Wells Fargo Championship Tips

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Steve Bamford's Tips for the 2018 Wells Fargo Championship. Follow Steve on twitter: @bamfordgolf

With the 'GolfSixes' this weekend on the European Tour, we're focussing 100% Stateside this week as the PGA Tour travels to Quail Hollow Club for the Wells Fargo Championship. Back to its true home after a single year sojourn to Eagle Point Golf Club in 2017, the Wells Fargo Championship is always a highlight on the PGA Tour calendar. One of the biggest PGA Tour 'domestic' tournaments of the year, the Wells Fargo finds itself in a difficult schedule position these days, so it's fantastic to see a strong field in North Carolina a week before The Players Championship. A field that boasts Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Jason Day, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed, Hideki Matsuyama, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods says everything about Quail Hollow and the high regard the course is held in.

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Course Guide: The Wells Fargo Championship returns to its Quail Hollow spiritual home after the tournament visited Eagle Point 12 months ago. Back then Quail Hollow was being prepped for the 2017 PGA Championship which Justin Thomas won from Francesco Molinari, Louis Oosthuizen and Patrick Reed who had each caught and eventually passed 54-hole leader Kevin Kisner - Thomas and the other main PGA Championship contenders all play again this week. After its 2016 Tom Fazio re-design, the basic layout of Quail Hollow has changed from a scoreable Par 72 to a toughened Par 71 format, with the front of the golf course substantially "beefed-up". Effectively though the course, despite only being built by George Cobb in 1961, is very much a classical golf course which has always received excellent reviews from the world's best players.

From a detail perspective, it's important to note that a significant part of the re-design saw the greens changed from MiniVerde Bermudagrass to Champion Bermudagrass. Similar Champion Bermudagrass greens can be found across PGA Tour stop-offs at Sedgefield Country Club (Wyndham Championship), TPC Southwind (FedEx St Jude Classic), the Country Club of Jackson (Sandersons Farms Championship) and the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail (Barbasol Championship). The 2011 PGA Championship hosted at Atlanta Athletic Cub and won by Keegan Bradley also featured Champion Bermudagrass putting surfaces.

Quail Hollow Club, Charlotte, North Carolina: Designer: George Cobb with 2013 & 2016 Tom Fazio re-design; Course Type: Classical; Par: 71; Length: 7,554 yards; Holes with Water Hazards: 4; Fairways 419 Bermudagrass; Rough: 419 Bermudagrass 3"; Greens: 6,500 sq.ft average featuring Champion Bermudagrass; Tournament Stimp: 12.5ft; Course Scoring Average 2012: 71.84 (-0.16), Difficulty Rank 25 of 49 courses. 2013: 73.04 (+1.04), Difficulty Rank 10 of 43 courses. 2014: 72.55 (+0.55), Rank 13 of 48 courses. 2015: 71.92 (-0.08), Difficulty Rank of 20 of 52 courses. 2016: 72.95 (+0.95), Rank 9 of 50 courses. 2017: PGA Championship 73.47 (+2.47), Rank 1 of 50 courses.

Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for Quail Hollow and how they compare to recent courses on Tour:

Course Designer Links: For research purposes, other Tom Fazio designs include:

Fazio has also had re-design input into:

Course Overview: Quail Hollow is very much a classical golf course with Carolina connotations. When I say Carolina think Pinehurst Number 2, Harbour Town Golf Links, Sedgefield and even the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook which despite being in Florida has the feel of a Carolina golf course - so traditionally tree-lined, with narrow sight lines from the tee and plenty of dog-legs. Quail Hollow will play to 7,554 yards from its tips this week and that's an incredibly long Par 71. Purely from a PGA Tour perspective, only Bethpage Black (2016 Barclays) and the Blue Course at Congressional (AT&T National 2012-14 & Quicken Loans National 2016) have played anywhere near this length in modern times.

After James Hahn won the 2016 Wells Fargo Championship, Tom Fazio-inspired work started on the course with a 90-day window allowing significant changes to the very start of the front 9. The 1st this week is now a 495 yard dog-leg right par-4, which was previously a sub-420 yard birdie opportunity. The 178 yard par-3 2nd hole is no more (it's been used to lengthen the 1st) and a new 167 yard par-3, namely the 4th hole, has been built to replace it. As a consequence the 5th has now been shortened from a 570 yard par-5 to a 450 yard par-4. A 100% new green complex has also been built at the 11th and the par-4 has been lengthened by 35 yards, which now plays 462 yards.

