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Keith Mitchell - First-round-leader60/1
Gary Woodland - Top 1013/2
Gary Woodland - Top 2014/5
It appears that the temporary move last year from Quail Hollow to TPC Potomac made absolutely no difference at all to the Wells Fargo Championship.
Max Homa backed up his win at the traditional home with victory over Keegan Bradley (18th in 2021), whilst fifth-placed Rory McIlroy added yet another high finish to an extraordinary course record. Further down, Stewart Cink, Brian Harman and James Hahn gave credence to the belief that the course mattered not, but a gnarled experience does.
There were highlights from the younger brigade, with the brilliant maiden Cameron Young getting involved, but this was the Wells Fargo as we know it, where contenders are generally major standard and with enough nous about them to know the rare occasion to attack the course.
Third on his only try, Viktor Hovland called Quail Hollow, “more of kind of a driving range golf course,” whilst two-time winner Max Homa revealed the secret to be, “a lot of 7-irons, 8-irons in, drive it in the fairway.”
Drive it long and straight, have your irons from 170-yards on point, and grind very well if you do miss the greens.
Favourite at around 8/1, Rory McIlroy’s course form is disgusting.
From 11 tries, the world number three has three wins, one runner-up, a fourth place, a pair of eighth-place finishes and a 10th, 16th and 22nd place. However, he seems to have returned to having directional problems with his driver, something that won’t do around here and surely makes single-figure odds of much less appeal than they might have done.
Full respect to Tony Finau, hero of last week’s column, whose usual tee-to-green game would be a massive asset here. However, despite his numerous high finishes in major championships, he has yet to catch fire around Quail (and didn’t around Potomac), recording a best finish of 16th, and that eight years ago.
With Xander Sceuffele unconvincing this year so far, and Viktor Hovland still lacking with the short game, despite openly pleased with the improvement he is making, the stage is set for Patrick Cantlay to win his seventh PGA Tour title, leaping one victory above Max Homa, a player he has a bizarre similarity with.
The world number four loves Muirfield, where he holds two crowns, a third and one fourth – Homa has a fifth and sixth placing. Cantlay has a runner-up from two attempts at TPC Scottsdale, Homa with a sixth and 14th. The world number seven has a recent and best sixth at the Valspar in Florida, and his rival was runner-up on his only start in 2017.
Finally Homa has a win, second, fifth and 10th at classic Riviera, whilst the selection can’t match the victory but has a record of third, fourth and three further top-20 finishes around a course with very similar properties to this week’s test.
If that’s not enough, they’ve also both been called out for slow play this season – Homa during the Match Play, and Cantlay a few times, most notably when in the second-last group at the Masters.
Ignore the controversy as Cantlay himself is doing and look at the golf. He’s the bet of the week.
The 31-year-old Jupiter Island resident has not been out of the world’s top five players since winning a play-off against Bryson DeChambeau at the BMW Championship in 2021, and the following year racked up 10 top-10 finishes from just 20 starts, including a win at his favoured BMW (although on a different course), play-off losses at the Pheonix Open and Heritage, second place behind a rampant Tony Finau in Detroit and a final runner-up spot at his beloved TPC Summerlin, when chasing Tom Kim too hard down the stretch.
2023 has been almost as impressive. No wins as yet, but third behind Jon Rahm and Max Homa at Riviera is top class, as was his one-shot defeat behind play-off protagonists Matt Fitzpatrick and Jordan Spieth at the elevated RBC Heritage last time out.
In between, Cantlay had chances at Bay Hill before finishing in fourth, whilst he was in that same position going into the final round at Augusta.
Overall rankings have the selection in third place for form over the past three months, third in total driving, 16th in greens-in-regulation and ninth in putting average. He leads the par-5 performance and is 12th for par-4s whilst his ranking of eighth for bogey-avoidance this year gives an easy impression that this course really should suit despite a moderate record from a small sample.
Cantlay was a more-than respectable 33rd at the 2017 PGA Championship held here, and recorded three wins from four matches at the 2022 Presidents Cup last September, so I’m happy to ignore the missed-cut on the number in 2021, his only outing at a full 72-hole stroke play event.
