Wells Fargo Championship Guide: McIlroy, Thomas Headline Loaded Field

Credit:

Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports

The Highlights

  • Quail Hollow played as the toughest course on tour last year. While distance off the tee is important given the 7,554-yard length, a golfer’s all-around game will be tested here.
  • The field is loaded, headlined by three former winners in Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas (who won the PGA Championship here last year) and Rickie Fowler. Phil Mickelson has great history at Quail Hollow, and we can’t forget to mention that the Big Cat is back in action after a topsy-turvy Masters.
  • Because of the loaded field, guys in the mid-tier are more talented than most weeks. Brooks Koepka, who just returned from injury last week, and Tony Finau have numbers posted you may not find again in 2018.

Intro and Course

After a year away from Charlotte, North Carolina, the Wells Fargo Championship returns to Quail Hollow. The tournament moved to Wilmington, a couple of hours east at the beach, in 2017 while the course hosted the PGA Championship.

But the tour is back to its normal stop for Quail Hollow, which has been one of the more difficult stops throughout the years.

It checks in at 7,554 yards for a par-71. This place is just a brute. The bombers have had their way here in the past. Justin Thomas took down the PGA Championship last year, and Rory McIlroy has a pair of victories here among the elite guys. J.B. Holmes is another bomber who’s come out on top, and even longshots like Derek Ernst, who won at 500-1 in 2013, relied primarily on the driver for success.

Par-5 scoring also comes into play. Last year, only four holes played under par at the PGA Championship; three of them were the par-5s. If players aren’t able to take advantage there, they’ll have a tough time finding birdies anywhere else on the course. It will play a little easier this time around without the major setup. The greens will be slower and the course will be a little shorter, but those facts don’t diminish the importance of attacking on the few holes that actually give up birdies.

The closing three holes are especially difficult. The “Green Mile” represented three of the 50 hardest holes on tour last season. This is one of those courses where a guy can post a number and wait it out because it’s an easy spot for the leaders to falter and give away a tournament. — Joshua Perry

The distance at Quail Hollow speaks for itself, and it’s clear that longer players will have an edge since they’ll have more birdie opportunities. However, the metrics that have historically back-tested well here are … interesting. Driving distance and birdie-making still proved valuable, but recent play and course history really stood out.

Using the FantasyLabs Trends tool, we can back-test a variety of metrics to see what types of players do well at Quail Hollow. The baseline golfer has historically produced a miserable -7.70 DraftKings Plus/Minus. From there, I looked at how golfers in the top-20 percentile of each metric have historically fared at this course. Here’s the data …

Recent GIR back-tested the best of any metric, and I believe that metric is perhaps the best indicator of current form and ball-striking. Historically, feeling confident in the approach game and getting in excellent birdie spots are paramount to success at Quail Hollow. Sure, this course is long, but perhaps more importantly, it’s just really damn hard. You need distance to hang, but then the all-around game shows its importance. — Bryan Mears


The Field


McIlroy and Thomas lead the betting odds at +800 and +1000, respectively. That’s no surprise given those two have combined for three wins on the course. Rickie Fowler is right there with Thomas at +1000 and also owns a win here in 2012.

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson will also make appearances. Woods opened at +1800 and won in 2007, but he’s missed the cut in his only two appearances since 2010. Mickelson has been close numerous times on this course. He’s finished in the top 10 on nine occasions but is still looking for a win. He’s available at +2600.

Masters champ Patrick Reed is available at +2000, while Jason Day, Hideki Matsuyama and Paul Casey are all in the sub-+2500 range.


The Favorites

Betting analysis: This is one of those events where it’s not a bad idea to just target one of the guys at the top and ride with him. Thomas and McIlroy are getting decent numbers given their history at Quail Hollow. If you’re making one of these plays, Thomas would be my pick. He’s been winning about 25% of his starts over the past year, and his win here last season was in a much stronger field. Getting him at +1000 isn’t a bad price at all; he could easily be a co-favorite with McIlroy.

