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What does the Tour do to top that doozie last weekend in NOLA?
In what had to be a sponsor's worst nightmare, the Zurich Classic posted one of the weakest fields of the year, had a relative unknown (Ben Martin) jump out to a nice 36-hole lead, then had an equally unknown series of pursuers (outside of Keegan Bradley) surge to the top of the leaderboard over the weekend. The feel-good story of Seung-Yul Noh -- a South Korean still visibly shaken (aren't we all?) by the tragic ferry accident in his home country -- winning for the first time on Tour was likely seen by one of the smallest audiences of the new year.
But for the most part we won't have that problem again until October. The boys yo-yo back to the Carolinas this week (another schedule irk for me -- see my previous articles on suggested Tour changes) for one of the most-liked events on Tour, the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, NC. This event typically draws a strong field, and while not chalked full of top 50 players, there are certainly plenty to choose from this week.
The course itself is a George Cobb masterpiece (seems like he designed about every other course in the region in the 1950's and 60's) where par is valuable but birdies can be had. Last year was an aberration -- the greens were diseased and caused the players all sorts of problems, with many comments at this point in the week that they weren't sure a few of them were even playable. Green condition shouldn't be a factor this year, although it would be hard to blame the club and Tour if they opted to keep them a little slower.
Recent champs here include Derek Ernst, Rickie Fowler, Lucas Glover, Rory McIlroy and Sean O'Hair. For the most part, they are great ballstrikers and not known as top putters.
Onto the picks:
1. Rory McIlroy. He has three top-10's here in four attempts, including that win. Let's see if Rory can kick it into high gear with Tiger on the shelf for another few months and few, if any, of the big guns firing on all cylinders right now. Rory has the opportunity to get on a run here. Hard to see anyone ranking ahead of Rors this week.
2. Justin Rose. Here's one guy who seems to be rounding into form - T14 at Augusta and T8 last week in NOLA. He finished T28 here when he started to take his game to another level in 2011. When he's swinging it this well -- like a 69 in tough conditions Sunday at TPC Louisiana -- he can really get it rolling.
3. Jim Furyk. Can't move him any lower than this at Quail Hollow -- he has to be in consideration. He's been a steady top-15 guy the last six weeks and has a strong history here. Keeps it in play and knows the traps. Another top 10 is likely.
4. Zach Johnson. He's leaking a little oil right now, but the same could be said for 2011 when he'd missed the cut in his previous two events before posting a T6 here. All the elements are there for ZJ to excel at Quail Hollow.
5. Jamie Donaldson. I'm a fan of his chances any week and think it's just a matter of time before he wins stateside. He's won twice in Europe the last two years and has become a top-10 fixture (i.e. the Euro Matt Kuchar) and has two top-15's his last three Tour events (14th Masters, 2nd Doral). He hits a lot of greens (would rank top-10 on Tour if he had enough rounds to qualify) and makes a lot of birdies.
6. Jason Kokrak. This is a nod to the current trend on Tour: first-time winners. Kokrak's history here is nothing special, but look at his T50 here last year and you'll remember that he was in contention until a final-round 80 derailed his chances. And his driving accuracy stats aren't what anyone would call 'good' (169th), but recently on courses in which fairway accuracy is at a premium -- Hilton Head, Valero and Bay Hill -- his accuracy jumps into the top third (or better) of the participants. And the results have been two top-12's in that stretch. He'll win at some point.
7. Phil Mickelson. (Scared to put him any higher than this.) Never missed a cut here with a bucket full of high finishes. There's your jinx!
8. Lee Westwood. Probably wishes the greens were still diseased so it levels the field more -- see last year's T5 -- but he posted a T4 here in 2012 as well. Seems to be back to his normal, steady form… but I've lost a modicum of trust in the Englishman. If he keeps us this form I will gladly endorse him for the British Open, however.
9. Jimmy Walker. His white hot start to the year has cooled to a nice steady orange glow. Four consecutive top-25's heading into the week. The scary stat for JWalks is that he currently ranks 205th in driving accuracy at 49% -- that won't fly this week. Also no impressive finishes here, hence the low ranking.
10. Retief Goosen. Yep, you read that correctly. He's coming off a T21 at NOLA (with a final-round 74) and T7 at Houston. His back, new synthetic vertebrae and all, is finally healthy and his form looks great. He left a lot of putts on the edge last week in NOLA or it could've been better.
Player to avoid: Bill Haas. The North Carolinian is a regular for consideration here, but the WD from Hilton Head with a bum wrist is slightly concerning. Plenty of spots to use him when it's known he's fully healthy.
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