Anyway, who was it that also missed their cut on their first outing at Quail? Ah yes, Max….
We may not have Rahm or Scottie here, but this does look to go the way of one of the classier players in the field. In that respect, it’s tough to go too far down for potential champions, and 2018 championJason Dayshould make obvious appeal after a comeback season, I’m not certain he has the length to compete for a full 72 holes, something that found him out at Augusta.
At double the price, row along with Keith Mitchell, now just outside the top-50 having been ranked closer to 200 in 2010.
The 31-year-old Sea Island resident has an improving record here, with a debut 35th being followed by eighth and third in 2019 and 2021. The former came after a missed-cut at Harbour Town, whilst the best of his efforts followed a finish of 69 at Copperhead – he can play this track without resorting to recent memory.
Although he has only one victory on tour, Mitchell’s win at the 2019 Honda Classic came courtesy of a one shot victory over Rickie Fowler, the 2012 Wells Fargo champion, and fourth-placed Lucas Glover, winner of this week’s event the year previous.
Other notable efforts include top-five finishes at Bay Hill and Riviera (behind major-class Rahm, Homa, Cantlay and Zalatoris) whilst top-15s at the Byron Nelson, Players and Valspar all read well.
Although form seemed to have dropped since the Genesis Invitational, he will have been buoyed by a fifth place finish alongside Sungjae Im at the pairs competition, taking last week’s Mexico event out of his schedule to prepare for this week.
The selection ranks fifth over three months and second over six in the all-round rankings list, mainly off a top-10 for total driving and a solid putter, both aspects being a huge contributor to a solid display here this week.
Of interest to any first-round leader backers may be Mitchell’s regular fast starts. On eight occasions since the start of 2022, Mitchell has had eight top-10 placings after the opening round, five of those inside the top eight, four in the top five. Top that with his three outings here finding him in second, eighth and fourth after Thursday’s finish, and he’ll be worth a look at 60/1 or thereabouts.
If improving Hayden Buckley did not need to scramble, he would be worth a serious look at around 90/1 given his best form ties in with the main contenders.
Top-10 finishes at Summerlin, Jackson, Texas and most recently fifth at the classier-than-usual Heritage are pointers to the potential of the 26-year-old, who highlighted his profile with a 14th at the U.S Open at Brookline (tied third at halfway). Constantly finding on the field from tee-to-green, he hasn’t shown enough in the classic events mentioned above to warrant a play. Soon, though.
Maybe controversial but despite his admirable consistency at the top level, I remain unconvinced that Sungjae Im has the oomph to get over the line in this type of event. Either way, both are worth a look in the ‘top’ markets, with the Korean’s drift in the outright market making his top-10/20 odds rather appealing.
There are cases to be made for the likes of tee-to-green wizard Emiliano Grillo and Wyndham Clark with 14 cuts in a row, but the former major champion Gary Woodland, playing better than his numbers, is the one for the top-10/20 bet for the week.
The 38-year-old winner of the 2019 U.S Open has back-form at all the right places, with form not only in majors, but at Bay Hill, Muirfield, Scottsdale and at the Honda, all courses that provide links to formlines around Quail.
Whilst he may not have the where-withall to win, his record shows that he repeats form at the same tracks, almost matching his 2014 fourth place here in 2021, when overcoming a missed-cut at the Valspar to lead for two rounds before finishing fifth.
In the 10 starts of 2023, the four time major top-ten player has shot 65 in the second round at the Sony, been top-five after the opening round at Torrey Pines, within the top-10 for the last three days at Riviera, and was top-10 for three rounds at Augusta before finishing 14th.
Woodland’s most recent outing at the Fianu/Rahm match-up in Mexico saw him just outside the top-20 going into Sunday, when he would have found the birdie-fest far removed from his talents.
There are no gimmes with Woodland but he’s at his best when the field can’t get away from him with mid-60 rounds throughout. This should be nothing of that type and he can land his fourth course top-20.