Picks and tips: Strong drivers needed at Quail

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Will Gray
·6 min read
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It's a big boy golf course this week on the PGA Tour.

Length off the tee hasn't exactly been a requirement in recent weeks at places like Harbour Town and Innisbrook. But this week's Wells Fargo Championship returns to brawny Quail Hollow Club, the site of the 2017 PGA Championship and a layout that will put the game's shorter hitters to an extreme test.

Tipping out above 7,600 yards at a par of 71, Quail Hollow is every bit of a major-caliber test. It's no surprise, then, that we've seen players like Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Justin Thomas all lift trophies in Charlotte. All three are back this week in a field that also includes the likes of Jon Rahm and Bryson DeChambeau, as Max Homa defends a title for the first time after his breakthrough victory two years ago.

Here's a look at some of the players I think could follow in Homa's footsteps, starting with a player whose consistency may be a little underrated by the current market:

To Win (odds via PointsBet Sportsbook)

Joaquin Niemann (+3300): There's a lot to like about the 22-year-old Chilean. Niemann faded a bit Sunday in Tampa but still finished T-8 while making his 17th consecutive cut. It's a streak that dates back to August, includes 11 top-25 finishes and a pair of runner-ups. Although he doesn't exactly look the part, Niemann is one of the Tour's longest drivers: at 312 yards on average, he's eighth this season on Tour. He's also fourth in scoring average, 10th in birdies and 14th in GIR percentage. Throw in the fact that he's 27th in SG: Putting and it paints a pretty comprehensive package.

This feels like a situation that accentuates value on a guy like Niemann. Other bigger names are in the field, taking up oxygen and spots on the odds board at +2000 and below. His strong play is somewhat underrated because it hasn't produced a win. But he has played well on other big courses recently, notably Olympia Fields (T-3) and Kapalua (P-2), and I'm willing to back him to end his victory drought this week.

Jason Day (+6000): It feels like we're overlooking the former champ (and world No. 1) a bit with this number. Yes, Day is far from his glory days of 2015-16. But he also hasn't fallen as far as, say, Rickie Fowler - before his missed cut at the Masters, the Aussie had finished T-35 or better in each of his last four stroke-play starts including a top-10 at Pebble Beach. Now he heads to a course where he won in 2018, contended the year prior at the PGA and has never finished worse than T-24 in five appearances.

Day is teetering on the cusp of the top 60 in the world rankings, and falling below that number could mean a trip to U.S. Open sectionals next month. So it's important that he notch a solid result in the next three weeks, and this could be a prime opportunity to do just that. Long off the tee and a high ball flight into the greens are two key traits Day brings to the table. He'll need the putter to cooperate more than it has on average this season, but that's an ask that seems well within reason.

Shane Lowry (+7000): The (still reigning) Open champ is coming around. Lowry was slow to regain his major-winning form after the pandemic break, but he's once again popping up on leaderboards in recent months: top-10 finishes at TPC Sawgrass and Harbour Town, plus a T-21 showing at the Masters. Lowry has been woeful on the greens this season but he actually ranks 29th on Tour in SG: Tee-to-Green. His T-34 finish here three years ago included a final-round 69, and he also made the cut here at the 2017 PGA. Lowry seems to do most of his damage on the Tour's bigger layouts - think Firestone, Torrey Pines, PGA National and the like. Quail Hollow certainly fits that mold, and if the irons are as strong as they were at Harbour Town when he was sixth in SG: Approach, he could have a chance for his first post-Portrush win.

Top Finishes (odds via PointsBet)

Corey Conners (+290 top-10): I backed Conners to win last week in Tampa, and the ball-striking didn't disappoint, He finished the week sixth or better in SG: Off the Tee, SG: Approach and Proximity. The short game let him down, but he still left Innisbrook with a T-21 finish that was actually his worst result in his last four starts. Conners remains one of the best tee-to-green players on Tour, and his weeks will often boil down to his work on and around the greens. Last week it was more his chipping and putting that proved problematic, and if he's able to tidy that up he should once again find himself in contention.

Francesco Molinari (+500 top-20): Like Day, Molinari is another veteran who has had some significant success at this particular venue. The Italian was part of the group that tied for second at the 2017 PGA, and he has finished T-17 or better in each of his two trips to Quail Hollow in this event. Molinari flashed a bit of his old form earlier this year on the West Coast, notching three top-10s in California. While he hasn't done much since, he was in solid position through 54 holes in Augusta and Quail Hollow could once again play to his favor if he's able to strike the ball like he was a couple months ago.

Brandon Hagy (+1400 top-20): Hagy will need to keep the driver on the map, but if he does this is worth a nibble. His career best finish came just a few weeks ago at PGA National, where he was second on another long and difficult layout with plenty of water. He's a cut risk, having missed four of his last nine weekends, but of the five where he played all four rounds he finished T-21 or better three times. He's only made one prior start at Quail Hollow, as his T-18 finish in 2017 came at Eagle Point in Wilmington. But this is a tempting price on a feast-or-famine player who certainly won't lack for firepower this week off the tee.

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