The 7,400 yard long Quail Hollow course is the venue for this week’s event on the PGA Tour – the Wells Fargo Championship, won last year by Rory McIlroy and a strong line-up has assembled for the event, including the likes of Phil Mickelson and world number one Martin Kaymer amongst others.
A tight, tree-lined par 72 course, Quail Hollow represents a difficult challenge and requires patience and accuracy in order to score well. The closing three holes of the course is known as the ‘Green Mile’, with the 18th being one of the most difficult closing holes in golf. Outside of the majors last year, Quail Hollow ranked 2nd toughest of the par-72 courses used on the PGA Tour in 2010.
Rory McIlroy will be defending the title he won in 2010 thanks to a late charge through the field over the weekend, after only scraping through the cut. This year, McIlroy has played well, leading the US Masters into the final day before collapsing and then heading to Malaysia to challenge there, but ultimately came up short.
Quail Hollow could see the young Irishman get back to winning ways, and with Rory turning 22 yesterday, he’ll be keen to put up a good show and celebrate in style. McIlroy has posted three top-20s in four starts on the PGA Tour, but I wouldn’t want to be taking the 12/1 on offer about a player who doesn’t win as often as he perhaps should from a good position.
I’d much rather take the 12/1 about Phil Mickelson, who knows how to play well around this course. ‘Lefty’s’ record at Quail Hollow is impressive but lacks an elusive win. However, Mickelson has gone close several times in the past, with his record in the event since 2004 reading T5-T7-T35-T3-T12-T5 and 2nd last year.
If on song this week, Mickelson will take a lot of stopping and who can forget his blistering performance in the Houston Open the week prior to the Masters? He’s a worthy favourite this week to lift this event, and given his course form it would be folly to ignore him.
A recent top-10 at Augusta could be the launching pad to some better form for Bo Van Pelt. Last year he opened with a 65 to lead after the first day and back in 2006 posted a 64. Those starts led to finishes of 5th and 6th respectively, and fresh from a break he can contend this week at a generous 66/1.
Scot Martin Laird is fast becoming one of the most consistent performers on the PGA Tour and can go well again this week. A win and four top-10s already in 2011 show the Scot to be in good form. Ranked 8th in driving distance and 13th for scrambling, he has to overcome some indifferent scoring at the course, which has saw a T47 and a missed cut from two starts, but given the huge improvement in his game and form, he could be value for 33/1.
Tommy ‘Two Gloves’ Gainey has exploded onto the PGA Tour this season from the Challenge Tour, and the Tour rookie looks likely to score before the season is out. Gainey has made 9 of 14 cuts this season – most of those misses came at the start of the season – and he has posted top-3 finishes in his past two events, as well as two further top-10s. When he gets up a head of steam, as has been the case in the past couple of events, he can post some low scores and in his current form, he could be one to maintain the recent tradition of ‘young gun’ winners this week at 80/1.
After a slow start to his season, Jim Furyk has begun to play himself back into the sort of form that saw him win the FedEx Cup last season, and he might have finished closer than he did when defending his Heritage title had it not been for an unfortunate brush with the rules that wrecked his concentration at a crucial stage. Furyk is a past winner of this event – 2006 – and although he missed the cut the following year, he has posted finishes of 7-T11-T7 in his past three starts in the event. If, despite that ruling, Furyk can take heart from his Hilton Head performance then he’s more than capable of mounting a challenge this week at 25/1.
Selection: Jim Furyk
Savers: Phil Mickelson, Tommy Gainey