Wells Fargo Championship: Classy bombers to conquer Quail Hollow

Phil Mickelson enjoys a fine record at Quail Hollow and is a selection for Steve this week
Phil Mickelson enjoys a fine record at Quail Hollow and is a selection for Steve this week

Make no mistake, Quail Hollow is a very long course and Steven Rawlings is looking solely at the big hitters in his search for a winner this week...

"Lucas Glover, who ranked 25th in 2011, is the only winner in the last six years to rank outside the top-13 for Driving Distance but now that trees have been removed to allow more light through to the greens, driving accuracy has become even less important, favouring the big, and usually fairly inaccurate, hitters off the tee."

Tournament History

After a fantastic run of events in the States, where we've seen wins for dynamic prospect, Jordan Spieth, consummate pros, Jim Furyk and Justin Rose, world number one, Rory McIlroy, and just yesterday, for 'over-rated' Rickie Fowler, we head to Charlotte for what promises to be another cracker. This sensational season is in full swing now and we can expect yet more excitement in the 13th edition of the Wells Fargo Championship.


Venue
Quail Hollow Club, Charlotte, North Carolina


Course Details

Par 72 -7,442 yards
Stroke Index in 2014 - 73.38

Designed by George Cobb in 1961, Quail Hollow underwent an extensive renovation by Tom Fazio in 1997 well in advance of this event's inauguration in 2003. In preparation for the USPGA Championship, which is to be held here in 2017, there were a number of changes to the course prior to the 2013 edition of this tournament and there were significant ones made before the off last year too...

The 8th hole was straightened and reduced to 343 yards and is now drivable and the 16th hole was changed dramatically. The fairway was shifted and lengthened to bring water in to play and the 17th hole, which was tough enough before the changes, was lengthened and averaged 3.38 last year.

The last three holes are known as the Green Mile and once again they were ranked as the three hardest on the course 12 months ago, averaging more than a stroke over-par.


Useful Sites
Event Site
Course Site
Tee Times
Weather Forecast
Alternative Weather Forecast


TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting on Thursday


Last Five Winners

2014 - J.B Holmes -14
2013 - Derek Ernst -8 (playoff)
2012 - Rickie Fowler -14 (Playoff)
2011 - Lucas Glover -15 (playoff)
2010 - Rory McIlroy -15


What Will it Take to Win The Wells Fargo Championship?

The first three home last year ranked inside the top-six for scrambling and that's always been an important stat at Quail Hollow, as has Greens in Regulation, with nine of the 12 winners to date ranking inside the top-11 for greens hit, but after the changes made prior to last year, length off the tee is now very important.

Lucas Glover, who ranked 25th in 2011, is the only winner in the last six years to rank outside the top-13 for Driving Distance but now that trees have been removed to allow more light through to the greens, driving accuracy has become even less important, favouring the big, and usually fairly inaccurate, hitters off the tee.

JB Holmes ranked 53rd for Driving Accuracy last year and I remarked in my De-Brief about how regularly he missed fairways and how little it mattered. Time and time again he found himself in the rough but was able to easily play to the green and I've primarily concentrated on the bombers again this time around.


Is There an Angle In?

The Shell Houston Open is a great guide to this event. Vijay Singh, Anthony Kim and Holmes have all won both events and Shell winners Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott and even DA Points have come very close to taking this title as well.


Is There an Identikit Winner?

Quail Hollow is a really good test and with the exception of the 2004 shock winner, Joey Sindelar, and the 2013 winner, Derek Ernst, all the winners have been top-quality. I can't recall the 2004 edition but the course was soaked through two years ago when Ernst caused a huge shock so I'd certainly be inclined to call that a one-off.

Major winners David Toms, Vijay Singh, Jim Furyk, Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Lucas Glover have all won this title in it the event's brief history and those winners here that haven't won a major, besides the aforementioned Sindelar and Ernst, have all been straight out of the top drawer.

