Wells Fargo Championship Preview, Picks & Analysis
BRIAN HARMAN returns to the magnificent Quail Hollow Golf Club to defend his title at the Wells Fargo Championship but all eyes will be on Rory McIlroy, with the Northern Irishman returning to a course where he has won before and looking to put the disappointment of The Masters behind him.
He went into the final round at Augusta with many pundits expecting him to overhaul Patrick Reed and he had a chance to catch the American at the second hole but when he missed his eagle putt it seemed to knock the stuffing out of him and he stumbled to a final round of 74, eventually finishing fifth. In the end, he wasn’t even the leading European, with that honour going to Jon Rahm, of Spain. He admitted afterwards that he was struggling to find any positives from his performance in the major he needs to complete a career grand slam.
Once again, he demonstrated frailty on the greens when it mattered most, having putted brilliantly for the first three rounds and also during the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, where he ended a near-18-month drought without a victory. If he is going to get his season back on track he will fancy his chances of doing so here. It was the venue for his first PGA Tour success back in 2010, and he won it again in 2015. It was won in 2011 by Lucas Glover, in 2012 by Rickie Fowler, in 2013 by Derek Ernst, in 2014 by JB Holmes, in 2016 by James Hahn and by Harman 12 months ago.
When McIlroy won in 2010 he did so with a stunning final round of 62, which set a new course record. He was only the second golfer after Tiger Woods to win on the PGA Tour before his 21st birthday. And when he won three years ago he did so by seven strokes. Since Augusta he has gone on record as saying that he learnt valuable lessons and insists that he will win The Masters. It will be fascinating to see how he has recovered. McIlroy is a resilient character and you can be sure that he will return to Quail Hollow with lots of positive memories. This is a tournament that could define his entire season. If he gets off to a good start it will be difficult to bet against him.
There is a strong European presence at the Wells Fargo, and several of them will go into the week feeling that they have a point to prove. Tommy Fleetwood has come close to winning in the United States more than once and he is in a good place on and off the course. There were many who believed that his achievement in winning the Race to Dubai in 2017 was a one-off but he has already silenced them with a victory this year and has proved that he has the game to thrive on the PGA Tour. The Englishman has no weaknesses. It may surprise you to learn that over the course of four days at Augusta, nobody hit the ball further – and that includes the likes of McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas.
In other words, Fleetwood Is plenty long enough. He averaged well over 300 yards every time he pulled the driver from the bag, and we all know how good an iron player he is. It is easy to look at his claw grip with the putter and jump to the conclusion that he is not a terribly good putter – trust us when we tell you that all the statistics indicate he is a much better putter than McIlroy. His method may not be pretty, but it works. Week after week.
Sweden’s Alex Noren had a disappointing week at Augusta, but he is enjoying yet another fine season and clearly believes that a maiden victory in the United States is not too far way. He has come close on a couple of occasions in 2018, and it would surprise nobody if he plays his way into contention yet again. The same applies to England’s Tyrrell Hatton, a man who has to find a way to stop being so hard on himself. He seldom looks as if he is enjoying himself on the golf course and needs to find a way to be able to hit a poor shot and move on, rather looking like a volcano that is about to erupt on every single hole.
Phil Mickelson arrives at Quail Hollow feeling that he has a point to prove. He is now 47 years old but he has returned to the winners’ circle this year and still hits the ball as far as he ever did. He has always been fairly inconsistent with a driver in his hand but his problem now is that he is more wayward than ever and that puts intense pressure on every other part of his game, including that remarkable short game. He simply makes too many mistakes, but when he is on song he remains one of the most gifted golfers on the planet – and he still believes that he can win on any course against the very strongest fields. It would be a foolish man or woman who would bet against him qualifying as a matter of right for Jim Furyk’s American Ryder Cup team.
Masters champion Partrick Reed also returns to solo action. He may not be the most popular winner of a major championship but few would argue that he is the most determined. He has revelled in wearing the Green Jacket in public since that incredible four days earlier this month – and why wouldn’t he? He is a magnificent ball striker and has also proved that he has a wonderful touch on the greens. There may well be a Masters hangover, but it is just as likely that, filled with confidence, he picks up exactly where he left off – and don’t bet against the PGA Tour engineering the draw to ensure that he and McIlroy are playing together again for the first two rounds.
Rory McIlroy. Probably his favourite US course
Tommy Fleetwood. Ready to make the next step
Justin Thomas. Looks like a winner every time he plays
Rory McIlroy. Big week for the Northern Irishman
Tommy Fleetwood. Brilliant ball striker
Justin Thomas. Arguably the best golfer on the planet right now
Phil Mickelson. Which Mickelson will turn up this week?
Tyrell Hatton. Calm down Tyrrell, calm down
Xander Schauffele. Brilliant young American
Patrick Reed. Will be fascinating to see how he performs
Alex Noren. America looks like it was made for him
Ben An. Looking for some consistency
Daniel Berger. Ready for another big week
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