Wells Fargo Championship Preview

05-02-17

Same North Carolina but different course.

The Tour moves from inland Charlotte to coastal Wilmington as 156 pros tee it up at Eagle Point Golf Club.

Quail Hollow will return as host next year after the 2017 PGA Championship

The early reviews have been excellent unlike the weather forecast…

 

Wells Fargo Championship

 

Eagle Point Golf Club

Wilmington, N.C.

 

Yards: 7,395 per the official scorecard

Par: 72 (36-36)

Greens: Bentgrass

Stimpmeter: 12′

Rough: 2″

Course Architect(s): Tom Fazio (2000)

Purse: $7.5 million; $1.35 million-winner; 500 FedExCup points.

Defending Champion:  James Hahn defeated Roberto Castro in a playoff on a totally different course in a totally different part of the state.

 

Notes:

  • Quail Hollow Club is hosting the 2017 PGA Championship so Eagle Point serves as the host for this year.
  • Tom Fazio designed each track so there will be some similarities but one is coastal and one is inland.
  • This is the first Tour event on this track so past history from Quail Hollow will be worthless this week.

 

 

2016-17 Winners

 

Frys.com: Brendan Steele

CIMB: Justin Thomas

WGC-HSBC: Hideki Matsuyama

Sanderson Farms: Cody Gribble**

Shriners: Rod Pampling

OHL Mayakoba: Pat Perez

RSM Classic: Mackenzie Hughes**

SBS TOC: Justin Thomas

Sony Open: Justin Thomas

CB Challenge: Hudson Swafford*

Farmers: Jon Rahm*

WMPO: Hideki Matsuyama

AT&T Pebble Beach: Jordan Spieth

Genesis Open: Dustin Johnson

Honda: Rickie Fowler

WGC-MC: Dustin Johnson

Valspar: Adam Hadwin*

Arnold Palmer: Marc Leishman

WGC-Match Play: Dustin Johnson

Shell Houston Open: Russell Henley

Masters: Sergio Garcia

RBC Heritage: Wesley Bryan**

Valero Texas Open: Kevin Chappell*

Zurich Classic: Cameron Smith* & Jonas Blixt

 

*First-time winner

**First-time winner AND rookie winner

 

 

The Particulars:

 

For the second week in a row, gamers will need to be on their toes as the PGA Tour throws us all a curve ball. Last week it was a team event at a normal Tour stop; this week it’s a brand-new track and a full-field event of 156 individuals.

The Tour heads to Wilmington for the first time since the Azalea Open in 1957 for its first look at Eagle Point. Designed in 2000 by Tom Fazio, the course has earned rave reviews on social media from those adept to post such information.

From excellent holes to perfectly manicured conditions it seems to have resonated with some players. That shouldn’t be a surprise on two levels. Fazio has redone Riviera and Augusta National plus put together Quail Hollow. Also, Eagle Point hired Marsh Benson to tidy up the joint. His previous job was the superintendent at Augusta National for 27 years so it’s not hard to see where that comparison creeps in.

As for the track, as with all new tracks, the ball-strikers should have the advantage this week. Guys who make their money putting won’t have the greens mapped yet and that levels the playing field. The slick Bentgrass shouldn’t be running too hot as the course is located just a mile from the ocean and wind will be a factor, unlike Quail Hollow Club.

The ball-strikers will navigate the pines and oaks that line the fairways and will also notice sabal palms blowing in the breeze. Similarly to Augusta but not on such a grand scale, the fairways will cant and the elevation will change and this will favor those find the proper parts off the tee.

Fazio protects his usually slick greens with intricate bunkering and that will reward the accurate as well. As is normal, those who don’t hit greens better be sharp getting up-and-down to keep bogeys off the card.

He’s also added 500 yards to the grounds with the Tour in town so I’m not sure how many “regulars” here have played the new set-up.

There’s no “Green Mile” to finish but on the card it doesn’t appear to be an easy stroll home. No. 15 can play 223 yards and No. 16 is listed at 448. No. 17 can tip out at 442 and is tight with water in play. The final hole, even though a par five is not a guaranteed scoring hole either as it plays 580 yards into the prevailing winds.

 

Previous Champions

 

This section will return next week at THE PLAYERS when the stat will have relevance.

 

*playoff

X-not playing this week

 

 

Course Ratings:

This section will return next week at THE PLAYERS when the stat will have relevance.

 

Persons of Interest:

Playing at almost 7,400 yards with a full complement of par fives, I’m leaning on power players again this week. The more cracks they get on par fives the more birdies they should make.

Also, with the rough only playing around two inches, the hyper-accurate won’t be rewarded for finding fairways or greens. If the rumblings of Carolina Augusta are any indication, there will be plenty of room for recovery shots as well so length never hurts.

The new venue will level the playing field almost instantly so I’m leaning on class and guys who are playing well. That won’t be the case next week when TPC Sawgrass is in play and course history will be the determining factor.

 

Weather:

 

There’s no wonder why the players and even some supers around the country are drooling when they see the pictures of Eagle Point. After two inches of rain last week put Wilmington over their April annual average, the green is really green and the course is immaculate and receptive.

