Wells Fargo Championship: A preview, stats and best bets for Quail Hollow
By Dave Tindall. Last Updated: 01/05/14 1:42pm
The 18th green at Quail Hollow
There are always exceptions to rules and Derek Ernst certainly provided one last year at Quail Hollow when he scored a shock 500/1 win.
Previous runnings of the Wells Fargo Championship had been won by big names (Tiger Woods), major winners (David Toms, Lucas Glover) or celebrated youngsters (Anthony Kim, Rory McIlroy Rickie Fowler) so Ernst was a bolt from the blue.
In the build-up to the event he'd missed six of his eight cuts that season and hadn't finished better than tied 47th. Since his win he's missed 19 cuts in 28 starts and hasn't finished better than 30th.
Ernst aside, the reason a class name often wins this event is that the course is considered to be of major championship quality and that will be borne out in 2017 when the Charlotte course hosts the US PGA Championship.
It's worth noting that youngsters do have a fine record here though so, in that respect, Ernst was actually following a trend.
He was 22 when he took victory 12 months ago, as was Kim in 2008; Rory McIlroy was just 20 when he triumphed while 2012 champion Rickie Fowler was 23. Ernst, McIlroy and Fowler all made this the scene of their first PGA Tour win.
McIlroy and Mickelson headline the field as they make their first starts since The Masters while Webb Simpson will have the least travelling to do as he lives just a mile away from the course.
Water awaits at the 18th
From pgatour.com: "Quail Hollow Club, 7,442 yards, par 72. Designed by George Cobb, the course opened in 1962 and quickly established itself as a worthy host of big events. Quail Hollow was the original site of the Kemper Open (1969-79), later hosting the World Seniors Invitational (1980-89) before Tom Fazio was brought in to redo greens and add yardage. The PGA TOUR returned in 2003. The final three-hole stretch, known as the "Green Mile," is considered one of the toughest finishes on the PGA TOUR."
Ernst and England's David Lynn were the surprise play-off pair last year after posting eight-under - the highest score in the tournament's history. Previous winning scores from 2012 back to 2003 were: -15 (Rickie Fowler), -15 (Lucas Glover), -15 (Rory McIlroy), -11 (Sean O'Hair), -16 (Anthony Kim), -13 (Tiger Woods), -12 (Jim Furyk), -12 Vijay Singh, -11 (Joey Sindelar, the other shock winner!) and -10 (David Toms). Six of the 11 runnings have gone to play-offs, including each of the last three.
The leading contenders (and Sky Bet odds)
Rory McIlroy (13/2): The Northern Irishman produced an extraordinary performance to win this event in 2010. After making the cut on the number and seemingly set to finish as an also-ran, he shot 66-62 on the weekend to romp to a four-shot victory. Also a play-off loser here in 2012 and 10th last year, it's a course that really suits his eye and shot shape. Although he was never in contention at Augusta, a first Masters top 10 (he was eighth) still made it a decent week and he could be ready to finally post a first win of 2014.
McIlroy celebrates victory in 2010
Phil Mickelson (16/1): For the first time since 1997, Mickelson missed the cut in The Masters - his favourite tournament of the year - so he'll be looking for a big response. He's had several chances to win this event and his record at Quail Hollow shows a second, two thirds, two fifths and two other top 10s. By contrast, he hasn't managed to post a single top 10 on the PGA Tour this season, his best a 12th in Houston two starts ago.
Lee Westwood (16/1): After looking flat for the first few months of the season, Westwood is in the groove again. He showed signs of life when 17th in Houston, built on that with another fine display at Augusta (seventh) and then romped to a seven-shot victory in the Malaysian Open the following week. Add that form to his top five finishes here in the last two years (fourth 2013, fifth 2012) and it's no surprise to see him near the front of the betting.
Justin Rose (20/1): The Englishman has a patchy record here with two missed cuts in five appearances and nothing better than tied 28th. There are signs though that he's going to put in a big performance soon and with the greens being ripped up and replaced with bermuda grass that could boost his chances given his fine record on those surfaces in Florida. Rose has two eighths and a 14th at Augusta in his last four starts so the signs are promising.
Rickie Fowler (25/1): A missed cut in New Orleans last week was a surprise given his fifth place at Augusta and sixth in Houston in his two starts prior to that. This event holds special memories for Fowler as it gave him his first PGA Tour win in 2012 when he showed great composure down the stretch. Also sixth on his debut here in 2010 and 16th in 2011 there's every chance he'll be prominent again.
Jim Furyk (28/1): The veteran has reeled off five top 20s in his last six appearances, a run that includes a fifth, a sixth and a seventh (at Hilton Head last time where he had incredible scrambling stats of 95.8%). He's a former winner of this event too, his victory coming back in 2006. Furyk was also second in 2005 and made the top seven in 2008 and 2010 so has bags of course form.
Jimmy Walker (33/1): He's been one of the star players on the PGA Tour in the last six months, with three wins taking him to the top of the FedEx Cup standings where he still resides. Given all that, it was no surprise to see him shine on his Masters debut where he finished eighth. The negative is that Walker missed his first four cuts at Quail Hollow and still hasn't posted a top 20 in seven attempts.
Although his career is still in its early phase, it's a surprise that Rory McIlroy hasn't won the same event twice yet. That suggests he may be worth taking on here even though his chance is an obvious one.
Of the leading names in the betting, Jim Furyk may be the most reliable given his combination of course and current form.
An each-way return would pay for the week but hopefully he can get his nose in front after a barren spell on the trophy front.
Given the record of youngsters, let's donate a decent portion of the staking plan towards some of the super-talented twenty-somethings.
Chesson Hadley is already a PGA Tour winner having landed the first prize in Puerto Rico last month.
Chesson Hadley: Big prospect
He hasn't missed a cut since and could be ready to throw in another huge week given that he's a local boy who showed he could perform in front of his North Carolina crowd by capturing the Web.com's Rex Hospital Open last year.
Hadley is 60/1.
Japan's Hideki Matsuyama has missed his last two cuts but he's got some superb results in the big events (6th in last year's Open and 10th in the US Open) so won't back off here if he's got his game with him.
Fourth in Phoenix earlier this year, give him a try at 80/1.
Jonas Blixt isn't exactly a youngster (he turned 30 last week) but he still has a freshness having only turned pro in 2008.
The Swede has finished fourth (US PGA) and tied second (Masters) in the last two majors and is already a two-time PGA Tour winner.
He's 50/1 here and his case becomes more compelling when you note his ninth place at this track on debut in 2011.
2pts e.w. Jim Furyk at 28/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
1pt e.w. Chesson Hadley at 60/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
1pt e.w. Hideki Matsuyama at 80/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
1pt e.w. Jonas Blixt at 50/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)