WELLS FARGO CHAMPIONSHIP: There’s no doubt that the Wells Fargo has become one of the premier “regular” events on the PGA Tour over the past 15 years, but what has yet to be determined is the extent to which the tournament’s popularity has been tied to the host venue, the widely acclaimed Quail Hollow Club. We’ll find out this year, because Quail Hollow has opted out of hosting this tournament in order to prepare for September’s Presidents Cup, and so TPC Avenel, former site of the Booz Allen Classic and Quicken Loans National, will serve as the fill-in host.
The Quicken Loans National was last held in 2018 so it’s been a few years since we’ve seen this course in the spotlight, but the only thing that’s changed about it is the name– it’s now known as TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm. A par-70 that measures some 7,160 yards, TPC Potomac is a stout tee-to-green test that can’t really be overpowered due to fairways that get super-narrow in spots and several strategically-placed water hazards which force the players to be somewhat conservative off the tee. It’s a course for fairways-and-greens maestros, with length off the tee being largely irrelevant. Perhaps it should come as no surprise, then, that the last winner at this venue was Mr. Fairways & Greens himself, Francesco Molinari, who posted 21-under in 2018 to blitz the field by 8 shots. Don’t let that number fool you, though– Molinari played out of his mind that week to reach the 20-under mark on a course that yields few easy birdies. The year before, in 2017, the winning score was 7-under par, giving you an idea of just how tough TPC Potomac can play if the conditions are right.
Speaking of conditions, the weather forecast for this week looks pretty miserable, with rain and chilly temps set to roll in on Friday and last the weekend. One man who has played plenty of golf in those types of conditions is Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, and he heads BETDAQ’s Win Market (for the first time this season) at 10.0. The field isn’t quite as strong as we normally see at the Wells Fargo, with McIlroy the lone top-10 player in attendance and Tony Finau and Abraham Ancer the only others in the top-20, but there are some interesting mid-market options and TPC Potomac has produced some surprise winners over the years (see- Kyle Stanley in 2017), so I wouldn’t be afraid of taking a chance on some longer-odds types. With that in mind, here’s what I’m thinking this week:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Corey Conners (23.0)- After a mediocre start to the season Conners has really kicked it into gear over the last two months, finding the top-15 three times in his past five starts, including a 6th-place showing at the Masters and a T12 at the RBC Heritage last time out. He’s one of the best ball-strikers in the world, ranking 6th on Tour in strokes gained off the tee and 13th in strokes gained tee-to-green, so he’s a strong play on difficult courses that don’t require prodigious length, and TPC Potomac certainly fits the bill. With the way he’s been playing lately, a less-than-stellar field, and a course that requires the type of ball-striking precision that he’s become known for, Conners looks awfully tasty at a price like 23.0.
Sepp Straka (48.0)- Over the last eight weeks, Straka has a victory and three other top-15 finishes, including a T3 in his last non-team event, the RBC Heritage. Some might say he’s on a career heater, while he himself would probably tell you it’s the new normal– after all, he did (quietly) post five top-10s last season. Regardless of how you see it, Straka seems to be sniffing victory about every other time he tees it up these days, and here comes another course where his average length off the tee (83rd on Tour in driving distance) won’t hurt him a bit. I would’ve considered him at 38.0, but at 48.0 he feels like an absolute bargain.
Anirban Lahiri (110.0)- Doesn’t it seem like Lahiri is priced as if the last two months didn’t happen? You know, the stretch in which he’s made five straight cuts, finished runner-up at The Players, and logged two top-15s since The Players, the latest coming last week in Mexico. That stuff HAS happened, Lahiri continues to play well, and so I’m a bit mystified by the continued disrespect in the market. That’s especially true this week, because unlike many in the field he’s had success at TPC Potomac before, finishing T13 in the 2018 Quicken Loans National. He’s a no-brainer at a triple-digit price.