Rory McIlroy returns to the scene of his seven-shot massacre last year as he chases his third victory at Quail Hollow in six years.
It’s a track where Mc has excelled but some of his market rivals have stumbled badly. Yes Adam Scott, we’re looking at you.
Dustin Johnson’s gone AWOL – and not for the first time – at a course he’s never really gotten to grips with – while former winner Rickie Fowler will want to get his freak on ahead of his title defence at the fifth Major in Florida next week.
Here are the 7 players you’re banking on in North Carolina as of noon on Wednesday.
1. Phil Mickelson
A 12-time turner-upper at Quail Hollow, the ‘Mick’ has yet to get his head in front but boasts six top 5 finishes in that time, including when nine shots behind McIlroy last year.
Leftie needs a performance here on a track he clearly relishes to get back in the game as he’s missed the cut in his last two tournaments.
Wells Fargo offers the chance of a timely ego boost ahead of Sawgrass next week – but he’ll need his ‘A’ game in the bag.
2. Paul Casey
The World No. 23 looks over a couple of seasons battling injuries, a divorce and other off-track distractions and his game is in pretty good shape.
Has been tipping away nicely with three Top 10’s this season including a T4 at the Masters but missed the cut at the RBC Heritage last month. Has already said he won’t be putting himself out to meet the qualifying criteria for the Ryder Cup.
A multiple winner (13) on the European Tour he’s still chasing an elusive first Tour victory Stateside since a 2009 play-off win at the Shell Houston Open. But two missed cuts and a no-show since 2011 doesn’t inspire confidence at this venue.
3. Jamie Lovemark
The Californian may have been hard to pick out of a line-up previously, but the World No. 77 has hit a rich vein of form this year.
Scored his fifth Top 10 of the season when losing out in a play-off to Brian Stuard in the three-round rain fest in New Orleans last weekend.
Has yet to see out the weekend in North Carolina in two attempts but was in nothing like the form he’s showing now.
If the adrenaline rush rather than fatigue factor kicks in this week, Lovemark is definitely one of the form ponies in the field. But a few of the big beasts are starting to reappear.
4. Daniel Berger
Finished just inside the Top 30 on debut here in his rookie year and was our pick to get among the money last week in the Big Easy after three top 20s in his last four starts Stateside.
It didn’t happen but he made it four top 20s in his last five tournaments and threatened to blow the traps after a second-day 65 shot him to T4 at one stage. A third-round 72 shuffled him back down the pack where he stayed as the event was cut short.
Berger is consistent but this tougher field and demanding track could mean he has to wait a while longer to pop his cherry Stateside especially if McIlroy, Mickelson, Fowler and JB Holmes use the closing holes of the Green Mile to their advantage.
5 Kevin Chappell
Still to get his head in front on Tour since turning pro in 2008, but the Californian has come pretty damn close to that elusive breakthrough win.
Has been slightly erratic this year with a second to Jason Day at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and consecutive Top 10’s at the RBC Heritage and Valero Texas Open the high water-marks among a few free weekends.
Chappell has made four out of five cuts here including 11th and 16th place finishes most recently and could be a bit of value with Paddy paying 1/5th the odds the first 7 places at Wells Fargo.
6. Hideki Matsuyama
Jordan Spieth’s brain-fart on the 12th at Augusta nearly eclipsed Danny Willett’s US Masters win but also disguised the Japanese starlet’s final-day performance.
Despite a respectable T7 in Georgia, bad decisions, bad luck and inexperience down the stretch cost him at least a T2 finishing position when the pressure dial went up a few notches.
Already a winner on Tour this year after wiping Rickie Fowler’s eye at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, Matsuyama has also posted three top-10 finishes since the turn of the year.
Respectable run-outs here in the past two seasons (finishing 38th and 20th) could set him up for a sustained challenge this weekend after a couple of weeks off with his feet up post-Masters.
7. J B Holmes
A tee-box boomer and former winner here, the good ol’ Kentucky boy failed to see out the weekend last year on his return as the defending champ.
The World No 19 has been smashing it down the fairways all season with an average driving distance of 310 yards to leave him third in the boomers’ table behind Gary Woodland and Tony Finau. But John Bradley Holmes proved he has the brain to match the brawn when plotting his way to a final-day 68 to finish T4 in the US Masters.
Has since posted a T13 in the Valero Texas Open and being able to bring the greens into play for his second shot gives him a big advantage at this track. As does his experience of negotiating the Green Mile on the bend for home.