Last week's Zurich Classic of New Orleans was a mess weather-wise, forcing not just a Monday finish but also the tournament was shortened to 54 holes (first event shortened since the 2013 opener in Hawaii). And Brian Stuard got his first PGA Tour win by beating Jamie Lovemark on the second playoff hole. Amazingly, Stuard never bogeyed a single hole in the tournament. In addition to making all 40 of his putts inside 10 feet, Stuard led the field at 2.849 in strokes gained/putting. His previous best finishes were a pair of seconds, last in 2014. The win got Stuard into next week's Tour Championship and of course next year's Masters. Now eight of the past 12 champions of the Zurich Classic have been first-time winners.
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Stuard was No. 128 on the 2014-15 FedEx Cup standings and playing with conditionally-exempt status this year. The 33 year old needed to birdie the 18th hole to force the playoff as Lovemark was a stroke up; they were in the final group with Jhonattan Vegas. Stuard calmly drained the 8-foot putt. All Lovemark then had to do was two-putt from about 85 feet to win but left his eagle way short and then barely missed the 10-footer for birdie to send the tournament into a playoff for the third time in the last six years. Byeong-Hun An, playing in the group just before the final group, also birdied 18 to get himself to the playoff. He fell out on the first extra hole with a bogey.
Needless to say, I didn't have Stuard winning. I was torn between Jason Day and Justin Rose and eventually leaned Rose. He missed the cut. Day was T5, two shots out of the playoff. So I got him at -200 for a Top 10. Also hit a few head-to-head props but really not a memorable tournament.
Before I get to this week's pretty strong field at the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, I'm going to address something I don't believe I ever have in this space: the Champions Tour. That's because John Daly just turned 50 and makes his Champions Tour debut -- and has there ever been a golfer more suited to 54-hole events and the use of a cart? He is in the field for the Insperity Invitational outside Houston, which starts Friday. Daly is +4000 to win at Bovada. The favorite is Jeff Maggert at +700. Just wanted to throw that out there.
Wells Fargo is a major sponsor on Tour, so this event usually draws a good field, plus guys want to tune up for the following week's Tour Championship. One guy we will see for the first time since the BMW Championship in the FedEx Cup playoffs last fall is Jim Furyk, who had wrist surgery in February. He won here in 2006 and finished second in 2005 & '14. There were some rumblings that Tiger Woods might return here, but that's not the case. Reuters recently reported that Tiger did book lodging for the Players Championship. Doesn't mean he will play.
Quail Hollow is a monster par-72 at 7,575 yards and will host the 2017 PGA Championship. The final three holes, "the Green Mile," have consistently been ranked the toughest finish on the PGA Tour the past seven years. The course will not host this tournament next year as there will be some renovations this summer for the PGA Championship. The event will move to at Eagle Point in Wilmington for 2017 only.
Rory McIlroy is back to defend his title and he hasn't won on Tour since. McIlroy basically won the tournament on Saturday with an 11-under 61, a course record. He finished at 21-under 267, which shattered the tournament record by five strokes. Webb Simpson and Patrick Rodgers were second, seven shots back.
Golf Odds: Wells Fargo Championship Favorites
McIlroy is the highest-ranked player in the field -- no Day or Jordan Spieth -- and is the heavy +400 favorite at Bovada. McIlroy's first PGA Tour win also came at this event in 2010. "The golf course just sets up really well for me," McIlroy said after last year's romp. No kidding. It marked the first time McIlroy won at the same venue in his PGA Tour career. He also was a runner-up in Charlotte in 2012.
Rickie Fowler is at +1400. He won his first Tour title here in 2012 but has missed the cut and finished 38th in two trips since. He didn't play last year. Fowler was T20 last week in New Orleans. Adam Scott is +1700. He has missed the cut here his past two trips (2015, '10). He hasn't notched a Top 10 in three events since winning back-to-back in Florida.
The favorites are rounded out by Henrik Stenson and Rose (both +2000). Rose was T5 last time he played here in 2014. Stenson doesn't have a good track record here at all.
PGA Tour Picks: Wells Fargo Championship Expert Betting Predictions
For a Top-10 finish, I like McIlroy (-200), J.B. Holmes (+200) and Phil Mickelson (+240). Go McIlroy (-140) over Fowler (+110), but Fowler (-125) over Scott (-105). Like Rose (-110) over Stenson (-120), Hideki Matsuyama (-115) over Patrick Reed (-115), Mickelson (-120) over Holmes (-110), Paul Casey (-115) over Bryson DeChambeau (-115), and Justin Thomas (-115) over Jason Kokrak (-115).
McIlroy probably wins, but I'm putting some money on Lefty at +2500. He is so overdue here with six career Top-5 finishes. He was T4 last year and runner-up to McIlroy in 2010. The only reason I'm not more confident on him is that Mickelson has missed the cut in his past two PGA Tour events.
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