Expert picks: Wells Fargo Championship

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 1, 2012, 5:00 pm

This week the PGA Tour heads to Charlotte for the Wells Fargo Championship, where an elite field will tackle one of the toughest courses on Tour - Quail Hollow Club. Each week a panel of experts will offer up their picks from four groups of players based on Golf Channel's new fantasy game, Fantasy Challenge. We will also keep track of their scores and standings. The panel consists of: senior writers Rex Hoggard, Randall Mell and Jason Sobel; contributors John Hawkins and Win McMurry; editorial director Jay Coffin;'s Rob Bolton; 'Morning Drive' hosts Gary Williams and Erik Kuselias; and Golf Talk Central contributor Ryan Ballengee.

Gary Williams

Group 1: Rory McIlroy: I think his T-40 at Augusta was an aberration, not the start of a trend. Prior to that the 2010 Wells Fargo champion had 12 straight top-11 finishes in starts that counted toward the OWGR and he has a chance this week to regain the top ranking with a strong finish.

Group 2: Johnson Wagner: Not only does Wagner call Charlotte home these days, he also calls Quail Hollow his home course. He's had an unbelievable 2012 so far and although he hasn't played that well at this event in the past, his four top-10 finishes in 12 starts this year suggest he has a lot of good golf in him at his home course this week.

Group 3: Henrik Stenson: After a period where his game seemingly went into the abyss, Stenson has shown signs of life. He has four top-21 finishes in six starts on Tour this year and he would have been better than T-40 in the Masters if not for a final round 81. This former Players champion has shown he can succeed on tough courses.

Group 4: David Duval: Just like the Journey song, don't stop believing in David Duval because I haven't. He has played well at Quail Hollow and his two made cuts in 2012 came in his last two starts. Duval is a major champion and a Players champion so he has shown he can compete on demanding courses.

Erik Kuselias

Group 1: Rory McIlroy: It doesn't matter what the OWGR says, McIlroy is the best player in the world right now and I am not holding his T-40 finish at Augusta against him. Before that aberration, McIlroy had 12 consecutive top-11 finishes in events that count toward the OWGR, and I think he is motivated by losing his No. 1 ranking to Luke Donald.

Group 2: Retief Goosen: Goosen got off to a strong start in 2012 with a pair of top-3 finishes in his native South Africa and although he has cooled off a bit recently, he has shown he can play well at Quail Hollow. Goosen finished T-10 here in 2006 and T-11 in his last appearance here in 2009. Don't bet against this guy.

Group 3: Pat Perez: Perez started 67-65 in this event last year before weekend rounds of 70-75 dropped him to a T-6 finish. That, along with a T-12 finish here in 2008, shows he can play well on this Charlotte course. He has five top-25 finishes in 10 starts on Tour this year, including a T-12 showing in Houston.

Group 4: Billy Mayfair: Mayfair has quietly put together a couple strong finishes in 2012 with a T-12 finish at the Mayakoba Golf Classic and a T-4 finish at the RBC Heritage. He has a pair of tenth place finishes here in 2005 and 2007 while in 2010, he held a two-stroke lead after 54 holes before a Sunday 76 dropped him to T-14. I think he is a sneaky strong Group Four pick.

Win McMurry

Group 1: Phil Mickelson: When you look at the illustrious list of names this tournament boasts as champions, Mickelson is one key name that is missing. He's been close, though, with six top-10s in eight starts. Lefty loves this place.

Group 2: Cameron Tringale: You're probably sick of me touting Tringale for three weeks in a row now, but why wouldn't I? He keeps delivering top-10 finishes. Last week's T-7 was his third in a row and fourth overall this year. He survived the cut on this difficult course in 2011, and I think he's going to break through soon.

Group 3: Bobby Gates: While this event sees names you typically know well rise to the top, Gates managed to tie for sixth last year. Add to that a finish just inside the top 25 last week and you have a solid selection for Group Three.

Group 4: J.J. Henry: For a pick in Group Four, Henry should have no issue making money this week. He finished T-33 in Charlotte last year and T-52 last week. One of the best past performance/current success combos in the final category of players.

Ryan Ballengee

Group 1: Phil Mickelson: He has already won this year. in eight Quail Hollow starts, he has six top-10 finishes.

Group 2: Kevin Na: Had been on fire before withdrawing in San Antonio. He was fifth here a year ago.

Group 3: Pat Perez: Perez was excellent through 54 holes here a year ago before a Sunday 75. He has been very consistent to start the year.

Group 4: David Mathis: Riding a hot hand here, as Mathis has gone T-18 and T-10 in his last two starts.

Randall Mell

Group 1: Phil Mickelson: Lefty shows he's still the hottest lefty in the game by winning Wells Fargo. He has finished in the top 10 the last three times he has played Quail Hollow.

Group 2: Jonathan Byrd: This is his part of the country, and he looks comfortable at Quail Hollow. Finished 2nd there last year and T-5 three years ago.

Group 3: Ken Duke: The man keeps dancing into contention...

