10 Players to Watch: Wells Fargo Championship

  1. Dustin Johnson, United States — DJ has been so dominant this year that even after missing more than a month he is the odds-on favorite to win this week at Eagle Point. He has won his last three tournaments, including two World Golf Championships, and was virtually everybody’s pick in the Masters last month before injuring his back when he slipped and fell down stairs at the home he was renting in Augusta. Johnson remains No. 1 in the World Golf Rankings and the FedExCup standings, and he told one writer that he has been hitting the ball better in practice than he did while finishing in the top 10 in five of the six tournaments he has played this year. He has appeared only three times in the Wells Fargo at Quail Hollow, the normal tournament course, missing the cut in 2008 and 2009, and could manage only a tie for 29th in 2010, when he shot 65 in the second round and 77 in the last. However, every course has fit DJ’s game this season.
  1. Jon Rahm, Spain — Already with one hand on the PGA Tour’s Rookie of the Year Award, Rahm will try to keep things going this week in the Wells Fargo Championship. He took three weeks off after tying for 27th in his first Masters, following six top-10 finishes in his previous eight starts, including his first professional victory in the Farmers Insurance Open by three strokes over Charles Howell III and Pan Cheng-Tsung of Taiwan in January. Rahm also went to the final of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play before losing to Johnson, tied for third in the WGC-Mexico Championship, tied for fifth in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and tied for 10th in the Shell Houston Open. Those results lifted him to fourth in the FedExCup point standings and 13th in the World Golf Rankings less than a year after he graduated from Arizona State. Most impressive, Rahm has acted like he belonged right from the start, and even more so in pressure situations.
  1. Adam Scott, Australia — Even though he has had some success in his previous eight starts at Quail Hollow in the Wells Fargo Championship, Scott is not passing on the tournament like some pros because it will be played at a different course, Eagle Point. He’ll surely be back for the PGA Championship in August at Quail Hollow, where he has five results in the top 25, the best being solo third in 2006, when he finished four shots out of the playoff in which Jim Furyk defeated Trevor Immelman. Scott also tied for eighth in 2008 and tied for 17th last year. He has been trying to regain the form he had early last year, when he captured the Honda Classic and the WGC-Cadillac Championship on consecutive weeks to give him 13 PGA Tour titles, and might be getting close. Scott posted top-15 finishes in his first four starts on the circuit this year and saved his best for the Masters, which he won in 2013, tying for ninth last month at Augusta.
  1. Phil Mickelson, United States — Although he has never won the Wells Fargo Championship, Mickelson keeps trying, and will be making his 14th start in the tournament this week. He has been close, finishing in the top 10 eight times, including ties for fourth in each of the last two years, closing with a 68 in 2015 and a 66 last year. Lefty’s best finish at Quail Hollow was solo second in 2010, when he shot 68 in the final round, only to have Rory McIlroy roar past him with a 62 to win by four strokes. Mickelson held the lead with 68-67 in 2013, but played the weekend in 73-73 to finish third, one shot out of the playoff in which Derek Ernst defeated David Lynn. Lefty has run hot-and-cold this season, often during the same week. He has three results in the top 10 and seven in the top 25 in 10 events, but is averaging almost 71 strokes in the final round, and hasn’t won since his 42nd PGA Tour victory in 2013.
  1. Paul Casey, England — Continuing to put his career back together after a series of injuries, Casey has played some of his best golf in years in his last two starts, tying for ninth in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play before finishing sixth in the Masters by playing the weekend in 69-68. Perhaps he should imagine that he is playing at Augusta National every week, because he has finished sixth or better each of the last three years in the first major of the season. Casey started the 2016-17 season with a tie for third in the Safeway Classic, his highest finish so far, but he was close on a number of other occasions with seven results in the top 25. He is one player who might be looking forward to the Wells Fargo Championship moving from Quail Hollow to Eagle Point this week, because he missed the cut in the first two of three appearances at the normal host course. Last year, Casey was tied for 10th before closing with a 77 and finished in a tie for 41st.
