Will Rory McIlroy make a bold return?
The memory banks are full for McIlroy as he prepares to tee it up for the first time in the United States since his final-round stumble at the Masters.
He’s got those Augusta National memories, the errant shots that cost him the 54-hole lead and a chance to win his first major.
But he’s also got the memories of his final-round 62 that won him the Wells Fargo Championship last year.
Beating that stellar field at Quail Hollow, a major championship-caliber golf course, it felt larger than winning a regular PGA Tour stop.
There’s a lot fighting for McIlroy’s attention in his return to American soil, and it feels like a big week for him, but he’s just turning 22 on Wednesday. There’s plenty of time to learn the lessons Tom Watson learned in major championship disappointment early in his career, lessons that led to major successes. There shouldn’t be a rush. But, contradictory to that, the quicker McIlroy can turn the page to triumphant new memories, the better for him.
Does Bubba Watson have enough gas in the tank to win back-to-back?
Watson tees it up at the Wells Fargo Championship with momentum and confidence going for him.
But he heads to Quail Hollow wrestling with all that comes with winning on the PGA Tour.
There’s the possibility of a letdown, of the emotional high of last week’s finish draining energy needed this week.
Watson, though, isn’t a party guy, and he’s equipped with the temperament it takes to carve away whatever’s getting in the way of what he wants.
That’s the funny thing about Watson. As quirky as he can be, as distracted as he can sometimes seem off the course, he’s found a singular focus on the course that’s helped him win three times in the last year. After appearing to be a guy who fought emotions down the stretch, he looks like a man who’s mastering them now. That gives him a pretty good shot at winning again this week at Quail Hollow, where he tied for second two years ago.
Who will be the next young‘un to make Quail Hollow his playground?
Youth isn’t wasted on the young at the Wells Fargo Championship.
The last three winners have all been baby-faced talents.
McIlroy won at 20 last year, Sean O’Hair at 26 the year before and Anthony Kim at 22 the year before that.
McIlroy will be looking to become the first player in the nine-year history of the tournament to successfully defend his title. But Rickie Fowler, 22, bears watching as he seeks to break through and win his first PGA Tour title. Fowler finished sixth in his debut at Quail Hollow a year ago.
Is Martin Kaymer motivated to take back the No. 1 ranking?
Kaymer seems more motivated by the process, by winning, by mastering what it takes to win.
He doesn’t appear to care as much about being atop the world rankings as he is being atop leaderboards.
But that’s the approach that can get him back to No. 1.
Lee Westwood made a strong statement winning back-to-back events at the Indonesian Masters and the Ballantine’s Championship the last two weeks. His Ballantine’s victory marked the first time a player holding the No. 1 ranking won a European Tour or PGA Tour title in 76 weeks. Westwood seems to want the top ranking more than anyone else in the game today.
Kaymer’s won seven European Tour and PGA Tour events within the two-year rolling period that makes up this week’s Official World Golf Ranking. Nobody’s won more in that span. Kaymer, however, didn’t do much in his eight weeks with the No. 1 ranking. Still, at 26, he got a taste of what comes with it to prepare him for another longer run at the top.
Is Phil Mickelson gearing up for a big summer?
Mickelson put it all together to win at the Shell Houston Open last month, and there’s no reason to believe he can’t build on that this summer.
Mickelson has done just about everything at the Wells Fargo but win.
He was second at Quail Hollow last year and tied for third in ’07. In seven starts there, he’s finished T-7 or better five times. It looks like a record pointing toward a victory.
Follow Randall Mell on Twitter @RandallMellGC