By Norm Elrod
(CBS Baltimore/CBS Local) -- The Well Fargo Championship, set to tee off at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, North Carolina on Thursday, has developed into a premier event over its decade and a half on the PGA Tour. The stop has attracted a strong field in recent years, and this year is no different. But the revised calendar does affect who is playing and why. The winner will earn 500 FedExCup points and over $1.4 million.
Traditionally in early May, the Wells Fargo follows a month after the Masters, the season's first major. The last few years, it has also preceded the Players Championship, the unofficial "fifth major," by a week, and the U.S. Open by a month and a half. Golfers used the event to tune up for the Players with little consideration paid to the second major.
The PGA Tour calendar changed for the 2019 season, with the Players moved to mid-March and the PGA Championship to two weeks after the Wells Fargo. Quail Hollow becomes the tune-up course for the year's second major, in addition to a destination in its own right. And the field reflects that increased importance.
Three of the world's top 10 -- Justin Rose, two-time champion Rory McIlroy, and 2012 champion Rickie Fowler -- are scheduled to play. Teeing it up alongside them will be Paul Casey, defending champion Jason Day, Tony Finau and others. Tiger Woods, who won in 2007 but delivered an uninspired two-over par last year, and Dustin Johnson, who almost won two years ago, will both skip the trip. The tournament does welcome back nine of its top 10 finishers from 2018 and six previous champions.
George Cobb designed the original course at Quail Hollow, which opened in 1961. But Arnold Palmer and Tom Fazio made modifications over the decades. In 2003, Quail Hollow hosted the Wachovia Championship, which over the years became the Quail Hollow Championship and then the Wells Fargo Championship. The event moved over to Eagle Point Golf Club in 2017 to make room for that year's PGA Championship. The Club took the opportunity to renovate the course again, updating the bunkers and rebuilding the greens to make Quail Hollow a major championship-caliber venue. And that's how it plays.
Quail Hollow, a par-71 that measures over 7,500 yards, is one of the PGA Tour's more difficult courses. The par-4 11th might be the course's most challenging hole, though much of the attention goes to 'The Green Mile,' the nickname given to the course's last three holes. This closing stretch will eat up strokes for the player that miscalculates the yardage.
The 16th hole is a dogleg right that stretches 506 yards. The par-4 is flanked by water on the left approaching the green and beyond. Starting with an accurate drive is key. The par-3 17th, often referred to as the course's signature hole, measures only 223 yards. But the green sits on a gentle peninsula that abuts more water, with an undulated putting surface that's less than friendly. The 494-yard par-4 18th is fairly considered among the most difficult finishing holes in golf. The narrow fairway, demarcated by a creek on the left, narrows further as it approaches the deep, sloping green.
Ball strikers do well at Quail Hollow, as recent history has proved. And this year's Wells Fargo should show similar results. But no lead is safe going into the final three holes, a combination of water and length that will swing fortunes either way over each of the four days.
Here are the favorites:
Rory McIlroy (6/1)
McIlroy, ranked fourth in the world, won this event in 2010 and 2015 and tied for second in 2012. His second win included a course record round of 61. Despite failing once again to secure the career grand slam at the Masters, McIlroy is enjoying a stellar 2019, with top-10 finishes in the six other events he's entered. That includes an impressive win at the Players in March.
Rickie Fowler (10/1)
Fowler has found success at Quail Hollow as well, with a win in 2012 and a T5 in 2017's PGA Championship. The world's 10th-ranked player has endured an uneven season, with a win at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and a runner-up finish at the Honda Classic to contrast 47th-place finish at the Players and 66th at the Farmers Insurance Open. He is, however, among the best players on this course in terms of strokes gained.
Jason Day (10/1)
Day is the Wells Fargo defending champion and managed a T9 finish in the 2017 PGA Championship. Ranked 14th in the world, he's finished top-10 in many of his appearances this year, including fifth at the Masters and eighth at the Player. A back injury sustained in early April may make defending his title at Quail Hollow tough.
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