This week's Wells Fargo Championship has so many intertwining storylines that it simply can't be regarded as just another PGA Tour event.
The absence of Tiger Woods from the field may turn a lot of casual fans away, but those who were involved in last year's stunning three-way playoff create plenty of intrigue by themselves. And that's not even including the fact that this indeed will be a world-class showcase of golf across the board.
Rickie Fowler notched his maiden Tour victory here in 2012. The defending champion got by in the aforementioned playoff against fellow prodigy Rory McIlroy and D.A. Points, who was seeking his second win on Tour at the time.
Never afraid to fire at any pin, the flashy Fowler capitalized on a conservative approach by McIlroy in attacking with his approach, stuffing it close and then ramming it in the heart of the hole for the win.
McIlroy had his first win at Quail Hollow back in 2010, shooting a scintillating final-round 62 to set the course record and cap off an improbable comeback after making the 36-hole cut on the number.
Could this be the tournament that finally gets McIlroy back into the winning groove?
Then there's Points. That close call last year had to at least somewhat harden him, because he faced a 12-foot putt for par at the Shell Houston Open for his second Tour triumph. No playoff this time—Points drained it, officially getting back into form after missing nine of the first 11 cuts in 2013.
At the Zurich Classic last week, Points put pressure on young American Billy Horschel, forcing him to make a 26-footer on the final hole to avoid extra holes. Horschel nailed the bomb and won his first Tour event, but Points has been on point and should be ready to get back at it in Charlotte.
Below is a breakdown of everything you need to know, including tee times and groups to watch in the early going.
In a semi-related note including two of the aforementioned golfers, check out this all-encompassing report by CBS Sports' Kyle Porter about a hilarious 2007 Walker Cup exchange between Rory McIlroy and Billy Horschel.
When: Thursday, May 2, to Sunday, May 5
Where: Quail Hollow Club, Charlotte, N.C.
Tee Times: First group is off at 7 a.m. ET. For a complete list of tee times for the first two rounds, visit PGATour.com.
Purse: $6.7 million
FedEx Cup Points: 500
Thursday: Golf Channel 3-7 p.m. ET
Friday: Golf Channel 3-7 p.m. ET
Saturday: Golf Channel 1-2:30 p.m. ET, CBS 3-6 p.m. ET
Sunday: Golf Channel 1-2:30 p.m. ET, CBS 3-6 p.m. ET
For more information, visit the tournament's official website.
Groups to Watch
No. 18: Phil Mickelson, Nick Watney and Rickie Fowler
A massive following should tail this trio. Phil the Thrill has had a totally uneven campaign and struggled mightily at The Masters. He loves this course, though, as he's registered five top-five finishes here in nine appearances, including another top 10 and a tie for 12th.
The tutelage of Butch Harmon hasn't quite paid the dividends Watney had hoped for to this stage in his career. Though Watney has five victories to his credit, his talent level suggests he should have more.
Speaking of which, that is precisely the case with Fowler. The precocious American should win with more frequency, but too often makes big numbers to shoot himself out of tournaments.
As Golf Channel's Jason Sobel highlights, there is some definite fire in Fowler's belly over the criticism:
Rickie Fowler: "People say I'm overhyped; I just dress up and play golf. No, I'm actually ranked in the top 50 and a decent player."— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) May 1, 2013
One positive development in Fowler's game that suggests he doesn't simply show up is his improvement on the greens. He ranks 35th on Tour after being 100 spots worse in the same statistic in 2012.
But putting at Quail Hollow may not be the key—more on that in a moment—and Fowler must continue to improve upon his iron play, which has been on the uptick after a tough start to the year.
No. 30: Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson and Angel Cabrera
For all the reasons mentioned in the beginning, there will be no shortage of intrigue with McIlroy being the top-ranked player in the field at No. 2.
As is typical, there was no sense of humor lost on the Northern Irishman in front of the media on Wednesday. He also discussed why he feels he has success at this particular venue, per Stephanie Wei of Sports Illustrated and Wei Under Par:
Rory McIlroy on what sticks out most to him that's changed in past 3 years since he won his first tourney at Quail in '10: "I was chubby!"— Stephanie Wei (@StephanieWei) May 1, 2013
Rory McIlroy on the not-so-perfect greens at Quail Hollow: "I'm not a guy who relies on his putting...so it eliminates a lot of the field."— Stephanie Wei (@StephanieWei) May 1, 2013
McIlroy indeed doesn't need to roll in every putt when his long game is in top form. The problem is, he hasn't consistently been able to do that with his Nike equipment. However, it's all been operator errors, as McIlroy has not indicated having any difficulty adjusting to the new gear.
It's always fun to see someone as relatively undersized as McIlroy hit towering, powerful shots, but no one can work the ball like Bubba Watson. "Bubba Golf" means hitting 30-yard cuts from the middle of the fairway—seemingly just for the fun of it.
If not for a 10 on the par-three No. 12 during the final round of The Masters, Watson would have put up a decent defense of his green jacket.
This is a great chance for Watson to bounce back, however, as he's another player whose ball-striking and length give him a distinct advantage on this course.
The same holds true for Mr. Cabrera, who nearly became a three-time major winner at Augusta before losing in a thrilling playoff to Adam Scott. The Argentine would have had to garner consideration for the Hall of Fame had he won despite very modest success otherwise.
Cabrera came out on top in his native land in a playoff, but as ESPN's Bob Harig points out, the paycheck was substantially different:
Of course it's not about money, but...Angel Cabrera earned $864,000 for Masters playoff loss.Recieved $27,000 for playoff win Sunday in Arg— Bob Harig (@BobHarig) April 22, 2013
These three should be the most followed group on the course, with two of the Tour's most popular players and an exciting, streaky golfer in Cabrera alongside them.
No. 44: Kevin Streelman, John Merrick and Russell Henley
Okay, so these aren't exactly household names, but all three of these promising American players have won on the PGA Tour this season.
Henley kicked 2013 off in his full-time, electric debut at the Sony Open in Hawaii, ultimately finishing 24-under par and three rounds of 63, which resulted in a three-shot win. That early momentum didn't carry over, but a tie for sixth at the RBC Heritage has Henley in solid form recently.
Which 2013 winner in this group will finish best at Quail Hollow?
The hottest player in this group is Streelman, who only missed out by two shots in the playoff at the RBC Heritage. That nearly gave him the opportunity to back up his first win, which came at the Tampa Bay Championship.
So that's two 2013 winners entering Charlotte with what should be substantial confidence, and a straggler in Merrick who is talented and due to bounce back. It should be interesting to see how these men play, that's for sure.
Note: All statistics and past finishes, unless otherwise indicated, are courtesy of PGATOUR.com.