By Dave Shedloski
With 13 of the top 25 in the world rankings heading to Charlotte, including two-time winner and defending champion Rory McIlroy, and other big names like Jim Furyk and Phil Mickelson, the $7.3 million Wells Fargo Championship has all the ingredients for great competition and great television.
The venue, Quail Hollow Club, is first-rate. The George Cobb design, renovated by Tom Fazio and Arnold Palmer in more recent years, is superb. Before hosting the Wells Fargo, Quail Hollow was the site of the Kemper Open from 1969-79. Its future includes the PGA Championship next year and the Presidents Cup in 2021.
The current layout measures 7,575 yards, par 72, and features the Green Mile, the most difficult three-hole stretch on the PGA TOUR, which assures excitement to the end.
McIlroy, third in the world, holds the tournament record of 267 and the course record of 61, both set last year. That was the last time he has won a PGA TOUR event, so he is due. So is Mickelson, who leads all players with a combined 87 under par in 48 rounds at Quail Hollow and yet hasn’t won the event. Furyk, the 2006 winner, returns from a wrist injury after a layoff of over eight months.
CBS Sports anchor Jim Nantz will be manning the 18th hole beside Sir Nick Faldo. A native of Charlotte, he gives his insights on the potential interesting storylines this week.
We have a terrific field this week with 13 of the top 25 in the world. What is it about Quail Hollow Club that draws the top players?
It boils down to the quality of the course and the management of the tournament. Quail Hollow Club is held in such high esteem, and the tournament has a big-time feel to it. It exudes greatness. It doesn’t surprise me that the best players come here. Look at the pedigree of the winners. Major talent. That speaks to the integrity of the golf course.
The final three holes at Quail Hollow, otherwise known as “The Green Mile,” comprise the toughest three-hole stretch on the PGA TOUR in the past 13 years. As a broadcaster and golfer, how much fun is it to call a tournament with that kind of potential for upheaval on the leaderboard?
It’s given us many fantastic finishes. The air is thick with pressure and anticipation, and watching the players try to get through it… it’s a monumental task. It provides us with riveting drama every year. It’s a great stretch. Quail Hollow has a Presidents Cup coming up (in 2021), and that final three holes will be great in a match-play format as well.
Rory McIlroy is the defending champion and has won twice at Quail Hollow. He hasn’t won on the PGA TOUR since his victory here last year. Is this a good place for him to jump-start his season?
You certainly expect Rory to be right there in the mix come Sunday afternoon. He has shot some brilliant low rounds here. I’m still expecting this to be a big season for Rory, even though he walked away disappointed from Augusta. His furnace is burning inside more than ever before. I think this is a good launching point for him as the other majors approach and with the schedule tighter with the Olympics. I still go back to what he did in 2014, when he won those three in a row. … He’s tipped his hand that he is capable of getting on a roll. In a short time span, he can keep his game going and dominate. It should be a good week.
Jim Furyk finally is back in action after wrist surgery. He has played well in the past at Quail Hollow, but should we temper expectations for him in his first start since the FedExCup Playoffs?
I’ve seen Jim a few times since he’s been out. You know he’d like to have one more run at making the Ryder Cup team as a player. Knowing Jim, he’ll come out sharp. He’ll be prepared, you know that. I don’t want to put crazy expectations on him, but he’s heading into a great stretch of tournaments for him. I expect him to come out and rev up in a hurry. He has ground to make up, and he’s aware of it. He’s such a great competitor.
Tell me one thing you’ll want to be talking about this week.
Weather. It’s supposed to be a great week in Charlotte. That’s important, as we are coming off really one of the most difficult tournaments to see to the finish in New Orleans. The TOUR deserves a week bathed in sunshine, and the forecast looks favorable for that. The one thing I won’t want to talk about is rain or weather delays.
Please give us your insight on favorites and dark horses.
I’ll take Justin Thomas as my favorite. He shot 65 in the third round last year to finish in the top 10 (T7). He knows he can go low there. Quail Hollow has produced some young players who adapted to a big spotlight, winners who are destined to be stars, like Rory and Rickie Fowler. My dark horse is Bryson DeChambeau. He’s been competitive everywhere except San Antonio. I think he was a little stale after a week at the Masters and his first pro start at Hilton Head. I think he has the talent to win, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he won fairly soon.
Journalist and author David Shedloski of Columbus, Ohio, has been covering golf since 1986, first as a daily newspaper reporter and later as a freelance writer for various magazines and Internet outlets. A winner of 23 national writing awards, including 20 for golf coverage, Shedloski is currently a contributing writer for Golf World and GolfDigest.com and serves as editorial director for The Memorial, the official magazine of the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio. He is the author of three books and has contributed to three others, including the second edition of “Golf For Dummies,” with Gary McCord. He’s a fan of all Cleveland professional sports teams, the poor fellow.