  1. Kevin Kisner, United States — If Kisner can bounce back quickly from having to play an extra day in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, losing in a playoff with teammate Scott Brown to Jonas Blixt of Sweden and Cameron Smith of Australia, he could be a factor in the Wells Fargo Championship. He has done quite well on his own this season, also tying for second in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, tying for fourth at the Sony Open in Hawaii and tying for 10th in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Kisner has finished in the top 25 on five other occasions to rank 14th in the FedExCup standings. A native of Aiken, S.C., he will be a gallery favorite this week, even though he has played well only once in his five starts in the Wells Fargo Championship, missing the cut three times, including last year. In 2014, Kisner played the middle rounds in 66-68 to climb into a tie for fourth, but closed with a 73 to wind up in a tie for sixth.
  1. Wesley Bryan, United States — If anybody is going to give Jon Rahm of Spain a run for his money in the PGA Tour’s Rookie of the Year race, it’s probably Bryan. He claimed his first victory on the circuit last month in the RBC Heritage, beating Luke Donald of England by one stroke after winning three times on the Web.com Tour last year to punch his ticket to the big show. Bryan struggled early this season, missing four straight cuts at one point, but then put together three consecutive finishes in the top 10. He tied for fourth in both the Genesis Open and Honda Classic on consecutive weeks, and after a week off he tied for seventh in the Valspar Championship. Those results, plus his victory at Harbour Town have pushed him to 15th in the FedExCup standings. Bryan, a South Carolina native, won before the home folks in the RBC Heritage and will have some of that going for him again this week in his first appearance in the Wells Fargo Championship in North Carolina.
  1. Bud Cauley, United States — Looking lost when he missed four consecutive cuts and seven in all earlier this season, Cauley has turned things around with three straight finishes in the top 10. He teamed with Justin Thomas, his former Alabama teammate, to tie for fifth in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans last week, after tying for 10th in the Valero Texas Open and tying for ninth in the RBC Heritage. Cauley, whose best result this season was a tie for third in the CareerBuilder Challenge, could make it four in a row this week if he’s not worn down from the long week at TPC Louisiana. He is making his fourth start in the Wells Fargo Championship, having missed the cut last year after he tied for 38th in each of his two previous appearances. Cauley’s only pro victory came in the 2014 Hotel Fitness Championship on the Web.com Tour, but he might be ready to emulate his pal Thomas, who has won three times this season.
  1. Bill Haas, United States — A native of Charlotte, N.C., Haas surprisingly has not played well in 13 appearances in his hometown event, the Wells Fargo Championship, so he might welcome the one-year switch to Eagle Point, which he also has played often. He has missed the cut six times in the tournament, including last year, and faded twice after getting off to good starts. Haas opened with a 64 in 2011, but didn’t break 70 the rest of the way en route to finishing fourth, and started with 68 in 2006 but again didn’t break 70 in the last three rounds and tied for fourth. Haas has played his best golf this season in the World Golf Championships, tying for fourth in the HSBC Champions in China and finishing third in the Dell Technologies Match Play. Those results and five others in the top 25 have put him at No. 23 in the FedExCup standings and this week he will be trying to bounce back from his only missed cut of the season in the RBC Heritage.
  1. Cameron Smith, Australia — The 23-year-old Aussie proved to himself that he can not only compete, but win on the PGA Tour when he teamed with Jonas Blixt of Sweden to capture the Zurich Classic of New Orleans last week at TPC Louisiana. And it was Smith who sank the winning birdie putt on the fourth hole of a playoff against Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown to nail down his first pro victory. He’s young enough that fatigue shouldn’t be much of a factor this week and he’s probably running on adrenaline anyway, knowing that by winning in New Orleans he earned a spot in the Players Championship next week at TPC Sawgrass. Smith tied for sixth a week earlier in the Valero Texas Open and is playing his best golf since starting the 2016-17 season with a tie for 11th in the Sanderson Farms Championship and a tie for 10th in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, and is No. 20 in the FedExCup points race.

–Courtesy of The Sports Xchange, TSX Golf Editor Tom LaMarre

Related Articles

Stay Connected


Latest Articles