Wells Fargo Championship: Rory value to rack up the hat-trick, says The Punter

Rory McIlroy at Quail Hollow last year
Rory McIlroy at Quail Hollow last year

Defending champion, Rory McIlroy, is looking to win his third Wells Fargo title and our man likes his chances. Read Steve's comprehensive preview of this week's PGA Tour event here...


"Rory McIlroy’s record at Quail Hollow is exceptional and his form figures read 1-MC-2-10-8-1. He’s the only man to have won the title twice and he could very easily have won it three times and maybe even four. In addition to his debut win and his demolition job 12 months ago, he was beaten by Fowler in a playoff in 2012 and he led after round one in 2013."

Tournament History

David Toms won the inaugural staging of the Wells Fargo Championship as recently as 2003. Although only in existence for 13 years, the event has rapidly established itself on the PGA Tour and defending champ, Rory McIlroy, who also won the tournament in 2010, is far from the only big name to have taken the title. Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, Anthony Kim, Jim Furyk and Rickie Fowler all have their names on the trophy.


Venue

Quail Hollow Golf Club, Charlotte, North Carolina.


Course Details

Par 72 -7,562 yards
Stroke Index in 2015 - 71.92

Designed by George Cobb in 1961 and built on a former dairy farm, 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 next year, 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 two years ago 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 were made, was lengthened.

After lots of negative publicity about the poor state of the greens at the 2013 edition, all the putting surfaces were changed from bent grass to Bermuda and tress were removed to allow light to get to them. The trees that framed the fairways were also thinned out considerably.

The last three holes are really tough and collectively known as the Green Mile. Year after year they rank as the three hardest on the course and last year they ranked 0.85 of a stroke over-par. In 2014 they averaged more than a stroke over-par.


Weather Forecast


TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting on Thursday.


Last Five Winners

2015 - Rory McIlroy -21
2014 - J.B Holmes -14
2013 - Derek Ernst -8 (playoff)
2012 - Rickie Fowler -14 (Playoff)
2011 - Lucas Glover -15 (playoff)


What Will it Take to Win The Wells Fargo Championship

Historically, Greens In Regulation has always been an important stat, with 10 of the 13 winners to date ranking inside the top-12 for GIR but since the changes were made to the course in preparation for next year's USPGA Championship, the two stats to focus on are Driving Distance and Scrambling.

As already stated trees were taken out alongside the fairways before the 2014 event and being arrow straight of the tee is now almost an irrelevance. Rory only ranked 19th for Driving Accuracy 12 months ago and the 2014 winner, JB Holmes, ranked just 53rd for DA but both ranked number one for Driving Distance.

Length has always been important here, with only one winner, Jim Furyk ten years ago, ranking outside the top-28 for DD but length off the tee is an even bigger advantage now that there's no premium for accuracy off the tee and concentrating on the big hitters looks the way to go. They need a good touch around the greens though.

The first three home in 2014 ranked inside the top-six for Scrambling and it was a similar story 12 months ago with only one player inside the top-eight ranking worse than 16th for that stat. Rory ranked fifth.


Is There an Angle In?

The Shell Houston Open looks to correlate very nicely. Vijay Singh, Anthony Kim and Holmes have all won both tournaments and Shell winners Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott and even D.A Points have come very close to taking this title as well. And this year's 1000.0 shock Shell winner, Jim Herman, even franked the form. He finished a very respectable 13th here 12 months ago.

In its short history, we've already seen three world class players win their first PGA Tour titles here. The 2008 winner, Anthony Kim, has disappeared off the face of the earth after serious injury but he was a player of undoubted ability that looked destined for major success. Although already a winner on the European Tour, Rory McIlroy, announced himself to the American public with a course record 62 in round four to win the 2010 edition from the cut mark and current world number five, Rickie Fowler, won the first of his three PGA Tour titles here in 2012.

Rising stars Justin Thomas and Patrick Rodgers finished seventh and second last year. Thomas has since gone on to win the CIMB Classic in Malaysia, so he's already off the mark on the Tour, albeit not on American soil, but Rodgers is still looking to break his duck. Could it be his turn this week?


Is There an Identikit Winner?

Top class maidens have taken the title here and most of the other winners have been straight out of the top drawer too. The 2004 event produced a shock winner in the shape of Joey Sindelar and Derek Ernst did very little before his victory three years ago and he's done even less since, but that was a very strange renewal. The course was sodden and the greens awful so we can just about disregard it.

Major winners David Toms, Vijay Singh, Jim Furyk, Tiger Woods, Lucas Glover and of course, Rory, have all won the title and those that haven't won a major, besides the aforementioned Sindelar and Ernst, have all had a touch of class about them. We've had a couple of surprise winners of late with the aforementioned 800.0799/1 shot, Herman, winning in Houston and Brian Stuard winning today but I suspect this week's victor to be reasonably well fancied.


