It will be difficult to top the thrilling close to last week’s Travelers Championship, but the PGA Tour will likely deliver again when it tees off at difficult TPC Potomac near the nation’s capital for this week’s Quicken Loans National.
The Maryland invitational has two enormous draws in Rickie Fowler and tournament host Tiger Woods, who will be playing this edition, among another field rich in talent and motivation.
Here are the players most likely to reach the winner’s circle next Sunday:
15. DANNY LEE
This season, Lee’s bad has been very bad, which may have been most on display when he started 83-73 at The Memorial earlier this month. It took him a long time to find his footing this year, but he know has three finishes inside the top 15 in his last five starts, playing in the final Sunday group at THE PLAYERS and shooting four rounds in the 60s at last week’s Travelers Championship.
He was T22 in this event last year, and this is the time of year where the talented Kiwi seems to play his best. He could easily be a factor in Maryland this week.
World Rank: 134th
Last QL National Start: T22 (2017)
Last Seven: 15, MC, MC, 14, 7, MC, 51
14. BRIAN GAY
The 46-year-old four-time Tour winner has run hot and cold this season, but has been the former as of late, with three finishes inside the top 20 in his last four starts. Gay looked especially good at the U.S. Open, where he managed a 70 during Saturday’s historic carnage.
His nine top-25s in 21 starts this season equal the amount he had in the past four years combined, and his $1.5 million in earnings, with a handful of events still to go, is more than he has earned in any full season since 2010. He is hitting all his fairways lately, and has always been good with the putter, a formula for success at any course.
World Rank: 130th
Last QL National Start: T43 (2017)
Last Seven: 20, 12, 44, 12, 72, MC, 70
13. JAMIE LOVEMARK
Lovemark can hit the ball a mile, but it is his short game that has fueled a stretch where he has made the weekend in 11 of his last 12 starts. A third round 64 at last week’s Travelers Championship put the 30-year-old into the periphery of contention, but was derailed on Sunday by just two poor holes.
He is one of the best players on Tour still searching for his first win, and while he sat out TPC Potomac last year, he is showing in 2018 that he is not an afterthought anywhere.
World Rank: 93rd
Last QL National Start: T62 (2016)
Last Seven: 19, 37, 17, MC, 30, 24, 41
12. JOAQUIN NIEMANN
In six events since turning professional, the 19-year-old Chilean star already has three top 10s, and held the 36-hole lead at The Memorial earlier this month. Niemann’s ceiling is astronomically high, and he is not just promising: he is very good now too.
An iron game way beyond his years makes him look prime to become the Tour’s first teenage winner since Jordan Spieth’s maiden victory in 2013. He is the real deal.
World Rank: 222nd
Last QL National Start: Rookie (N/A)
Last Seven: MC, 6, 8, MC, MC, 6, MC
11. CHARLES HOWELL III
It is another steady season for Howell III, who has made an impressive 19 cuts in 21 starts, with 12 finishes inside the top 25. Last year’s Quicken Loans National runner-up very nearly put an end to a decade-long winless drought, and should be exceptionally motivated at a course where he clearly feels comfortable.
In his last start, he put himself in early contention at the U.S. Open with a 71-72 start.
World Rank: 60th
Last QL National Start: 2nd (2017)
Last Seven: 25, 26, 65, 9, 17, 21, 55
10. STEWART CINK
We still cannot believe that was 45-year-old Stewart Cink who carded 10(!) birdies in a final-round 62 to finish T2 at last week’s Travelers Championship. Combined with his T4 at the FedEx St. Jude in his previous start, and the 2009 Open Champion (his last career PGA Tour win) is officially on the “hot” list.
Cink is confident and suddenly sporting an excellent tee-to-green game; we could easily see him continuing to turn back the clock in Maryland.
World Rank: 95th
Last QL National Start: MC (2015)
Last Seven: 2, 4, MC, 58, MC, 72, MC
9. MARC LEISHMAN
In the follow-up to the 34-year-old Aussie’s two-victory 2017 season, he has been the very definition of hit-or-miss, although it has been mostly miss as of late, with five finishes of T45 or worse in his last six starts. The other start was a solo-second at the AT&T Byron Nelson.
With weaker competition in Maryland this week, we could see the World No. 18 (third best in the field) being more Jekyll than Hyde, but he has made himself difficult to trust and impossible to predict this year.
World Rank: 18th
Last QL National Start: T5 (2017)
Last Seven: MC, 45, 62, 2, 63, MC, 9
8. KYLE STANLEY
Last year’s victory at TPC Potomac was his first in more than five years, but the man who has risen into the top 40 of the world rankings is not taking anyone by surprise this year. He ranks third on Tour in both driving accuracy and greens in regulation, and has five finishes of T15 better in his last eight starts, highlighted by a T2 at The Memorial.
