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Tuesday, 23 October, 2018

Fabulous Fowler can end Major fail at Quail

Course winner set for breakthrough

Rickie Fowler has been swinging superbly all year
1 of 1

Starts 12.25pm Thursday
BBC red button & iPlayer from 6pm

Palmer's top tip
Rickie Fowler 18-1
Such is the obsession for labels in the modern media world, Rickie Fowler has been dubbed the latest 'nearly-man' of Majors, but the Florida-based Californian has no need to panic at the tender age of 28.

Once Colin Montgomerie retired, the best player never to have won a Major departed the scene, then Lee Westwood became the focus until the press pack got bored of him. Sergio Garcia took over the baton as the poster boy for Major heartache, before finally laying the ghost to rest at Augusta in April. Now the hacks have turned their attention to Fowler.

Garcia's Masters triumph at the age of 37 should have relaxed Fowler, who is bursting with health and hardly ever gets injured. He potentially has another 45 Majors to compete in before he reaches his 40th birthday. This class act is almost certain to have joined the Major league by then.

Fowler contended at the Masters (11th) and the US Open (fifth) this year, and hunger for Major glory seemed to tighten him up. But there are reasons to believe he can retain his composure through 72 holes at Quail Hollow this week and become the USPGA champion.

For starters, this is a venue he has conquered before, which must breed confidence. The orange-clad warrior's maiden US Tour title came at Quail Hollow in the 2012 Wells Fargo Championship. He overcame Rory McIlroy and DA Points in a three-man playoff with a birdie at the first extra hole.

Fowler finished sixth on his Quail Hollow debut in 2010 and fourth last year, so his comfort on this turf is clear. And North Carolina is a state in which he seems to thrive. He tied for second place in the 2014 US Open at Pinehurst, NC.

The USPGA is the least prestigious of the four Majors, which should put Fowler further at ease, and he contended all the way to the 72nd hole of the 2014 edition before finishing third. There is a heap of heat on others this week, which means Fowler can slip 'under the radar' to some degree.

Jordan Spieth gets his first crack at claiming a career Grand Slam of Majors and will hog the early headlines, while dual Quail Hollow champion Rory McIlroy is also under immense scrutiny. Even Hideki Matsuyama has helped the cause, the Japanese star producing a sublime final-round 61 at Firestone on Sunday to become a marked man.

Quail Hollow is not an ideal course for Spieth, while McIlroy's short irons and putting have been unconvincing in a season where he has struggled for fitness and form. Matsuyama, carrying the burden of trying to become Japan's first Major champion, may be under more pressure than anyone in the field.

Preference at a much bigger price is for Fowler, who has been consistently producing the goods this term. He won the Honda Classic by four shots in February, has made the each-way places six times, and posted eight top-tens from 16 starts worldwide. A seven-under-par weekend for ninth place at Firestone was a perfect warm-up and his secret weapon may be Allison Stokke.

Having a good woman by his side certainly helped Garcia become a Major champion and Fowler has recently fallen in love with fitness model Stokke. He approaches this tournament full of positive vibes for the future.

Labels are there to be removed, and crowd favourite Fowler can rip his off at Quail Hollow to become one of the most popular USPGA champions of all time.

Next best
Brooks Koepka 25-1
The US Open champion is not getting enough respect this week. Sure, Brooks Koepka is making his Quail Hollow debut, but so are 54 others in this line-up. The course changes since the last Wells Fargo at Quail mean it can be seen as a positive to be arriving with a clean slate.

No course form is certainly better than bad course form, and Koepka could easily take a shine to storm-softened Quail. The 7,600-yard layout will play long all week, with further rain forecast, and the power of big Brooks is a significant asset.

Dustin Johnson is 12-1, while Koepka can be backed at more than double those odds. Both men have one Major title to their name, but Koepka is six years younger. Given how impressive he has been in Major competition over the last four seasons, the 27-year-old seems just as likely to add to his tally as Johnson.

Koepka's golden run in Majors started in North Carolina, with fourth place in the 2014 US Open at Pinehurst, and he has posted a top-20 finish in ten of his last 13 Majors. His worst finish in his last ten Stateside Majors is 33rd on his Masters debut (2015). This increasingly assured character has finished fifth and fourth in the last two USPGAs, and he followed up winning the US Open with sixth place in the Open at Birkdale.

Other selections
Kevin Chappell 70-1
Robert Streb 300-1
Kyle Stanley 150-1
Kevin Chappell possesses the long-game quality to handle tough, long, Major layouts like this one, as he proved on his Major debut in the 2011 US Open when finishing third.

