Players on the PGA Tour will be competing in familiar surroundings this week while European Tour regulars are facing a new challenge. Course form is one of the key factors in identifying potential winners of professional golf tournaments. There will be many clues for the Wells Fargo Championship in the States but nothing to go on for the China Open on the European Tour. Course experience will count for a lot at Quail Hollow in North Carolina but not a factor at Genzon Golf Club in China. The former is being used for the 16th time while the later is being visited for the first time.
Quail Hollow was a course waiting for a major for several years. The course finally hosted the PGA Championship in 2017 which Justin Thomas won with a score of eight under. It’s a par 71 track over a length of 7,600 yards this week. There are three par 5s and the usual quota of short holes and par 4s. The last three holes are amongst the most difficult on Tour and it is one of the most demanding final stretches of the season. Any player requiring three pars from 16 to 18 to win will have earned the trophy and winner’s cheque. The average winning score since 2009 is 13 under.
Since Quail Hollow was redesigned in the late 1990’s it has become a thorough all-round examination of a player’s game. A cool spring means the rough is not as severe as it can be but blustery conditions will increase the degree of difficulty. The ball can be chased on to many of the greens, so accuracy off the tee earns a bigger reward than distance. A number of relatively short hitters have posted high finishes in recent years despite the course being above average in length for a par 71 track. Much can change over the closing three holes which average about one over par in total. The 18th is statically the toughest hole with a creek and trees on either side of the fairway.
The course is clearly suited to Rory McIlroy who won the tournament in 2010 and 2015. He was expected to do well in the PGA Championship there in 2017 but finished tied 22nd, nine shots behind Thomas. McIlroy never got in contention at the US Masters so must wait another year at least to complete the career Grand Slam. He was imperious in winning the Players Championship in March and if he brings that form to a course he loves the former world number one will be difficult to beat. McIlroy is the all-time money leader at Quail Hollow, leads the tour in strokes gained from tee to green and cannot be opposed.
Jason Day is a viable alternative because his game is in great shape. He is the defending champion and continues to post top 10 finishes but without another win over the last year. Justin Rose missed the cut here at the PGA Championship but made the top five in 2014 and 2016. His putting has improved and Rose is now a regular occupant of number one in the world rankings. However, McIlroy ticks all the boxes and can justify favouritism with a third win at Quail Hollow. The China Open is a totally different kettle of fish.
The host course measures 7,145 yards which is very short for a par 72 track. There should be a premium on accuracy over distance so the shorter hitters won’t be at a disadvantage. The class act in the field is Haotong Li but Jorge Campillo has the better skills’ profile. He could prevail at a bigger price than McIlroy who can win the Wells Fargo Championship as the single figure favourite.
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