The next fortnight is arguably the strongest of the entire calendar outside the Majors. Before heading off to Sawgrass for the long-established 'Fifth Major', there's the small matter of the tournament sometimes designated as the sixth. Quail Hollow has all the hallmarks of a Major venue, and could well host a US Open or USPGA at some future date. 21 of the world's top 33 players line up. Since the tournament has grown in stature, a high-class winner has been virtually guaranteed. Only Joey Sindelar back in 2004 was a really difficult winner to pick, whereas Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, Jim Furyk and David Toms were all pretty obvious choices. Even though the last two champions, Anthony Kim and Sean O'Hair, aren't yet Major champions, they probably will be one day. Nevertheless, plenty of outsiders have made the places, with over half of those to have made the top five since the tournament's inception in 2003, starting at 100/1 or more.
COURSE AND KEY STATS
Like all great golf courses, Quail Hollow tends to separate the best from the rest, as illustrated by that impressive rollcall of champions. Besides obviously avoiding the hazards, the ultimate key to success here is quality iron approach play, as close proximity to the hole is essential on tricky, undulating greens. Surprisingly, given that this is a fairly long par-72, driving distance has never offered much of an advantage here. Par 5 performance is, however, a key component because they are where the red numbers tend to lie. Other than the long holes, par is a good score. Greens in regulation and scrambling have been the most important stats, although no single discipline particularly stands out.
2.5pts ew ANTHONY KIM @ 22/1 (GENERAL, 25/1 EXPEKT)
Generally, one would expect a tough test like Quail Hollow to favour the more experienced, superior course managers. Some players, however, are good enough to prove the exception. Rather like Phil Mickelson, with whom there are many similarities, Kim's brilliant approach play made success on even the toughest courses possible from an early age. He finished fifth on his 2007 course debut, then followed up by winning in 2008. Prior to last week's ordinary returns in less than ideal windy conditions in Korea, he was flying. After victory at Redstone, and near-misses at the Masters and Honda Classic, Kim looks a big runner for all the big summer events. 1.5pts ew CAMILO VILLEGAS @ 35/1 (BET365, TOTE) Despite letting this column down a couple of times recently, I'm determined to stick with Villegas in the big events. He has definitely improved this year, rarely being out of contention, and has the ideal high ball flight to thrive on these 'second-shot' courses. He's ranked inside the top three for greens in regulation on three of his last five starts, and put a couple of bad results behind him with another top five at the Heritage.
1.5pts ew HUNTER MAHAN @ 40/1 (BETFRED, PADDY POWER, STAN JAMES) Like Kim and Villegas, Mahan looks a likely improver and regular candidate for all the big summer events. All three are at the stage of their career where one would expect them to make the step up from prospect to champion, and all have won already this year. Hunter gave us a decent run for our money when seventh at the Masters, and is well worth persevering with on courses that reward long-game accuracy, as he usually ranks towards the top of the greens in regulation stats. 1pt ew ADAM SCOTT @ 50/1 (GENERAL) Speaking of players with good greens in regulation stats, Scott has been thriving in this department recently without truly capitalising. He's topped that discipline three times in his last ten starts, and only ranked outside the top 15 twice during that period. While he remains unreliable with the putter, top 20 finishes on his last two starts at Redstone and Augusta were perfectly respectable. Quail Hollow, where he has four top 25s from five tries, including third in 2006, could spark the necessary improvement. 1pt ew DJ TRAHAN @ 80/1 (GENERAL) Trahan rates a plausible outsider after some consistent recent results. A run of six top 20s from his last eight starts - usually recording impressive greens in regulation stats - suggests Trahan is capable of landing a third PGA Tour title soon. He certainly at least looks overdue a place payout, and warrants particularly close consideration this week on the basis of two top 15s at Quail Hollow back in 2005 and 2006.
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