Among the many things the Wells Fargo Championship does right is hire a brilliant script writer.
Seemingly every year, the tournament produces a compelling and timely story, and it happened again this year.
Rickie Fowler was due to win and that it happened at Quail Hollow against Rory McIlroy and D.A. Points added to its impact. Two years ago, McIlroy cemented his stardom with his closing 62 and Fowler, already a star, certified his credentials with his sudden-death victory.
Fowler’s flash and style are great for the game, giving it an energetic jolt, but he needed to win. The way he won, believing he could carry his 51-degree wedge shot just far enough and sticking it 4 feet from the hole in the playoff, was brilliant.
That he did it to beat McIlroy only added to it.
“He played to win. He deserved it after that birdie,” McIlroy said.
With The Players Championship this week and the U.S. Open next month, Fowler’s victory quickly cast him as McIlroy’s chief challenger in golf’s ever-evolving game of thrones. While Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood and Luke Donald aren’t going anywhere and who knows which Tiger Woods we’ll see from week to week, Fowler and McIlroy are the faces of a new generation.
List the most popular players in the game and they’re on the short list: Phil, Tiger, Rory, Rickie and Bubba Watson. Oh yeah, Fred Couples, too. He earns emeritus status.
As potential rivalries go, Fowler against McIlroy works, though both have an extremely high nice-guy quotient.
“We probably have our own little rivalry going, a friendly rivalry the way I look at it,” Fowler said. “Obviously Phil and Tiger have had a bit of a rivalry, but I think there’s so many good young players now that it’s hard to focus on maybe just Rory and I as a rivalry. You can name 10 guys and put us all in as a rivalry and we’re all trying to beat each other just as bad as the others.”
Touching on a few other matters before the Wells Fargo Championship is fully packed away for another year:
• Work is scheduled to begin soon at Quail Hollow on relocating the fourth tee well to the left of where it sits to accommodate a new short game area the club is building. It will require bringing down a number of trees in the process.
Course architect Tom Fazio reportedly is mulling options for redesigning the par-4 eighth hole and work will begin soon on softening the controversial putting surface at No. 12.
Mickelson took one more chance to make his point about the greens before leaving Charlotte on Sunday evening.
“Tee to green, this is one of the best courses I’ve ever seen anywhere in the world,” Mickelson said. “I think that when the greens go through their remodeling, if they’re done right, this could be one of the best golf courses in the world. There’s potential here for greatness.
“We have such elegance tee to green, really a great mixture of shots required off the tee and into the green that you want to have less is more and sometimes when you overdo it, it detracts from the greatness of the course.”
• Changing tees on the par-3 17th hole softened it slightly in terms of scoring. The 17th played sixth-toughest with a 3.143 scoring average over four days. The big numbers were reduced – there were only 23 scores of double-bogey or higher – but the hole surrendered just 56 birdies out of 454 scores.
• The scene at the 18th hole Sunday was spectacular, not just for the way Fowler won the tournament there but for the amount of spectators gathered. Attendance was up this year and the way the 18th hole was surrounded, eight to 10 people deep in some spots, was a testament to the popularity of the event, the venue and vibe that exists. Little wonder the Wells Fargo Championship is the envy of so many events.