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Wells Fargo Championship returns to Quail Hollow: 10 storylines to follow

One of Charlotte’s springtime institutions is back.

After a one-year absence, the Wells Fargo Championship returns to Quail Hollow Club this week. The tournament, a fixture in Charlotte since 2003, moved to Wilmington in 2017 so that Quail Hollow could host the PGA Championship.

Here are 10 things to watch for at the tournament, with events beginning Monday leading up to Thursday’s first round:

1. Star power

Some of the world’s top players — including No. 1-ranked Dustin Johnson, No. 3 Jordan Spieth and Bubba Watson — won’t play in Charlotte. But how do Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler, among others, sound? Tournament organizers say 15 of the world’s top 25 players are committed (and Woods is ranked 91st). Except for the PGA Championship, few if any tournaments get every top player. This is as strong a field for a non-major as there is on the PGA Tour. World No. 2 Justin Thomas, who won the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow, leads the way.

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2. The Master

Patrick Reed, who won the Masters earlier this month, is in the field. He has an interesting back story from Charlotte as well, making the 2012 Wells Fargo field by winning a Monday qualifier at Carolina Golf Club with wife-to-be Justine serving as his caddie.

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3. The tournament’s defending champ

The answer to what will be one of the tournament’s trivia question: Brian Harman, the winner of the tournament the year it wasn’t held in Charlotte (2017, Wilmington’s Eagle Point Golf Club).

4. Quail Hollow’s defending champ

James Hahn hasn’t had an exceptional career on the PGA Tour, but he’s the winner of the most recent Wells Fargo at Quail Hollow in 2016. Hahn, who has two career victories, had an interesting time at the RBC Heritage at Hilton Head Island, S.C., two weeks ago, noting on Twitter that he hit for what he called golf’s “longest cycle” — eagle, birdie, par, bogey, double bogey and triple bogey — during the first eight holes of the second round. “I’d like to thank all my sponsors for helping me achieve greatness,” Hahn said.

James Hahn
James Hahn hoists the Wells Fargo Championship trophy after defeating Roberto Castro in a playoff in 2016, the last year the tournament was played in Charlotte. It moved to Wilmington in 2017. Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

5. Lefty’s Quail quest

It’s well known that the only major Mickelson hasn’t won is the U.S. Open. But a Wells Fargo title is also a hole in his resume. Mickelson, who has said Quail Hollow is one of his favorite courses, has a tournament record of nine top-10 finishes at the Wells Fargo.

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6. Tiger’s return

If the tournament needed any kind of boost in ticket sales, that’s what it got Thursday when Woods committed to play. He’s had plenty of success at Quail Hollow, winning the tournament in 2007. This is his first appearance in Charlotte since 2012, when he missed the cut.

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7. Watch this guy

Looking for a darkhorse? Patton Kizzire, a 32-year-old from Alabama (grew up in Tuscaloosa, went to Auburn), has won twice this season, the only victories of his 11-year pro career, much of which has been spent on the Web.com tour.

8. Course changes

Quail Hollow underwent significant alterations for the PGA Championship, most notably the first hole, which was changed to a 524-yard par-4. It’s now back to a less-challenging 495-yard par-4. Also, the par-3 fourth hole has been altered, with a completely different teeing ground. Overall, the course will play at 7,554 yards, shorter than the 7,600 yards for the PGA Championship. Pin placements will also return to what they were before the PGA Championship.

9. New grass

For the horticulturalists out there: The tees, fairways and rough will be played on overseeded Bermuda grass with perennial rye. Greens and approaches are overseeded Bermuda grass with “poa trivialis,” a type of grass. For the PGA Championship, the course was mostly Bermuda grass, and the greens were Champions G12. Rough grass will be cut to 2 inches before the tournament and green speeds on the stimpmeter will be between 11 and 12, just shy of the quicker 13 to 14 for most majors.

10. For the fans

The tournament will offer some new perks, including a concert by the band Blue Dogs after play ends Saturday. A new policy will allow fans to text in all areas and take video and photos, as long as their devices are on silent.

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David Scott: @davidscott14