This isn’t a bomber’s course, where long hitters can dominate as long as they find the fairway once in a while, or a links course, where players who have experience on such tracks (and in that weather) have a distinct advantage as long as they keep finding the fairways and greens.
If you don’t buy that sentiment, then check out PGA.com writer T.J. Auclair’s walkthrough of all 18 holes, PGA.com’s hole-by-hole flyovers or Rick Bonnell’s Charlotte Observer piece, where players note how tough the course is this year.
Drives need to be long and accurate, and approaches must be spot on. If they are not, then golfers’ short games around the green need to be on point. Finally, the putting surfaces should provide a stiff challenge.
Therefore, golfers with solid all-around games should contend deep into play on Sunday.
Here’s a look at the tee times for the top three groups in the opening rounds, per PGA of America, alongside predictions for how each of them will do this weekend.
Sergio Garcia, Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth
8:25 a.m. ET: Round 1, Hole 10
1:35 p.m. ET: Round 2, Hole 1
Sergio Garcia has one of the best games from tee to green, ranking fifth in that category on the PGA Tour, but he’s near the bottom in putting, ranking 180th out of 202 golfers. If his putter abandons him this week, then he’ll have trouble even making the cut. Expect him to make weekend play, but he won’t be in contention for the title.
Koepka’s major record is phenomenal. Since the 2013 PGA Championship, he has made 14 of 14 major cuts (he did not play in the 2014 Masters or 2016 Open Championship). Furthermore, he’s finished in the top five four times and hasn’t done worse than 21st since the 2015 Masters. It’s hard to bet against Koepka this week, and the prediction is that he finishes in the top 10.
Jordan Spieth is going for the career Grand Slam, a remarkable feat considering that he isn’t turning 25 years old until next year. He has the best approach game in golf and has made 14 of his last 15 major cuts, winning three titles and finishing anywhere between second and fourth for four others.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Spieth complete the career Grand Slam on Sunday, but a few other top golfers may have a slight edge this week (see the final grouping below for details).
Still, like Koepka, Spieth should be in contention on Sunday. A top-five finish is the guess here.
Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson
8:35 a.m. ET: Round 1, Hole 10
1:45 p.m. ET: Round 2, Hole 1
Jason Day, the 2015 PGA Championship winner, has struggled this season. He ranks just 49th in strokes gained from tee to green, and more specifically, his iron game has not been on point this year, as he’s 154th in strokes gained on approaches. That will hurt him this week, as awry approach shots will find a litany of issues around the greens (e.g. bunkers, tough rough, water).
Still, he’s a tough golfer who grinds out major championships (13 top-10 finishes and only one missed cut since 2012). Expect him to find a way to make the cut here, but he won’t be near the top of the leaderboard.
Dustin Johnson has one massive advantage over the field, and that’s his incredible ability to drive the ball to outer space. He’s first on the PGA Tour in driving distance (314.3 yards) and has ranked no worse than second in that category since 2013.
However, as said before, the golfer with the best all-around game should win. Johnson is 181st on the PGA Tour in driving accuracy, and that could hurt him at this course. He is also 187th in sand save percentage.
DJ should make the cut, but he won’t be contending on Sunday. Still, don’t be surprised to see an eagle or two from him on some of these par-fives.
Henrik Stenson has done poorly at Quail Hollow (per Kyle Porter of CBS Sports, his scoring average there has been 73 in the past five years). But he’s 11th in driving accuracy on the European Tour, 31st in greens in regulation and above average in driving distance.
He’s also seemed to leave a cold streak at the beginning of the year behind him, as he’s made seven of his last eight cuts after missing three straight.
Stenson, who is 40-1 to win outright, per OddsShark, certainly has the capability to put together a good few days here despite the poor track record. Expect him to get it done this time and finish top three.
Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Rickie Fowler
1:35 p.m. ET: Round 1, Hole 1
8:25 a.m. ET: Round 2, Hole 10
Jon Rahm is one of the best golfers in the world, as he is sixth in the Official World Golf Ranking and fourth in strokes gained from tee to green on the PGA Tour.
However, his major track record does not befit a player of his stature. This year, he’s finished 27th at the Masters, 44th at the Open Championship and missed the cut at the U.S. Open.
But Rahm is only 22, so he has plenty of time to figure it out on the major stage. His time will come soon. Rahm will make the cut this week but will not contend for the Wanamaker Trophy.