If next week’s TPC Sawgrass is widely recognised as the ‘5th Major’, then in my view this event should qualify as the 6th. Previously known as the Wachovia Championship, the new title is an improvement, in so far as it gives this magnificent Pete Dye-designed course greater service.
Quail Hollow would certainly be a valid choice for either the US Open or PGA. Despite its length at 7,442 yards, the stats from previous renewals suggest driving distance is largely irrelevant. Instead, tee to green accuracy is of greater importance with conditions firm and fast, and a world-class short game is essential. All four par-5s are reachable, and they represent the key to scoring.
There’s a field to match the superb venue too. Seven of the world’s top-10 line-up, headed by the two players battling it out for the World No.1 spot, Tiger Woods and PHIL MICKELSON. The developing rivalry between this pair could become the story of 2009, especially after Mickelson upped the ante at Augusta. Paired together way off the pace, both players gave it a great run on Sunday, and Mickelson could have pulled off a historic comeback bar a water visit and a couple of missed short putts.
More importantly from a longer term perspective, I think that was the first time I’d ever seen Mickelson get the better of Woods in a head to head situation. With two titles to his name already this summer, Lefty has well and truly answered my criticisms from earlier in the year.
Which is why, just this once, I’m prepared to break my normal rules and back him at 10/1. Few events, if any, produce as consistently strong leaderboards as this one. Since this became a stopping point for most of the top players in 2005, 21 out of the 27 players to make the top-5 were under 100/1. All four winners; Vijay Singh, JIM FURYK, Woods and Anthony Kim, were class acts. Given the form of the world’s best players right now, one would have to expect Woods and Mickelson to go very close, and at 10/1 compared to Tiger’s 3/1, there’s no contest in the value stakes.