A blank weekend last time out – our first for four weeks – was something of a disappointment, but if you don’t mind we’re going to take a lack of a return with a pinch of salt. A tournament blighted by monsoon-like weather, restricted to 54 holes and finished on the Monday was always going to throw up a surprise winner. And so it proved: grizzled veteran Brian Stuard was available at 500/1 with the bookmakers prior to the start.
So we’ll move on, and hope that April’s unkind golfing weather is behind us. It certainly looks to be set fair in Charlotte, North Carolina where the Wells Fargo Championship will be played at the famed Quail Hollow club.
Reigning champion Rory McIlroy is in the house, and he will be joined by fellow big guns Rickie Fowler, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson, amongst others. The Ulsterman hasn’t played since recording a top-10 finish at The Masters, and at 4/1 is a heavy duty favourite here. Not surprising given that he has finished inside the top ten in five of six starts in the tournament.
What Are We Looking For?
The Wells Fargo has been played at Quail Hollow for the past 13 years, so we have a great bundle of statistics to work with. Of these, it soon becomes clear that being able to give it a bunt off the tee – while remaining accurate – is essential. McIlroy ranked 1st for Driving Distance last year and 19th for Driving Accuracy.
But it’s not all about the power game: McIlroy was also the stat leader for Greens in Regulation and 4th for Scrambling, so getting onto the dancefloor in efficient fashion is also key.
And, of course, we must not forget the ‘Green Mile’: Quail Hollow’s legendary trio of demonic 16th, 17th and 18th holes. Here, dreams will be shattered and champions made.
There were a raft of changes made to the course post-2013, and since then the two winners have been J.B Holmes and McIlroy; the former is a decent pro who is edging closer to the top table, the latter….well, we know plenty about him. The point is that classy operators seem to flourish here.
Having said that, you can pick holes in many of those at the head of the market. Combine the form of Stenson and Scott at Quail Hollow and you have five missed cuts and a best finish of 58th. Paul Casey is another who has never made the cut here, while Justin Rose missed out on the weekend in New Orleans last week. Even Rickie Fowler, a former winner here, could only manage a 38th on his return following the changes to the course.
So perhaps we need to cast the net a little wider in our search for someone to take on McIlroy.
Hideki Matsuyama (25/1)
If anyone was beginning to doubt this young star’s ability to mix it at the top table then they were forced to eat their words at Augusta when Matsuyama recorded a fine 7th at one of the toughest tests around.
Prior to that there was his sixth place finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, and of course his victory at the Phoenix Open. It’s been a pretty good season by anyone’s standards.
Matsuyama boasts the statistical make-up we’re looking for (34th on tour for Total Driving – a combined overview of distance and accuracy, plus 12th for GIR) and finishes of 38th and 20th since 2013 here indicate a pleasing upward trend. Maybe he is ready to enter the winners’ circle once again.
Kevin Chappell (45/1)
Here’s a guy who appears to be closing in on his maiden tour win. Chappell has recorded three top-10 finishes in his last four starts, and has registered three money finishes this season in total.
So the assumption is that he is closing in victory, and a return of 11-16 since Quail Hollow’s facelift suggests he can handle this track as well as anybody.
The stats are hard to ignore too: 32nd for Total Driving, 42nd for GIR, 40th for Scrambling and 49th for Proximity to the Hole.
Si Woo Kim (250/1 or 15/2 Top 20 Finish)
Seven top-20 finishes this season show the fantastic progress that this young Korean is making, and a money finish at January’s Sony Open suggests that he is one to watch as far as huge each way returns are concerned.
If he has been inspired by Stuard and Jim Herman this season – winners at 500/1 and 350/1 respectively – then maybe he can get into contention here, and a 13th finish at the comparable Shell Houston Open is also pleasing on the eye.
As far as stats go, he offers 11th in Total Driving, 22nd for Proximity and 27th for Scrambling, so if he can improve his green hitting then who knows how far Kim can go this week.