QUICKEN LOANS NATIONAL: The PGA Tour heads down to Maryland this week for Tiger’s Tournament, the Quicken Loans National, which will be held at the formidable TPC Potomac for the second consecutive year.
Tiger’s name and foundation have been front and center in marketing this event ever since its inception in 2007, when it was known as the AT&T National, and now that he’s back from his long hiatus we get to see him compete here again, which is a boon for tournament organizers and fans alike. Of course, when I say compete “here” again I’m referencing the tournament, not the golf course, which Tiger has never played in competition. And once he gets a taste of TPC Potomac, he may wish he was still playing for milkshakes down in Florida or kicking back on his yacht, because this course is a beast.
A par-70 that measures a shade over 7,100 yards, TPC Potomac isn’t particularly long by Tour standards, but the narrow fairways, thick rough, numerous water hazards and firm, fast greens present a stiff challenge for the players. Last year birdies were scare and big numbers were plentiful, as the course produced a higher rate of double-bogeys or worse than we’ve seen since the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont. Eventual champion Kyle Stanley finished at 7-under par, a score that may win a major but generally doesn’t sniff the first page of the leaderboard in a standard PGA Tour event. TPC Potomac is all about finding fairways and playing smart shots into the greens, but most of all it’s about avoiding disaster. Things can go wrong in a hurry out there.
Stanley is back to defend and is currently trading at a shortish 23.0 at BETDAQ, which is a reflection of both his current form (runner-up at Memorial three starts ago, T15 at the Travelers last week) and the relative weakness of the field. Rickie Fowler heads the market but seems frightfully short at 9.0, while the conspicuous tournament host, who has been consistently overvalued since his impressive three-week stretch in March, checks in right behind Rickie at 15.5. The value, I think, can be found a bit further down the board.
Here’s what I have in mind:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Byeong Hun An (31.0)- An fits the profile of someone who should succeed at TPC Potomac: he’s a typical fairways-and-greens type who is deadly with the irons, and he has a history of playing well on difficult courses. He did take his lumps on a difficult course in his last start, making the cut but faring poorly over the weekend in the U.S. Open, but TPC Potomac is a bit more straightforward than Shinnecock, and An has flashed terrific form in the not-too-distant past, nearly winning The Memorial earlier this month before falling short in a three-way playoff. He played this event last year and, despite going MC-T66 in his two prior starts and missing the cut in his next start immediately following this tournament, he tied for 29th here and fired a third-round 66, which was the second lowest score posted on that particular day. Now that his game is in better shape, I think it’s fair to expect big things out of An at a course that seems to fit him so well, and 30/1 isn’t quite short enough to scare me off.
Brian Gay (62.0)- In many ways, today’s PGA Tour seems to have passed players like Brian Gay by– he’s always been rather short off the tee, but the bombers of today hit it so far past the 46-year old Gay that it makes you wonder how he could ever compete. And, truth is, he can’t compete anymore… on some courses. But there are still plenty of spots where players like Gay can shine, and TPC Potomac is one of those places that prioritizes accuracy over distance and requires patience, consistency, and a great short game, all traits that Gay possesses in spades (particularly the short game– his is one of the best in the world). And it just so happens that Gay has been playing quite well over the past month, finding the top-20 in three of his past four starts, including the U.S. Open. He played this event last year and made the cut, finishing T43, despite missing back-to-back cuts heading into the week and going T72-MC in the two tournaments following this one. In other words, Gay was in the midst of a terrible stretch but still managed to scratch out a decent performance here, which speaks volumes about how his game fits TPC Potomac. And remember, though it’s been awhile, Gay is a 4-time champion on the PGA Tour who knows how to finish the job when he’s in contention. He’s a bit of a dark horse, but at better than 60/1 I think the grizzled veteran is worth a bet.
Matt Jones (116.0)- It’s been a struggle for Jones since a breakthrough 2015 season that saw him log three top-5 finishes and nearly win one of the FedEx Cup Playoff events (Deutsche Bank Championship), but lately he’s been showing signs of a return to form. His T19 at the Zurich Classic team event was his first top-20 of the year, and he followed it with a T13 at the Byron Nelson, and then, last week, he opened with rounds of 65-66 before a pair of 70s over the weekend left him in a tie for 19th. Still, that’s three top-20 finishes in five starts for Jones, so he definitely has a bit of momentum heading into this week and could be positioned to surprise some folks. He finished 38th in this event last year despite putting stats that were among the worst in the field, so Jones proved that he could handle TPC Potomac tee-to-green, which probably shouldn’t be surprising considering that ball-striking– specifically the tee game– has long been the Aussie’s strength. He’s a longshot, no doubt, but he’s a live one.
TOURNAMENT MATCH BETS
Marc Leishman (1.96) vs. Francesco Molinari (1.83)
Both of these guys seem a little overvalued in the overall market, but that’s especially true of Leishman, who has played quite poorly since his runner-up finish at the Byron Nelson six weeks ago (T62-T45-MC). Some will point to the fact that Leishman finished 5th in this event last year, but he had a tremendous record at last week’s venue, TPC River Highlands, and he missed the cut anyway. Molinari has at least been playing some solid golf lately, finishing 26th or better in five of his past seven starts, and his renowned accuracy off the tee should serve him well at TPC Potomac. Recommendation: Molinari at 1.83
Jimmy Walker (1.97) vs. J.B. Holmes (1.83)
Holmes is red-hot after a 3rd-place showing at the St. Jude and a runner-up at last week’s Travelers Championship, but I’m not sure his game is well-suited for TPC Potomac– is he disciplined enough? Can he get around the course without an implosion or two? He did make the cut in this event last year but he did not manage to avoid the implosions, which is why he failed to break par in any round and finished the week at +11 (T68). Walker has been playing pretty well himself, notching six top-25s (and three top-10s) in his last seven starts, and his precision iron play makes him a more natural fit for TPC Potomac. Recommendation: Walker at 1.97