The fourth and final major of the year takes place at the newly renovated Quail Hollow Club this week, with 156 of the world’s best looking to take home the Wanamaker Trophy currently held by Jimmy Walker. The market is headed by course specialist Rory McIlroy but all eyes will surely be on Jordan Spieth, as the 24 year old vies to become the youngest player ever – and just the sixth all time – to achieve a career golf grand slam. The Texan is characteristically playing down his chances and has just one prior pro appearance at Quail Hollow (tied 32nd in 2013) but after a dramatic Open Championship victory, it’d take brave man to write off his chances of achieving history here.
The North Carolinian track plays host to a major championship for the first time in its storied history, and in order to enhance the test facing players this week, the powers-that-be have deemed it necessary to make extensive changes to a venue which has played regular host to the Wells Fargo Championship since 2003. The changes include the re-seeding of all greens from Bent grass to Bermuda grass and the creation of two new holes (4 & 5) as well as the merging of two existing holes to form a beastly 524 yard, par 4 opener. As a result, the usual par 72 is now being played as a freakishly long 7,600 yard par 71 so the ability to get the ball moving off the tee looks like a pre-requisite for contending. The weather also looks pretty scary as rain and storms are promised throughout much of the week so there is every chance that this will turn into a bomber’s paradise. However, whilst a grip it and rip it approach is likely to be advantageous, reports of pretty sticky rough mean that there is also a likely premium on being reasonably accurate so I’m favouring total driving over pure driving distance when it comes to my key stats.
With Quail Hollow being a regular track on Tour, one which is generally beloved by the game’s top pros, there is a good bank of course form to fall back on and this certainly comes in useful compared to the US Open and Open Championship where course history was either non-existent or very thin on the ground. However, this is tempered somewhat by the aforementioned course changes as sight lines are likely to be very different off the tee-boxes and the different green surfaces could catch players unaware. That said, I’m still happy to have a pointer and willing to put faith in those that have previously shown their comfort levels on the course.
Aside from total driving and course form, approach proximity is my primary pointer this week as Quail Hollow has always been one of the toughest ‘approach’ courses facing the players each season. Indeed, in 2015 (when it last hosted an event prior to closing for the renovation), Quail Hollow ranked as the hardest course utilised on Tour all season in terms of proximity to the hole. As such, players who are generally more consistent with their wedge games should have a big advantage over those who will need to scramble more regularly this week and I am keen to have them on board.
With the above said, there is just one place to start with my staking plan this week – the history seeker, Jordan Spieth. Whilst his course form shows just the aforementioned 32nd place finish in 2013, the Champion Golfer of the Year looks a cracking bet at double figure odds given his major championship record, which now shows 18 events played with 3 wins, 3 runner ups and a 4th placed finish. Although not the strongest off the tee, he ranks 2nd in long course performance (7,400 yard+) since 2013 according to the Future Of Fantasy website and ranks 4th in Strokes Gaines on Bermuda grass greens.
He also enters the week ranked 2nd on Tour in proximity to the hole and is in blistering form with two wins in his last three events. Having watched Spieth over the years, there is an indecipherable X-Factor which doesn’t always show up in his stats but is very clearly in evidence to the eye. The eye test marks him out as the best player in the world currently and in my view he should be heading the market despite Rory’s recent improved form and course history.
My next best is a man who I’m in danger of following of a cliff, one Rickie Fowler. The 28 year old American continues to be super consistent in the biggest events, and has finished in the top 22 of all three majors this year, recording a top 5 return for anyone who followed my advice on the Matchbook Betting podcast US Open preview. He finished 4th in his last start at Quail Hollow, having previously triumphed there in 2012 in what was his maiden PGA Tour victory and I believe those good vibes mark him out as value at 19.0.
The Puma man is in excellent form off the tee this season, ranking 3rd in total driving and shows up well in the proximity stats ranking in the top 20 of those playing this week in nearest the pin. Allied to that he ranks in the top 10 on strokes gained on Bermuda grass greens and finished very strongly at Firestone last week, shooting 67-66 on the weekend to finish in 9th place so his game is clearly in good nick. There is no doubt the world number 10 will finish his career with a major on his resume and there is a very good chance that this could be the week it happens.
My final bet is a little more left field but no less sound, Kyle Stanley. The little known American won the Quicken Loans National for his second PGA Tour title at the beginning of July to put an exclamation mark on an impressive season that has seen him rack up a further four top 10 finishes, including on some classic layouts such as Sawgrass and Muirfield. He has achieved these results by virtue of his supreme driving, which sees him lie 2nd in the total driving category, and exceptionally accurate wedge play, which has him ranked 3rd in proximity to the hole.
These key stats, along with his recent win and a 6th placed finish here back in 2013 mark him out as a very live outsider and a better-than-average week with the putter could well see him go very close at very long odds. In the past decade Walker, Keegan Bradley and YE Yang have all won this tournament at odds of 150/1+ and I believe the 29 year old could act his name to that illustrious roll call here.