Group 4: Jason Bohn: That third-place finish at Quail Hollow four years ago is still in the memory bank.

Rex Hoggard

Group 1: Phil Mickelson: In eight starts at Quail Hollow, Lefty has a place (runner-up in 2010), a show (T-3 in 2007) and six top 10s. The only thing missing is a 'W' and after the way he performed at Augusta, it's difficult to imagine that breakthrough is far off.

Group 2: Jonathan Byrd: Last year's runner-up was solid from the first tee in 2011, opening with a 66 and holding the third-round lead before Lucas Glover forced extra holes. The Carolina native plays his best golf in the south.

Group 3: Pat Perez: Tour's preeminent bad boy was nearly perfect through three rounds at Quail Hollow last year before unraveling with a closing 75. He's off to the most consistent start of his career (just two missed cuts in ten starts).

Group 4: Vaughn Taylor: Veteran has pieced together a solid spring and he has played well in Charlotte in the past (top-10 finishes in 2005 and '06).

Rob Bolton

Group 1: Rory McIlroy: Despite a tie for 40th in his last start (Masters), he's been the most consistently strong golfer over the last six months. Plus, he's won at Quail Hollow and owns the course record.

Group 2: Kevin Na: Not worried about his withdrawal in San Antonio, where he's more of a punch line than a fighter. He had posted three consecutive top-15 finishes entering that week and he finished fifth at last year's Wells Fargo.

Group 3: Chris Stroud: Rolls into Charlotte having cashed in his last six starts, a stretch that includes five top-25s. Also love how he matches up with Quail Hollow. His short game is sublime, and that will matter considerably this week.

Group 4: Mark Anderson: Leaning on his eight consecutive cuts made, which is a valuable resource in this group. The PGA Tour rookie plays an aggressive game that he backs up with above-average putting.

 **Join Fantasy Expert Rob Bolton for a live golf chat Wednesday at 12:00p ET at**

Tune in to Golf Channel this Thursday-Friday from 3-6PM ET for live coverage of the Wells Fargo Championship.

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Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 21, 2018, 8:31 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Augusta is already on the minds of most players here at the Honda Classic, and that includes the only one in the field with four green jackets.

Yes, Tiger Woods has been talking about the Masters ever since he started this latest comeback at Torrey Pines. These three months are all about trying to build momentum for the year’s first major.

Woods hasn’t revealed his schedule past this week, but his options are limited. He’s a good bet to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he has won eight times, but adding another start would be a departure from the norm. He’s not eligible for the two World Golf Championship events, in Mexico and Austin, and he has never played the Valspar Championship or the Houston Open.

So there’s a greater sense of urgency this week at PGA National, which is realistically one of his final tune-ups.

How will Woods know if he’s ready to contend at Augusta? Here’s his pre-Masters checklist:

1. Stay healthy

So far, so good, as Woods tries to resume a normal playing schedule following four back surgeries since 2014. Though he vowed to learn from his past mistakes and not push himself, it was a promising sign that Woods felt strong enough to sign up for the Honda, the second of back-to-back starts on separate coasts.

Another reason for optimism on the health front: The soreness that Woods felt after his season opener at Torrey Pines wasn’t related to his surgically repaired back. No, what ached most were his feet – he wasn’t used to walking 72 holes on hilly terrain.

Woods is stiffer than normal, but that’s to be expected. His back is fused.

2. Figure out his driver

Augusta National is more forgiving off the tee than most major courses, putting more of a premium on approach shots and recoveries.

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That’s good news for Woods, who has yet to find a reliable tee shot. Clearly, he is most comfortable playing a fade and wants to take the left side of the course out of play, but in competition he’s been plagued by a two-way miss.

In two starts this year, Woods has hit only 36 percent of the fairways, no matter if he was using driver, fairway wood or long iron.

Unfortunately, Woods is unlikely to gain any significant insight into his driver play this week. PGA National’s Champion Course isn’t overly long, but there is water on 15 of the 18 holes. As a result, he said he likely will hit driver only four times a round, maybe five, and otherwise rely on his 3-wood and 2-iron. 

Said Rory McIlroy: “Being conservative off the tee is something that you have to do here to play well.”

That won’t be the case at Augusta.

3. Clean up his iron play

As wayward as Woods has been off the tee, his iron play hasn’t impressed, either.

At Riviera, he hit only 16 greens in regulation – his fewest in a Tour event as a professional. Of course, Woods’ chances of hitting the green are reduced when he’s playing from the thick rough, sand and trees, but he also misfired on six of the eight par 3s.

Even when Woods does find the green, he’s not close enough to the hole. Had he played enough rounds to qualify, his proximity to the hole (39 feet, 7 inches) would rank 161st on Tour.

That won’t be good enough at Augusta, where distance control and precision are paramount.

Perhaps that’s why Justin Thomas said last week what many of us were thinking: “I would say he’s a pretty good ways away.”

4. Get into contention somewhere

As much as he would have liked to pick off a win on the West Coast, Woods said that it’s not a prerequisite to have a chance at the Masters. He cited 2010, when he tied for fourth despite taking four months off after the fallout from his scandal.

