Preview and Predictions for the 2015 Wells Fargo Championship

Brendan O'Meara@@BrendanOMearaFeatured ColumnistMay 12, 2015

Preview and Predictions for the 2015 Wells Fargo Championship

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    Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    How would you like to be the tournament that has to follow up the finish at The Players Championship (May 7-10), where Rickie Fowler put the "saw" in Sawgrass.

    The Wells Fargo Championship has a formidable challenge ahead of itself, and with the World No. 1 and No. 3 players on the entry list, this renewal at the Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, North Carolina (the 2017 venue for the PGA Championship) could be special.

    Stephen King wrote The Green Mile, and Quail Hollow has its own equally terrifying Green Mile for players, so let’s quit being like Kevin Na and play on already.

    Read on for this week’s preview and prediction, post-Players edition.

Where to Watch and Tournament Info

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    Bob Leverone/Associated Press

    Defending Champion: JB Holmes

    Where

    Quail Hollow Club (Charlotte, N.C.)

    7,562 yards, Par 72

    What

    Total Purse: $7,100,000

    Winning Share: $1,278,000

    FedEx Points to Winner: 500

    When

    Thursday-Friday

    3-7 p.m., Golf Channel

    Saturday-Sunday

    1-2:30 p.m., Golf Channel; 3-6  p.m., CBS

Biggest Storylines

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    How Will “The Green Mile” Affect the Players?

    TPC Sawgrass has No. 17, Augusta National Golf Club has Amen Corner and Quail Hollow has The Green Mile—holes No. 16, 17 and 18. It’s the blender that makes smoothies out the field. The closing stretch at Quail Hollow will put hair on your chest and strokes on your scorecard.

    "If you're going in there with a one-shot lead and you make a couple of pars or three pars on the last three holes, then you're going to give yourself a big pat on the back," said Lee Westwood in Steve DiMeglio's USA Today story from 2010.

    The year doesn’t matter. This stretch is brutal, and it got even longer.

    “I can’t think of three holes in golf, including majors, that are tougher finishing holes than these,” said Webb Simpson in Randall Mell’s GolfChannel.com story.

    A nightmare for the players is usually a dream for the spectators.

    Will Rory McIlroy Sink a Putt?

    Where Rory McIlroy finished at The Players (T8) looks great on paper, but when you consider how good it could have been, tied for eighth looks like a letdown.

    "I feel like I again gave myself enough opportunities out there to make some putts, and I just couldn't,” McIlroy told Sarah Stirk of SkySports.com. “The putter really let me down this week. Right from the first day I couldn't come to terms with the greens and that was the story of the week."

    He was second in strokes gained tee-to-green and 60th in strokes gained putting. If McIlroy is 50 percent better, he’ll be in the top five at Quail Hollow.

    JB Holmes Tries to Defend His Title

    What did you do after you last had brain surgery? JB Holmes went out and won the 2014 Wells Fargo Championship.

    "It's been a long journey for me," Holmes said  in the Tampa Bay Times after the win. "I've had some ups and downs. It's a great feeling to be out there and to get one done."

    And in 2015 Holmes has a win and two seconds, which includes a runner-up in the Cadillac Championship.

    Holmes has been great off the tee but so-so on his approaches this year. Winning this tournament a year ago—and enduring The Green Mile—gives this big hitter all the confidence he needs.

The Favorites

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Jim Furyk

    Jim Furyk, a previous winner of this event, lost this tournament a year ago by a single shot and can boast that he’s the all-time money leader at this tournament.

    Furyk struggled early in the season, but he came through winning at Hilton Head a week after the Masters.

    Paramount to his success was finding the fun again.

    “I started playing this game as a kid because it was a blast,” Furyk said in Jonathan Jones’ Charlotte Observer story. “So I wanted to attack it that way and enjoy myself out here.”

    Furyk is killing it in strokes gained tee to green, ranking fifth on the tour.

    Rory McIlroy

    The World No. 1 is about as hot a golfer there is. In his last six tournaments he has racked up four top-10s, including a punishing win in the Match Play Championship.

    His Achilles’ heel has been the putter. It killed his chances to win The Players, a tournament at which he still finished in a tie for eighth. His strokes gained putting is -.010, good for 105th on tour.

    Kyle Porter of CBSSports.com wrote, “He hasn't putted well at all and he keeps banging out those top 10 finishes (and wins). Be wary if he dips his flat stick into whatever Fowler put it in at the turn on Sunday afternoon.”

    Honorable Mention: JB Holmes

Other Contenders/Dark Horses

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Phil Mickelson

    Phil Mickelson missed the cut at The Players by pairing up a 73 with a 76, this after finishing in a tie for second at the Masters.

    Alec Brzezinski of Sporting News wrote, “He's no longer one of the top golfers on tour, and it seems to be bothering him. Fowler just showed everyone how to silence their critics.”

    Mickelson’s performance at the Masters is proof that his game is still there and elite. He needs a win, though. He can contend in majors all he wants, but without winning tournaments like the Wells Fargo he’ll descend farther down the rung from contender to pretender.

    Patrick Reed

    Patrick Reed has notched two tied-for-32nd efforts in the Wells Fargo Championship, which means he could be sitting on a big effort here.

    He’s one of the most talented players on tour—and one of the most brash. His numbers back it up.

    He has one win and one second on the season, and he also ranks 18th in strokes gained putting and ninth strokes gained tee to green.

    Reed comes into this tournament off a T24 result in The Players and could be cycling in form, ready to win.

    Honorable Mention: Henrik Stenson, Hideki Matsuyama

Prediction

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Winner: Rory McIlroy

    Boring!

    Picking McIlroy isn’t exactly the most bold prediction, but for a guy who finished tied for eighth at The Players while putting like a scratch golfer suggests a man whose game is crackling.

    He won this tournament in 2010 and also has the 18-hole record of 62.

    Alec Brzezinski of Sporting News wrote, “His iron play looks sharp, and his putting has been steady, but he's been uncharacteristically wild off the tee in recent weeks. This course suits his game and he enters the tournament as the overwhelming favorite.”

    He has history and the game to notch his second win of the season.

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