Below I've listed the par-3, par-4 and par-5 scoring splits of Justin Thomas and his 3 nearest pursuers at last summer's PGA Championship:

And here's the breakdown of Wells Fargo Championship winners here since 2014 when the course received its first Tom Fazio re-design and Bermudagrass greens:

The key to winning at Quail Hollow has always been to score heavily on the par-5s and play the other holes at around -2 to -4 or slightly better. So to contend this week a player will need to master the 7th, 10th and 15th holes. From the par-5s onwards the course naturally gets tougher. It's worth pointing out that the course will play slightly shorter than it did for the PGA Championship, with 46 yards having been knocked off the scorecard, so from 7,600 yards Quail Hollow will play 7,554 yards for the Wells Fargo this week.

Winners inc 2017 PGA Championship: 2017: Justin Thomas (-8); 2016: James Hahn (-9); 2015: Rory McIlroy (-21); 2014: J.B. Holmes (-14); 2013: Derek Ernst (-8); 2012: Rickie Fowler (-14); 2011: Lucas Glover (-15); 2010: Rory McIlroy (-15).

Tournament Stats: We've published some key player statistics for this week's event that are well worth a look. Naturally they'll help to shape a view on players who could go well this week: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader | Top 20 Finishes. NEW! Combined Current and Course Form is now available here.

Published Predictor Model: Our published predictor is available here. You can build your own model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Top 10 of my published predictor are Justin Thomas, Tony Finau, Kevin Streelman, Tommy Fleetwood, Rory McIlroy, Trey Mullinax, Brian Harman, Byeong-Hun An, Luke List and Chesson Hadley.

Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10-tournament window that stretches back to the Honda Classic / Qatar Open and includes both PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players must have played in a minimum of 2 Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:

Winners & Prices: 2017: Harman 80/1; 2016: Hahn 500/1; 2015: Rory McIlroy 7/2; 2014: Holmes 66/1; 2013: Ernst 500/1; 2012: Fowler 50/1; 2011: Glover 110/1; 2010: McIlroy 66/1. Average: 172/1. Past 4 Renewals Average: 162/1. For a full summary of winner's odds on the PGA Tour since 2010 click here.

Historical Weather:

Weather Forecast: The latest weather forecast for Charlotte, North Carolina, is here. Conditions-wise, we should see a lush course from the start of the tournament as the area received 87mm of rain last week. However one thing that was clear at the August PGA Championship was that the SubAir systems here are mighty effective, so with no rain in the forecast until Saturday night, tournament organisers will be able to make the putting surfaces as fast as they wish - so expect a drying course, especially with temperatures up to 29 degrees Celsius across the opening 3 days. Wind shouldn't be a huge concern, but a storm front across Saturday evening may see a soft and very long course in play on Sunday.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of Justin Thomas and the 3 players who finished T-2nd at the 2017 PGA Championship gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:

Tournament Skill Averages:

Let's take a view from players as to how the revised Quail Hollow sets up and what skill sets the course favours:

Justin Thomas: "Yesterday I was playing really well, hitting great shots. When you have 4, 5, 6-irons in your hand, you need to be defensive. For the most part, I had some not aggressive but more aggressive than normal lines just because I felt good about my golf swing and what I was doing with my ball. If I have a longer club in my hand, I'm just trying to get it on the green and get out with a par and move on.

Any time you can get softer conditions, the golf course is going to be easier. Doesn't matter what course it is. I mean, look at years at Augusta, the scores have been really low. I know there's SubAir and they can get them firmer, but at the end of the day, when there's no rain and the greens are really firm, it's really difficult. And when the greens are softer, we're pretty good at golf. So it's a lot easier when the ball isn't going to go as far as when it lands because we feel like we have more control over it. When you get as tough of greens and around the greens as it is out here, softness is going to allow us to hit more greens and get it closer to where we want. I would say that had pretty much all to do with it."

Jimmy Walker: "We're used to playing it with rye grass everywhere. It has a potential, with the pure Bermudagrass layout, to play really firm and really fast. That's when golf gets really hard, when you start losing control of the golf ball. Bermuda rough tends to fly a lot, or it could come out where you get some horrendous lies. Guys are going to have to deal with that: 'Am I going to get the big jumper?' Or 'Will I get the really soft shot that comes out?' "Even around the greens, Bermuda rough is very hard to chip out of. The greens ought to be fast, and that's the biggest variable, I would think.

I thought the new holes were great. The 1st has got a beautiful look to it. It's reminiscent of the original tee shot and it opens up nice down there to the right, and the green, you can see the entire green. I love being able to see kind of where you're going. All the new green complexes are very nice. They are not too tricky. They have got a lot of flat spots. They have got some movement in them but they have got flat spots where you like to put the pins and there's plenty of room. Just I thought it looked really good. It's going to be fun playing with all Bermuda. It will be a completely different test."

