With the US PGA Championship just two weeks away, many of the world’s leading Major contenders will be looking to finetune their game, with the Wells Fargo Championship providing one such opportunity.
This event started life as the Wachovia Championship in 2003, and it has since evolved into one of the most respected non-Major events on the PGA calendar. That is in large part down to its iconic venue: Quail Hollow. This event was played at Eagle Point Golf Club in 2017, with Quail Hollow taking on the hosting duties for the 2017 US PGA Championship. Current Players Champion Justin Thomas emerged victorious on that occasion and he will be one of the key protagonists in this week’s drama.
This picturesque Parkland masterpiece was opened in 1961 and has since undergone several facelifts- most notably under the guidance of Tom Fazio. One of the most notable changes came eight years ago, when all the Bentgrass green complexes were replaced by Bermuda. This is a testing tree-lined layout that is long and demanding. The winning score has only once exceeded 15-under-par in the past ten years. The undulating Bermuda greens are protected by an assortment of bunkers. The final three holes, known as the Green Mile, are particularly treacherous, with water playing an increasingly significant role. I actually see many corollaries between Quail Hollow and this year’s PGA Championship Course: The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort. Power will be a huge benefit (but only if you can find fairways). Putting will also prove crucial on these tricky Bermuda greens.
One notable absentee this week is World Number One Dustin Johnson. Justin Thomas has won a Major Championship at Quail Hollow and he just contends everywhere. New father Jon Rahm will be looking for his fifth consecutive top 10 this year while Bryson DeChambeau may find this course to his liking. As last year’s event was cancelled, it will be Max Homa defending the title he won so unexpectedly in 2019. He was in contention last week at Copperhead before fading disappointingly on Sunday. Rory McIlroy is a two-time champion here. He has also finished inside the top 16 every year since 2012. His record score of -21 in 2015 is testament to both his virtuosity and suitability to this layout. But things just haven’t looked right for Rory since the Covid outbreak halted golf last year. He has taken a month off golf after his missed cut at the Masters and he may feel liberated by returning to one of his favoured courses.
2020: cancelled due to pandemic
2019: Max Homa (-15)
2018: Jason Day (-12)
2017: Brian Harman (-10) *hosted at Eagle Point Golf Club
2016: James Hahn (-9) *playoff
2015: Rory McIlroy (-21)
To Win Outright:
Justin Thomas 11/1 | Jon Rahm 12/1 | Bryson DeChambeau 14/1 | Rory McIlroy 18/1 | Xander Schauffele 20/1
Webb Simpson- To Win 22/1 | To Place 48/10
Simpson just screams value at this price. He has three top 10’s already this year (including last time out at the RBC Heritage). That result came off the back of a solid tie for 12th at the Masters. Simpson is a member of Quail Hollow and would dearly like to add a win here to his resume. He was runner-up in 2015 and 4th in 2012. He posted decent finishes of T21 and T18 in the last two appearances. He has experience winning in front of his fellow North Carolinians: he has previously won the Wyndham Championship. He currently sits 18th on tour for both SG: Putting and Par 4 Scoring. These are crucial stats in determining the winner at Quail Hollow.
Ricky Fowler- To Win 75/1 | To Place 16/1
These odds look generous when you consider the form that Fowler has been in (just four top 20’s in the last year). He has caused slightly unwarranted controversy recently by being offered a special exemption into this year’s PGA Championship. His critics- Nick Faldo amongst them- think that Fowler hasn’t earned the treatment he receives, that he’s too preoccupied with sponsorships and commercials (nothing that Nick Faldo would know anything about). People tend to forget that behind those five PGA titles are a slew of missed chances at Major Championships. He is coming off a creditable top 20 at the Valero Texas Open and is returning to one of his favourite haunts. He won at Quail Hollow in 2012 and finished 4th when this event was last played in 2019.
The Man to Beat- Bryson DeChambeau- To Win 14/1 | To Place 3/1
I was so tempted to play Rory this week. I just couldn’t look past his recent struggles, despite his superhuman form at this venue. Bryson DeChambeau just makes slightly more sense to me in the upper stretches of the market. With many of the approach shots this week coming from further than 200 yards, DeChambeau will be at a huge advantage. The ability to use long irons here will be key to success. He also ranks 13th on tour for Strokes Gained: Par 4: 450-500 yards. DeChambeau has six wins since August 2018 and he finished 4th here in 2018. As scores suggest, the price for errant driving here isn’t quite as severe as it will be at The Ocean Course in two weeks’ time.