Look to the winner to have a touch of class and if the last few months on the PGA Tour are anything to go by, don't scan too far down the betting list. Matt Every's win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational two months ago is the last time we can point to anything close to a shock result. The men at the top of the rankings are winning week after week and seemingly inspiring each other.


In-Play Tactics

A slow start can be overcome at Quail Hollow and one or two winners have come from a long way back. Rory McIlroy won his first PGA Tour event here five years ago having only just made the cut. He sat tied for 48th and nine off the lead at halfway and he still trailed by four after day three but incredibly, he went on to win by four!

J.B Holmes converted from the front last year but he was the first third round leader to win since Anthony Kim in 2008. The likes of Phil Mickelson, Nick Watney, Webb Simpson and Zach Johnson have all failed to convert a 54-hole lead and Sergio Garcia managed to give up a six-stroke lead in 2005. This is not an easy place to make the running.

Beware the tough finish. Lefty led by one with three to play two years ago but didn't even make the playoff and Holmes dropped two shots over the Green Mile 12 months ago but fortunately for him and his backers, he was far enough clear for it not to matter.


Market Leaders

Rory McIlroy is very much suited to this venue and with a number of the world's very best players absent he'll fancy his chances to become the first man to win the title twice. It's almost impossible to think he won't at least contend at some stage but he's just too short to play at less than 4/1.

He putted only OK on the new Bermuda greens 12 months ago, when he finished 8th. A year earlier he'd been in-contention, but on damp and poorly conditioned greens he missed umpteen very short putts and he could only finish 10th. And it's his putting that puts me of this year. I backed him in this last year at 8/1 and I just can' entertain taking less than half that price when he's averaged 1.78 putts per round and ranked 48th, 24th and 48th respectively in his last three stroke play events.

I respect his chances greatly and he could well win but he won't be carrying any of my cash at such a short price.

Second favourite, Henrik Stenson, hasn't been well so maybe we can forgive one or two lacklustre efforts of late but he looks one to swerve at the prices given he's played the event four times and only made the weekend once. He finished 69th way back in 2007 before missing the cut for three years in-a-row between 2011 and 2013.

Jim Furyk is another attempting to win the event for a second time having taken the title in 2006. He finished weakly at the Players over the weekend but prior to that had been in fine fettle, reaching the semi-finals of the WGC - World Match Play and beating Kevin Kisner in a playoff at The Heritage. He loves the venue but I just wonder whether he's quite long enough to win here now.


Selections

I've gone for three Shell Houston Open winners here and first up is Phil Mickelson, who must be very keen to get this title on the CV. In 11 starts he's finished inside the top-ten seven times and he really should have won it two years ago when he made a complete horlicks of the finish.

Mickelson missed the cut last week at Sawgrass but that doesn't bother me one iota - the older he gets the more inconsistent he gets and that makes sense. He's always been one to drop the bit if he's not in the thick of things and just as he did at Augusta, he could very easily find form here. From seemingly nowhere he found form to chase home Jordan Spieth at Augusta and I fancy he could do the same thing here.

Defending champ, J.B Holmes, looks worth chancing at 36.035/1. He's held his form reasonably well since winning the Shell last month and he has a habit of playing well at the same events. He won the Phoenix Open in both 2006 and 2008 and has featured in two playoffs at the Shell - the one he won last month and the one he lost to Paul Casey in -in 2009. The only negative is that he's defending and that's never easy to do but there's enough juice in the price to chance him again I feel.

My third and final selection is Johnson Wagner, one of two men (the other being Spieth) that Holmes beat in the playoff at the Shell. Wagner is also a winner of that event - back in 2008 - and he's a big enough price to chance. Despite being a member at Quail Hollow, he's never finished better than 33rd here in eight starts so he certainly doesn't have course form in the book but you can't have it all at getting on for 400/1!


Selections:
Phil Mickelson @ 27.026/1
J.B Holmes @ 36.0035/1
Johnson Wagner @ 360.0359/1


I'll be back tomorrow with my Open de España preview.


*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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