Returning to the United States this week, the PGA TOUR heads to TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm for the Wells Fargo Championship.
Longtime golf fans may be wondering what happened to the usual host course, Quail Hollow Club? It’s being prepped to host the Presidents Cup this fall so TPC Potomac is stepping up to fill the void. You may remember it most recently from hosting the 2017 and 2018 editions of the Quicken Loans National.
There are currently 152 golfers lined to start the week with four more to be added via Monday Qualifying. The top 65 and ties will advance through the 36-hole cut, as usual.
This week’s host venue is TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm.
Designed in the mid-80s, this course has hosted 25 pro events in the past. Most recently, they hosted the 2017 and 2018 Quicken Loans National. They were featured on the Korn Ferry Tour schedule in 2012 and 2013 and hosted a Champions Tour event in 2010. They’ve sprinkled their services all many tours.
One thing we’ve seen, regardless of the tour, is just how tough this course can play. The median winning score across the previous 25 events hosted is just 11.5-under, with a few outliers tossed in (-21 at 1991 Kemper Open, -21 at 2004 Booz Allen Classic, -20 at 2006 Booz Allen Classic, and -21 at the 2018 Quicken Loans National). Basically what this tells us is that at times the weather may dictate easier scoring conditions but it’s generally going to be a very tough test.
Off the tee, most golfers will use a variety of clubs off the tee here. Unlike last week in Mexico, this course does not favor the bomb-and-gouge approach. There is just too much trouble to find.
When we look at courses played at least twice on the PGA TOUR since 2015, this ranks toughest in terms of penalty for a missed fairway. As you’ll see in the quotes section below, that is supported in what the golfers say about the course, as well.
The scorecard shows a par 70 that plays to 7,160 yards. Nothing too intimidating but five of the par 4s play to 465 yards or longer. There are nine holes that have yielded bogey or worse rates over 20 percent. That includes a four-pack of holes with a double or worse rate of 4.5 percent or tougher. Most notable in that bucket is the par-5 10th which is incredibly boom or bust (35+ percent birdie or better rate but 4.5 double or worse rate).
Finding greens in regulation is a tough task because the average square footage of the greens is just 4,265, much smaller than TOUR average. The bentgrass surfaces are prepped to run at 12.5 feet on the stimp, very speedy.
Editor’s Note: Play for FREE! Download the NBC Sports Predictor app, make picks and win huge, weekly jackpots. Get started here!
Quotes on the Course
Rickie Fowler: “You use every club in your bag. You’ve got to hit all different types of shots. You’ve got to shape it around here. It’s tree-lined. It’s kind of style of golf course I grew up playing. You just really have to It’s a great golf course tree to green. If you drive the ball out of position, then you’re just trying to fight to get back into position and save par. You miss greens, you’ve got tough up-and-downs. It rewards someone who’s driving the ball well and tee to green playing fairly clean or flawless. You can’t really fake it around this golf course, in my opinion.”
David Lingmerth: “It’s a course where the rough is is very penalizing, really gnarly. As fast and firm as these greens are, you’ve really got to stay in the fairways to have a chance to make some birdies, and I was able to do a pretty good job of that today.”
Johnson Wagner: “Stay out of the rough. The rough is gnarly. When you get in the rough, you’re better off, unless you have a wedge in your hand, you’re better off laying up in the fairway and trying to get up and down for par than you are doing something silly like trying to go for the green with a long iron because there’s just nothing good that can happen trying to hit a long iron out of this rough.”
Russell Henley: “Do the best I can to just get it in the fairway. I think on a course like this it’s easy to try to want to hit it farther or try to hit it as far as you can, but really I’m trying to do everything I can to get the ball in the fairway because it’s really tough to play from the rough.”
It’s easy to pick up on the theme here. Hit fairways or else you’re in for a bumpy ride.
We don’t have any historical data to lean on this week but we can look at the region and grass types and come up with some possible course crossover to look at:
Muirfield Village GC
TPC River Highlands
The theme that continues to stick out is the penalty for missing a fairway. Region also plays a role when it comes to comfort on similar turf.
Thursday: Partly sunny with a high of 73 degrees. Calm winds.
Friday: Rain likely with a high of 66 degrees. Winds 5 to 10 MPH.
This one could get sloppy with rain currently in the forecast on three of the four tournament days. It will be tough to keep the course firm and fast if they get hit with too much rain. The 2018 QL National had softer and more receptive conditions and played closer to even par for the field. So if the current forecast holds true then we may see a tough opening round before scores get lower as the week progresses.
Golfers to Watch
He is the defending champ at the event but probably least excited, of anyone in the field, about the one-year venue change. McIlroy has been a machine over the course of his career at Quail Hollow Club which allows you to take advantage of length off the tee. TPC Potomac is going to restrict him a bit in that regard but he is coming off a runner-up finish at the Masters and still needs to be strongly considered at the top of the board.
He is playing relatively close to home this week and that regional comfort has played out here in the past. He’s gained strokes over the field in seven of eight rounds at TPC Potomac, leading to a pair of top 15s. After a post-pandemic slump the Aussie has found his groove again, arriving with finishes of T38 or better in 10 of his last 12 stroke-play events.
While Leishman has found his game again, Simpson is still searching. He has just two top 25s in his last nine stroke-play events, while struggling with injury over that stretch. In full form, this would be a great venue for Simpson but his spotty play in 2022 leaves him first off my “ranking the field” list this week.
The Spaniard missed the cut while playing alongside Tommy Fleetwood at the team event but otherwise has some steady play on his recent resume. He’s finished top 40 in nine straight stroke-play events. Garcia talks often about his love for Valderrama, another course that punishes you big time for missing off the tee. This could be love at first sight for the straight shooter or we could see one or two of his infamous blowup holes with so much trouble lurking here. He’s definitely one I will be monitoring closely on Shot Tracker this week.
Speaking of boom or bust, Henley gained 4.2 and 3.4 strokes over the field in R1 and R4 of the 2017 QL National at TPC Potomac but he lost 4.6 and 2.5 strokes in the other rounds. Looking at stats over the last six months, there are just 15 golfers in this field that have hit more fairways than the field while also being longer than field average in more than 50% of their rounds played. Henley is one of them which gives him good versatility to play the course however Mother Nature presents it this week.
There is something about TPC Potomac that fits his eye because Kang posted a top 5 at the 2017 QL National and followed it up in 2018 with a third-place finish. He gained 5.2 or more strokes over the field in three of those eight rounds, making him an appealing option to DFS players looking to build out some single-round showdown rosters.
Ranking the Field
1. Rory McIlroy
2. Matt Fitzpatrick
3. Russell Henley
4. Seamus Power
5. Corey Conners
6. Paul Casey
7. Tyrrell Hatton
8. Marc Leishman
9. Tony Finau
10. Sergio Garcia
11. Keegan Bradley
12. Abraham Ancer
13. Cameron Young
14. Gary Woodland
15. Max Homa
16. Jhonattan Vegas
17. Si Woo Kim
18. Patrick Reed
19. Troy Merritt
20. Matt Kuchar