2023 PGA Tour Preview: Wells Fargo Championship
Fresh off Tony Finau's victory at the Mexico Open at Vidanata, this week the PGA Tour travels to Quail Hollow for the Wells Fargo Championship. One of the 12 elevated events on the calendar, the tournament will not feature the top two golfers on the planet as both Masters champion and current world no. 1 John Rahm and Scottie Scheffler did not make the trip to North Carolina this week. However, the field will still feature no shortage of star power, with 40 of the world's top 50 players set to tee it up. This includes three-time champion Rory Mcilroy who is making his return after missing the RBC Heritage, along with last year's winner Max Homa.
Originally designed by George Cobb in 1961, Quail Hollow Golf Club is now primarily a Tom Fazio design after he made changes to the course in 1997 and again in 2013, 2014, and 2017. Measuring over 7,600 yards from the back tees, it presents one of the toughest stretches in golf on the back nine, known as the "Green Mile." Favouring heavy hitters and longer iron play, most par 4s measure between 450-500 yards. In addition to this, thee of the par 3s measure over 200 yards. The greens are Bermuda, meaning they are firm and fast, providing an advantage to longer players who can come into them with shorter irons and wedges to create more loft and land the ball softly on the putting surfaces.
Back in the field for the first time since he decided to take time off after missing the cut at the Masters, Mcilroy has a strong track record at this tournament. The Northern Ireland native has captured the event three times while placing inside the top 10 six more times. Joining him is the 2022 champion in Homa who captured the victory at TPC Potomac and last week's winner in Finau. Furthermore, after two top-25 finishes at the RBC Heritage and the Valspar Championship, Justin Thomas is looking to enter the winner's circle for the first time this season and round into form with the PGA Championship on the horizon in two weeks. Lastly, rounding out the field in Patrick Cantlay, Jordan Spieth, Sam Burns, Tom Kim, Collin Morikawa, Xander Schauffele, and Cameron Young.
Returning after missing the cut at the Masters for just the third time in his legendary career, Mcilroy failed to make the weekend after a second-round 77 to follow up his opening-round 72. Choosing to take time away from golf, the current world number three missed the last three tour events, including the RBC Heritage, in which he was fined $3 million. Looking to capture the victory for the first time since the CJ Cup in October, he has a strong track record at Quail Hollow, with three victories at the course during his career. Along with this, the 34-year-old has the game to attack the longer holes present on the course by slotting second on tour in strokes gained tee to green (2.062) and first in driving distance (326.6).
Still searching for his first victory on tour, Young has put together a strong stretch of golf as of late. The Scarborough, New York native has finished inside the top ten four times this season, including finishes of second at the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play and seventh at the Masters. He also ended runner-up at this event last year when it was held at TPC Potomac. One of the best iron players in the field, the Wake Forest Product ranks 18th in strokes gained on his approach shots, with nearly 20 shots collected through 30 rounds this season. With it only being a matter of time before Young is victorious on tour, this could be the week for the 25-year-old.
One of the hottest golfers on tour over the last month and a half, Hovland is coming off a disappointing tie for 59th at the RBC Heritage. However, the Norwegian placed in the top ten in his three previous events, including a tie for seventh at the Masters after an opening round 65. Benefitting from his strong ball striking, the 25-year-old ranks 26th in driving accuracy by hitting nearly 66 percent of fairways off the tee. He is also seventh in proximity to the hole from 200 or more yards over his last 24 rounds. Needing to putt well if he hopes to be in contention on Sunday afternoon; the key for the Oklahoma State product will be on the greens.
Fresh off a second-place finish at the RBC Heritage, Spieth lost on the third playoff hole to last year's US Open champion, Matthew Fitzpatrick. Still, the three-time major winner is beginning to heat up after a slow start to his season. He settled in a tie for fourth at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, 19th at the Players, third at the Valspar, and fourth at the Masters. Remaining one of the best short game players in the world, the Texan is 43rd in scrambling (64.7), 11th in sand save percentage, and 69th in strokes gained putting (0.233). Making his first start at the Wells Fargo since 2013, the 29-year-old has a strong track record at Quail Hollow after going 5-0 at the Presidents Cup last September.
Back healthy after battling a nagging back injury over the last few years, Day enjoyed a streak of seven straight top 20s before a disappointing tie for 39th at the Masters. Along with this, the former world no. 1 finished inside the top ten five times, including a fifth-place spot at the Waste Management Pheonix Open. His ball-striking and short-game abilities have remained rock solid. The one-time PGA Championship winner, ranks seventh in stroked gained total over the past sixth months and third in the last three months. Additionally, he is fourth in the field in shots gained putting. Seeking his second win at Quail Hollow after capturing the Wells Fargo in 2018, Day is also looking for his first victory on tour in five years.