[This article originally appeared on FanSided.]
The Wells Fargo Championship is one of the PGA Tour’s newest events, established in 2003 (then as the Wachovia Championship). Despite its relative lack of history, it has quickly become a favored stop on the PGA Tour schedule. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that it serves as a nice tune-up for the Players.
This year, however, Quail Hollow is out as the tournament host, as the groundskeepers there prepare to host the PGA Championship this August. Stepping in is Eagle Point Golf Club in Wilmington, N.C., ready to host its first tour event. This year’s field boasts six of the world’s top 20 players, several major champions, and the highly anticipated return of Dustin Johnson. Who will take home the title this year? Let’s jump right in with our top nine.
No. 9: Bill Haas
Still one of the Tour’s most underrated golfers, Haas began this season with six straight top-25 finishes and still made the podium at the WGC Match Play, finishing third in Austin. He’s one of the most fundamentally sound golfers on Tour, with an outstanding iron and wedge game. Haas currently ranks 13th in greens in regulation and fifth in scrambling. He’s not a bomber by any means, averaging just under 287 yards off the tee, but if he can get hot with the putter, he can contend on just about any course in the world.
No. 8: Brian Gay
Ian Poulter got a lot of press when he lost his PGA Tour status with a missed cut at the Valero Texas Open, but not everyone realizes he has Brian Gay to thank for that. With his card secured and top-10 finishes in his last two starts, Gay is certain to head to Eagle Point reenergized. Gay’s putting has been spectacular in 2017 — fifth in strokes-gained — and he leads the Tour in three-putt avoidance.
No. 7: Wesley Bryan
Top-10 finishes at the Genesis, Honda and Valspar started the momentum before he closed the deal at the RBC Heritage, and Bryan is moving beyond his trick-shot image with every passing week. Bryan grew up just a couple hours west of Wilmington, and he’ll be ready to prove that his win at Harbour Town was no fluke.
No. 6: Paul Casey
Casey often flies under the radar, but he should be a strong contender this week at Eagle Point. Counting the WGC Match Play, the Englishman has four top-25 finishes in his last five starts. That number would likely be higher if not for a final-round 78 at Bay Hill that saw him plummet to a T41. A deadly ball-striker with an iron in his hands, Casey loses his share of strokes on the putting surface. One solid week on the greens could easily earn him his first win since the 2014 KLM Open, and his first PGA Tour title since the 2009 Shell Houston Open.
No. 5: Adam Scott
A model of consistency, Scott returns to action in Wilmington after a post-Masters hiatus. With five top-15 finishes in seven Tour starts this year, the Aussie simply needs to avoid a big number to do well this week – a Friday 76 in Mexico essentially took Scott out of serious contention, and a 77 in Houston sent him home for the weekend. A lack of action is a concern, of course, but it’s never held Scott back before.
No. 4: Phil Mickelson
When it comes to Mickelson, you don’t necessarily even need a number to point to, you just go with your gut. Really, it’s how Lefty does things, too. He paired a couple of top-10 finishes at WGC events before dropping to T55 in Houston and a middling T22 at the Masters. He’s consistently played well at the Wells Fargo Championship, finishing in the top 12 11 times in his last 13 trips (although that was a different course). Mickelson’s short game is still arguably the best in the business, even at age 46, as he ranks second on Tour in strokes-gained around the green and 17th in strokes gained-putting.
No. 3: Kevin Kisner
He’s been in good form nearly all year, with eight top-25 finishes in 10 starts since January (and was the runner-up at the Zurich last week). Distance off the tee could be an issue for Kisner, but Bay Hill – where Kisner finished T2 earlier this year – isn’t exactly a short track, either.
No. 2: Jon Rahm
Rahm won the Farmers Insurance Open this year, just his 12th Tour start as a professional, and had four straight top-10 finishes leading into the Masters, where he was 27th. His stats don’t show any glaring weaknesses in his game. Rahm ranks 21st in driving average (302.7 yards), 15th in GIR (71.25%) and 17th in birdie conversion percentage (33.73%). He does tend to lose some strokes scrambling, but if he can stay out of trouble he should be near the top of the leaderboard.
No. 1: Dustin Johnson
As spectacular as Sergio Garcia’s showing at the Masters was this year, it’s hard not to think about what could have been. There hasn’t been a golfer on the planet hotter this year than Dustin Johnson, and his freak injury in Augusta robbed him of a chance at the green jacket. This week, however, Johnson returns to action as the odds-on favorite despite a long layoff. The stats are there for DJ, and they’re almost comical. Nobody drives it farther (316.2 yards) or hits more greens in regulation (75.25%) on Tour. On the off chance Johnson misses a green, he also happens to be 20th on Tour in scrambling. It simply doesn’t get much better than this.