There are many things which go into hosting a top level PGA Tour event. Much of that is stuff that fans never see such as clubhouse and practice facilities, logistics and accommodation but it’s the course that is always the most important factor. The organisers of the Wells Fargo Championship know this very well as their host course, Quail Hollow Club, is a star among stars.
Quail Hollow is so well regarded that it has hosted major championships and is a key stop off in the schedule of many of the world’s best golfers including Rory McIlroy, who broke the course record with a stunning round of 61 in 2015. The list of Wells Fargo Championship winners includes a host of golfing superstars including some who won their first PGA Tour event at Quail Hollow.
2023: Wyndham Clark
The 2023 edition of the big one in Carolina proved to be a breakout success for 29-year-old Wyndham Clark, who landed his first PGA Tour victory at the 134th time of asking. Coming closest when losing a playoff at the 2020 Bermuda Championship, recent signs had suggested that his turn may be near, with the Denver native having registered five top-10 finishes so far this season. Attributing his past near misses to a fragile mental game, Clark has been working hard on that weakness of late, and Sunday saw all that effort pay off.
Starting well with back-to-back 67s in the opening two rounds, Clark exploded into life with a bogey-free score of 63 on Saturday to move to 16 under par and two shots clear of his nearest pursuer, Xander Schauffele. The question was how he would cope with the pressure – particularly with the man attempting to chase him down already being a 10-time winner on tour.
The round began poorly for Clark, with an errant drive seeing him bogey the first. Clark was quick to steady the ship, but Schauffele was chipping away – drawing level with a birdie at the third, and taking the lead with another at the seventh. Clark quickly hit back when drawing level at the next hole, and from there, the momentum shifted – Clark going four shots under between the ninth and the 15th, whilst Schauffele swapped a pair of bogeys for two birdies to find himself four down with three to play. With the pressure off, Clark held it together to coast home – a bogey at the last doing little to dampen his big moment.
It was an impressive success for Clark, who posted the lowest score since the event switched to a par 71 in 2017. He picks up the boosted $3.6m winner's cheque for this designated event, in addition to 500 FedExCup points which see him move up to fifth in the rankings. Schauffele finished four back in a solo second, with Harris English and Tyrell Hatton three further adrift in a tie for third.
2022: Max Homa
As the old saying goes, variety is the spice of life. That’s as true on the PGA Tour as it is anywhere and golf fans were delighted to see something a bit different from the norm at the 2022 Wells Fargo Championship. The challenge of TPC Potomac allowed players with a variety of styles to contend for the title. In the end it was Max Homa who came out on top against an eclectic top 10 that included players as diverse as Matt Fitzpatrick, Rory McIlroy and Stewart Cink.
Homa started the final round with a two-shot deficit from playing partner and 54-hole leader, Keegan Bradley. That gap very quickly vanished as he made an excellent start and nerves appeared to get the better of the far more experienced man, Bradley. There was certainly a big variety in the approach taken by the two players, with Homa appearing cool, calm and collected as Bradley fidgeted and fussed over every shot.
Bradley’s disappointing round culminated with a missed putt on the last green which saw him slip from sole possession of second place into a tie with Matt Fitzpatrick and Cameron Young. In stark contrast, Homa walked up to the final green safe in the knowledge that a regulation two putt would see him win his fourth PGA Tour title and become just the second man after Rory McIlroy to win the Wells Fargo Championship for a second time.
2021: Rory McIlroy
When things aren’t going right for Rory McIlroy people are quick to point out the reasons why. One of the common criticisms is that he has made the wrong choice of caddie, favouring friendship over experience. Those critics were silent after McIlroy’s return to the winner’s circle in the 2021 Wells Fargo Championship, when Harry Diamond proved that he is much more than just McIlroy’s best mate. That said, some of the credit must surely go to coach Peter Cowen, who had been working with McIlroy for just six weeks but has already demonstrated his worth.
McIlroy’s first round at Quail Hollow was more of the same underwhelming golf he’d shown over the last six months or so. However, he turned it around in stunning fashion on Friday and Saturday to get himself into the final pairing alongside Keith Mitchell for round four. Despite struggling with his driver, McIlroy’s irons, wedges and putter were hot and saw him standing on the 18th tee with a two shot lead. A routine par was in order but instead, McIlroy pulled his tee shot into a penalty area, narrowly avoiding the creek that meanders up the final fairway.
