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The Quicken Loans National has returned to its post-Travelers Championship spot in the 2017 PGA Tour schedule and, despite having Tiger Woods as its figurehead, the event - which is being hosted for the first time at TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm - has struggled to attract the quality of field that both the tournament and course deserves. It's the poorest Invitational status tournament that I can remember, plus throw in a completely new course and it all adds up to a tricky betting heat.
TPC Potomac used to host the Kemper Open and Booz Allen Classic on the PGA Tour up until 2006. From that point forwards, the Tiger Woods Foundation took control of what is the Washington D.C. stop-off on the Tour. Congressional Country Club has been the hub of this tournament going back to 2007, but we move literally across the road to TPC Potomac in 2017, a course which looks like it will be no pushover.
Over on the European Tour, Paul Williams previews the Open de France - you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Quicken Loans National - Featured Bookmaker
For the fourth consecutive week on a PGA Tour event, Betfair Sportsbook have gone 7 places each-way at 1/5 odds at the Quicken Loans National. They have also gone 7 places each way 1/5 odds at the Open de France at the time of writing. Betfair have two promotions to choose from for new customers: £100 Welcome Bonus (UK only) or Bet £/€10, Get £/€30. T&Cs apply:
Course Guide: TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm hosts the 2017 Quicken Loans National. Located pretty much opposite its famous neighbour Congressional Country Club, it's a course which has hosted PGA Tour, web.com and a Senior Major Championship over the past 11 years. From 1987 to 2004, plus 2006, this venue hosted the latterly named Booz Allen Classic which was a staple tournament on the PGA Tour. Winners include Lee Janzen (1995), Steve Stricker (1996), Justin Leonard (1997), Stuart Appleby (1998), Rich Beem (1999), Bob Estes (2002), Rory Sabbatini (2003), Adam Scott (2004) and Ben Curtis (2006). Following the 2006 tournament, TPC Potomac underwent a significant renovation to bring the golf course up to today's professional standards. Never a particularly easy venue, the layout was extended by circa 200 yards, whilst the course now plays as a Par 70 and green complexes were converted from Poa Annua to Bentgrass. Since the renovation the course has hosted the 2010 Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship plus the 2012 and 2013 Mid-Atlantic Championship on the web.com Tour.
TPC Potomac at Avenel Farms, Maryland: Designer: Ault, Clark & Sneed 1986 with Hardy & Wenzloff (2007) renovations; Course Type: Technical; Par: 70; Length: 7,107 yards; Water Hazards: 4; Fairways: Bentgrass; Rough: Bentgrass 3.5"; Greens: 5,300 sq.ft average featuring A4 Bentgrass; Tournament Stimp: 12ft; Course Scoring Average 2013: 69.84 (-0.16), Difficulty Rank 26 of 49 courses. 2012: 72.11 (+2.11), Difficulty Rank 2 of 29 web.com. 2013: 72.63 (+72.63), Rank 1 of 27 web.com courses.
TPC Potomac Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for TPC Potomac and how they compare to recent courses that we've seen on Tour:
Course Overview: TPC Potomac would appear to be a pretty tough nut to crack. Listen to any player interview from the likes of Mark O'Meara who won the 2010 Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship held here and you'll read the words "demanding" and "challenging" in equal measures. "If you get aggressive on this golf course it’s real easy to make bogeys. There are penalties everywhere, I was aiming towards the middle of the greens having 20 footers for birdie." Those are the words of Michael Putnam who won the last competitive tournament held here in 2013, namely the Mid-Atlantic Championship.
At 7,107 yards in length, many players might arrive under the false pretence that this course can be totally overpowered. Now a traditional Par 70 setup, TPC Potomac has only a single reachable par-5 and with 3 of 4 par-3s measuring 190 yards and above, the short holes offer little respite either. Throw in 6 par-4s which measure over 450 yards in length and it's little surprise that winning totals across the 2012 and 2013 web.com tournaments held here read -8/272 and -7/273. This course also ranked 2nd and 1st when it came to toughest courses on the web.com Tour across 2012 and 2013. Now yes the PGA Tour is a far higher standard, but expect a tactical contest this week with a resort style sub -15/265 looking pretty unlikely. Greens feature A4 Bentgrass, the likes of which we saw at Erin Hills a fortnight ago. Greens average at 5,300 sq.ft, which make them similar in size to Muirfield Village, TPC Southwind and East Lake.
