PGA Tour best bets: Wells Fargo Championship

May 3, 2022 10:10 PM
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Jon Rahm held at least a share of the lead at the end of each round of the Mexico Open and held on to win by one stroke over Tony Finau, Brandon Wu and Kurt Kitayama. The No. 2 player in the world and tournament favorite (at around 9-2) won for the first time since the U.S. Open in June. His seventh PGA Tour victory (14th worldwide) was not enough to eclipse current No. 1 Scottie Scheffler in the OWGR, but he has now won a PGA Tour event in each of the last six years. 

This week’s field at the Wells Fargo Championship is weaker than most years, but like last week in Mexico, it does feature one headliner at the top of the market: Rory McIlroy (7-1), the defending and three-time champion (2010, 2015, 2021). McIlroy won those three titles at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, North Carolina. This week, he will be going for his fourth Wells Fargo title at a new venue, TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm in Potomac, Maryland. TPC Potomac most recently hosted the Quicken Loans National in 2017 and 2018 and steps in this week because Quail Hollow will be hosting the Presidents Cup in September. 

Behind a short-priced McIlroy, who makes his first start since he rallied to finish runner-up at the Masters, is Corey Conners (20-1), who also played well at Augusta with a sixth-place finish. Aside from world No. 7 McIlroy, others in the OWGR top 30 this week include Matt Fitzpatrick (22-1), Finau (25-1, shot 63 Sunday for his best finish since a win at the Northern Trust in August), Tyrrell Hatton (28-1), Abraham Ancer (30-1, last year's runner-up at Quail Hollow) and Paul Casey (35-1). 

With the Byron Nelson in Dallas located about 200 miles from PGA Championship venue Southern Hills, more players are electing to use next week as their preparation for the next major in two weeks.

The Event

The Wells Fargo Championship has annually attracted one of the better fields on the PGA Tour since its inception in 2003. The tournament has been held at Quail Hollow each year except 2017, when Quail Hollow hosted the PGA Championship. 

Previous winners include big names such as Vijay Singh (2005), Jim Furyk (2006), Tiger Woods (2007), Rory McIlroy (2010, 2015, 2021), Rickie Fowler (2012) and Jason Day (2018). 

The Course

TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm is located 20 miles from Washington and is nicknamed “The Beast of the Beltway.” The track last hosted a PGA Tour event in 2017 and 2018 for the Quicken Loans National. The Booz Allen Classic (originally the Kemper Open) was also held here and was an annual stop on tour from 1987 to 2006.

The course was built in 1986 and designed by Ed Ault, Tom Clark and Ed Sneed. Stephen Wenzloff and Jim Hardy conducted a major renovation in 2007 to showcase more of a natural rolling terrain and replace all turf on the layout to Bentgrass. 

Potomac is a par-70 of 7,160 yards. Although the two par-5s (No. 2 at 641 yards and No. 10 at 591 yards) each have been extended by nearly 50 yards, the course is around 400 yards shorter than Quail Hollow, so there’s more of a premium on accuracy versus distance. There are 81 bunkers and nine holes with water, but there are also numerous out-of-bounds areas and other hazards, especially on the front nine, with tighter, tree-lined fairways near those areas and 3.5 inches of Kentucky bluegrass and fescue rough. Elevation changes also present challenges. 

The green complexes feature A1/A4 Bentgrass and are the fourth-smallest on tour at an average of 4,265 square feet. The greens will be fast (12.5 on the stimpmeter). 

Comparable courses include TPC River Highlands, Harbour Town, Colonial and Innisbrook. 

Recent History/Winners at Potomac

Quicken Loans National 

2018: Francesco Molinari (-21/259); 22-1

2017: Kyle Stanley (-7/273); 40-1*

Playoff win over Charles Howell III*

Statistical Analysis

Strokes Gained: Approach (Last 24 Rounds)

Kyle Stanley and Francesco Molinari ranked fourth and first for Strokes Gained: Approach (and sixth and second for Proximity) during their winning weeks. Both players also led the field for Greens In Regulation.