With thunderstorms in the cards Thursday night and into Friday morning, be ready for more delays and more gusty conditions. The wind continues through the weekend but it is prevailing so that will take some of the guess work out of the equation but those who know where there ball is going should have the advantage.

 

Facts and Figures:

 

This part of the column returns next week when we have historical data that will be relevant to the event at THE PLAYERS.

 

 

The Field

 

Favorites

In order of preference for this week and this tournament

 

Dustin Johnson: The last time a new venue was added to the Tour at the WGC-Mexico Championship, Johnson tore it to shreds to the tune of 18-under-par. The year before Austin Country Club was new for WGC-Dell Match Play and Jason Day won. You get the point. The major concern for gamers this week is whether or not to trust Johnson after his WD from the Masters. I’m not the least bit concerned this week because his injuries were essentially bruising and should be more than completely healed. Remember, he doesn’t play RBC Heritage or Zurich so it’s not like he’s still hurt. I love a soft landing on a big track with light rough and four par fives and would expect the rust to disappear quickly.

Jon Rahm: Since winning at FIO the Spaniard’s only finish outside the top 16 in six events is T-27 at Augusta. Essentially every course he’s playing this spring is “new” in his eyes so he doesn’t have to worry about any of that business. He’ll do what he’s done all spring: show up, blast it, make a ton of birdies and contend.

Adam Scott: As I said above, there’s no secret that I’ll be leaning on GIR machines this week. It also doesn’t hurt if they’re long and strong and will fight the wind off of the tee. Scott fought the wind to the tune of T-9 at Augusta his last time out and he’s had some success on that Fazio track in the past as well.

Kevin Kisner: I know, I know, he’s a die-hard Bermuda guy on the greens but he’s playing too well to nit-pick. He finished 11th in Mexico because he’s been in the top 20 in SGTTG for most of the season. He’s also sixth in SGT so his entire bag has been on (Eagle) Point for most of the season including last week’s P-2 finish.

Bud Cauley: He broke out of his funk with T-9 at Harbour Town and followed that up with T-10 at a blustery TPC San Antonio. I’m going to ride the momentum that not even a team game could slow down as he was a birdie machine last week finishing T-5 with Justin Thomas at Zurich. The breeze won’t bother him or his golf ball and I’m going to be there when he breaks through. WD Tuesday morning.

William McGirt: With top 10’s at WGC-Match Play and RBC Heritage, don’t forget about his two very good rounds in the windy conditions at Augusta before finishing T-22. His all-around game should translate again this week in his part of the world. He’s steady tee-to-green and his only win came on Bentgrass at Memorial.

Bill Haas: Each week he’s in the field he’s in this column and it’s a testament to his steady play. He busted a streak of 12 cuts made with another drab finish at a benign Harbour Town. Another familiar face in the Carolinas, Haas will probably enjoy a new track as he’s had barely any success at Harbour Town or Quail Hollow in the last five years. I’ve lost track of how many times he’s made the cut at Augusta, another Fazio design.

Paul Casey: His last two results have been top 10’s as he made the final 16 at WGC-Match Play and continued his fire-balling run over the last three years at Augusta. He’s rattled off eight straight on Tour and it’s hardly a surprise with his power and precision.  He’s hit T-16 or better in four of his last five on Tour and was T-16 in Mexico.

Webb Simpson: He’ll be on everyone’s radar this week for good measure as he’s a member at Eagle Point. Veteran gamers will point out this hasn’t translated to Quail Hollow, where Simpson is also a member, but I’ll point out knowing something is greater than knowing nothing. If ANYBODY needs a break or two on the greens Simpson will take it without question. He was right in the fight at Harbour Town his last time out before he stumbled on the back nine finishing T-11. He’s a beast approaching the green as he sits fifth currently. That will come in handy this week in the wind.

Phil Mickelson: He took his first two-week break after T-7 at the WGC-Mexico Championships and return three weeks later to make the quarterfinals in WGC-Dell Match Play. He’s had the last three weeks off and should be dialed in after his break. Remember, he wouldn’t be playing this week if this course, set-up or designer bothered him. He sits fourth in par-five scoring.

Daniel Berger: With plenty of pop in those bats and no fear of having to make birdies, I’ll lean on a top-30 guy in scoring and strokes-gained again this week. He sits in the top 50 in all three par-scoring categories and can get hot in a hurry.

Lucas Glover: I never tire of a guy who sits third in GIR and 12th in scoring. I love him even more on weeks where putting is washed out and this week qualifies. He’s played 10 of 12 weekends this season and I’m loading up on him this week across most formats.

Hudson Swafford: Missing the cut in your first Masters to break up a streak of back-to-back top 10’s isn’t going to put me off. The big hitter is also in the top 30 in GIR and in the top 40 in scoring. He also destroys par fives and sits 12th in total driving.

Kevin Tway: Sure, he’s ranked way too highly this week for some of you who don’t believe in THE STREAK and that’s fine. I like him even more this week because nobody has any clear-cut advantage on this track and he’ll have no problem overpowering it.  Tway battled the wind at Valero and Zurich to the tune of T-3 and third, his best ever finishes on Tour in back-to-back events.