Winners: (Congressional) 2016: Billy Hurley III (-17); (RTJ) 2015: Troy Merritt (-18); (Congressional) 2014: Justin Rose (-4); 2013: Bill Haas (-12); 2012: Tiger Woods (-8); (Aronimink) 2011: Nick Watney (-14); 2010: Justin Rose (-10).
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.
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 5 of the predictor are Rickie Fowler (No.1), Bill Haas, Marc Leishman, Justin Thomas and Brendan Steele.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10-tournament window that stretches back to the Valero Texas Open / Shenzhen International and includes PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players must have played in a minimum of 2 main Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners & Prices: 2016: Hurley III 200/1; 2015: Merritt 350/1; 2014: Rose 16/1; 2013: Haas 40/1; 2012: Woods 11/2; 2011: Watney 14/1; 2010: Rose 30/1;. Average: 94/1.
Weather Forecast: The latest weather forecast for Potomac, Maryland is here. 33mm of rain fell across last week including Sunday so expect lush conditions. However with temperatures up to 33 degrees Celsius the course is going to firm up, especially with only a small chance of rain across the 4 days. The players will also have to contend with a 10-15 mph south-westerly across the tournament, with gusts up to 20 mph across the opening 3 days. The course will be able to show its teeth.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 2 winners plus runner-up of the web.com events held here gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
Tournament Skill Averages:
So let's take a view from players as to how this track has set up in the past and what specific skills it requires:
Michael Putnam: “If you get aggressive on this golf course it’s real easy to make bogeys. There are penalties everywhere. I was aiming towards the middle of the greens having 20 footers for birdie.”
Hudson Swafford: "You’ve got to be patient out here, you can get on a bogey train very quickly. You can’t try to overpower it. Making a par on some holes is good. It’s like a U.S. Open venue. I made a couple of bad swings and made some bad numbers. You miss it in the wrong spot and you’ve got to get it back in play fast. Those were unfortunate errors but I rebounded nicely. The greens are getting firmer and faster and the rough’s not getting any shorter."
David Lingmerth: "I was really calm all day. You've really got to golf your ball out here. The key ingredient this week was that I finally got to make some putts. I knew I wasn't putting up to my ability this year and I finally found a feeling that I like."
Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 7 winners of this event:
Incoming form of winners since 2010:
For the record, here's the breakdown of Bentgrass PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:
It's worth recognising that the Quicken Loans National is a strong prize to capture for plenty in the field this week. Naturally the Presidents Cup looms in the distance and there are a number of high-class American players like Kevin Chappell, Patrick Reed, Brendan Steele and Bill Haas who would love a win to cement a qualification spot. Whilst Anthony Kim, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler and Tiger himself have all used this tournament to catapult themselves into the Ryder Cup / Presidents Cup, the timing of the tournament is also key for players further down the food chain as they can qualify for The Open Championship this week. The Royal & Ancient established Open Qualifying Series will see 4 players, who have not already qualified and who finish in the top 12 at TPC Potomac, secure places in The Open Championship.
This tournament has thrown up some shock winners in the past couple of renewals. 350/1 shot Troy Merritt was particularly left-field, whilst at least local man Billy Hurley III had fantastic Congressional course form prior to winning his maiden title 12 months ago; both bagging 3-year PGA Tour exemptions into the bargain. Prior to that, Justin Rose won this tournament in both 2009 (Aronimink) and 2014 (Congressional). His 2009 win came after his inaugural PGA Tour win at Muirfield Village and a near miss the week before at TPC River Highlands. 2016 had seen him win at 16/1 after a 12th the outing before at Pinehurst Number 2 and 4th at TPC Sawgrass. 2013 saw Bill Haas victorious at Congressional after a MC at Merion which had followed a 4th place at Muirfield Village.
TPC Potomac throws another curveball into the mix this week, but at least we know that the course has hosted both PGA & web.com Tour events in recent times. Players in this week's field with strong results here are:
Bookmaker Offers: Latest offers and extended each-way places are detailed below.
My selections are as follows:
One that I like at the top of the market is Kevin Chappell. Steady and motivated after winning his maiden Tour victory at TPC San Antonio back in March, Chappell is a class act in my mind and his results over the past 18 months have been top-notch. 23rd at Erin Hills last time out was no disgrace as he ranked 7th in the All-Round category. If anything, and this sounds ridiculous, the scoring at the U.S. Open was probably a tad too low for the Scottsdale Arizona resident and I think that he'll be able to plot his way around TPC Potomac very nicely this week.
