It's off to Maryland for the 2018 Quicken Loans National, in what has to be said possibly the worst field we will see all year. Only four of the world top 30 will tee it up here this week, with the majority of big names deciding to either take the week off or try their hand at the Open de France at Le Golf National, host of this year’s Ryder Cup. World No. 8 Rickie Fowler heads the field, and although he may sit at 82nd in the rankings, Tiger Woods will be competing which gives full life to the event.
In 2017, Kyle Stanley defeated Charles Howell III in a sudden-death playoff after both men had posted 7-under total in regulation.
TPC Potomac is a short par-70, measuring just 7,107 yards. However, don't be deceived by its lack of length, as in 2017 it played as one of the hardest courses on Tour. Among the reasons for this are the extremely tight fairways on offer this week. Keeping the ball on the short grass off the tee this week will be imperative as hard greens will also be in play here which makes anything coming out of the rough difficult to hold the green. Ball striking is going to be vital this week, and as is always the rule with a par-70 golf course, par-4 scoring will also be an area to focus on this week.
Some of the prices at the top of the board this week appear incredibly skinny. That is of course until you have a look at the field in full, and then it all makes sense. With such a weak field and with a premium on ball striking, I'm backing Tiger Woods to get back into the winner's circle.
In theory, TPC Potomac should be a course that Woods should enjoy. You aren't going to see many players hitting driver off the tee this week, and once you take Woods' driver out of play, he is as big a threat as anyone. Just like at Valspar where Woods finished T2, expect to see lots of stingers off the tee to find the fairway, allowing Woods to let his irons do the talking. Irons which have been sensational lately too. Over his previous 24 rounds, Woods ranks first for both ball striking and strokes gained approaching the green in this field.
With 12 par 4s in play this week, scoring on these holes will be significant, and Woods has been dominant on the par 4s since his return. Over his previous 36 rounds, Woods ranks first for strokes gained on par 4s, while he also leads the field in proximity over his last 24 rounds. What will also be important around TPC Potomac will be the ability to scramble when you do inevitably miss one of these firm and fast greens this week. Woods' touch around the greens has also been an area of his game in which he has excelled this season, and he ranks first in the field for strokes gained short game over his last 24 rounds.
Woods' putting will be under scrutiny this week, an area of his game which hasn't been great as of late. However, this concern isn't a grave one. Putting is the most significant area of a players game liable to variance, and I doubt anyone believes that Woods is going to continue to lose strokes on the green for much longer. At 14/1, Woods has his best opportunity for years to win PGA Tour event No. 80, and I see him doing just that.
From a serial winner to a frequent bridesmaid, Kevin Na deserves some attention this week. With his lack of length off the tee, it's no surprise that Na performs best on short golf courses and TPC Potomac is certainly a course that suits his game. Na proved this in 2017, where he finished T-22. That week, Na led the field in strokes gained approaching the green and was fourth for strokes gained tee to green, with a horrible week with the flat-stick preventing him from a higher finish.
Form-wise, Na has been sneakily quiet lately, but his game looks in good shape for this challenge. Over his previous 12 rounds, Na ranks sixth in this field for strokes gained approaching the green and fifth for strokes gained around the green. Na is notoriously an excellent iron player, and he has been flushing it with his irons lately. Over his previous 24 rounds, Na ranks second in the field for proximity to the hole. Recently his par-4 performance has been tremendous too, sitting fourth in this field for strokes gained on par 4s over his last 12 rounds.
Getting 35/1 on a player who has just one victory on the PGA Tour won't sound too appealing to many. But when you factor in seven places on offer, recent form, a golf course that he has already played well in the past, and a weak field, the price is more than fair. If Na is to ever claim his second victory on the PGA Tour, it may well be in a field such as this one in Maryland.
It's not easy to make a case for many in this market, but Si-Woo Kim should fancy his chances of having a strong showing this week. For starters, Kim is coming off the back of his best display with his irons since his victory at the Wyndham Championship in 2016. Kim gained 6.3 strokes with his approach play in Connecticut, which was the second most in the field.
The Korean also loves short and tricky tests. Over his previous 12 rounds, Kim ranks seventh in the field for strokes gained total on tracks shorter than 7,200 yards, and over his last 36 rounds, he ranks sixth in the field for strokes gained on courses where the scoring is difficult relative to par. In an event devoid of much quality, Kim has the game and the talent to thrive around TPC Potomac and can land a top-20 finish at 5/2.
72 Hole Match Bets
Despite having impressed as of late, I'm willing to take J.B. Holmes on in this market. Mainly due to the course. A tight and tricky golf course isn't a great match for Holmes, and he proved that last year when he finished a lowly T68 with a total of 13 over par. Charles Howell III, on the other hand, thrived at this venue and narrowly lost in a playoff. Howell is consistency personified and has made 14 out of 15 cuts this season, while Holmes is streakier and has missed the cut four times. Howell is also more reliable to have a top-25 finish, having recorded eight of these this year compared to just four from Holmes. On a golf course which I feel suits Howell's steady game far more than it does Holmes, I'm willing to take the 10/11 on offer for Charles Howell III in this market.
2018 Quicken Loans National recommended bets
- Tiger Woods 14/1 (SkyBet, Unibet)
- Kevin Na 35/1 (7 places, Boylesports)
Top 20 Finish
- Si-Woo Kim 5/2 (Unibet)
72 Holes Match Bets
- Charles Howell III over J.B. Holmes 10/11 (BetVictor)