Stat attack!: Wells Fargo Championship preview

By John AntoniniApril 30, 2014, 2:25 am

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).

Getty Images

Johnson begins Open week as 12/1 betting favorite

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 5:15 pm

Dustin Johnson heads into The Open as the top-ranked player in the world, and he's also an understandable betting favorite as he looks to win a second career major.

Johnson has not played since the U.S. Open, where he led by four shots at the halfway point and eventually finished third. He has three top-10 finishes in nine Open appearances, notably a T-2 finish at Royal St. George's in 2011.

Johnson opened as a 12/1 favorite when the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook first published odds for Carnoustie after the U.S. Open, and he remains at that number with the first round just three days away.

Here's a look at the latest odds on some of the other top contenders, according to the Westgate:

12/1: Dustin Johnson

16/1: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose

20/1: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm

25/1: Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods

30/1: Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Patrick Reed

40/1: Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Tyrrell Hatton

50/1: Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick

60/1: Russell Knox, Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau, Zach Johnson, Tony Finau, Bubba Watson

80/1: Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Thomas Pieters, Xander Schauffele

100/1: Shane Lowry, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Fox, Thorbjorn Olesen

Getty Images

Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 4:34 pm

If Tiger Woods is going to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, he'll need to do something he hasn't done in five years this week at The Open.

Woods has won eight times at Firestone, including his most recent PGA Tour victory in 2013, and has openly stated that he would like to qualify for the no-cut event in Akron before it shifts to Memphis next year. But in order to do so, Woods will need to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week's event at Carnoustie.

Woods is currently ranked No. 71 in the world, down two spots from last week, and based on projections it means that he'll need to finish no worse than a tie for eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50. Woods' last top-10 finish at a major came at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, where he tied for sixth.

Updated Official World Golf Ranking

There are actually two OWGR cutoffs for the Bridgestone, July 23 and July 30. That means that Woods could theoretically still add a start at next week's RBC Canadian Open to chase a spot in the top 50, but he has said on multiple occasions that this week will be his last start of the month. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played Aug. 2-5.

There wasn't much movement in the world rankings last week, with the top 10 staying the same heading into the season's third major. Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Defending Open champ Jordan Spieth is ranked sixth, with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.

Despite taking the week off, Sweden's Alex Noren moved up three spots from No. 14 to No. 11, passing Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.

John Deere Classic champ Michael Kim went from No. 473 to No. 215 in the latest rankings, while South African Brandon Stone jumped from 371st to 110th with his win at the Scottish Open.

Getty Images

Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.

Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.

Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”

Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.

“I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”

But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.

“I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”

Getty Images

Harrington: Fiery Carnoustie evokes Hoylake in '06

By Ryan LavnerJuly 16, 2018, 3:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – One course came to mind when Padraig Harrington arrived on property and saw a firm, fast and yellow Carnoustie.

Hoylake in 2006.

That's when Tiger Woods avoided every bunker, bludgeoned the links with mid-irons and captured the last of his three Open titles.

So Harrington was asked: Given the similarity in firmness between Carnoustie and Hoylake, can Tiger stir the ghosts this week?

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I really don’t know,” Harrington said Monday. “He’s good enough to win this championship, no doubt about it. I don’t think he could play golf like the way he did in 2006. Nobody else could have tried to play the golf course the way he did, and nobody else could have played the way he did. I suspect he couldn’t play that way now, either. But I don’t know if that’s the strategy this week, to lay up that far back.”

With three days until the start of this championship, that’s the biggest question mark for Harrington, the 2007 winner here. He doesn’t know what his strategy will be – but his game plan will need to be “fluid.” Do you attack the course with driver and try to fly the fairway bunkers? Or do you attempt to lay back with an iron, even though it’s difficult to control the amount of run-out on the baked-out fairways and bring the bunkers into play?

“The fairways at Hoylake are quite flat, even though they were very fast,” Harrington said. “There’s a lot of undulations in the fairways here, so if you are trying to lay up, you can get hit the back of a slope and kick forward an extra 20 or 30 yards more than you think. So it’s not as easy to eliminate all the risk by laying up.”