1. Russell Henley, 26.9

2. Tony Finau, 19.9

3. Gary Woodland, 19.1

4. Paul Casey, 18.6

5. Cameron Percy, 16.9

6. Luke List, 16.6

7. Austin Smotherman, 15.8

8. C.T. Pan, 14.3

9. Brian Stuard, 14.1

10. Kurt Kitayama, 13.8

11. Doug Ghim, 13.1

12. Matthew NeSmith, 13

13. Luke Donald, 12.6

14. Martin Laird, 11.6

15. Max Homa, 11.1

Greens In Regulation Gained (Last 24 Rounds)

1. Tony Finau, 29.6

2. Alex Smalley, 28.8

3. Corey Conners, 27.9

4. Sergio Garcia, 25.3

5. Gary Woodland, 23.7

6. Nate Lashley, 23.5

7. Brandon Wu, 22.4

8. Sepp Straka, 21.3

9. Matthew NeSmith, 20.5

10. David Lipsky, 19.7

11. Joel Dahmen, 19.6

12. Martin Laird, 18.3

13. Jhonattan Vegas, 18.1

14. Russell Henley, 17.9

15. Nick Taylor, 17.2

Proximity Gained (Last 24 Rounds)

1. Tony Finau, 69

2. Austin Smotherman, 65.5

3. Cameron Young, 64.1

4. Vaughn Taylor, 60.8

5. Corey Conners, 60.3

6. Gary Woodland, 60

7. Tyler Duncan, 57.3

8. C.T. Pan, 56.3

9. Paul Casey, 55.3

10. Russell Knox, 51.8

11. Kevin Streelman, 50.3

12. Luke Donald, 47.3

13. Webb Simpson, 45.3

14. Lee Hodges, 44.6

15. Russell Henley, 42.1

Fairways Gained (Last 24 Rounds)

Potomac is the 14th-toughest course for Driving Accuracy due to the 13th-narrowest fairways on tour. 

1. Adam Long, 39.5

2. Ryan Armour, 39

3. Kevin Streelman, 38.3

4. Martin Laird, 37.2

5. Austin Cook, 36.7

6. Jim Herman, 33.4

7. Russell Knox, 32.9

8. Chez Reavie, 32.7

9. Brian Stuard, 31.3

10. Brian Harman, 28.3

11. Tyler Duncan, 27.1

12. Abraham Ancer, 27.1

13. Hayden Buckley, 26.4

14. Satoshi Kodaira, 24.6

15. Joel Dahmen, 23.6

Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee (Last 24 Rounds)

Stanley ranked first at Potomac in 2017 and Molinari was seventh in 2018 for Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee.

1. Cameron Young, 24.8

2. Brendan Steele, 22.3

3. Keith Mitchell, 21.4

4. Sergio Garcia, 18.4

5. Corey Conners, 15

6. Rory McIlroy, 14.9

7. Si Woo Kim, 14.4

8. Luke List, 14.2

9. Trey Mullinax, 14

10. Kevin Streelman, 13

11. Brian Harman, 12.9

12. Max Homa, 12.5

13. Ryan Armour, 12.4

14. Hayden Buckley, 12.3

15. K.H. Lee, 12.2

Strokes Gained: Par-4s 450-500 Yards (Last 24 Rounds)

Six of the 12 par-4s measure between 450 and 500 yards.

1. Gary Woodland, 16.2

2. Cameron Young, 14

3. Tyler Duncan, 12.2

4. K.H. Lee, 11

5. Martin Laird, 10.5

6. Seamus Power, 10.3

7. Corey Conners, 10.1

8. Keegan Bradley, 10

9. Rory McIlroy, 9.2

10. Brian Stuard, 9.1

11. Rory Sabbatini, 8.5

12. Marc Leishman, 8.2

13. Keith Mitchell, 8.1

14. Andrew Putnam, 8

15. Brendan Steele, 7.9

Strokes Gained: Around-The-Green (Last 24 Rounds)

With smaller greens and plenty of Scottish-style bunkering, Strokes Gained: Around-The-Green and Scrambling will take on a greater importance this week. Molinari ranked eighth for Strokes Gained: Around-The-Green and first for Scrambling in 2018.

