The First Tee – Wells Fargo Championship

Adam Daly
By Adam Daly April 29, 2019 19:56

The First Tee – Wells Fargo Championship

This Week

THE COURSE

Quail Hollow saw changes for the PGA Championship a couple years ago so while history here tends to point towards the same prototype of player (lonnnnng), looking at history before 2017 won’t show the whole picture; Tom Fazio did the re-design and in the two years since then (once as the Wells Fargo, once as the PGA) the cut has come at +4 and +5, and the winner scored -8 (PGA) and -12 (W.F.). While the cut does typically come above par here and the winner will stick in the low teens, the course was lengthened enough to really play tricks with the cut line which is normally +1/2.

The course is a par-71 that plays at 7,554 yards and has five of the top-50 toughest holes on tour. Part of what makes Quail so tough is the fairways – last year, only 52.3% of fairways were found (sixth-hardest) even as the average width at the 300-yard marker is a hefty 31 yards across; while trees loosely surround the fairways, golfers have to pull driver so often thanks to the length of the course that fairways are tough to find here. This was slightly different during the PGA (58.5% fairways were hit) but that event also had lower driving distance as golfers played woods, hybrids or even long irons off the tee. There’s not much in the way of hazards off the tee, just some trees, bunkers and the occasional water hazard. The rough is fairly thin in the primary cut but can get nasty fast.

Approach shots here tend to be in the “long” category (outside 200 yards), which makes for tough irons into firm Bermuda greens; the Bermuda was installed between 2016 and 2017 so they should be more receptive than over the past two events as the grass takes, but the greens have enough contouring and sloping to offer a real challenge and reduce the number of greens in regulation. The Bermuda greens are fast (expected to be around 12’ on the stimpmeter) and are overseeded with poa.

If the greens are missed, the bunkers at Quail are deadly – they use feldspar sand (native to NC) that Augusta National trucks in for their own course – and with the firm greens, scrambling is tough.

STATS

The Strokes Gained stats to focus on in order (not including Tee to Green):

  • Approach
  • Off the Tee
  • Putting
  • Around the Green

Counting stats to focus on in order:

  • Greens in Regulation %
  • Approach Shots: 175+ Yards
  • Driving Distance
  • Par-4 Efficiency: 450+ Yards
  • Par-3 Birdie or Better %

Top-Tier Golfers

Phil Mickelson ($9100): Phil’s course history here is basically immaculate: his worst finishes here are a T35 all the way back in 2006 and T26 more recently in 2012, out of 15 tries. He has ten top-10 finishes in 15 attempts! 13/15 top-25s! No missed cuts! Wild! On the season, Mickelson’s year has had its ups and downs, starting the year with a solo second, missed cut and a win, but recently he’s picked up T18 at the Masters and back-to-back missed cuts at the API and Players.

Statistically he’s struggled relative to previous years, but he still cranks the ball off the tee – 12th in All Drive driving distance – and has a remarkable 4.57/round birdie average. He’s got dynamite proximity numbers on long approach shots (T14) and when he’s got a birdie putt lined up, he’s hitting 36.3% of the time which is good for tenth-best; the concern for Phil is when he gets wild off the tee, but that won’t be too much of a concern this week.

Gary Woodland ($9000): Beyond a missed cut last year, Gary’s also got strong course history with three top-25s in seven tries which includes a T4 back in 2015; that combined with his good year so far – nine made cuts in ten events including three top-10s – make him a strong play, but he also rates out well statistically:

  • 6th in SG: Off the Tee / 9th in All Drives distance
  • 2nd-best birdie average (4.84) / 27th in Holes per eagle
  • 5th-best proximity from outside 200 yards / 7th in greens in regulation
  • 6th in SG: Tee to Green

His putting this season has regressed to pre-2018 Gary levels of putting as he currently ranks 150th which is a concern, and his play around the greens is nothing to write home about either, but those are the only real concerns – and putting is so variable that really it’s just the play around the greens to worry about.

Value Golfer (below $8000)

Keith Mitchell ($7800): He’s a strong putter on Bermuda grass which is a good sign, and his only time out at Quail Hollow last year he finished T34; he’s had his coming out party this year (at least on Bermuda tracks) with his first win at the Honda Classic, and although he’s coming off a missed cut at the Heritage he did make the cut in the five events immediately prior to that.

Mitchell is a long player (26th) that plays extremely well off the tee (15th in SG), and he dominates on longer par-4s and par-5s thanks to that; one of the concerns with him this week is his poor par-3 performances, but that’s mostly due to the same thing that haunts Gary Woodland: poor putting. Expect his performance on the Bermuda greens he’s more comfortable with to be better than his season average, although he still won’t suddenly turn into peak-Jason Day.

Trey Mullinax ($7500): The value version of Keith Mitchell (to a degree) who is the value version of Brooks Koepka (to a degree), Mullinax is another bomber off the tee who struggles on and around the greens but has a strong long iron game (7th in prox, 8th relative to par outside 200 yards) to make up for it. He’s a great player on the longer par-4s and on par-5s, and is almost immaculate with his irons when he hits the fairways.

Mullinax has only missed one cut this year (at the Players) and picked up a T16 at the Heritage, one of his five top-25 finishes this year out of his 12 events. He did miss the cut here last year but he shot 77-71, so that second-day improvement is a nice sign and one of the rare positives of a missed cut.

 

You can follow me on Twitter @adalyfrey and good luck this week!

 

Adam Daly
By Adam Daly April 29, 2019 19:56

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