The press toward the golf’s season second major, the PGA Championship, begins in earnest. Fresh off of a more light-hearted, player-friendly team event, the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, the Tour heads to one of the most difficult courses and most exclusive private clubs in America, Quail Hollow Club, just minutes outside of downtown Charlotte.
Jason Day is the Wells Fargo Championship defending champion. In 2017, Justin Thomas won the PGA Championship when it was held at Quail Hollow. The course will be the site of the President’s Cup in 2021, may get another PGA in 2025, and a Ryder Cup down the road is not out of the question. George Cobb originally designed the track that opened in 1961, but Tom Fazio did an extensive remodel in 1997 to prepare the golf course for what it is today. Fazio was called back to execute even more changes prior to it hosting a major in 2017. What we have now is a beast of a Par 71, measuring 7,554 yards in length.
PGA Tour players love to come to the Wells Fargo because of the course’s exclusivity, the challenge and its reputation for tremendous hospitality. Phil Mickelson, who hasn’t ever won here but has recorded 10 top-10 finishes and three additional top 20s, calls it one of his favorite courses in the world. In 15 trips, Lefty has never missed a cut and his worst finish is 35th. Seventeen of the top 50 players in the world are in the field. I am surprised it isn’t double that number. It seems perfectly situated on the schedule, two weeks before the PGA Championship, for players to make their final live competition prep for the next major. Knowing the strength of the golf course and fewer than expected top players in the world in attendance, picking the winner may be a bit easier as the victors here typically come from the cream of the crop. In the 15 years that the Wells Fargo has been played at Quail Hollow Club, eight of your winners have been major champions and, in 2012, Rickie Fowler took the top spot on the podium, currently ranked No. 10 in the world.
The length of the golf course will demand power off the tee, but we have seen winners here also have a great week of Driving Accuracy. Hitting greens in regulation will be important this week, but we add Hole Proximity to the list of key stats to consider as Quail Hollow consistently ranks as one of the more difficult courses on Tour to get the ball close to the hole on approach. This translates into Scrambling being a key ingredient for when greens are missed as well as avoiding 3-putts when approach shots are not left close to the hole. Finally, your winner will also have to have a good week scoring on the Par 3 holes. They are some of the most difficult on Tour with three of the four being well over 200 yards in length.
FULL TOURNAMENT HEAD-TO-HEAD MATCHUP
Lucas Glover (-115) over Patrick Reed
Both players have had success at Quail Hollow, with Glover winning the Wells Fargo in 2011 and finishing 8th three seasons ago. Reed took 8th here last year and finished 2nd at the PGA Championship in 2017. Fast forward to this season, and that is where the similarities end as Glover is enjoying an excellent season and Reed has been in poor form for the last couple of months. Glover is an excellent ball striker, ranking 17th on Tour in Strokes Gained: Approach, 11th in Greens in Regulation, and 16th in Hole Proximity. He also is 2nd on Tour in Scrambling. Until I see the form turn for Reed, I see him as being overvalued due to past success. I’ll ride the hot hand here at a short price.
A FAVORITE AND A LONG SHOT TO WIN
Tony Finau (20-1)
Finau had a monster year in 2018, but has been off to a relatively slow start in 2019. In my opinion, he has been overvalued for most of the season. But he has performed admirably on difficult courses: 13th at Torrey Pines, 15th at Riviera and 5th at The Masters just three weeks ago. His length off the tee will be a big bonus at Quail Hollow, where he has finished 21-28-16 in his only three trips. Ranking 7th on Tour in approach shots from 175-200 yards will help him on this long track. He’s 23rd in 3-Putt Avoidance, 33rd in Par 3 Scoring, and 47th in Scrambling. With less than normal star power in this field, on a long and difficult golf course, I feel like Finau has a great opportunity to get his 2019 season shifted into full gear.
Keegan Bradley (60-1)
Less star power at the top should help Bradley, who is currently ranked 34th in the world. Even against the best field at the Players Championship, also played on Bermuda grass greens, Bradley took 16th for one of his best finishes of the season. Some of the same attributes at the Players are important here, Ball Striking, Greens in Regulation, Hole Proximity, and Scrambling, where Bradley ranks 10th, 27th, 13th and 88th, respectively. Not as long as Finau off the tee, but more accurate, Bradley ranks 9th on Tour on approach shots from 200-225 yards out. If both of these guys can putt this week, they should find