On the eve of another Wells Fargo Championship, this one on a Quail Hollow Club layout that’s been stretched, tweaked and regrassed since an asteroid named Derek Ernst struck soggy south Charlotte last May, there’s a renewed element of the unknown surrounding the coming four days of golf.
It used to be easy to figure these things out. You had Tiger Woods, you had Phil Mickelson and you had Rory McIlroy. Whatever else happened, well, stuff happens.
Like former Wells Fargo champion Anthony Kim. Remember him? Apparently he doesn’t play golf any more, at least not at the moment, though it’s possible he’ll return to the game sometime down the road.
Regardless, Mickelson and McIlroy are at Quail Hollow this week and Tiger would have been here were it not for the microdiscectomy he had earlier this year. That’s a fancy word for back surgery, which can be scarier than the shanks if you’re a golfer.
While Woods recovers, the PGA Tour season has unfolded with a curious plot line. With only a handful of exceptions, this season has been about introducing new characters rather than celebrating the traditional stars of the show. Welcome, Steven Bowditch, Matt Jones and Seung-Yul Noh.
So far this calendar year, only four players ranked among the top 20 in the world have won tournaments – Jason Day, Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar and some guy named Bubba, who played pitch and putt at Augusta National three weeks ago.
Tiger’s winless ways are excused because of his cranky back. Adam Scott’s back is just fine, though, and he hasn’t won since he went back to Australia last year, not that he plays very often. Scott has adopted the less is more approach to tournament golf and it’s working so, as much as it would be nice to see him at Quail Hollow this week, he’s sticking to his schedule. Expect him back here in the future, though.
Henrik Stenson went to China last week with Jason Dufner. Jordan Spieth has been great, but he hasn’t won since last July and he can’t play everywhere, especially with a four-pack of tournaments in his home state of Texas scheduled on both sides of the Wells Fargo. Sergio Garcia is in Spain, collecting Ryder Cup points and home cooking, while Day has a thumb that’s nagging him like a dull headache.
As for Mickelson, he hasn’t played well. He’s made eight starts this calendar year and doesn’t have a top-10 finish. He missed the cut at the Masters and hasn’t played since.
Mickelson probably should have won here last year but caught a Sunday downpour as he stepped into a greenside bunker at the 15th hole and his chances washed away from there. He has the distinction of being the BPNTWTWFC – best player never to win the Wells Fargo Championship. He has seven top-10 finishes in 10 starts at Quail Hollow, so perhaps this is the week when the Mickelson magic returns.
But the way this season has gone, don’t count on it. McIlroy was poised to win the Honda Classic, but Russell Henley won. Patrick Reed, red shirt and all, stared down Tiger on Sunday at the WGC-Cadillac Championship. Matt Every picked up the Arnold Palmer Invitational that Scott kicked away. Matt Jones beat Kuchar at Houston.
It’s been that kind of year.
Don’t be surprised if the winner is someone no one saw coming until the back nine on Sunday – like Ernst last year.
With the changes made to the golf course, particularly with the firmer Bermuda greens, Quail Hollow will likely play tougher this year. The new 16th hole can be a bear, particularly if the wind blows into the players, and the par-3 17th has a new tee but the same feisty personality. The 18th hole is a Donald Sterling-sized headache.
Quail Hollow is gorgeous at the moment. If Weather Channel armageddon doesn’t crush the place by Wednesday night, it should be a spectacular weekend. The beautiful people will gather down along the 16th fairway and behind the 17th tee to watch golf, sip cocktails and talk about their beach houses.
Maybe this is the week Rory wins again. Maybe it’s Phil’s time. Maybe the week will belong to Quail Hollow, green and magnificent again.
It’s anyone’s guess.