In-Play Tactics

A slow start can definitely be overcome at Quail Hollow. The last two winners have opened up with 70s and trailed by four and five strokes and yet they've won with ease. And one or two winners have come from a very long way back. Rory won here six 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!

After a course record 61 in round three, Rory sat four clear through 54 holes and he blasted away to win by seven and J.B Holmes converted from the front two years ago 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 so despite the evidence of the last two years, this is not necessarily an easy place to make the running.

If you're trading in-running, watch out for the tough finish. Mickelson led by one with three to play three years ago and he was matched at just 1.42/5 but he didn't even make the play-off! And Holmes dropped two shots over the 'Green Mile' two years ago but fortunately for him and his backers, he was far enough clear for it to matter.


Market Leaders

Rory McIlroy's record at Quail Hollow is exceptional and his form figures read 1-MC-2-10-8-1. He's the only man to have won the title twice and he could very easily have won it three times and maybe even four. In addition to his debut win and his demolition job 12 months ago, he was beaten by Fowler in a playoff in 2012 and he led after round one in 2013 but he drifted out of contention on the unfathomable greens.

He played well in the WGC Match Play in his penultimate start and he looked to be in great shape early on last time out at Augusta before he lost his way in round three. When his career is all done and dusted and someone sits down to write McIlroy's Masters Memoirs, I wonder whether there'll be anything but misery. After this year's poor weekend performance, his horrendous collapse in the 2011 US Masters is not his only poor effort in-contention at Augusta and the chapters of woe are beginning to build but he'll feel very differently about this venue.

I've no concerns about his form and the new putting grip appears to be working well but there is one nagging concern. He missed the cut here when defending the title the first time and he's still yet to successfully defend any title.

Dustin Johnson is in cracking form and he's finished inside the top-four in three of his last four stoke play events. And they've not been tiny tournaments either. Having finished fourth at the Northern Trust Open, he could only finish 14th when defending his WGC-Cadillac title but he's since finished third at the Shell Houston Open and fourth at the US Masters.

That's a rich vein of form and he's one to fear but his course form at Quail Hollow is woeful. In three visits he's made the weekend just once and he's only shot one round in the 60s.

The 2012 winner, Rickie Fowler, who skipped the event 12 months ago, missed the cut on his defence and he could only finish 38th two years ago. He was in sensational form at the beginning of the year but he's gone off the boil a bit of late. He'll be encouraged by today's tied 20th in New Orleans, given he played the last eight holes in six-under-par, but hanging around all weekend isn't a positive and he could be one to swerve despite today's efforts.

Justin Rose skipped the event last year but was fifth in 2014. That was the first time he'd shown anything at Quail Hollow though and his first five visits produced form figures reading 44-47-MC-MC-28. He missed the cut in New Orleans when defending the title so he'll be keen to get going again but he putted really poorly there and makes no appeal at the prices.

Adam Scott was third here ten years ago and after finishing 24th in 2007 he finished eighth a year later but his form here since has been rubbish. He missed back-to-back cuts in 2009 and 2010 before skipping the event for four years. He returned 12 months ago but yet again missed out on weekend employment. Like Fowler, Scott has gone a bit cold having been in great form earlier in the year. He's not played anywhere since finishing 42nd at the US Masters so the break may have done him some good but I'm more than happy to look elsewhere.

Henrik Stenson's Quail Hollow form figures are extremely poor. In five visits he's only made the cut twice, he's never bettered 58th and he's never shot a round in the 60s. He usually messes up when he gives himself a chance but I can't even foresee him doing that here and he's easy to dismiss.


Selections

Rory McIlroy went off at around 4.67/2 last year and I didn't think he'd be an awful lot bigger this time around. I know he hasn't won anywhere since November and he hasn't tasted success on the PGA Tour since winning this 12 months ago but given the course and current form of his closest market rivals, I thought 6.25/1 looked very fair.

Tournament ever-present, Phil Mickelson, hasn't won since claiming the Scottish Open and Open Championship back-to-back in 2013 but if he's going to win again I can see it being at a venue he really likes. This will be his 13th straight appearance at Quail Hollow and his form figures read a very respectable 5-7-35-3-12-5-2-9-26-3-11-4. He's missed his last two cuts and that's a concern but it would be no surprise to see him contend here again.

If I add anymore selections before the off I'll post them on Twitter and update the preview again.


Selections:
Rory McIlroy @ 6.25/1
Phil Mickelson @ 29.028/1


I'll be back tomorrow with my Trophee Hassan II preview.


*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter


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