 

Next Tier

Just missed; no particular order of preference

 

Francesco Molinari: The Italian just keeps cranking out fairways and greens and that will play, again, this week. He only has two finishes outside of the top 40 worldwide where he’s made the cut in a year. He’s only MC three times during that year as well.

Brian Gay: On paper it doesn’t fit this week but I can’t ignore T-6 and T-6 in the last two stroke-play events. Gay was also the benefactor of a ruling that saw him qualify for THE PLAYERS because the Tour changed their exemption measurement (reverted to last year’s points). I’m sticking on a horse that’s running hot.

Stewart Cink: In his last seven events he’s finished inside the top 30 in six of them. I get that none are better than T-22 but I’m willing to live with those results in about ANY format.

Graeme McDowell: He’s popped off 10 of his last 11 and five of the last six are inside the top 30. The only caveat is that his MC was on a course he had never played before that played long and windy.

Nick Watney: Nice bounce-back in the team format last week with Charley Hoffman suggests that his last two MC’s were just bumps in the road. If you check the scorecard, it wasn’t Hoffman making all birdies last week…

Soren Kjeldsen: Playing from the middle of the fairway and holing plenty of putts has seen him rack up six in a row on Tour after a very rough start. He’s starting to look comfortable.

J.B. Holmes: I think his length is always in play especially with a big of “bomb-and-gouge” in the forecast this week. One way to make inroads on a new track is hit it as far as you can and try and wedge the place to death. He might or he might die tryin’.

Louis Oosthuizen: Some will take this as a “demotion” but I haven’t seen any big results recently that would suggest placing him any higher. Sure, I love his swing but anything inside the top 15 would be gravy this week. WD Tuesday morning.

Emiliano Grillo: Another who has been racking up cuts but only one top 25 in a streak of seven. The good news is the only one was T-7 at API. It’s usually putter that holds him back.

Pat Perez: One bad round at Valero might scare a few off this week but that’s the exception and not the rule. Remember when he was yelling about Tiger? Yeah, me neither.

Martin Laird: He posted three solid rounds before closing with 75 at Harbour Town. He was two back at Valero before closing with 75. He’s strong tee-to-green but has been very solid across the board all season.

Nick Taylor: T-22 in his last two stroke-play events including Valero in the breeze garners my attention. He’s also rattled off eight of 12 weekends this season including six of his last seven.

Luke List: He should be way higher as he’s posted two low ones and two high ones in his last two events resulting in MC. He should be in the top 15. You’ve gotten a bonus for reading this far.

Patrick Reed: To make you forget about having List above him, I’m excluding Reed this week. He’s liable to catch fire when we are least expecting it and make a ton of birdies. He won’t have much rough to be worried about this week and has plenty of power to get scoring clubs in his hand.

 

Off the Beaten Path

Course horses, long shots, cheeky picks, DFS last call, red herrings, general mish-mash.

Patrick Rodgers: Just whisper in his ear that it’s Quail Hollow and away we go! The ball-striking ain’t the issue, folks…

Brian Harman: He’s on a nice run of T-14, MC, T-9 and T-14 at Zurich last week.

J.T. Poston: Seven weekends in a row on his own ball and five of those results are T-27 or better.

Ryan Blaum: He’s the one that made all the birdies with Wes Bryan last week.

Harold Varner, III: Grip it. Rip it. Find it. Make it. Bomb’s away and five weekends in a row on his own ball entering this week.

Kevin Streelman: I know he’s going to find fairways and greens. I also know if his putter warms up he can get silly.

Shane Lowry: He’s not playing enough to be on the radar but I’m leaning on his history in windy conditions.

Smylie Kaufman: Broke up a nasty streak of MCs on a big, windy, par 72 TPC San Antonio so maybe #SB2K17 helped.

Vaughn Taylor: He’s quietly posted a pair of T-23’s in two of his last three weekends.

Billy Hurley, III: He said he only had a couple of bad holes in finishing T-37 at Valero after T-22 at Harbour Town. That doesn’t sound like a guy who is upset with his game.

 

Fades:

Zach Johnson: There’s no need unless you prefer buying on name.

Rafael Cabrera-Bello: I lost count of how many he made in a row and now am losing count of how many in a row he’s missed.

Alex Noren: Here’s another Euro whose success across the pond hasn’t translated on Bermuda and Bent. His world ranking doesn’t match his current form, sadly.

Wes Bryan: Yes, I get that he won three times on the Web.com. Yes, I get that he won his last time out on his own ball. He didn’t make too many birdies last week in New Orleans and this track will have a bit more bite.

Cameron Smith: Haters gonna hate and I’m fine with that. He couldn’t speak after his win so I’m going to let him enjoy his life-changing event and we’ll pick back up on him later. WD Tuesday morning.

 

Next:

 

Wednesday I’ll present my gaming angles for the week so keep your eyes peeled at @MikeGlasscott and mikeglasscott.com for more information.

 

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out through Twitter or email me mikeglasscott@gmail.com.

 

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