As the final major of the season rolls around, the PGA TOUR heads to Quail Hollow Club for Glory’s Last Shot.
The course is typically the host of the Wells Fargo Championship, but it skipped hosting duties this year to prep for this event. That is notable for a number of reasons but most importantly is the course changes that have taken place over the last year.
A majority of the front nine has been tweaked, altered, or had the order changed. The back nine hasn’t been changed as much, as it was already tough enough, being home of the infamous Green Mile. That closing three-hole stretch gave up just 131 birdies or better in 2016 while yielding 409 bogeys or worse. No lead will be safe coming down the stretch which should provide for an entertaining finish.
Overall, the course will play 25 yards than before, but they also removed a par 5 in the process which means it is now a par 71 for the PGA Championship. That by itself will easily move this course into the “tough course” category. Luckily one of my favorite holes on TOUR, the par-4 14th appears to still be intact as a short, risk-reward par 4.
On top of the hole changes, the grasses are also different since the last time we saw Quail Hollow hosting. The greens have been reseeded with Champion Bermuda, the same type of grass that is featured at Sedgefield CC along with a few other courses on TOUR. Sedgefield is another TOUR stop that is located in North Carolina just 100 miles down the road. The link between Sedgefield and Quail doesn’t stop at greens and location. Quail Hollow also snagged the Sedgefield superintendent, Keith Wood, back in 2015. IF we think course superintendents leave a unique signature on a course when they set it up, then we have a very interesting link brewing.
The Champion Bermuda isn’t the only grass situation to monitor. Because of the time of year (August instead of May) they didn’t need to overseed the rough with ryegrass like they normally do for the Wells Fargo Championship, so it will be pure bermuda rough. Another small, but possibly not insignificant change to the course.
That sounds like a lot of course changes but overall it’s still a long layout with tight driving zones. Over the last 10 years, 13 of the 14 driving holes have averaged a fairways-hit percentage of less than 55. Part of that is due to the length of the par 4s. You have to pull driver a lot since eight of the par 4s now stretch out over 450 yards. If you’re using driver on 10-to-14 holes per round, it’s only natural that fairways will be tougher to hit. The fairways are also tough to hit because it ranks inside the top 5 tighest for annual TOUR stops in terms of median fairway widths.
Golfers that miss the fairways will have tree troubles to deal with but great escape artists should still have a chance at recovering out of rough since it’s usually not too nasty. This is a detail about the course that Phil Mickelson has raved about in the past. Early pictures this week look like the rough is still very manageable, keeping the trees, length, and fairway bunkers as the main defense. Of course, that could be due to the weather forecast, needing the rough shorter to start if they won’t have the chance to mow it due to off-and-on rains throughout the week. Give DailyFantasyPress a follow on Twitter to see a course walkthrough during the practice rounds.
For stats this week I want to target Driving Distance, GIR Percentage, and Birdie-or-Better Percentage. Pretty simple stuff, there. If I’m ranking the importance of strokes gained sub-categories, I am going to target strokes gained approach personally followed by putting, off-the-tee, and lastly around-the-green.
For correlated courses, the venues that popped off the page were either similar in terms of fairway width, amount of long par 4s, or quick green speeds. The top 5 correlated courses include: Muirfield Village, TPC Sawgrass, Riviera CC, Sedgefield CC, and Firestone CC. Overall, a very similar test to last week’s course.
For the weather forecast we see plenty of thunderstorms in the forecast. If the course stays soft then that should ensure these guys are hitting plenty of drivers. As for the greens, they have a SubAir system to keep them relativey dry and running as quick as they want them to.
For additional course and tournament info in addition to golfer quotes, check out the Fantasy Golfanac.
Players to Watch
Rory McIlroy… Quail Hollow was the site of his first PGA TOUR win. That was when the greens were bentgrass (2010). He would add a second win in 2015 (after the switch to bermuda). McIlroy has never been one to take sides when it comes to bent vs bermuda as he does his damage tee-to-green and his flat stick will pop at any time. He also owns the course record here. Based on the history alone, this is really Rory’s to lose. That being said, you can never just lock someone into a top-5 finish at a major, let alone a win. Might garner enough hype to have record-level ownership this week.
Rickie Fowler… Quail Hollow is also the site of his first TOUR win. Fowler has since won at TPC Sawgrass, one of the ball-striking courses I’m using as a correlated track. Another things going for Pretty Rickie is his season-long form. Looking at just PGA TOUR events, he’s gained 5+ strokes over the field in 11 of his last 13 starts. His game is so balanced that when one area is off, he usually picks himself up in a different department. Last week for example, he lost 1.2 strokes on approach, but gained em all back with +4.9 strokes gained putting. He also showed plenty of fight as it would have been easy to coast to a guaranteed paycheck after swallowing a pair of double bogeys early in his week. He’s historically been better on bentgrass courses but he does have two wins on bermuda (PLAYERS, Honda) so he’s no slouch on the grainy stuff, either.
