The bar has officially been set. After grabbing a piece of our +4000 selection of Viktor Hovland and Kris Ventura at the Zurich Classic, we backed it up in a big way. Keegan Bradley was able to get the job done for us at the Valspar Championship at a hefty price of +8000. It’s a tall order, but is it too much to ask for a third first-round leader selection in a row?
I believe the famous saying goes, “Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, third time is enemy action.” Trust me when I say I am no enemy of you, but our good friends at PointsBet Sportsbook may have a different opinion if we are able to connect on another first-round leader selection this week. Alas, we move shall onto the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club, located in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Quail Hollow is a proper test of golf. Having played host to the 2017 PGA Championship, Tom Fazio had his hands all over the property, leading the redesign from 2014 to 2016 in preparation of the championship. At nearly 7,600 yards, this par-71 is a monster and the cream should rise to the top. With cool temperatures and thunderstorms rolling in early in the week, Quail Hollow has the potential to play even longer.
That being said, there are a multitude of ways through which a player can be successful at Quail Hollow. I’ll be targeting those who seem to be rounding into form and have a mixture of ball-striking and short-game prowess. In addition, Par-4 scoring should be stressed this week. Since 2013, every winner at Quail Hollow has ranked inside the top-5 of Strokes Gained: Par 4’s for the week.
We will factor that all in as we make our first-round leader selections as well. The oddsmakers at PointsBet have priced the first-round leader market, with tournament favorites Justin Thomas and Jon Rahm leading the way at +2200. Other notable players include, Rory McIlroy at +3000 who returns to Quail Hollow as the world No. 15 and defending champion, Max Homa at +5000.
Odds to Lead After the First Round (via PointsBet):
+2800: Bryson DeChambeau
To Lead After the First Round (Odds via PointsBet):
Joaquin Niemann (+4000):
We’ll start our first-round leader selections with the young Chilean who is in the midst of a seriously impressive made-cut streak. One of the main reasons Niemann has made the weekend in 17 straight starts is his play in Round 1. Ranking 13th on the PGA Tour in Round 1 scoring, Niemann has been able to take advantage of his strong first-round performances.
He is coming off a T-8 last week at the Valspar where he disappointed on Sunday, eventually carding a 1-over 72. I'm not going to put too much stock into his final round in Tampa, he just had a bad day of ball-striking, haven't we all? With that said, what I will be putting stock in are his much improved numbers on the greens.
His game has shown me more than enough, especially the putter, and he now comes to a course like Quail Hollow, where strong ball-strikers, specifically from off the tee, and streaky putters seem to be rewarded. If last Sunday's ball-striking was in fact just an aberration and Niemann is able to carry over a hot putter, then he should be able to start fast in the Queen City.
Shane Lowry (+8000):
The reigning Open champion is close, I can just feel it. We last saw Lowry at the RBC Heritage, where we also selected him as a potential first-round leader. While he did not do us any favors on Thursday, he did on Sunday, fulfilling our in-tournament top-10 bet on him. Despite the early disappointment, I have unwavering confidence in the Irishman.
His iron play has been fantastic, but unfortunately the same can not be said for the putter. It's not that it has been horrendous, there has actually been some signs of life, but the inconsistencies would worry me if I was backing him for the full-tournament. Luckily, we just need one good day on the greens and while at first-glance it looks like Lowry has struggled on these greens, I'll try to provide some hope.
I understand the 2017 PGA Championship took place in August and conditions were completely different, but just hear me out. Lowry finished that week 3rd in Strokes Gained: Putting, gaining nearly 9 strokes on the greens. Despite the potential for softer conditions, I still expect the greens to be quite slick. If that is the case, one good round with the putter would go a long way for not only Lowry, but also for us.
Harold Varner III (+8000):
Truth be told, Varner was the last player to make the list of selections, barely edging out Vaughn Taylor who is currently listed at +10000. If Taylor goes on to get the job done, I may never forgive myself, but I have some faith in Varner, who is not only from the area, but is a member at Quail Hollow.
With most players having not seen this golf course since 2019, Varner could be at a distinct advantage this week. I can't imagine much has changed in two years time, but having the membership card in his back pocket is never a bad thing. He's been inexplicably poor at the Wells Fargo, but he's turned the corner with his ball-striking and putting since then.
Varner is coming off the best finish of his career, a runner-up at the RBC Heritage. It'll be a tough to act to follow, but we have seen in the past that Varner is a streaky player and tends to play well in bunches. While I may not love Varner to keep the momentum going for the entirety of the tournament, I do like him to play well on Thursday. He's currently 26th on Tour in Round 1 scoring and he'll surely want to show off in front of the hometown crowd.
Matt Wallace (+8000):
A win is coming soon for the brash Englishman, who has been peppering the leaderboard for the past couple of months, thanks in part to his ability to start fast. A four-time winner on the European Tour, Wallace has since taken his talents stateside and looks to be getting more and more comfortable by the week.
Wallace ranks 29th on the PGA Tour in Round 1 scoring average. He gets the job done primarily with his irons as indicated by his play at the Valero Texas Open and RBC Heritage. Wallace gained a combined 5.1 strokes on approach in those two opening rounds. I fully expect him to have ample birdie opportunities on Thursday, it’s just matter of limiting mistakes and making some putts.
The main concern when it comes to Wallace is the fact that he’ll be making his debut at Quail Hollow. But maybe that isn’t such a bad thing. With no scar tissue from past poor performances or losing bouts with the Green Mile, Wallace may play more freely than his counterparts. If that’s the case, Wallace is more than capable of setting the early pace.
Adam Schenk (+12500):
I love the number that we are getting on Schenk who opened the 2019 Wells Fargo with a 4-under 67. That first-round left him 1-stroke behind eventual co-leaders Joel Dahmen and McIlroy, but it’s good to know that he has taken a liking to Quail Hollow.
He arrives in Charlotte riding a bit of form as well. Something clicked at the RBC Heritage, where he gained 6.6 strokes on approach. He followed it up with a T-11 at the Zurich Classic alongside fellow Purdue Boilmaker, Tyler Duncan. And then there was last week at the Valspar, where Schenk finished the week 8th in SG: Tee-to-Green en route to a T-18 finish. I’m hopeful he’ll be able to carry over that momentum from Tampa, as the best of his play occurred in the final round, finishing 2nd in SG: Tee-to-Green on Sunday alone.
Schenk ranks in the middle of the pack when it comes to Round 1 scoring average on the PGA Tour. At T-92 for the year, Schenk averages 70.62 on Thursdays. He has shot par or better in five of his last seven first-rounds, so if he is able to make it six out of eight, he should have some sort of chance to lead after day 1.
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