Wells Fargo Championship: The leading contenders as the tournament moves to TPC Potomac

Rory McIlroy is the overwhelming favourite in a field low on quality compared to past years.

It's been a very odd few weeks on the PGA Tour since the end of the Masters.

Perhaps it is a sign of the times.

Now that the PGA Championship has a May date there is high class activity more or less non-stop from the middle of this month right through to the end of the FedExCup Playoffs in late summer.

Something had to give.

The Heritage retains popularity in the immediate aftermath of the Masters, but the Zurich Classic pairs event is an easy miss for the stars.

So, too, is the new Mexico Open.

Less expected, perhaps, is that only three of the world's top 20 have entered the Wells Fargo Championship as it has become yet another off-week for the world's best who have their eyes on the second Major of the year and beyond.

One reason for that is that with the usual host course, Quail Hollow, hosting the end-of-season Presidents Cup, the tournament has moved to TPC Potomac for one year only.

Quail Hollow is a Major Championship quality set-up, it makes it an easy dodge when they move elsewhere.

Rory McIlroy is not among those staying away. He has the trophy to defend and he is also set to resume action after a month off post-Masters.

He's not a regular visitor to next week's Byron Nelson Championship so this looks like his final start before he seeks to break his near-eight year Major drought.

Let's take a look at the course and the leading contenders this week.

TPC Potomac

A long-term home for the Booz Allen Classic, this course disappeared off the schedule in the 2000s only to reappear for the 2017 and 2018 Quicken Loans National, won by Kyle Stanley and Francesco Molinari.

At times it has played tough, most often when dry, and that seems unlikely this week with a lot of rain forecast for Friday.

It is a par-70 set at around 7,160 yards with small greens that feature bent grass greens.

Rickie Fowler said of it: "You use every club in your bag. You've got to hit all different types of shots. You've got to shape it around here. It's tree-lined. It's the kind of style of golf course I grew up playing.

"It's a great golf course tee to green. If you drive the ball out of position, then you're just trying to fight to get back into position and save par. You miss greens, you've got tough up-and-downs.

"It rewards someone who's driving the ball well and tee to green playing fairly clean or flawless. You can't really fake it around this golf course, in my opinion."

The favourite

As we detailed in a profile on Rory McIlroy at the Wells Fargo Championship earlier this week, the Northern Irishman loves the event, but will be gutted that it has moved away from Quail Hollow.

It is a concern that the track is a par-70 because McIlroy loves to attack par-5s and he also likes a layout that allows him to hit plenty of drivers - that might not be the case this week.

The field shouldn't concern him, but the test might niggle at his mind.

Since he won the CJ CUP last October he has led the DP World Tour Championship after 54 holes, the Dubai Desert Classic during the final round, the Arnold Palmer Invitational after 18 holes and was second at the Masters.

Close but no cigar.

The neat fits

When Stanley and Molinari won here in 2017 and 2018 they boasted excellent Strokes Gained Approach and Tee to Green stats - the Italian actually ranked first in both categories.

In this week's field, the leading five players for those categories in the seasonal rankings are:

Tee to Green: Luke List, Matt Fitzpatrick, Russell Henley, Keegan Bradley, Corey Conners.

Approach: Russell Henley, Tony Finau, Austin Smotherman, Luke List, Matt Fitzpatrick.

List, Henley and Fitzpatrick are in both top sixes.

The form players

Finau's second placed finish last week in the Mexico Open was a welcome return to form - his first top 10 finish, indeed, since he won The Northern Trust last August.

Bradley has three top 10 finishes in his last five starts and Fitzpatrick has three top 20s in his last four appearances.

Veteran Matt Kuchar has finished second and third in his last two outings.

Horses for course

Mexico's Abraham Ancer finished fourth at TPC Potomac in 2018 and impressed with an opening lap of 65 and a 62 on Saturday.

Australian Marc Leishman was fifth in 2017and T13th a year later.

Korea's Sung Kang is perhaps the most unlikely course expert. He was tied sixth on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2013, tied fifth in 2017 and tied third in 2018. In that latter effort he shot 64-68-64 to overcome a poor first round of 72 that had left him T89th.

He will be desperate for good vibes because he hasn't broken the top 50 in his last six starts (with five missed cuts) and he hasn't finished top 10 anywhere since early 2020.

READ MORE: British Masters: The top 10 greatest moments at host course The Belfry

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