By Dan Reardon
In 16 short years, the PGA TOUR stop at Quail Hollow in North Carolina has become a priority for many of the game’s top players. Last year’s event was moved to a new location to allow course preparation for the 2017 PGA Championship, won by Justin Thomas.
Hosting a major championship on a course that regularly is a site on the PGA TOUR is unusual but not unprecedented. Pebble Beach and Riviera have pulled double duty, as has Congressional.
Because of the major renovations that took place at Quail Hollow, especially a complete rebuild of the greens, the players will encounter a layout that is still maturing. Brian Harman returns as current champion of the Wells Fargo Championship, albeit from a win at Eagle Point Golf Club. But his galleries may suffer as the 2007 champion, Tiger Woods, makes his first appearance on Tour since the Masters.
CBS Sports golf analyst Ian Baker-Finch offered his thoughts about Quail Hollow, Woods and the balance of the field.
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In a relatively small number of years, this tournament has moved up the food chain in the players’ eyes, annually producing premier fields. What did they do right in Charlotte to get there?
It’s a great golf course — Quail Hollow. It’s always presented as a major championship venue. It’s a wonderful club. Johnny Harris and his team do a great job of providing just the right environment. Every time you go there it is like going to a major event. It’s like going to The Players or Jack’s tournament at Memorial. It’s just a special event.
Last year at the PGA Championship Webb Simpson was critical of what they had done to the golf course, even suggesting some players may skip the event this year. Do you share his complaints?
It’s hard for me to find any fault with what they do at Quail Hollow. I do think it was extremely difficult, very hard and fast, and the new greens were tricky. I would get a lot of agreement there. There were some that it was difficult just to get it on the green much less close to the hole.
They made it tough, and they made it for a major championship. And I thought the tournament last year, the PGA Championship, was a huge success, with young Justin Thomas the winner. So yes, they made it tough, and they made a couple of holes extremely long. And they made a few of the greens very treacherous, but that’s major championship golf, and we’ll see how it plays this year.
There are really two fields this week — Tiger Woods and everybody else. This is the first time we are seeing Tiger since the Masters, where he underperformed for the first time in his comeback. Where will you look for improvement from Tiger from what you saw at Augusta.
He just needs, as [he] himself has said, to get the reps. He needs to get comfortable again being a competitive golfer on the PGA TOUR. It’s been a long time away. He has all the skills he needs to go win. And I do believe he will win again this season.
This is a tough test, and I am certain he knows that and has been practicing hard coming in there. Everyone talks about his driving, but that’s just getting his confidence back. It’s not like he used to hit it in every fairway before. He has to think his way around the golf course. It’s a major venue, and you have to think your way around. And there isn’t anyone better than him at doing that.
So, if he continues to play the way he has at the start of the season, I definitely expect him to contend. Whether or not it is [his] turn to win, I am not sure about that. As I said, it is a tough test, but I expect him to be up there.
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This tournament has a nice roster of former champions. Rory won back-to-back there. Rickie Fowler broke through there. Phil Mickelson has as many top 10s as anybody in tournament history. Who are two or three names you think might be on form right now and could be a factor this week?
Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy would be two strong picks. Justin Thomas, a lot of pressure on him, having won here in August. Mickelson has sort of a bittersweet relationship here. He’s always been very vocal about the greens and yet he has nine top 10s. So, with good form, he could be right there. And Brian Harman is in good form, even though he won on a different golf course last year. So those are the names I would be looking for.
With so many obvious choices to look at, who are some players who may not be so apparent who could have a good week?
Sean O’Hare has really played well. [He] played very nice in Texas, as did Jimmy Walker. Tony Finau, if he is continuing to improve with his ankle. He played well last week. So those could be guys to look for. Andrew Landry. Not that you would call him a dark horse, because he’s just had a great win in Texas, but he has been in great form. Gary Woodland sort of fits the profile there, having hit it long and hard and far, [and] could win there. Bryson DeChambeau is a good striker.
Dan Reardon has covered golf for radio station KMOX in St. Louis for 33 years. In that time, he has covered more than 100 events, including majors and other PGA, LPGA and Champions Tour tournaments. During his broadcast career, Reardon conducted one-on-one interviews with three dozen members of the World Golf of Fame. He has contributed to many publications over the years and co-authored the book Golf’s Greatest Eighteen from Random House. Reardon served as Director of Media relations for LPGA events in both St. Louis and Chicago for 10 years.