Wells Fargo Championship Preview, Picks & Analysis
Jason Day returns to the magnificent Quail Hollow Golf Club in Charlotte to defend his Wells Fargo Championship, confident that his game is now back where he wants it to be. The Australian endured a miserable time in 2017 after telling the world that his mother was terminally ill. He also split with his long-term caddie and mentor Colin Swatton. For a while it seemed that there might be no way back for Day but somehow managed to find a way to focus on his golf again last and won twice on the PGA Tour.
Swatton was far more than a caddie for Day. He was also his coach and his surrogate father and parting company with him was always going to be a painful process but Day’s form and confidence had fallen off a cliff and it was clear that something had to change. He now looks like the man who not so long ago was World No 1 and had a fantastic opportunity to usurp Tiger Woods at The Masters before coming up short. When Day is at his best he never looks like he is going to miss a putt. Indeed, there was a spell in his career during 2015 and 2016 when he didn’t miss a putt. He is also a wonderful iron player. He has come to terms with his mother’s health, with the prognosis being far more positive than initially feared, and is in a good place, and that makes him extremely dangerous.
Day will tell you that his victory at Quail Hollow was the highlight of his year and second only to his victory in the US PGA Championship. The course is one of the best on the circuit and if you were to ask the players to name their favourite course it is a safe bet that most of them would name Quail Hollow.
It is certainly one of Rory McIlroy’s favourite courses. It was the scene of his first success in America way back in 2010 (he also won it in 2015) when he finished with rounds of 66 and 62 and has since gone on to win 15 times on the PGA Tour. Tiger Woods is the only golfer about whom more is written and I make no apologies for adding to those words here.
He got off to a flying start to the season, winning the Players Championship before coming to Augusta for his now annual quest to complete the career grand slam. He was bitterly disappointed to finish only in a tie for 21st during a week in which he once again hit far too many wayward drives and displayed his frailties on Augusta National’s lightning fast greens. It is beyond my comprehension that he hasn’t won a major since 2014. He is about to leave his 20s behind (he turns 30 on May 4) and has won four majors. When you throw in his 13 wins on the European Tour it is difficult to criticise McIlroy but most people will tell you that, no matter what the rankings say, they regard him as being the best player in the world.
The reality is that his results tell a different story. Yes, he has shown some wonderful form this year, but here we are at the end of April and he still only has one victory to his credit, albeit against a world-class field at Sawgrass in the tournament that many people still regard as golf’s fifth major. He has had several chances but has been unable to finish the job off. He has built his reputation on long and accurate driving but the statistics tell a rather different story. Yes, he hits the ball miles, but he misses too many fairways and you cannot afford to do that and expect to win the US Open, US PGA Championship and The Open.
As Woods proved, you can win The Masters if you miss fairways in the right places. McIlroy’s problem at Augusta in 2019 was that he missed too many fairways in the wrong places and was unable to find the right parts of the greens. His putting woes have been well enough documented and you are never going to rediscover your touch at The Masters. One thing is for sure - his attitude at The Masters is very different to his approach at other tournaments. He may well want that Green Jacket too badly. As a result, we may have to accept that he might never win it. Arnold Palmer was never able to win the US PGA Championship.
But the Wells Fargo is not The Masters. McIlroy adores this place and despite his finish at Augusta he did play a lot of fabulous golf, so expect him to get right back into his stride again this week and perhaps add his second win of the year.
There will, or course be lots of golfers who will have something to say about that. His main rival for the title could be Rickie Fowler, another who frustrates his followers at the majors. He, too, played some wonderful golf at Augusta but never got himself into a position to challenge Woods. He is, however, having one of the best seasons of his career. The American is one of the best drivers of a ball on the PGA Tour, and that is prerequisite for good scoring at Quail Hollow. He is also one of the best putters in the business.
Phil Mickelson continues to defy the years. Already with a victory to his name this season, Lefty still hits the ball into the middle of next week. The problem is that he does so when playing this week. He knows only one play to play this game, and that is to attack. On most courses on the PGA Tour it is possible to get away with that, but Quail Hollow is not that sort of a course. It is one of the few that calls for a strategic approach so don’t be surprised to see Mickelson shoot rounds of 60-80-60-80. When he is good he is till very good. But when things are slightly awry you need to duck - many, many times. The thing with Mickelson is that entertainment is always guaranteed.
It will also be interesting to see how Cameron Champ copes on this layout. He strikes the ball prodigious distances and has made a terrific impact during his rookie season, already with one win to his name. But his swing has a LOT of moving parts and when he gets out of synch then he really struggles. He is also coming back after an injury that caused him to miss The Masters and may feel that he has a point to prove this week.
It was won in 2010 and 2015 by McIlroy, in 2011 by Lucas Glover, in 2012 by Fowler, in 2013 by Derek Ernst, in 2014 by J B Holmes, in 2016 by James Hahn, in 2017 by Brian Harman and by Day last year.
Rory McIlroy. Who else?
Rickie Fowler. This place suits his game
Rory Sabbatini, Has been showing some form
Rory McIlroy. If he could pick up a course and take it home it would be this one
Rickie Fowler. Enjoying an excellent season
Rory Sabbatini. The most unpopular man on tour but he can play a bit
Henrik Stenson. Needs to start showing some form, and soon
Paul Casey. Keen to put Augusta nightmare behind him
Ben An. Hugely underrated
Cameron Champ. Looking to get back on track
Phil Mickelson. Anything could happen!
Sergio Garcia. There have been some encouraging glimpses of form
Jason Day. Will be looking forward to defending his title
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