Stanley was extraordinarily emotion when he won this event last year and those good feelings could catalyze a successful title defense.
World Rank: 38th
Last QL National Start: 1st (2017)
Last Seven: 15, MC, 2, MC, 13, 52, 5
7. JIMMY WALKER
An abysmal third round at Shinnecock Hills (although who wasn’t terrible on that day?) was the culprit for a T56 U.S. Open finish that snapped a streak of six straight top-25 finishes for the recently reinvigorated Walker. His iron game has suddenly been pristine and his short game is seemingly always clicking, we suspect he will look more at TPC Potomac like the man who was runner-up at THE PLAYERS last month.
World Rank: 55th
Last QL National Start: MC (2017)
Last Seven: 56, 20, 6, 3, 4, 20, 73
6. TIGER WOODS
It is very difficult to know what to make of the tournament host and two-time event champion Tiger Woods. Despite the wins, he has no history at TPC Potomac, and has not been impressive in 4.5 of his last 5 starts (excellent weekend at THE PLAYERS, but was way out of the mix by then). He was extra terrible in his most recent start, at the US Open, where he shot 78-72 (+10) and missed the cut.
That being said, Tiger has looked close at times this year, and all those recent starts, he was facing a very strong field. With only four of the top 30 in the world rankings teeing up this week, it is not difficult to see Tiger make a serious title run. Regardless, he will need to putt way better than he has as of late.
World Rank: 82nd
Last QL National Start: T18 (2015)
Last Seven: MC, 23, 11, 55, 32, 5, 2
5. BEAU HOSSLER
Hossler’s first PGA Tour win is coming soon; he knows it and everyone else knows it. In what is essentially his rookie season (although he barely does not qualify as a “rookie” by PGA Tour definition), the 23-year-old has made 19 cuts in 22 starts.
His T2 at last week’s Travelers Championship became the second event since April where only one player in the field got the better of him. The man who putts way beyond his years has shown that he can be a factor on any course, in any tournament.
World Rank: 64th
Last QL National Start: Rookie (N/A)
Last Seven: 2, 44, 64, 32, 46, 34, 51
4. FRANCESCO MOLINARI
In a pleasant surprise, the world No. 17 Molinari of Italy (the second highest-ranked player in the field) chose to play in Maryland this week, rather than the European Tour’s French Open. He has no history at this course, but is one of the most accurate guys in the field, both off the tee and with his irons, and staying out of trouble is key at a difficult venue like TPC Potomac.
Molinari preceded his respectable T25 finish at The U.S. Open with a runner-up and a victory in his previous two European Tour starts, both of which came at events with a lot of star power.
World Rank: 17th
Last QL National Start: N/A
Last Seven: 25, 2, 1, MC, 16, 49, 20
3. J.B. HOLMES
The two-time Ryder Cupper has rarely looked like a first-class competitor over the past two seasons, and was absolutely dismal from February-May this year, but something has clicked for the 36-year-old bomber since the calendar flipped to June; finishing T13, 3, T2 over his last three starts.
He put on a putting clinic three weeks ago at The Memorial, and showed a pristine tee-to-green game in his last two starts. He did not play well at TPC Potomac last year, shooting over par in all four rounds to finish T68, but J.B. in his current form and against this field should place him among the favorites.
World Rank: 75th
Last QL National Start: T68 (2017)
Last Seven: 2, 3, 13, 42, MC, 42, MC
2. KIRADECH APHIBARNRAT
Aphibarnrat, the class of Thai golf, has eight career victories worldwide, and keeps looking closer to finally breaking through in the United States. In his most recent start, the 28-year-old bounced back from a poor start (76) to give himself a chance going into Sunday, before finishing in 15th place.
At Shinnecock Hills, he hit all 14 fairways in both rounds 2 and 3, and had the putter clicking on the nightmare greens. The world No. 30 has three top 15s in his last four starts and feels destined for another week in contention.
World Rank: 30th
Last QL National Start: N/A
Last Seven: 15, MC, 13, 5, 30, 45, 44
1. RICKIE FOWLER
At No. 8 in the world, Fowler is easily the best player in the field, and is such a heavy favorite that it is nearly impossible to make much of a return betting on him. His most recent start, at the U.S. Open, was as up-and-down as they come, as Fowler was in contention after two rounds before falling victim to Shinnecock’s Saturday savagry, shooting a 14-over 84 that still looks like a typo.
He bounced back with a tremendous 65 on Sunday, but was well out of the tournament by then. He also had a Sunday 65 at last year’s Quicken Loans, leading to a T3 finish in a stronger field than he will be facing this year. He feels like a safe bet to contend, and stands a great chance of his first victory of 2018.
World Rank: 8th
Last QL National Start: T3 (2017)
Last Seven: 20, 8, 14, MC, 21, 2, 43