Rory McIlroy: "The changes are good. It definitely makes the start of the golf course more challenging. The first hole, now instead of it being 3 wood and a wedge, it's a driver and a good mid iron. I think you won't really see guys getting off to the hot starts that they used to. You see guys maybe, especially those first six holes, you'd see guys 3 or 4 under par. I don't think that's going to happen now. And then the rest of the golf course is pretty much the same. Obviously they have lengthened 11 a little bit. But what they have done on 16, 17 and 18 over the years has stayed pretty much the same. I like the changes. I mean, I obviously like the golf course the way it was before. My record around there is pretty good. I fancy my chances around there. But it's always been, I guess, a modern player's golf course. You've got to, if you can drive it a long way, there's an advantage there, especially coming in with the driveable par-4, 14th and in; the par-5 15 and the long holes coming in. So yeah, I think people will really enjoy it this year. It's a great venue for a tournament and it will be a great venue for a Major, as well."

Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 8 Wells Fargo Championship winners:

Incoming form of winners since 2010:

For the record, here's the breakdown of Bermudagrass PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:

Since 2018, the Wells Fargo Championship has held this same schedule slot - 4 weeks after The Masters and 1 week prior to The Players Championship - 4 times in 2011, 2012, 2016 and 2017. Lucas Glover in 2011 had missed the cut at both Augusta and Harbour Town and had a best finish of 20th (at Copperhead) before winning the title at 110/1. Rickie Fowler in 2012 had finished 27th at Augusta, missed the cut at Harbour Town and finished 10th the week before at TPC Louisiana before capturing his maiden PGA Tour title at 50/1 (we were on board that week). 2016 and James Hahn had a season's-best finish of 17th at TPC Scottsdale before embarking on a journey of 8 straight missed cuts including Harbour Town, TPC San Antonio and TPC Louisiana before capturing this title at a massive 500/1. 12 months ago Brian Harman had finished 13th at Bay Hill, missed the cut at Harbour Town, finished 9th at Harbour Town and was 14th the week before with Johnson Wagner at the Zurich Classic.

It's difficult to know exactly how the course will play as we see the Wells Fargo Championship played on this revised set-up for the first time. With little wind and a lush course expected, we should see a stretching enough, mid-score (circa -12/-14) kind of test which will be all about making plenty of birdies on the shorter par-4s and the par-5s as bogeys really are unavoidable elsewhere. For me it's all about powerful, high approach golf at the end of the day, similar to the skill sets required at Augusta. Hardly surprising therefore to see the amazing tournament records of Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson plus other strong classical golf course players like Rickie Fowler, J.B. Holmes, Sean O'Hair and Justin Thomas topping leaderboards.

My selections are as follows:

Tommy Fleetwood 2pts EW 28/1 with £/€20 risk-free bet* for new accounts, 18+, T&Cs apply (8 EW, 1/5 odds):

Quail Hollow has seen a number of high-profile first time winners in recent times. Only 7 months ago Justin Thomas claimed his first Major Championship title here with a closing round which was pure class on a firm and fast course. From a PGA Tour perspective, 2008 saw Anthony Kim win his first Tour title here a few weeks after finishing runner-up at Harbour Town. We all know the story of Rory McIlroy's first Tour win here in 2010 when he shot 66-62 across the weekend after making the cut on the number; just 2 years later Rickie Fowler won his first Tour title here at 50/1 - a success I tipped. So there's certainly previous here when it comes to breakthrough wins and a champions' list which also includes Tiger Woods (2007), Lucas Glover (2011), J.B. Holmes (2012) and Rory McIlroy again (2015) highlights that powerful ball-striking is a true advantage.

So I really like the chances of Tommy Fleetwood this week who's settling down on the PGA Tour very nicely. His 2018 is trending positively and PGA Tour outings to date have garnered 37th at Riviera, 4th at PGA National, 14th in Mexico, 26th at Bay Hill, 17th at Augusta and 4th last week in New Orleans where he played with Chris Paisley. Tommy looked very strong at the Zurich outscoring Paisley 13 birdies to 10 across the 2 four-ball rounds, but it's hard to really deduce anything from that event. Instead I take stock from his Augusta outing where after a Saturday -6/66 the Englishman was in 6th spot after 54 holes. Ultimately he disappointed slightly in the 3rd-last pairing with Henrik Stenson, but following on from his U.S. Open heroics last year, it's clear that Fleetwood can mix it at the very highest level.

We all know that a first win in America is always a huge goal and Fleetwood arrives at a Quail Hollow course he played well enough at the PGA Championship last term with real momentum. From a correlating course perspective, his 4th at PGA National in February works very nicely with the likes of previous winners here Fowler and McIlroy being Honda Classic champions. Fleetwood's 2 Abu Dhabi successes also make sense with Quail victors Woods (3rd 2012), McIlroy (4 runner-up spots) and Fowler (1st 2016) all having success at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. You can even look at Tommy's 2nd at the 2017 WGC played at Chapultepec in a positive way with 2018 winner and runner-up Phil Mickelson and Justin Thomas not having a bad record at Quail Hollow. Long enough off the tee and high enough with approaches, I can see Tommy going very well at a course where his par-5 prowess will be priceless. RESULT: MC