This was Diamond’s time to shine. He calmed his player down, went through the options with him and persuaded McIlroy to take a penalty drop rather than trying to play a shot from an unpredictable lie. From then on it was all about the brilliance of McIlroy who found the green from a sidehill lie from nearly 200 yards and got down in two putts to win. Cue an embrace with Diamond and then with his wife and daughter who were at Quail Hollow, a course at which McIlroy has now won three times. As with most players, there are courses McIlroy just seems to get on with and Quail Hollow is that.
The 2020 tournament was cancelled.
2019: Max Homa
One of the few criticisms of the 2018 Wells Fargo Championship was a lack of big names in the mix on Sunday. Jason Day would disagree given that Bryson DeChambeau, Pau Casey, Phil Mickelson and Patrick Reed were inside the top 10 that year but there is no doubt the 2019 renewal felt more like a big-time event. The top 10 from 2019 included Justin Rose, Casey (again), Sergio Garcia, McIlroy and Rickie Fowler. However, not one of those major champions/Ryder Cup stars could do enough to stop the little known Max Homa from winning his maiden PGA Tour title.
It wasn’t just the quality of the chasing pack that made life tough for California-born Homa. He was right up against it from the start of his final round as he began the day in a tie for the lead alongside Joel Dahmen and Jason Dufner. It was fitting that he had to battle so hard for the win as it completed a remarkable story arc for the 2013 NCAA winner who had struggled badly after turning professional and was outside the world’s top 800 at the start of the 2018/19 PGA Tour season.
In the end, the challenge of the big names on the leaderboard never quite materialised on Sunday. McIlroy, a two-time former winner at Quail Hollow, saw his challenge peter out and it was Dahmen who pushed him. Homa’s final round of 67 was enough to see him beat his good friend by three stokes to become the fifth player to break his PGA Tour duck at the Wells Fargo Championship after Anthony Kim, McIlroy, Fowler and Derek Ernst.
2018: Jason Day
After hosting the 2017 US PGA Championship, Quail Hollow returned to its usual hosting duties for the Wells Fargo Championship in May of 2018. That was welcome news for many of those in the field who had previous good form at the North Carolina course including Jason Day. The Australian got a reminder of just how well his game matches up to the par-71 layout when competing in the US PGA Championship and his first start in the Wells Fargo since 2012 ended in the best possible way.
Day already had 10 PGA Tour wins and a major championship to his name by the time of the 2018 Wells Fargo Championship but he showed that nerves get to even the most experienced players on tour. His final round of 69 included more bogeys than he had made in each of his previous three days of the tournament. Fortunately, Day was good enough to counter those mistakes with some excellent, if inconsistent golf at times, most notably when carding two birdies on the notoriously difficult ‘Green Mile’. Meanwhile, the tricky conditions on Sunday meant that none of the chasing pack got close to eating into the two-stroke lead that he began the day with.
2017: Brian Harman
Everybody who has made it onto the PGA Tour is an elite golfer. There are levels even amongst the elite though and it is increasingly difficult for players who fall below the average driving distance to regularly compete at the top of leaderboards. Players like Brian Harman find they simply can’t mount a serious challenge at several PGA Tour venues so must take advantage of any opportunities they get at courses where driving distance is less important than usual.
One such opportunity presented itself for Harman in the 2017 Wells Fargo Championship, which was moved to Eagle Point Golf Club for one year as Quail Hollow was preparing to host the US PGA Championship. Harman’s form at Quail Hollow was nothing to write home about (35-Cut-65-10-57) but he loved the different challenge of Eagle Point so much he was able to win his second PGA Tour title at the stand-in venue.
Even with his suitability for the course, Harman had to dig very deep to win. His birdies on the 71st and 72nd holes of the tournament - the second of which came thanks to a putt in excess of 28 feet - were just about enough for him to finish one stroke ahead of Dustin Johnson and Pat Perez. That finish was the icing on the cake of an excellent final round in which Harman overcame a two-stroke deficit to win.