this year because Quail Hollow is being prepped for the Presidents Cup in September.

Finding horses for courses over the last few weeks has been tougher than hitting an exotic at the Kentucky Derby. The tour has gone from a two-person team event in New Orleans to a new course in Mexico to TPC Potomac — the first time the tour has played at Potomac since the Quicken Loans in 2017 and 2018. Next week, TPC Craig Ranch hosts the Byron Nelson for just the second time. After that, the PGA Championship heads to Southern Hills for the first time in 15 years.

TPC Potomac at Avenel Farms is a par-70 of 7,160 yards, with the two par-5s measuring around 600 yards and most of the par-4s eclipsing 450 yards. A lot of approach shots to Potomac’s Bentgrass greens will be in the neighborhood of 175 yards. The course demands driving accuracy over driving distance with narrow fairways and penal rough. Potomac was ranked as the fourth-toughest course on tour In 2017, with a winning score of 7-under par.

I looked at Driving Accuracy, Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee, Strokes Gained: Approach, Proximity from 175-200 Yards, Par-4 Performance from 450-500 Yards and Strokes Gained: Around-The-Greens this week. Different from last week's formula of bomb it, gouge it and putt for birdie, this week will require a more conservative approach: drive it straight, hits greens in regulation and take your par. 

While we don't have a star-studded field in Maryland, Potomac should provide some indicators for the PGA Championship at Southern Hills. Southern Hills is longer with wider fairways and more forgiving rough, but the formula for success will be similar. For correlated courses this week, I looked at TPC River Highlands (Travelers), Sedgefield (Wyndham) and TPC Sawgrass (The Players Championship).

Here are the full tournament head-to-head matchups I considered this week and those that I played:

Considered (16-18 YTD)

— Joel Dahmen (-140) over Brendan Steele

— Tony Finau (+ 160) over Rory McIlroy

— Russell Henley (-120) over Abraham Ancer

— Russell Henley (-135) over Keegan Bradley

Played (14-14 YTD)

— Kevin Streelman (+ 110) over Brian Harman

Both players suit many of the statistical characteristics I looked at. They’re accurate off the tee, solid ball-strikers and more plodder than bomber. Harman has had past success at TPC Sawgrass and Streelman has five top-10 finishes at TPC River Highlands, including a win. Both have a pair of top-10 finishes at Sedgefield, but Harman has missed the cut there six times. Harman has the better short game but Streelman is better off the tee and on approach, and I see that as being the more important skill set this week. At the Quicken Loans in 2017 and 2018, Streelman made both cuts, finishing 17th and 32nd, while Harman did not play in either of those tournaments.

— Corey Conners (+ 115) over Rory McIlroy

McIlroy, who hasn’t teed it up since his runner-up finish at the Masters, is the defending champion this week, but that win came at Quail Hollow. I feel Potomac is more suited for Conners' game than it is McIlroy's. Conners is as good as it gets for ball-striking, in both approach and accuracy off the tee. I also like Conners’ current form — 12th at the Heritage, sixth at Augusta, third at the Match Play, 26th at The Players and 11th at Bay Hill, with a 35th at the Texas Open in between — and + 115 just looks too juicy to pass up in a matchup that should be closer to pick’em.

— Seamus Power (-120) over Keith Mitchell

The price seems a little low considering Power is 35-1 in the outright winner market compared to Mitchell being north of 50-1. Power played here in 2017 and 2018 and finished 38th and 53rd. Mitchell played here in 2018 and missed the cut. Power ranks far better on approach and in driving accuracy and is fourth in the field for Par-4 Performance from 450-500 Yards. Power missed the cut in New Orleans, paired with Graeme McDowell, a team we played against in this column. Prior to that, he was 27th at the Masters, fifth at the Match Play and 33rd at The Players. Also, Mitchell is a much better putter on Bermuda than he is on Bentgrass, where he has lost strokes over his last 92 rounds. Power has gained nearly a stroke on the field over his last 69 rounds on Bentgrass.

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