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The PGA TOUR takes a trip to Charlotte for this week's Wells Fargo Championship, played at Quail Hollow Club.
Similar to last week, this is another event that was not played in 2020, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Wells Fargo Championship has always attracted a decent field but it appears to be a big-time winner this year due to how the 2021 schedule shakes out. Just a month removed from the Masters and two weeks away from the PGA Championship, this event has been chosen as an ideal tune-up spot for many of TOUR's superstars. In fact, four of the top five in the world are teeing it up this week.
There will be 156 golfers lining up to start the week and the top 65 plus ties will advance through the 36-hole cut line.
Quail Hollow Club returns to host another year of the Wells Fargo. It has played this role for all but one edition since the inaugural 2003 Wells Fargo Championship. The 2017 tournament is the exception as they played over at Eagle Point that season.
The scorecard reads 7,521 yards while playing as a par-71 layout. It was previously a par 72 before they tuned it up for the 2017 PGA Championship. Since then, they have kept it as a par 71 which makes it appear even tougher when looking at scores relative to par.
The course is tree-lined and has loads of length. There are nine par 4s that play 449 yards or longer (lots of mid-irons). Five of those beefy par 4s play over 480 yards.
On the flip side, two of the par 4s play under 350 yards. That is a bit easier for longer hitters to attack so both the long and short par 4s here are well-suited for the big hitters. It's no wonder that Rory McIlroy is a two-time winner and the list of champions includes plenty of power hitters like Jason Day, Max Homa, J.B. Holmes.
The one thing that allows for shorter hitters to contend is the firmness of the course. As long as the course plays firm, like it usually does, it allows for the shorter hitters to pick up yardage off the tee by keeping it in the fairway and letting it roll.
There are greenside bunkers guarding every hole so good luck finding a GIR on some of the lengthy par 4s, if you are missing the fairways.
Looking at the grass conditions, they will see a bermudagrass base again this week. The rough gets overseeded with ryegrass which makes it a bit easier to play out of compared to straight bermuda. The 2017 PGA Championship at Quail Hollow was played with pure bermudagrass rough but this event is always ryegrass rough. Once they reach the greens, they will see average-size green complexes that feature Champion G12 Bermuda. There is some overseeded poa trivialis hanging around still but this is the time of year when the bermuda starts to assert its dominance. The greens were flipped from bentgrass to bermuda prior to the start of the 2014 edition and they've been able to ramp up green speeds since then as a result, typically stimping between 12 and 13 feet.
Sifting through some past quotes, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play.
Patrick Reed: "The good thing around a place like this with how fast the greens are, especially if you’re downhill, you can’t force anything because you don’t want to hit it five, six feet by, so everything is kind of free flowing motions."
Martin Laird "I remember when I first came here there was maybe four or five, maybe even six par 4s where I hit 3-wood or maybe 2-iron or 5-wood off the tee and now it just pretty much feels like you hit driver all day. I think I hit two 3-woods and then the rest are driver. It’s definitely stretched out."
Phil Mickelson: "It’s very much like Augusta in that the grasses are very similar and the rough is very low, so I love that. It gives me a chance to recover if I hit some poor shots."
Jason Day: "I think it’s a golf course where you kind of have to have every aspect going. You need to drive it well because it is a long golf course. If you’re not hitting fairways, then you’re going to miss greens because of how firm the greens are, so you need a really good short game to try and save yourself."
Justin Rose: "It’s a strategic golf course. The greens are so severe, so sloping, that you need to respect a lot of pin placements out there. A lot of guys can make cheap bogeys on this golf course and maybe that’s what I haven’t done."
Looking at grass types, geography, course attributes, and past performance, here are a few courses/events that I think could prove to be a good pointer this week:
The themes here are bogey rates (high), approach distances (long), and green speeds (fast).
Thursday: Sunny with a high of 72 degrees. Winds 5 to 10 MPH.
Friday: Sunny with a high of 71 degrees. Winds at 8 to 15 MPH.
Only a slight chance of any rain this week in Charlotte. Temps are hovering in the low 70s for most of the week. Solid golf weather.
Golfers to Watch
JT played well from tee-to-green last week but couldn't capitalize on the greens. He said this after three days of play at Innisbrook, "if I'm putting well this week I'm winning this tournament without question." He lost 6.5 strokes putting at week's end so that story checks out. Now he'll head to Quail Hollow which is a course where he lost strokes putting in all three of his May visits. He did gain 7.2 strokes putting when playing the course in August, winning the 2017 PGA Championship that week.
He arrives off back-to-back missed cuts in stroke-play events (PLAYERS, Masters). If there were ever a get-right course for McIlroy, it would be Quail Hollow. He's gained at 6.7 strokes tee-to-green in all seven eight visits to Quail Hollow, including the 2017 PGA Championship.
The new dad settled for 58th place at the 2017 PGA Championship held at Quail Hollow Club. So, it won't be his frist time seeing the course. It will be his course debut in a non-major. His only previous Wells Fargo start was a top 5 in the 2017 edition which was played at Eagle Point. With top 15s in nine of his last 10 starts, it's hard to overlook him.
Quail Hollow Club is a big-boy golf course but there are a few shorter hitters that have gotten the job done here. Perhaps Simpson could add his name to that list this week. Course knowledge will not be a problem, as he is a member here and knows the course as well as anyone.
Similar to McIlroy above, he arrives in search of his lost form but is headed to a course that has treated him very well over the years. He's gained at least 7.7 strokes tee-to-green in four of his six Wells Fargo appearances and also gained 7.9 strokes tee-to-green at the 2017 PGA Championship. Fowler has dipped to 116th in the OWGR this week, his first time making a start while outside of the top 100 since early 2010.
The Texan is a perfect example of there being more than one way to get the job done. Success at Quail Hollow is generally about striking the ball at an elite level. Yet, Reed has a strong record here and it's largely due to his short game. He's gained at least 2.2 strokes around-the-green in each of his last four visits and he's gained at least 4.3 strokes putting in three of those four recent starts at Quail Hollow. Don't be surprised if he claws his way to another top 10 this week.
Ranking the Field
1. Justin Thomas
2. Jon Rahm
3. Tony Finau
4. Bryson DeChambeau
5. Xander Schauffele
6. Rory McIlroy
7. Webb Simpson
8. Viktor Hovland
9. Patrick Reed
10. Corey Conners
11. Will Zalatoris
12. Patrick Cantlay
13. Joaquin Niemann
14. Abraham Ancer
15. Cameron Tringale
16. Max Homa
17. Brian Harman
18. Sungjae Im
19. Jason Day
20. Tommy Fleetwood
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