With Billy Horschel's breakthrough win behind us, we now turn our full attention to Quail Hollow and the Wells Fargo Championship. One of my favorite things about the calendar turning to May from a power ranking standpoint is that stats become relevant because the sample size is now large enough. Most rank-in-file players are about 12 or 13 events in and the elite guys are in the 8-10 range.
I used my normal metrics of course history and current form to narrow my list of potential contenders to a pool of around 30 players, then gave consideration to stats relevant to Quail Hollow.
The first thing that struck me about this course is that most of those with solid track records are successful with their driver. The fairways aren't easy to hit, but many of the holes are lengthy, so a player must feel comfortable hitting a driver. It would help if he hit it a long way, but there are a few examples of shorter and extremely accurate players having success. Total Driving was the first stat heavily considered.
Second, Quail Hollow has four par 5s and they are each reachable with strong drives by above-average hitters. I next took into account Par 5 birdie or better percentage.
The final piece of the statistical puzzle is GIR from other than the fairway. Because the fairways are so difficult to find, it is imperative that a player find the putting surface from something other than the fairway.
I want to stress that stats DO NOT outweigh course history and current form, but they do a good job of providing perspective when on the fence about someone. Think of it as a tiebreaker, of sorts.
Here we go:
- Lucas Glover – This is complicated, but everything from course history (a win in ’11 and a runner-up in ’09), current form (T4 in New Orleans) and stats all point to him. He’s 10th in Total Driving, 45th in Par-5 birdie or better and 60th in GIR from other than the fairway. I also have a running theory that he always plays better in Presidents Cup seasons because he puts too much pressure on himself in Ryder Cup years. Notice his win and runner-up came in odd-numbered years. Where this will get tricky is how to use him this week. His wife is about 38 weeks pregnant and he said in NOLA that he would bolt if he got the call. That makes him a risk in virtually every format except Yahoo!. He also plays his best when under the radar, and he is not under the radar this week. Everything points to him on paper, but be careful.
- Rickie Fowler – He’s played here three times and has a T6, a T16 and a win last year. I advise caution towards defending champs (see Jason Dufner last week), but he has a record and a stat sheet that can’t be ignored (46 in TD, 16 in Par 5 and 75th in GIR other). You have to go back to Bay Hill to find his last top 25, but it was a T3. Probably would shy away from a one-and-done (I've already used him anyway), but a solid look in games like Yahoo! and PGA TOUR.
- Rory McIlroy – He’s the elephant in the room. He’s got a T2, a missed cut and a Win in three trips to Quail Hollow. It just so happened to be his first TOUR win. If he didn't have the missed cut in between, he would be number one but we have to pause. I’m a believer that when he’s on with the driver, he’s virtually unbeatable. Think Kiawah Island and Congressional when he ran away with those majors. This is a venue that allows for the same advantage if he’s on; but is he on? When he won in 2010 he was coming off of B2B MCs at Shell Houston and the Masters and was 1-over after 36 holes before going off with a 66/62 finish. He missed the cut in ’11 in his first start after blowing up on the back nine at the Masters. He was T2 in 2012 after a T40 at the Masters. This course could be Rory’s version of Bay Hill. He comes in off a runner-up at the Valero Texas Open and a T25 at the Masters, so he may be fine. The toughest question of the week will be what to do with Rory in the one-and-done.
- Sergio Garcia – Sergio has a T2 here, but it was way back in 2005 and serves as his only top 10. His record of late at Quail Hollow hasn't been all that impressive. His form is undeniable. If you throw out his W/D at Bay Hill, largely related to fatigue, he’s been T17 or better in all five of his other starts with a T8 at the Masters leading him into the week. His stats are off the chart for this week, ranking 14th in TD, 25th in Par 5 and 2nd in GIR other. He’s a sneaky pick this week and one that will likely fly under many radars if you’re looking to make a move in a league.
- Webb Simpson – I could have ranked him first or left him out all together depending on how I looked at it. He’s coming off a playoff loss at the RBC Heritage and was fourth at Quail Hollow last year after leading at the 54-hole mark. To boot, he’s a member of QH. If you stop right there, you are rushing to turn in his name in every format imaginable this week. BUT. His stats aren't a great fit for this course with the exception of being third in GIR from other. He’s 152 in Total Driving and a modest 66th in Par 5 percentage. He’ll also be like Glover on steroids when it comes to expectations being through the roof and, like Glover, I’m not sure that’s his best scenario. He may be the “chalk” this week for many, but it may be a good week to go against the chalk.
- Bill Haas – This is more a nod to form than the other categories. His stellar history at Riviera is a big reason to think he could match or better twice finishing fourth in this event. The red flag is that he’s missed four of his nine cuts. One thing we are learning about Haas this year is that he is frequently posting best finishes at venue’s where he hasn't previously been strong. He’s a puzzling 163rd in Par 5 birdie percentage, which frankly doesn't make sense given some of his other strengths.
- D.A. Points – Was the forgotten man in the three-way playoff with Fowler and McIlroy last year, but enters with more confidence than both combined. Won the Shell Houston Open and played a brilliant final round in New Orleans yesterday that easily could have won had Billy Horschel not have played out of his mind. He’s very dangerous this week despite not checking out all that well on our stat sheet and missing four of his six cuts at QH.
- Hunter Mahan – Mahan feels like an automatic top 25 this week. He’s got seven of them in 11 starts in 2013 and has four at Quail Hollow in his last five trips. He ranks 14th in TD, 19th in GIR other and 41st in Par 5 percentage. We know that when he’s on, he’s a hot player that can take it low and isn't scared to hit a driver. The pause for concern is a recent slump in current form.
- Lee Westwood – Westy is trendy in this event over the years, improving from a MC to a T61, T38 and topping out with a T5 last year. Also trending in with a T10 in Houston and a T8 at the Masters. That’s a lot going right for a player of his caliber.
- Nick Watney – It cautions me lately to tip him, but he has six top 25s in eight trips to QH and a career-best eighth last year is nice. He’s coming off back-to-back top-15 finishes at the Masters and in New Orleans. This is a vintage case of form matching history and agreeing with stats.
- Phil Mickelson – Yep, we have to include him. It’s irrelevant to talk about his form. With four top five’s in nine trips to QH to go with never missing the cut, he’s worthy of consideration. Let’s face it. He could win or miss the cut in epic fashion.
- Bubba Watson – He tied for second here in 2009 and has made each of his last three cuts. His accuracy scares me a little, but his ability to attack the par 5s offsets that a bit. He’s been a little off most of the season, which is why he isn’t a touch higher, but with Bubba you never know what week will be the big one. A T15 in NOLA last week could have us all saying “I can’t believe I didn't see that coming” on Monday if he has a big week this week.
Next 5: Kyle Stanley, Boo Weekley, Angel Cabrera, Nicolas Colsaerts and Padraig Harrington
One other note worth mentioning, be aware of Jonathan Byrd. He's only played four events (making one cut) since his wrist surgery but his history here over the last four years is off the charts in consistency and high finishes. If you're looking for a calculated risk, he could be it.
We will be back tomorrow to see how this all shakes out in the games.