The Wells Fargo Championship returns to Charlotte after a one-year sabbatical, the North Carolina tournament temporarily moving to Eagle Point in Wilmington to accommodate the US PGA Championship’s visit to Quail Hollow in 2017. As evidenced during the PGA build-up, when a course in the US PGA Tour rotation gets tabbed into a Major slot, players with strong track records at the venue are touted as favourites. (Last year’s darlings, Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler, mostly fizzled out, although Fowler shot a closing 67 for a ‘backdoor’ top-five.)
But is there any performance correlation between Major championships and regular tour events at the same venue, specifically, when the tour returns to its regularly scheduled tournament the next year? We examined the past six such instances, and the symmetry, or lack thereof, should give punters pause on backing PGA champion Justin Thomas or runner-up Patrick Reed this week. Note: Bethpage Black was considered for the 2009 US Open and 2012 Barclays, but we felt the time between events was too long to warrant inclusion.
Congressional – 2011 US Open to 2012 AT&T National
For those that need the reminder, this was when McIlroy (above) torched Washington D.C. like it was 1812, shooting a US Open record 16-under par for an eight-shot victory. Interestingly, McIlroy did not tee it up at the next year’s National (he has never played the event, actually), passing on the chance to return to Congressional. Similarly, the National’s champ in 2011, Tiger Woods, withdrew from the US Open that year with a knee injury. Not much help here.
However, the events did have some interaction, as Robert Garrigus and Jason Day finished inside the top-10 at both events, with Garrigus going T-3 at the US Open and T-4 at National, and Day checking in with a runner-up and T-8. Interestingly, though the Major championships tend to see scores closer to par than tour events, McIlroy’s 16-under doubled Woods’ eight-under winning mark the next year.
Pebble Beach – 2010 US Open to 2011 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am
What’s with these US Open winners not returning to their stomping grounds? Graeme McDowell, the 2010 champ, didn’t make another Pebble Beach appearance until 2014. However, Phil Mickelson, who finished T-4 at the 2010 US Open, came back to the Monterey Peninsula the next February and made the most of his visit, capturing the 2011 Pebble Beach Pro-Am title. But to think the US Open spurred Lefty to victory is mistaken, as Mickelson had already won the tour event three times.
Dustin Johnson, who entered the US Open final round with a three-shot lead only to infamously shoot a closing 82, was the only player to post top-10s at both tournaments. Mickelson’s winning Pro-Am score of 269 bettered McDowell by 15 shots.
Torrey Pines – 2008 US Open to 2009 Buick Invitational
Another winner, this time Woods, who didn’t return. In his defence, Tiger was sidelined at the time after, you know, winning the hardest golf tournament in the world over 91 holes on a broken leg (above). Nick Watney, who claimed the then-Buick Invitational in 2009, made the weekend at the 2008 US Open but was mostly a non-factor, finishing T-60. Woods won the US Open at 283, Watney the Buick at 277.
Only one player finished inside the top-10 at both: Camilo Villegas. That will win you a bet or two. Although expect odd glances for asking, “Can you name the only player to finish in the top-10 at the 2008 US Open and 2009 Buick Invitational?”
Pebble Beach – 2000 US Open to 2001 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am
Woods makes his third appearance on the list, this time for lapping the US Open field by 15 shots. Why we don’t discuss his 2000 tour de force on a weekly basis is beyond me.
Tiger teed it up at Pebble the next season, not only as the reigning US Open winner but the defending Pro-Am champ as well. Unfortunately for Woods, an uneven second round kept a Pebble three-peat at bay, ultimately finishing T-13. That week’s winner, Davis Love III, missed the cut at the US Open the previous year. Only Vijay Singh had high finishes at both, a T-8 and runner-up at the Pro-Am.
Riviera – 1995 US PGA Championship to 1996 LA Open
Only two competitors played well at both, but they’re names that matter. Steve Elkington brought home the Wanamaker Trophy in 1995 after defeating Colin Montgomerie in a playoff (above). Elk went a tad higher than his PGA winning 17-under 267 at the next year’s LA Open, although his 281 was still good enough for a T-10. Craig Stadler, who owned a handful of near-misses in 20 previous Riviera starts, won the LA Open after placing eighth at the prior PGA. Hey, only took 20 years of turning back the clock, but we found binary links!
Southern Hills – 1994 US PGA Championship to 1995 Tour Championship
Nice Price won his second consecutive Major and third overall at Southern Hills, his 11-under 269 five shots better than Corey Pavin. His next go-around in Tulsa would, ahem, not be as prosperous; his four-day score was 30 shots higher at the 1995 Tour Championship. (Spoiler alert: he came in last.) Billy Mayfair, who took the Tour crown, didn’t do much of note at the PGA, evidenced in a T-39.
Nevertheless, three players did make PGA and Tour Championship runs: Pavin (who finished second at both), Elkington (T-7 at PGA, T-2 with Pavin) and Greg Norman.
While the sample size is short, the findings are clear. Thomas, Reed, Hideki Matsuyama and Louis Oosthuizen are among the favourites this week, and one of them will likely flourish. But, on the whole, history paints an ominous forecast.