Rickie Fowler has now joined the party and its over to Rory McIlroy to re-establish himself as the best twenty something in the game though Jordan Spieth will also want his say in that context. Fowler was voted the joint most overrated player in golf with Ian Poulter but in winning the Players Championship has shown he can compete at the highest level. McIlroy plays this week in the Wells Fargo Championship while Spieth and Fowler are resting during a week away from the sport.
Sergio Garcia was in this bracket at the start of his career but has yet to fulfil massive potential by winning a major championship. He is playing in the Spanish Open on the European Tour this week and will hope to get better treatment from the crowd. He was heckled on every hole on the back nine at Sawgrass on Sunday but the best response was the 43 foot put he made on the 17th, the longest he has holed all year. Garcia has become the Colin Montgomerie of his generation and a target for golf fans who have taken too many refreshments.
Fowler and the 2014 Majors
Fowler finished in the top five of all four majors last season and but for McIlroy winning two would have been the best player in the four weeks that matter most. His fellow pros are believed to have said he and Poulter are the two most extreme examples of reputation exceeding talent. The jury is still out on the English player but Fowler has now won the unofficial fifth major. The two way battle to be the best player of the current generation now has a third element in Fowler.
Ironically the Wells Fargo Championship was the only PGA event he had won before the Players and also gave McIlroy his first win in the States. Fowler birdied the last four holes to set a clubhouse target that Garcia and Kevin Kisner matched. He then won the play-off to record the biggest win of his career and move up to number nine in the world rankings his highest career position to date. He has been backed with bovada.lv to win the US Open in June.
Three Way Rivalry
Consequently the rivalry now involves three players and mirrors the personalities at top of the game during the 1960s. McIlroy could be described as the Jack Nicklaus of his generation and Spieth is like a gritty Gary Player and that just leaves Arnold Palmer for Fowler’s role. Competition of this nature is good for the game especially when it involves three amenable young men with plenty of charisma. Sadly Sergio looked tired and out of place which is a shame as he can play matador golf like his compatriots, Jose Maria Olazabal and Severiano Ballesteros.
Fowler birdied the island green 17th three times on Sunday which must be a record. To make the most mentally demanding par 3 in the world basically a par 2 is remarkable. Last year golfers put more than 500,000 balls in the water surrounding the green and Fowler turned it into a pitch and putt test. The anonymous poll to identify the most overrated player was clearly flawed but McIlroy was never a factor in that vote.
Quail Hollow Golf Club
The current world number one by some distance this week returns to the scene of his first win in the States, Quail Hollow Golf Club in North Carolina. The Wells Fargo event has had three names since it was introduced to the schedule in 2003 but one common feature is the host course. The track has the quality to stage majors and will host the 2017 PGA Championship. It was re-designed in the late 1990s and has become a thorough all-round examination of a player’s game. The rough is severe and blustery conditions can keep scores high and 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. In recent years a number of relatively short hitters have posted high finishes despite the course running to over 7,500 yards. Much can change over the closing three holes where on average a player will drop at least one shot. The average winning score over the last six years is almost 13 under on a test of accuracy more than distance. Four of the last seven champions have been first-time winners including McIlroy and Fowler. Russell Knox could become the fourth in eight years.
Knox was born in Scotland but studied Business Management in the States and turned pro immediately after graduating in 2007. He has played 77 events on the PGA Tour and his best finish was a second in 2012. Knox is currently having his best season to date with 12 cuts made from 16 tournaments. He has finished third in two tournaments on courses similar to Quail Hollow that put most demands on accuracy. The Scot is currently in the top 25 for greens in regulation and driving accuracy.
For a course overview please click here.
Mickelson’s Career Grand Slam
Phil Mickelson is more than twice as old as Spieth but is still trying to win the title he craves most. He just needs to add the US Open to the three other different majors he has won to complete the career Grand Slam. Only five players have won all four majors at least once and Mickelson and McIlroy are in a group that have won three. Lefty has finished second six times in his national championship and he has few more chances to join the most exclusive club in the game.
Mickelson would probably swap 10 Wells Fargo Championships for a US Open. He could start building that tally this week as he has the best recent course form of the entire field. That seems to be something of a contradiction as he is not in the top 50 for the two accuracy disciplines. Last seen Mickelson was chasing home Spieth at Augusta where McIlroy was overshadowed but this week could be his turn for some time in the sun.
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