Wells Fargo Championship Preview, Picks & Analysis
Post by Sports Writer Derek Clements
FOR the first time in its history, the Wells Fargo championship is not being played at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, North Carolina. The reason? The course is being prepared for the US PGA championship, which meant an alternative venue had to be found.
And that venue is the magnificent Eagle Point, which has attracted some rave reviews ahead of the tournament. Hudson Swafford said the condition of the course could only be compared to Augusta National - high praise indeed.
“It’s a great golf course and fun to play,” said Harris English, who joined Swafford, Brian Harman and Patton Kizzire for a two-day practice session. “There’s not a blade of grass out of place. It made me want to stay longer than two days.”
This was the first PGA Tour title won by Rory McIlroy, who claimed the title in 2010 and again in 2015, and also has a second place to his name. Lucas Glover won in 2011, Rickie Fowler is 2012, Derek Ernst in 2013, JB Holmes in 2014 and James Hahn last year.
All eyes this week will be on Dustin Johnson. The world number one had to miss The Masters after injuring himself on the eve of the season's first major, and although we were treated to a fabulous climax as Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose went head to head down the stretch, there is no doubt that Johnson was missed. He has played some sensational golf this year. Since missing the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in January, Johnson has finished third at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and then won the Genesis Open, the WGC Mexico Championship and the WGC Dell World Match Play championship. Putting the Match Play to one side, he was a cumulative 45 under par for Pebble Beach, the Genesis Open and Mexico Championship.
We all know that he is a fabulous driver of the golf ball, but you don't become world No1 and you don't win three successive golf tournaments just by hitting the golf ball into the middle of next week. Johnson has worked his socks off to become one of the best wedge players in the game - it is not so long ago that the Dustinator could barely keep the ball on the green from 100-150 yards.
Crucially, he has also turned himself into a great clutch putter - a far cry from the golfer who three-putted from nowhere on the final green to hand the 2015 US Open to Jordan Spieth. In other words, Johnson has become the complete golfer. He was red-hot favourite to win at Augusta. We will never know if he would have won his second major; he might have missed the cut.
And it will be fascinating to see whether the magic is still there after his brief layoff. This season began with Hideki Matsuyama looking like he would win every tournament in which he played, and next came Justin Thomas. Both men have since gone off the boil, but that is hardly surprising. Johnson is a different kettle of fish. His sense of self-belief is enormous. Can he win his fourth successive title at Eagle Point? Of course he can. Will he do so? A strong field may have something to say about it.
It is impossible not to consider the merits of Jon Rahm in any tournament he enters. Make no mistake, the Spaniard is the real deal. He will have walked away from Augusta feeling pretty disappointed that he didn't give himself a better chance of winning, but that is only because he sets impossibly high standards for himself. He turns up week after week, seeing courses for the first time, and then goes out and contends.
There are many similarities to be drawn between Rahm and Johnson. The Spaniard hits the golf ball a long way - a VERY long way. And like Johnson, he finds an awful lot of fairways. The worrying thing for the opposition is that Rahm is on a learning curve, still finding his way on the PGA Tour, and will only get better. He is a certain major champion of the future, and I believe that Royal Birkdale, host of the 2017 Open Championship, could suit him down to the ground.
Phil Mickelson, who remains everybody's favourite player, continues his search for a return to the winners' enclosure. You always know that Lefty is going to miss more fairways than most but his powers of recovery are astonishing and he keeps putting himself in contention, playing some stunning golf during the past 15 months. The longer he goes without a win, the harder it will be to achieve and he could struggle at Eagle Point, which looks like a course that will suit strategists. Let's be honest, 'strategy' is not really a word that exists in Mickelson's vocabulary.
Glover has played some of the best golf of his life in this tournament, and comes here in decent form. The former US Open champion has had his struggles but has spent a great deal of time working on his game. Don't rule out the possibility of Glover having a proper run at this tournament.
This is a shot-maker's course, which means that it will suit Daniel Berger, a fine young golfer who is tipped by many as a future major champion. He is an impressive player and human being, and will fancy his chances this week.
Strangely, McIlroy and Spieth have both decided to give the tournament a miss.
Dustin Johnson. It's hard to bet against him
Phil Mickelson. Will surely win again soon
Daniel Berger. Fabulous player
Dustin Johnson. On top of the world
Phil Mickelson. Would love to win again, and soon
Daniel Berger. Adding consistency to his game
Patrick Reed. Showing signs of life again
Lucas Glover. Due another big week
Jon Rahm. Contends every time he plays
Ben An. One of Asia's very best
Bud Cauley. Finding his feet at last
Stewart Cink. Could surprise a few people
Harris English. Loves the course
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