Welcome to what could and should be a battle royale. Or, as we will call it this week: The “Justin and Rory Showdown.”
If the stats play out like we’re forecasting, that duo — Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy — will be key players in stopping Jason Day from becoming the first repeat winner of the Wells Fargo Championship. The PGA Tour event is being played this week at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, N.C.
There is another big factor in why we’re not backing Day (well, at least not very strongly) this week but more on those compelling stats in a few minutes.
Right now we’re concentrating on Rose (12-1) to be in full bloom this week. He skipped this event the past two years but he’s one of the many players who will be using this stop to gear up for the fast-approaching PGA Championship, the year’s second major.
Prior to not playing in the last two outings at Quail Hollow, Rose played it twice, starting with a fifth in 2014. He improved to third in 2016. Why not move up two more spots this year and pick up a victory? With a win, Rose would vault from 18th at least into the top 10 (and likely into the top 5) of the FedEx Cup points race and also give him a second victory in this wraparound season.
And there’s another good reason for this pick. Remember (because he certainly won’t forget), he missed the cut in his last outing, the Masters, no less. Prior to that, he had back-to-back top-10 finishes at The Players and at the WGC Match Play event. So he will be looking to get back in a positive frame of mind heading into that next major.
Then there’s McIlroy (6-1), a two-time winner here and he leads everyone in all-time money earned at this place. McIlroy slipped to T16 in his most recent appearance last year. It’s also his first start since a T21 at the Masters.
Could he win? Absolutely. Will he win? We’re not as confident as he needs to be. But with his length off the tee (this course can reach more than 7,500 yards from the back, back tees), if he can get his short-game confidence heading in the right direction as well as his putting, there’s always a chance he catches fire.
And remember those stats about Day (10-1) we talked about? Well, they aren’t really about Day himself, but about the results of defending champions at this event. Only one of the past nine players who returned to defend a title managed even a top-25 finish.
To add to the dilemma, a head-scratching five of those winners didn’t even make it to the weekend.
One longer-shot player to watch: Webb Simpson (20-1). He lives just about a driver and wedge from the course but he’s missed the last two cuts. Prior to those outings he owns two top-5 finishes.
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