Previewing the 2019 Wells Fargo Championship

May 1, 2019
Justin Ray

MCILROY TURNS 30: WHERE DOES HE RANK AMONG EUROPEAN PLAYERS ALL-TIME?

On Saturday, four-time major champion and former world number one Rory McIlroy will turn 30 years old.

Rory is arguably the most successful European player ever on the PGA Tour: his 15 wins are the most by any European player born after 1900. At age 25, he became the youngest four-time major winner from outside the United States in the modern era. In Paris last fall, McIlroy became the first player in history to play for four winning Ryder Cup teams and win four or more majors before the age of 30.  

With his win in March at The Players Championship, McIlroy became the third player all-time with 15 PGA Tour wins including four majors before turning 30. The other two to do it are Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.

So where will McIlroy finish in the pantheon of great players from Europe? He is still two majors behind Faldo, but Sir Nick didn’t win his first major championship until after his 30th birthday. Harry Vardon won his sixth and final Open Championship when he was 44 years old. The window for accumulating major victories is different, though, for every great player in history: Seve Ballesteros won five majors in his legendary career, his last coming at age 31.

McIlroy’s bid to become the first European player to win golf’s modern grand slam fell short again earlier this month at Augusta National, but it shouldn’t overshadow the remarkable resume the man has assembled in such short time.

 

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RORY LOVES QUAIL HOLLOW

It’s fitting that McIlroy will celebrate his birthday on a course he’s dominated throughout his professional career. Rory is a two-time winner at Quail Hollow Club, including his first PGA Tour victory back in 2010. But that’s the tip of the iceberg in terms of his statistical prowess at this venue.

Since making his Wells Fargo Championship debut in 2010, the event has been held at Quail Hollow eight times (in 2017 the event was moved while the course was prepared for that year’s PGA Championship). In those years, McIlroy leads all players in scoring average, greens in regulation, birdies/eagles per round, rounds of 67 or lower and cumulative score to par.

McIlroy has a staggering nine rounds in that span in which he gained four or more strokes on the field tee-to-green. No other player has more than four such rounds during that stretch (Vijay Singh, Nick Watney with four apiece).

At 69-under-par during that span, only Phil Mickelson (67-under) is within thirty strokes of Rory during that time span. Rickie Fowler is third during that stretch at 36-under.

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TRENDS AT THE WELLS FARGO CHAMPIONSHIP

– Quail Hollow Club is consistently one of the toughest courses on the PGA Tour to get approach shots close to the hole. Since 2008, it has ranked no worse than sixth-toughest in that particular season in approach shot proximity, and has been the most difficult such course on Tour five times in that span. That’s not including the 2017 PGA Championship, which also ranked most difficult that season in approach shot proximity.

– Approach shots being further away from the pin will put more significance on lag putting this week. In fact, last year the field at Quail Hollow had 2,200 putts from outside 25 feet, a 17 percent increase from three years prior. It was the most putts hit outside 25 feet in this tournament since 2005. Approach putt performance is a statistic that gauges a player’s accuracy when hitting lag putts – and not surprisingly, the man who led the field in that category in this event last year, Paul Casey, finished tied for fifth in the tournament.

– Mickelson has been inside the top-ten a remarkable 19 times in the last 32 rounds contested in this event when it has been held at Quail Hollow Club. The only other player with more than ten such rounds in that span is McIlroy, with 15.

– Webb Simpson is a Quail Hollow member but has missed the cut in this event twice in the last three years. Still, his ten rounds in the 60s are fourth-most of any player in this event, on this course, since 2010. He trails only Mickelson, McIlroy and Fowler in that span.

– Jason Day will try to become the first player to win the Wells Fargo Championship in back-to-back years this week. Day has finished in the top-ten in two of his last three strokes play starts: T-8 at The Players and T-5 at The Masters. The Aussie was incredible on and around the greens in this event last year, gaining 13.2 strokes on the field chipping and putting – four more than anyone else. Day is currently ranked 7th in the 15th Club Performance Index.

– Justin Rose will make his first start since missing the cut at The Masters. It was just the eighth missed cut for Rose worldwide since the beginning of 2016. In five of the previous seven instances, he followed the MC with a top-ten finish. Rose has finished in the top-five in each of his last two appearances in this event – fifth in 2014 and third in 2016.