If you’ve ever wondered how long it takes to prepare a golf course to host a big professional event, this week on the PGA Tour offers a clue.
The Wells Fargo is normally played at Quail Hollow but since that course is hosting the Presidents Cup in September, this week’s event has moved to TPC Potomac at Avenel in Washington.
The move won’t be a problem for most of the field as the course isn’t new to hosting PGA Tour events.
It was the long-time home of the Kemper Open and most recently hosted the Quicken Loans National event in 2017 and 2018.
There will be 16 of the world’s top-50 teeing up including the defending champion Rory McIlroy who won at Quail Hollow last year.
DEFENDING CHAMPION: Rory McIlroy has won three at Quail Hollow but last year’s victory could hardly be described as plain sailing.
At the difficult closing hole, the four-time major winner pulled his drive left into the narrow creek that runs down that side.
RIGHT: Rory McIlroy won this title for the third time in 2021, but will defend this week on a layout that is completely new to him. PHOTO: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images).
With his ball not in the water but instead embedded in deep rough on the steep bank of the creek, McIlroy contemplated trying to hit a miracle recovery but was eventually talked out of it by caddie Harry Diamond.
Nursing a two-stroke lead over Abraham Ancer at the time, the penalty left him needing to get down in three to win and a brilliant third to find the green sealed the deal.
COURSE: TPC Potomac at Avenel was one of the earliest efforts in the PGA Tour’s course network and while it met with less than stellar reviews from players it remained a continuous presence on Tour for almost 20 years.
From 1989 to 2004 the course hosted an event every year but in 2005 a major overhaul was ordered to deal with long standing design and drainage issues.
The club spent US$32 million redesigning the course and clubhouse with major changes removing several controversial holes and reducing the par from 71 to 70.
Historically, winning scores have fluctuated considerably with Kyle Stanley’s seven-under-par total in 2017 followed by Francesco Molinari firing 21-under in 2018 on his way to victory at the Quicken Loans National.
The one word that appears in almost every amateur review of the course is ‘difficult’ and given it was designed with tournament play in mind, that is no surprise.
The fairways tend on the narrow side with longish rough at the sides and deep bunkers surrounding most greens. Water is in play on several holes both laterally and as a carry hazard.
The winning score seems likely to be double digits under par unless particularly difficult weather conditions prevail.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: The field is thinner than otherwise might be expected at this event and defending champion McIlroy stands out as the only world top-10 ranked player teeing up.
Interestingly, McIlroy has never played TPC Avenel so has no form at the course.
Whether we can read anything into his decision to skip the two Quicken Loans tournaments played here in 2017 and 2018 is unknown but given the history of the course and its less than positive reviews among the players perhaps we can.
While McIlroy stands out in terms of world rankings this is still a PGA Tour event and that means there are no poor players in the field.
Last week’s joint runners-up Brandon Wu and Tony Finau are in the field again this week and Finau in particular will have brought some confidence from south of the border.
His final round 63 was his best round of the year by some margin but followed a 66 the previous day.
For a player of his calibre, back-to-back good scoring days suggests he may have found something in what has been an otherwise lacklustre 2022.
Mexico was his first top-10 finish for the season, and while he has only played once at TPC Avenel for a T21 finish, current form is a much better indicator than past performance.
Patrick Reed’s Mexico Open was the opposite of Finau’s with a good start but a stumbling finish.
However, Sunday’s four-over effort was most likely a blip and it would be no surprise to see him contend this week.
Our own Marc Leishman was T5 here in 2017 so has a liking for the course and while he hasn’t been at his best this year, he also hasn’t been a long way off.
One missed cut and a string of mid field finishes is hardly terrible and at this level, form can turn around on the back of a single swing.
72-HOLE RECORD: 267 (-21, Rory McIlroy, 2015).
18-HOLE RECORD: 61 (Rory Milroy, Quail Hollow 2015), 62, (Francesco Molinari TPC Potomac at Avenel 2018).
PAST AUSSIE WINNERS: Jason Day (2018)
AUSTRALIANS IN THE FIELD: Jason Day, Cam Davis, Brett Drewitt, Matt Jones, Cameron Percy and Marc Leishman.
Round 1: Friday (Fox Sports 503 4am – 8am)
Round 2: Saturday (Fox Sports 503 4am – 8am)
Round 3: Sunday (Fox Sports 503 3am – 8am)
Round 4: Monday (Fox Sports 503 3am – 8am)
*AEST, check local guides