That said, I’m going to start my card farther down the board with Tommy Fleetwood at +2800. He’s been my go-to pick for a while in this range, and this is another course that should set up well for him. He enters the week third on tour in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee behind only Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm. He’s also coming off a good week in New Orleans. It’s tough to take a lot from the team event because of the format, but he was 10-under par in the two best ball rounds. — Joshua Perry

DFS spin: Thomas ($11,300 on DraftKings) has crushed this PGA season, sporting a +13.33 DraftKings Plus/Minus over his past 10 tournaments. Last year, Thomas won the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow under the harsher conditions. Overall, Thomas’ and McIlroy’s long-term forms are almost identical (data per FantasyLabs PGA Models):

Where Thomas has the advantage against the field is his field-best -2.4 average adjusted strokes on par-4s, which is 1.2 strokes better than the next-best golfer. — Justin Bailey


Mid-Tier

Betting analysis: I’m targeting four players in this range, all of whom excel off the tee.

Tony Finau is one of the longest hitters on tour and available at +4500. Finau has made the cut in all three appearances at Quail Hollow. He’s also in good form and showing no ill effects from his ankle injury at the Masters. Further, he finished 10th at Augusta and played well in the team event last week.

I’ll also back Brooks Koepka at +6000. His number is way higher than normal because he’s been injured this year. He made his return last week after nearly four months off and missed the cut in the team event. I’ll chalk that up to his partner, Marc Turnesa, who hasn’t been a tour-caliber player in nearly a decade. Koepka shot 5-under in his one round of four ball, so he’s got his game back to some extent. He’s a great fit for this course with his power off the tee, and we won’t see his number this large again all year.

My final two are Bryson DeChambeau (+5000) and Luke List (+6600). These two also thrive off the tee and have seen their odds dip in this strong field. List was +2000 just two weeks ago in San Antonio, and his game fits Quail Hollow just as well as it did there. DeChambeau has finished in the top three in two of his past three starts, so his number is a good price for a guy who appears on the verge of finding the winner’s circle.

I’ll be looking at top-fives in the +1000 to +1500 range for all of them, too. — Joshua Perry

DFS spin: Francesco Molinari ($7,400) seems to always fit into the value plays because he’s always underpriced relative to his LT Adj Rd Score. Molinari is incredibly consistent with a +7.17 DraftKings Plus/Minus and a 65.6% Consistency Rating. Further, he’s historically outperformed his baseline Plus/Minus by +3.62 points when he’s had comparable odds to win (1.4%), per the PGA Trends tool— Justin Bailey


Longshots

Betting analysis: Quail Hollow has produced a few of the biggest longshots in recent years: James Hahn in 2016 and Derek Ernst in 2013 both won the event at 500-1.

Two guys I like this week are Trey Mullinax (170-1) and Dylan Frittelli (140-1). (Both of those bets are available on Sportsbook.) Each player has been strong off the tee this year. Mullinax leads the tour in driving distance, while Frittelli would be inside the top 10 if he had enough rounds to qualify. I like top-10s for both of them in the +1000 to +1500 range.

And finally, there are a couple of players I like for top-20s who are way down the board: Ross Fisher, Jonas Blixt and Aaron Wise are all at least 300-1 to win, so we’re getting top-20 odds of at least +1200 on each. Fisher and Blixt have played well here in the past, and Wise is another player who is strong off the tee and fits this course. — Joshua Perry

DFS spin: If you’re looking for a low-owned option, Sam Burns ($7,500) is projected for just 2-4% ownership. The 21-year-old won a Web.com event at the beginning of April, and he’s been obliterating his salary-based expectations on the PGA Tour this season:

Burns’ long-term form is a solid fit for Quail Hollow with his 71.5% LT GIR and 306.7-yard LT DD. Further, his recent form is even better than his long-term form (79.2% GIR and 308.4-yard LT DD), as he’s averaging -1.0 average adjusted strokes on par-3s, -3.3 average adjusted strokes on par-4s and -6.0 average adjusted strokes on par-5s. — Justin Bailey

Pictured above: Justin Thomas

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