Phil Mickelson… Rounding out the trio of course horses, Lefty has done everything but win here. He is 14-for-14 at Quail Hollow with nine top 10s, seven of those inside the top 5. Mickelson has called this the best tee-to-green course is the country. If we use FantasyNational.com to look up putting stats on other courses that feature the new Champion Bermuda greens, then Mickelson grades out right near the top. Add his love of the tee-to-green aspect with his positive stats on the new putting surfaces, and we may have a match made in heaven. That should help make his 100th major a memorable one.
Matt Kuchar… Don’t let the distance of this course fool you, Kuchar should still be right in the mix. He’s feasted on lengthy layouts like Augusta National and Muirfield Village over the years. His top-5 rate actually increases versus his baseline when he’s playing on courses over 7,400 yards. It would also be a lovely redemption story if Spieth had the career Grand Slam in sight this week only to be overtaken by Kuchar on the back nine on Sunday.
Paul Casey … It would be easy to look at Rory as the course horse and just throw a blanket statement out about off-the-tee being the most important stat this week. However if you compare the horses with the duds, the biggest separation comes in approach play. That is where Casey shines. He’s gained an average of 4 strokes approaching-the-green over his last 10 lasered starts. That is in elite, elite, territory. I will keep riding the Casey train until his ball-striking slows.
Bill Haas… While Webb Simpson will attract interest due to his membership at Quail Hollow, I’m going to go up the family tree and play the “dad is a member at the course” angle. Billy has claimed to have played this track at least 20 times outside of competition, generally making a few family trips per year. His dad should have the inside scoop on how the new course changes will alter strategy. He’s also got a nice track record on correlated events I’m looking at: WIN and T3 at Riviera, T2 at Wyndham, T4 at Muirfield Village, and T4 at TPC Sawgrass. When his irons get dialed in they can go lights out ala Jason Dufner style. Is also playing extremely steady golf lately, beating the adjusted field average by 1/2 a stroke or more in 19 of his last 22 rounds. That 86 percent clip is highest in the field over the last 10 weeks of PGA TOUR action. It may seem like a crazy boring play, but I’m using this Carolina boy as my dark horse.
Thomas Pieters… Unlike Haas, Pieters should attract plenty of attention this week, especially after his strong showing at Firestone CC. The only thing that holds him back from time to time is his temper and his motivation to play golf. The motivation part shouldn’t be a problem given this is a major championship. Love his upside, but he’s still in the boom-or-bust category for me.
Adam Scott… Has one of the stronger track records on correlated layouts and also posting postive results lately. The problem is his lack of upside this year. He’s been inside the top 5 after just one round this year (R3 of the Genesis Open). I guess there are a few more problems since he doesn’t have Stevie Williams on the bag this week and his wife is due next week. Could we have a Hunter Mahan situation if she goes into labor early? Something to consider before you get too invested in the Aussie.
Kevin Chappell… If approach play is at a premium, I want Chappell on my team, as he’s been lights out with his irons since switching back to his old clubs before the Masters. I think he was a late add to the RBC Canadian Open field after back-to-back missed cuts. He wanted to find his game before the last major and it seems to have worked, picking up T8 and T13 finishes over the last two weeks.
Justin Thomas… Picks up birdies in bunches when he’s clicking. However, he hasn’t been clicking for over a month. On the bright side, he improved in each round last week (73-70-69-67). Now he heads to another track where he can bust driver after driver, one of his strongest assets. I’m not going to let his recent duds steer me away this week.
Charley Hoffman… One of the hottest golfers in the world right now (results not looks). Has three podium finishes in his last five starts. If you want a form play, this is your man.
Si Woo Kim… Didn’t crack my rankings due to long-term inconsistencies but he is an interesting boom-or-bust play. His two wins have come at Sedgefield and TPC Sawgrass, both tracks I’m using as correlated course this week. Always a risk, but could be worth a shot this week.
My Top 40 for the 2017 PGA Championship
1. Rory McIlroy
2. Rickie Fowler
3. Jordan Spieth
4. Phil Mickelson
5. Matt Kuchar
6. Hideki Matsuyama
7. Paul Casey
8. Thomas Pieters
9. Brooks Koepka
10. Bill Haas
11. Sergio Garcia
12. Adam Scott
13. Justin Thomas
14. Dustin Johnson
15. Justin Rose
16. Jason Day
17. Charl Schwartzel
18. Charley Hoffman
19. Kevin Chappell
20. Patrick Reed
21. Marc Leishman
22. Jon Rahm
23. Kevin Kisner
24. Zach Johnson
25. Steve Stricker
26. Daniel Berger
27. Bubba Watson
28. J.B. Holmes
29. Jason Dufner
30. Ian Poulter
31. Keegan Bradley
32. Gary Woodland
33. Lee Westwood
34. Ross Fisher
35. Brendan Steele
36. Branden Grace
37. Tony Finau
38. Jamie Lovemark
39. Danny Lee
40. Tommy Fleetwood