Wells Fargo is anyone's for the taking

By Rex HoggardMay 7, 2017, 12:00 am

WILMINGTON, N.C. – The uncertainty of a new venue this year at the Wells Fargo Championship has given way to an entirely different kind of uncertainty.

After three blustery days at Eagle Point Golf Club, Patrick Reed wrested himself away from the pack thanks to a pair of closing birdies to take a one-stroke lead over Jon Rahm and Alex Noren.

But that’s just the leading edge of the traffic jam that’s formed at the Wells Fargo Championship.

All told, there are 28 players at or within five shots of the lead entering the final round, a group that includes world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson.

“Not many,” Reed said when asked if he’d ever played in an event with so much congestion heading into the final frame. “Normally a couple guys separate themselves from the pack, but it’s just going to mean it's going to be more fun on Sunday.”

Fortune plays a role in every event. Sometimes you get the game’s best in a photo finish, sometimes you get a six-hole playoff that ends in the dark between two players your average golf fan couldn’t pick off a tee sheet.

This week’s dynamics, however, feel fortunately contrived considering the tournament’s vagabond existence the last 12 months.

Uprooted from its historic home at Quail Hollow Club, where the tournament had been played since it began in 2003, to make room for the PGA Championship in Charlotte later this summer, there was a general sense of unpredictability to the event’s cameo on the North Carolina coast.

Eagle Point was an unknown element at an event that had made a name for itself by identifying champions from the top of the game’s marquee. From Tiger Woods (2007) to Rory McIlroy (2010 and ’15), Quail Hollow delivered power players whose aura exceeded the sum of their games.

How Eagle Point measures up will ultimately be decided on Sunday, but for 54 holes a clearer, albeit difficult to define, picture has emerged.

Among the front-runners there is an eclectic mix of long and short, calculated and cavalier.

Wells Fargo Championship: Articles, photos and videos

From newcomer Rahm, who is second in the field in driving distance this week with a 304-yard average, to Noren, who ranks 48th off the tee at a 282-yard clip; to Zac Blair, first in strokes gained: putting, to Francesco Molinari, who is second in greens in regulation, there is no rhyme to Eagle Point’s reason.

“We don’t play that many courses out here where we get the conditions like this where the greens are really firm,” said Blair, who is in a large group tied for eighth place at 5 under par. “You have to hit good golf shots. You just can’t hit it right next to the pin and it will stop right next to it. You have to think about it a little bit.”

Blair compared Eagle Point to Harbour Town Golf Links, the cozy confines that hosts the RBC Heritage, and the need to be precise with any shot, be it a full iron or a chip, into the pitched putting surfaces.

But then the most often used comparison this week is Augusta National, which seems grossly unfair but apropos nonetheless.

“When you look from the green back to the tee box, it looks exactly like Augusta,” said Mickelson, who rallied with a 69 on Day 3 to move into a tie for 14th at 4 under. “I mean, Augusta's Augusta, there's nothing like it, but this has a lot of the same visuals and a lot of the same shots.”

Given the ability to dial Augusta National in for dramatic finishes year after year, that’s a good sign for Eagle Point and the overcrowded cast assembled atop the leaderboard.

So far Eagle Point has delivered, bringing together one of the year’s most eclectic leaderboards with the most unique of qualities. While the vast majority of PGA Tour stops reward power over everything else, the Tom Fazio design allows for a more a la carte focus of divergent games.

“I think the biggest thing is a lot of the holes you can hit driver, but for the long hitters it's probably not the smartest play so they're having to kind of play it back to some yardages,” said Reed, whose 67 tied for the low round of the day. “With how the wind's blowing, longer hitters normally hit it higher in the air so the ball's going to be more affected. The guys that don't hit it as far can flight it a little bit.”

Whatever the elements of Eagle Point’s layout that reward equal parts power and precision, it’s certainly proven itself a worthy understudy of Quail Hollow and set the stage for a wildly uncertain Sunday.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.