In reality, though, there hasn’t been an out-of-nowhere Masters champion since Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Since then, every player who eventually donned the green jacket either already had a win that year or at least a top-3 finish worldwide.

“I would like to play well,” Woods said. “I would like to win golf tournaments leading into it. The years I’ve won there, I’ve played really well early.”

Indeed, he had at least one win in all of the years he went on to win the Masters (1997, 2000, ’01, ’05). Throw in the fact that Woods is nearly five years removed from his last Tour title, and it’s reasonable to believe that he at least needs to get himself into contention before he can seriously entertain winning another major.

And so that’s why he’s here at the Honda, trying to find his game with seven weeks to go. 

“It’s tournament reps,” he said, “and I need tournament reps.”

Add that to the rest of his pre-Masters checklist.

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Players winner to get 3-year exemption into PGA

By Rex HoggardFebruary 21, 2018, 8:01 pm

Although The Players isn’t golf’s fifth major, it received a boost in that direction this week.

The PGA of America has adjusted its criteria for eligibility into the PGA Championship, extending an exemption for the winner of The Players to three years.

According to an official with the PGA of America, the association felt the winner of The Players deserved more than a single-year exemption, which had been the case, and the move is consistent with how the PGA Tour’s annual flagship event is treated by the other majors.

Winners of The Players were already exempt for three years into the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship.

The change will begin with this year’s PGA Championship.

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Thomas: Playing in front of Tiger even more chaotic

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas may be going from the frying pan to the fire of Tiger Woods’ pairings.

Translation: He’s going from being grouped with Woods last week in the first two rounds at the Genesis Open to being grouped directly in front of Woods this week at the Honda Classic.

“Which might be even worse than playing with him,” Thomas said Wednesday.

Typically, the pairing in front of Woods deals with a lot of gallery movement, with fans racing ahead to get in position to see Woods’ next shot.

Thomas was quoted after two rounds with Tiger at Riviera saying fans “got a little out of hand,” and saying it’s disappointing some golf fans today think it’s “so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we’re trying to hit shots.”

With 200,000 fans expected this week at the Honda Classic, and with the Goslings Bear Trap pavilion setting a party mood at the 16th green and 17th tee, that portion of the course figures to be quite lively at PGA National.

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Thomas was asked about that.

“I touched on this a little bit last week,” Thomas said. “I think it got blown out of proportion, was just taken out of context, and worded differently than how I said it or meant it.

“I love the fans. The fans are what I hope to have a lot of, what all of us hope to have a lot of. We want them cheering us on. But it's those certain fans that are choosing to yell at the wrong times, or just saying stuff that's completely inappropriate.”

Thomas said it’s more than ill-timed shouts. It’s the nature of some things being said.

“It's one thing if it's just you and I talking, but when you're around kids, when you're around women, when you're around families, or just around people in general, some of the stuff they are saying to us is just extremely inappropriate,” he said. “There’s really no place for it anywhere, especially on a golf course.

“I feel like golf is pretty well known as a classy sport, not that other sports aren't, but it has that reputation.”

Thomas said the nature of the 17th hole at PGA National’s Champion Course makes it a more difficult tee shot than the raucous 16th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Typically, players like to hear fans get into the action before or after they hit shots. Ill-timed bluster, however, makes a shot like the one at Honda’s 17th even tougher.

“That hole is hard enough,” Thomas said. “I don't need someone yelling in my ear on my backswing that I'm going to hit it in the water, to make it any harder. I hope it gets better, just for the sake of the game. That's not helping anything. That's not helping grow the game.”

Those who follow golf know an ill-timed shout in a player’s backswing is different than anything a fan says at a football, basketball or baseball game. An ill-timed comment in a backswing has a greater effect on the outcome of a competition.

“Just in terms of how much money we're playing for, how many points we're playing for ... this is our jobs out here, and you hate to somehow see something that a fan does, or something that they yell, influence something that affects [a player’s] job,” Thomas said.

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Rory: Phil said RC task force just copied Europe

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:21 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Playing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am two weeks ago, Rory McIlroy quizzed Phil Mickelson about what the Americans got out of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force’s overhaul.

McIlroy and Mickelson were paired together at Pebble Beach.

“Basically, all they are doing is copying what the Europeans have done,” McIlroy said.  “That's what he said.”

The Europeans claimed their sixth of seven Ryder Cups with their victory at Gleneagles in 2014. That brought about a sea change in the way the United States approached the Ryder Cup. Mickelson called out the tactics in Gleneagles of captain Tom Watson, who was outmaneuvered by European captain Paul McGinley.

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The Americans defeated Europe at Hazeltine two years ago with that new European model.

“He said the first thing they did in that task force was Phil played a video, a 12-minute video of Paul McGinley to all of them,” McIlroy said. “So, they are copying what we do, and it's working for them. It's more cohesive, and the team and the core of that team are more in control of what they are doing, instead of the PGA of America recruiting and someone telling them what to do.”