1. Matt Kuchar, 17.2

2. Matt Jones, 14.4

3. Jonathan Byrd, 12.5

4. Rory McIlroy, 12.2

5. Mark Hubbard, 11.7

6. Matthias Schwab, 11.2

7. William McGirt, 11

8. Wesley Bryan, 10.5

9. Rory Sabbatini, 10.1

10. Russell Henley, 10.1

11. Keegan Bradley, 9.5

12. Brian Stuard, 8.2

13. Brice Garnett, 7.7

14. Webb Simpson, 7.7

15. Mackenzie Hughes, 7.6

Scrambling Gained (Last 24 Rounds)

1. Matt Kuchar, 13.3

2. Matt Fitzpatrick, 12.2

3. Dylan Frittelli, 11.9

4. Jonathan Byrd, 11.5

5. J.T. Poston, 11.2

6. Bill Haas, 10.8

7. Rory McIlroy, 10

8. Rory Sabbatini, 9.1

9. Seung-Yul Noh, 8.8

10. Beau Hossler, 8.8

11. Marc Leishman, 8.5

12. Cameron Young, 8.1

13. Peter Malnati, 8.1

14. Patrick Reed, 7.5

15. Andrew Novak, 7.1

Selections

Matt Fitzpatrick (22-1 BetMGM)

While he still seeks his first PGA Tour victory, Fitzpatrick has won on several shorter, tree-lined, tight courses on the DP World Tour, including Valderrama (Andalucia Masters, 2021), Woburn (British Masters, 2015) and Brookline (U.S. Amateur, 2013), this year's U.S. Open venue. He is off a disappointing missed cut at Harbour Town, one of his favorite courses, but he has four top 10s and six top 20s in eight starts. Fitzpatrick looks reminiscent of another European player with a similar game in Francesco Molinari, who broke his maiden on the PGA Tour here four years ago.

Gary Woodland (37-1 Circa Sports)

Despite finishing 24th last week at the Mexico Open, Woodland ranked second in the field for Greens In Regulation and sixth for Strokes Gained: Tee-To-Green. He has three top-eight finishes already this year and looks very much back in form after battling injuries for the better part of a year and half. 

Seamus Power (40-1 BetMGM)

Power hit a bit of a lull after finishing top 15 or better in his first four events of 2022. He followed up that stretch with three straight missed cuts but looks to be working back toward his early season form (reached the quarterfinals at the Match Play and finished 27th at the Masters in his first career major). He made the cut here in 2017 and 2018 and is a much better player now, currently ranking fifth in the All-Around category. 

Cameron Young (42-1 Circa Sports)

Young is seeking his first PGA Tour victory but has made a splash in his rookie season with three top-three finishes (second, Sanderson Farms; second, Genesis Invitational; third, Heritage). A two-time winner on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2021, Young is one of the biggest hitters on the PGA Tour and leads this week's field for Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee, Strokes Gained: Tee-To-Green, Strokes Gained: Ball Striking, Birdies Gained, Birdie or Better Gained and Opportunities Gained. 

Sergio Garcia (50-1 Boyd Sports)

Garcia remains one of the great drivers in the game. He ranks fourth in the field for Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee over the last 24 rounds, but it’s his approach game that is encouraging, having ranked third in the field at the Masters. 

Matthew NeSmith (100-1 DraftKings)

NeSmith's third-place finish at the Valspar in March was his best career finish on the PGA Tour. He also finished 12th at the Heritage three weeks ago. He ranks in the top 12 in this field for both Strokes Gained: Approach and Greens In Regulation Gained. 

Martin Laird (130-1 DraftKings)

Laird has failed to register a top-10 finish anywhere since his October 2020 victory at the Shriners. He comes back to a course this week where he has had previous success, having finished third at the Quicken Loans in 2017. He also pops this week on several pertinent statistics including Strokes Gained: Approach (14th in field), Greens In Regulation Gained (12th), Fairways Gained (fourth), and Strokes Gained: Par-4s 450-500 Yards (fifth). Laird is also tops in this field for Good Drives Gained. 