Webb Simpson 1.5pts EW 40/1 with £/€20 risk-free bet* for new accounts, 18+, T&Cs apply (8 EW, 1/5 odds):

Whilst Quail Hollow accepts powerful play quite readily, those with other skill-sets can also thrive here. Take Quail Hollow resident Webb Simpson who is quietly going about his business in 2018 and doing so very well indeed. We were on-board at Harbour Town when he delivered a full each-way payout. And after last week when Billy Horschel won the Zurich Classic the week after we were on-board at the Valero Texas Open, I'd hate to miss out on what would be one of the most obvious victories imaginable. Simpson is a no-thrills kind of player who is always one to follow on courses he goes well on. 2 Eagles and 15 Birdies helped to deliver a -5/67 on Sunday at Augusta to finish a career-best 20th. Tie that in with the aforementioned 5th at Harbour Town where he finished well in the worst of the Sunday conditions and Webb clearly has momentum. 21st here in 2011, 4th in 2012 and 2nd in 2015 on his home course, Simpson also finished a half-decent 33rd here at the PGA Championship after shooting a +5/76 to take himself right out of it on Thursday before producing -2/211 across his final 54 holes. All of Webb's top 10s this year have come on Bermudagrass greens with 4th at Waialae, 5th at PGA National and 8th at Copperhead over and above Harbour Town, plus all featured positive Strokes Gained Putting displays. In terms of correlating course form, Simpson has results everywhere you want to see them and it's also good to see that he has excellent Champion Bermudagrass results across both TPC Southwind (3rd 2014) and Sedgefield Country Club (5th 2014, 6th 2015, 3rd 2017).  RESULT: T21

Tony Finau 1.5pts EW 45/1 with £/€20 risk-free bet* for new accounts, 18+, T&Cs apply (8 EW, 1/5 odds):

Big names at the top of the betting have created bigger prices for some form players and I like the look of Tony Finau this week. On a course where length, power and a strong scrambling game are required, Finau looks a good shout this week, especially as the birdies are flowing of late. 18 birdies on his debut at Augusta was impressive and though he will be long remembered for going viral on Social Media at the Par 3 Contest on the Wednesday, his eventual 10th place finish was an excellent first visit. After receiving treatment at his Utah base, Tony commented how his ankle was recovering last week at TPC Louisiana where again he played really well in his partnership with fellow Utah-pro Daniel Summerhays. In the heat of Sunday they went backwards - hardly a surprise with Summerhays as a partner - but a total of 11 birdies and a single bogey across the Four-Ball element of the tournament highlighted that Finau is still very much in great form. For a power ball-striker it's his short game though which has really impressed me of late. 5th, 15th, 5th and 18th for Scrambling across Riviera, Chapultepec, Houston and Augusta show that the World Number 33 has a decent touch around the greens which will be essential this week. He was 5th for Putting Average at the Masters and featured in the top 20 for the same skill category here at the PGA Championship in August. However it's his classical course results CV which is really impressive and gets him my vote this week: 4th (2017) and 6th (2018) at Torrey Pines, 2nd at Riviera (2018), 5th at Copperhead (2017), 8th at Muirfield Village (2015), 5th at Glen Abbey (2017), 7th at Conway Farms (2017) and 7th at East Lake (2017) all jump from the page from a classical course perspective. RESULT: T21

Byeong-Hun An 1pt EW 70/1 with £/€20 risk-free bet* for new accounts, 18+, T&Cs apply (8 EW, 1/5 odds):

Finally Byeong-Hun An makes plenty of sense this week on a course where he finished 28th at the PGA Championship. With plenty of power off the tee aligned to accuracy and a high ball-flight, An has plenty of tools which are useful at Quail Hollow at his disposal. He's playing sneakily well in 2018 as well with 6th at the Dubai Desert Classic, 5th at the Honda Classic, 14th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and 7th last time out in singles competition at Harbour Town. That performance raised an eyebrow for me as I assumed it would be a little tight for him, but we must not forget that he won the 2015 BMW PGA Championship around the tree-lined Wentworth. So actually 7th at Harbour Town and 8th last year at the Eagle Point-hosted Wells Fargo actually makes a little more sense. Looking at Harbour Town in more detail, rounds of -4/67, -5/66 and -2/69 across Friday to Sunday were good enough for the South Korean to finish just 3 shots back of winner Kodaira. 10th here after 36 holes at the PGA Championship back in August, I think the World Number 86 could shine this week and at an event where real talent have grabbed their first PGA Tour victories, An could well add his name to the list. RESULT: T63

Watch these tips on YouTube with Steve Bamford: Golf Betting System YouTube Channel

Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 17:25 BST 30.4.18 but naturally subject to fluctuation. Author Steve Bamford, Find us on Google+

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