That was at a drenched Congressional in similar conditions to what he will face this week. He was tenth in the US Open the following year, 13th in the 2014 USPGA and seventh in the Masters in April.

Chappell, who won his maiden US Tour title in the Texas Open this spring, hit his ball superbly en route to eighth place in the Canadian Open the week before last and he recovered from a two-over-par opening round to finish 13th in the Bridgestone on Sunday.

Chappell is the most appealing outsider, but Robert Streb and Kyle Stanley could also enter the equation at even bigger prices. Both are long enough off the tee to handle a soggy Quail, and both have proven themselves at the track before.

Streb finished fourth in the 2015 Wells Fargo at Quail, a remarkable effort after a miserable three months, and the 2014 McGladrey Classic champion would have a squeak this week on the form he showed when runner-up in the Greenbrier Classic a month ago. Streb, in his prime at the age of 30, has finished tenth and seventh in his two previous USPGA starts.

Stanley tops the US Tour greens in regulation stats and got back to winning ways in the Quicken Loans National at the start of last month. This supreme tee-to-green operator was sixth in the 2013 Wells Fargo and in addition to his victory this year, he has finished fourth at Sawgrass and sixth at Muirfield Village, underlining his affinity for difficult courses.

Staking plan
R Fowler
3pts each-way 18-1 Betfair, Paddy Power
B Koepka
2.5pts each-way 25-1 general
K Chappell
1.5pts each-way 70-1 Betfair, Paddy Power
R Streb
0.5pt each-way 300-1 Sky Bet
K Stanley
0.5pt each-way 150-1 general


USPGA CHAMPIONSHIP

Course Quail Hollow, Charlotte, North Carolina
Prize money $10.5m ($1.8m to the winner)
Length 7,600 yards Par 71 Field 156

The cut Lowest 70 scores and ties after 36 holes
Playoff Three holes of strokeplay, sudden-death thereafter

Course records – 72 holes 267 Rory McIlroy (2015 Wells Fargo Championship) 18 holes 61 Rory McIlroy (2015 Wells Fargo Championship)

Course winners taking part Vijay Singh, Jim Furyk, Sean O'Hair, Rory McIlroy (twice), Lucas Glover, Rickie Fowler, JB Holmes, James Hahn

When to bet By 12.20pm Thursday

Where to watch Live on BBC Red Button and BBC iPlayer from 6pm Thursday

Time difference North Carolina is five hours behind the UK and Ireland

Last week – WGC-Bridgestone Invitational 1 H Matsuyama (20-1), 2 Z Johnson (70-1), 3 C Hoffman (70-1), 4 T Pieters (66-1), T5 P Casey (35-1), R McIlroy (10-1), R Knox (250-1), A Hadwin (225-1)

Course overview Quail Hollow staged a US Tour event from 2003 to 2016, starting off as the Wachovia Championship, becoming the Quail Hollow Championship, then the Wells Fargo Championship.

The Wells Fargo moved to a different course (Eagle Point) this year to allow Quail Hollow to be prepared for the USPGA. An aggressive 90-day renovation saw four holes modified.

The fifth hole, previously a par-five, has become a par-four, dogleg right, the overall par reducing from 72 to 71. Bunkers have been added to the 11th and the green pushed back.

The course has become 100 per cent Bermuda grass, rather than based on rye grass. “It has the potential to play completely different than it used to,” said Jimmy Walker, who anticipated firmer and faster conditions than seen in the spring-time Wells Fargo event.

Quail Hollow was laid out by George Cobb in 1961, tweaked by Arnold Palmer in 1986 and redesigned by Tom Fazio in 1997, 2003 and last year.

Low scores are hard to come by, although Rory McIlroy has a 61 and a 62 to his name there. The closing three holes, known as the Green Mile, are particularly difficult.

Weather forecast Thunderstorms have blighted the build-up to the tournament and are expected to continue throughout the competition. Hardly any breeze is forecast, though, so scoring conditions should be good when play is possible.

Story of last year Jimmy Walker triumphed in what seemed a low-key USPGA, which was staged at the end of July to make room for the Olympics. Walker finished 14 under par, one shot ahead of Jason Day, who eagled the final hole.

Type of player suited to challenge This is a long layout, with three 500-yard-plus par-fours and three 200-yard-plus par-threes, and storms have softened the turf.

The three par-fives are in range for big-hitters and it is reasonable to expect the powerhouses to assert themselves. A short-hitter has not won at Quail Hollow for ten years.

Key attribute Power

There are reasons to believe he can retain his composure through 72 holes at Quail Hollow this week and become the USPGA champion
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