​Betfred British Masters

Adri Arnaus began Sunday seven strokes off the lead but erased the deficit and won his first DP World Tour event at the Catalunya Championship, held in his native Spain. Arnaus (30-1 this week) defeated Oliver Bekker (35-1 this week) in a six-hole playoff and got this column on the board for its first DP World Tour win of 2022 at a price of 45-1. 

Nevertheless, Arnaus is not the favorite for the Betfred British Masters this week in a field that really has no favorite. Many of the bigger names have remained stateside to prepare for the PGA Championship. Like Arnaus last week, Adrian Meronk (22-1) is still knocking at the door for his first DP World Tour win. Poland’s top-ranked player finished third last week to make it two straight top-three finishes (third, Qatar Masters). Meronk has four top-six finishes in just eight events this season. 

Robert MacIntyre (22-1) is playing on European soil for the first time this season after finishing 23rd at the Masters. Jordan Smith (28-1) has a pair of runner-up finishes on the DP World Tour this season. After battling a back injury, Sam Horsfield (28-1) returned to competitive play for the first time since early February two weeks ago at the Zurich Classic. Other players priced from 28-1 to 35-1 include Laurie Canter (third last week), Rasmus Hojgaard, Dean Burmester, Ryan Fox, Lee Westwood and defending champion Richard Bland, who claimed his first DP World Tour victory at age 48 in his 478th start on tour. Danny Willett (40-1) returns to serve as the player host at the Belfry for the second consecutive year. 

The Course

The Brabazon Course at the Belfry plays host this week. The Belfry has hosted more Ryder Cups than any other venue (1985, 1989, 1993 and 2002). It has also been the stage for several European Tour events including the British Masters and the Benson & Hedges International Open. In 2020, it hosted its first European Tour event in 12 years for the ISPS Handa UK Championship, a one-time event created due to COVID-19.

There are three courses on the property but the Brabazon, designed by Peter Alliss in 1977 and re-designed by Dave Thomas in 1990, will be the host course this week. The Belfry is a parklands layout with water in play on half of the holes. The track is a par-72 and measures 7,328 yards. It is unique in that there are 12 par-4s with only three par-3s and three par-5s. The rye and meadowgrass fairways are narrower than average. The rough, a mix of ryegrass, fescue and meadowgrass, is about 1.5 inches in the first cut and 3 inches in the second cut. The greens are Bentgrass/Poa Annua and roll around 10-10.5 on the stimpmeter.

Selections

Jordan Smith (29-1 Boyd Sports)

Smith currently leads the DP World Tour for Greens In Regulation and ranks seventh for Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee. His consistent ball-striking has led him to two runner-up finishes in 2022. 

Laurie Canter (30-1 Westgate Superbook)

Canter had the 36-hole lead last week but ended up settling for third. Like Arnaus, Canter has been knocking at the door for his first DP World Tour victory for a couple seasons. 

Marcus Armitage (60-1 Westgate Superbook)

Armitage, who we hit at 80-1 around this time last year in the Porsche European Open, missed the cut last week after a five-week layoff. Before the layoff, he had made seven consecutive cuts, including four top-12 finishes. He ranks 10th on the DP World Tour for Strokes Gained: Approach. 

Jason Scrivener (66-1 BetMGM)

The Australian is also still seeking his first DP World Tour win. In an 18th-place finish last week, he was fourth in the field for Strokes Gained: Tee-To-Green and 11th for Strokes Gained: Approach. He also garnered his first top 10 on the PGA Tour two weeks ago, partnering with Jason Day at the Zurich Classic. 

Haotong Li (70-1 DraftKings)

After missing 14 of 18 cuts in 2021, Li has been more consistent this year, making six of eight cuts with two top-six finishes. In his last two starts in Spain, Li ranked third and 26th in Strokes Gained: Putting and 11th and ninth in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee.

Daniel Gavins (125-1 BetMGM)

Gavins ranks 16th on the DP World Tour for Strokes Gained: Approach and ranked second last week.

Lukas Nemecz (125-1 BetMGM)

Nemecz had three runner-up finishes on the Challenge Tour last year to earn his DP World Tour playing privileges. The Austrian was third at Ras al Khaimah earlier this season and has made seven of his last eight cuts.

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