Long and straight off the tee is never a bad combination and Chappell has been hitting the ball beautifully from tee-to-green for a couple of months now, a period of time which has yielded that maiden victory plus 4th at TPC Southwind and 7th at Augusta National. Last season saw 2nd at Bay Hill (2016), 2nd at TPC Sawgrass (2016), 3rd at Firestone (2016) and 2nd at East Lake (2016) on course debut - he can undoubtedly mix it with the best. On top of that, Chappell has good memories from the Washington D.C. area having finished 3rd next door at Congressional at the 2011 U.S. Open. 2 years ago he also led this tournament after 54 holes at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club which is only an hour's drive up Interstate 66. A final round 77 did for him that day as Troy Merritt took the victory, but with a Presidents Cup spot his if he finishes 2017 strongly and with plenty of top-level finishes across big tournaments under his belt since then, I think Chappell makes plenty of sense this week. Result: MC
The only renovated course winner in the field, David Lingmerth, has strong credentials at TPC Potomac this week. The Arkansas-educated Swede has always had an affinity with more northern climes on both the web.com Tour and the PGA Tour. 2012 saw him finish 2nd in Indiana and 6th in Missouri before he won the Neediest Kids Championship here at TPC Potomac. His breakout 2015 season on the PGA Tour then saw him win The Memorial at Muirfield Village in Ohio before finishing 6th at Old White TPC (West Virginia), 3rd at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club (Virginia), 6th at Firestone South (Ohio) and 12th at Whistling Straits (Wisconsin). These days we find Lingmerth with a strong undercurrent of form with 26th last week at TPC River Highlands being preceded with 18th at Eagle Point, 12th at Colonial, 15th at Memorial and 21st at Erin Hills. Naturally all of these courses feature Bentgrass greens and Lingmerth's liking for the surface can be seen in the fact that the accurate driver also heads my 10-week Putting Average window right now - that's a position that Billy Hurley III held when winning this title at Congressional 11 months ago. David was right in contention at the Travelers last week before falling back in the final round, but a return to a course where he made his web.com breakthrough in 2012 should see him right in the mix again this week. Result: T5
We all know that Billy Horschel likes a technical challenge and with a win at TPC Four Seasons last month allied to 2nd at Sea Island, 4th at PGA National and another 4th at TPC Southwind on his last non-Major appearance, the Floridian has a real chance of being able to represent the United States for the first time as a professional in the Presidents Cup. A win this week would get Billy into the automatic qualification spots and on a course like TPC Potomac where hitting greens will be at a premium in the breezy conditions, I really like his chances. 2nd at TPC Boston in 2014 and his 4th at Merion hold water form-wise, as does a short web.com history which includes strong finishes across Boise and Nebraska. 1st in All-Round when he won the HP Byron Nelson, Horschel was also 3rd in this category at the FedEx St Jude Classic and his season-long statistics make for interesting reading. 37th in Bogey Avoidance and 33rd in par-4 Birdie or Better Conversion makes plenty of sense this week, but I also like his 84th in Scrambling, 9th in Scrambling from 20-30 yards and 63rd in Strokes Gained Putting. Yes, his short game is underestimated and at a tournament where he finished 11th in 2014 over the road at Congressional Country Club when in worse form than he is right now, I can see the Par 70-positive Horschel loving the TPC Potomac challenge this week. Result: T26
I'm sure that Xander Schauffele would like to earn an invite to the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale and based on his current play that's more than a distinct possibility. 14th at TPC River Highlands last week - which could have been a top 5 finish without a disappointing double bogey on the 17th - Schauffele is playing some extraordinary golf right now. Previously his performance at the U.S. Open really opened plenty of eyes to the talent of the upwardly mobile World Number 162 who finished 5th on his Major Championship debut.
Long off the tee, Xander has been driving the ball beautifully since he was 24th at Eagle Point at the start of May, but it's his all-round game that get's him the nod this week. 9th (Eagle Point), 16th (Colonial), 13th (TPC Southwind), 2nd (Erin Hills) and 8th (TPC River Highlands) in the All-Round category, Xander has welcomed the return to Bentgrass putting surfaces in recent weeks and that makes sense as all of his best finishes last year on the web.com Tour were on Bentgrass or Bent Poa mix putting surfaces. 3rd at the Utah Championship, 4th at the Price Cutter Championship and 9th at the Nationwide Children's Hospital Invitational ties in well with Michael Putnam who was the last winner here in 2013. 51st in Bogey Avoidance, 11th in par-4 Birdie or Better Conversion and 51st in Strokes Gained Putting season long PGA Tour skill categories make plenty of sense this week and on a course where greens will be difficult to hit consistently, he's ranked 8th and 9th for Scrambling across the U.S. Open and Travelers. Result: T35
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