Stat attack!: Wells Fargo Championship preview


CHARLOTTE, NC - MAY 05: Derek Ernst hits his tee shot on the 14th hole during the final round of the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club on May 5, 2013 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Before we look at this week’s Wells Fargo Championship let’s take a look back at last year’s tournament. Derek Ernst, age 22, ranked 1,217th on the world ranking, and playing in just his ninth PGA Tour event beat back a crowded leaderboard that included Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy. Ernst had never finished better than T-41 in a Tour event, yet managed to maneuver his way through Quail Hollow’s diabolical Green Mile like he was on a buddies trip. Ernst, who ranked outside the top 100 in driving accuracy, greens in regulation, strokes gained/putting and scoring average in 2013, finished in the top 15 in those categories at the Wells Fargo. Simply put, he had the week of his life.

Derek Ernst’s PGA Tour statistics

 Tournament Distance Accuracy GIR St.G/Putting Scoring avg. Scrambling
 2013 Wells
285.4 (11) 58.93% (T-13) 75.00% (T-3) 1.287 (11) 68.89 (1) 66.67% (T-9)
 2013 season 291.5 (61) 60.49 (105) 63.89 (122) -.217 (138) 72.27 (176) 49.34 (179)
 2014 season 293.8 (52) 67.04 (29) 64.69 (135) -.815 (200) 73.31 (199) 46.50 (202)

The field hit only 51.73 percent of the fairways and 64.33 percent of the greens at Quail Hollow in 2013. The “good drive” percentage – the percentage of times a player hit a fairway or a green (or the fringe of the green) on a hole - was 78.62 percent, making Quail Hollow the 12th toughest course from tee to green on Tour in 2013. Ernst’s good-drive percentage in 2013 was 81.11, but at the Wells Fargo it improved to 85.71, second best in the field. Not only did Ernst improve his strokes gained putting my more than six strokes that week, he increased his “good drive” percentage by hitting fairways at his normal rate and greens a better than average clip when all those around him were being brought to their knees by Quail Hollow.

Courses with the hardest fairways to hit in 2013

 Rank Course Driving accuracy pct.
 1 Torrey Pines (North) 47.01%
 2 Waialae CC 48.03
 3  Torrey Pines (South) 49.59
 4 Glen Abbey GC  51.14
 5 Quail Hollow Club 51.73

Good drive percentage leaders in 2013

 Season rank Player Good drive percentage
 1 Steve Stricker 87.44%
 2   Mark Wilson 86.81
 3 Henrik Stenson 86.61
 4 Jerry Kelly 86.58
 5 Jim Furyk 86.29
 103 Derek Ernst 81.11
 Wells Fargo rank Player Good drive percentage
 1  Brian Harman 87.50%
 2 Brian Davis 85.71
 2 Henrik Norlander 85.71
 2 Derek Ernst 85.71
 2 Roberto Castro 85.71
 2 Rory McIlroy 85.71
 2  Ross Fisher 85.71
 2 Pat Perez 85.71

Ernst, though, did continue a trend at the Wells Fargo Championship of young players taking the title. And it many cases it wasn’t just young players. It was YOUNG players. Even though he had yet to turn 23, Ernst was the third-youngest winner of the tournament in the previous six years.

Age of winners of the Wells Fargo Championship since 2008

 Year Winner Age
 2013 Derek Ernst 22 years, 11 months
 2012 Rickie Fowler 23 years, 5 months
 2011 Lucas Glover 31 years, 7 months
 2010 Rory McIlroy 20 years, 11 months
 2009 Sean O'Hair 26 years, 10 months
 2008 Anthony Kim 22  years, 10 months

Youth, as has been discussed by many, has been the order of the day on the PGA Tour this year. Eight players born in the 1990s are in the top 100 on the FedEx Cup standings (Ernst, having reverted to form in 2013-14, is not one of them). Three of them are in the field this week.

Top players born in the 1990s in the Wells Fargo Championship field

 Player Birthday FedEx rank Best Wells Fargo finish
 Seung-Yul Noh May 29, 1991 16 T-9 in 2012
 Hideki Matsuyama February 25, 1992 55 None
 Danny Lee July 24, 1990 92 T-38 in 2009

But age is just a number and 1990 is just a year. Perhaps the player with the best career record at Quail Hollow was born in 1989. And he just happens to be turning 25 on Sunday.

Rory McIlroy at the Quail Hollow Championshp

 Year Finish Scores To par Earnings
 2013 T-10 67-71-73-73—284 -4 $148,517
 2012 T-2 70-68-66-70—274 -14 572,000
 2011 MC 75-72—147 +3  
 2010 Won 72-73-66-62—273 -15 1,170,000

McIlroy would have won in 2012 had it not been for the way he played Quail Hollow’s closing holes, the dastardly trioka known as the Green Mile. McIlroy was four-over for the week on the trio – the par-3 17th is sandwiched by a pair of 478-yard par-4s. They lived up to their billing last year as well, playing as the third, fourth and fifth toughest holes on the course, and providing the PGA Tour’s most exasperating closing threat. For the week there were only 99 birdies and one eagle on the Green Mile and only Merion’s finishing holes were harder on Tour in 2013.

Finishing holes on the PGA Tour’s 10 toughest courses in 2013

 Rank Course Scoring to par Subpar scores
 1 Merion +1.360 67
 2  Muirfield +.720 169
 3  Oak Hill +.777 135
 4 Augusta National +.458 130
 5 PGA National -.147 293
 6 Muirfield Village +.675 150
 7 Innisbrook +.637 130
 8 Congressional +.039 218
 9 Firestone +.137 156
 10 Quail Hollow +.818 100

One final thought: This will be the 12th playing of the Wells Fargo Championship and four players in the field will be making their 12th appearance. Stuart Appleby, J.J. Henry, Charles Howell III and Rory Sabbatini are the Charlotte iron men. Appleby is the only one who has never finished in the top 10 at Quail Hollow, with a best of T-15 in 2004. Sabbatini’s was third in 2007 and 2011. Howell and Henry finished as high as T-7 (2010 of Henry and 2003 for Howell).