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Tuesday, 11 December, 2018

Justin Thomas set to be crowned new king of Charlotte

Local man Chesson Hadley can thrill at Quail Hollow

Justin Thomas won the USPGA Championship at Quail Hollow
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Tournament starts midday Thursday, live on Sky Sports Golf

Rory McIlroy bids to put his Masters disappointment behind him by completing a Quail Hollow hat-trick this week.

The former world number one carded a final-round 74 to destroy his Masters hopes, finishing six shots behind playing partner Patrick Reed. The Northern Irishman has not teed up in anything other than an 18-hole pairs exhibition match in Ireland since then.

Punters need to decide whether McIlroy's magnificent Wells Fargo course credentials – he won by four shots in 2010 and by seven in 2015 – outweigh probable rust and the psychological damage that his Sunday Augusta flop may have done.

All things considered, the top prices for McIlroy are fair, but nothing special, and it is debatable whether he should even be favourite. Two players in the field are above him in the world rankings and both are also fond of Quail Hollow.

Palmer's top tip
Justin Thomas 11-1

World number two Justin Thomas can assert his class again at a venue which staged his Major breakthrough in the USPGA Championship less than nine months ago.

Quail Hollow was toughened up for the USPGA, with only 12 players breaking par, and even in the perfect weather which is forecast this week it is unlikely anyone will get close to the 21-under-par total McIlroy delivered in 2015 when the track was a par 72.

The revised Quail Hollow is a different beast to the one McIlroy emphatically conquered – holes one, four and five were changed entirely prior to the USPGA – and the field averaged 73.5. The most important course form for punters is the Major of which Thomas took control last year. He closed with a 68, ending up nine shots ahead of McIlroy.

Thomas finished seventh on his Quail Hollow debut in 2014, then missed the cut when in dire form for his only other Wells Fargo appearance. This time he returns to the scene of his finest hour full of self-belief and hunting top spot in the world rankings. He has won three US Tour titles since the USPGA, scooping the FedEx Cup along the way, maturing into a colossus of a player.

While McIlroy has not competed since the Masters, probably starting each day with a sigh about how he spurned a golden chance to complete the career Grand Slam, Thomas cleared some post-Augusta rust out of his system in the Zurich Classic last week.

He will have been furious to miss the cut by a shot alongside his pal Bud Cauley after a poor opening round, but it was a useful spin with regards to the Wells Fargo, and Thomas turned 25 on Sunday still bristling with confidence.

Quail Hollow has evolved through the years and become a track which strongly favours big-hitters. Thomas, a pint-sized powerhouse who lies eighth on the US Tour for driving distance, possesses all the tools to succeed there.

Next best
Chesson Hadley 55-1

Carolinians hold a special place in their heart for this event and Chesson Hadley will be thrilled to be approaching it in such good form. Hadley, 18th in the Houston Open, seventh at the Heritage and 20th in the Texas Open in his last three individual strokeplay starts, led a partnership with Brice Garnett to fourth place in the Zurich Classic on Sunday.

Hadley was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, and still lives there. The first of his four Tour victories came in Raleigh – the 2013 Rex Hospital Open – and he lost a playoff in the same event last year. He has enjoyed his two latest home-state starts in the Wells Fargo. He was 20th in 2015 and 11th in 2016.

Hadley is long enough to handle the track, can be lethal with the putter, and became a US Tour champion at the 2014 Puerto Rico Open. This is a much better event, but he is a much better player four years on, and is the pick of the bigger-priced runners.

Other selection
Kyle Stanley 110-1

Complete a three-pronged attack with Kyle Stanley, a superb ball-striker who is well capable of cutting Quail Hollow down to size. Stanley, like Hadley, has reached the age of 30 with some US Tour silverware in his locker and a bright future.

Stanley won his second Tour title at the Quicken Loans National last July at a tough layout which demands tee-to-green solidity. Finding greens in regulation is his great strength and Quail Hollow is a venue which provides an extreme long-game examination.

Stanley has fond memories of this part of the world. He starred for Clemson University in South Carolina, establishing 18 scoring records there, before becoming a US Tour star. He finished sixth in the 2013 Wells Fargo and recent form, including victories over Matt Fitzpatrick, Russell Henley and Sergio Garcia at the WGC-Match Play, is bright enough to suggest he can contend again.

Others to note
Rickie Fowler
The world number six, the Masters runner-up last month, won the Wells Fargo in 2012, was fourth in 2016, and was fifth in the USPGA at Quail Hollow last year. He is an obvious danger.

Hideki Matsuyama
The Japanese ace blew a golden chance of a maiden Major triumph in the USPGA at Quail Hollow, finishing fifth. He likes the course but has been unconvincing since returning from a wrist injury.

Emiliano Grillo
The Argentinian enjoys tracks where the key to success is churning out greens in regulation. Tidy recent form means he could run into a place.

Bryson DeChambeau
The quirky Californian has been playing well, finishing runner-up at Bay Hill and third in the Heritage, and he possesses the ball-striking quality to contend at Quail Hollow.

Patrick Rodgers
The US Tour underachiever finished second behind McIlroy in the 2015 Wells Fargo and is capable of making the each-way places again at a juicy price.

Tiger Woods
The 14-times Major champion has not competed at Quail Hollow since missing the cut in 2012. he also missed the cut in 2010 and this does not seem the ideal venue for him to end his victory drought.

Staking plan
J Thomas
4pts each-way 11-1 Betfair, Coral
C Hadley
2pts each-way 50-1 BoyleSports
K Stanley
1pt each-way 110-1 Betfred


Course Quail Hollow Club, Charlotte, North Carolina

Prize money $7.7m ($1.386m to the winner)

Length 7,554 yards

Par 71

Field 156

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

Course winners taking part Vijay Singh, Tiger Woods, Sean O'Hair, Rory McIlroy (twice), Lucas Glover, Rickie Fowler, Derek Ernst, JB Holmes, James Hahn, Brian Harman, Justin Thomas

When to bet By midday Thursday

Where to watch Live on Sky Sports Golf from midday Thursday

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

Last week – Zurich Classic 1 B Horschel & S Piercy (40-1), 2 J Dufner & P Perez (40-1), 3 C Schwartzel & L Oosthuizen (33-1), T4 C Paisley & T Fleetwood (40-1), B Garnett & C Hadley (80-1)

Course overview Laid out by George Cobb in 1961, tweaked by Arnold Palmer in 1986 and redesigned by Tom Fazio in 1997 and 2003, Quail Hollow slowly became the finished article, and one which annually attracts the best players. The USPGA Championship was staged there last August, won by Justin Thomas at just eight under par, so Eagle Point Golf Club stepped in to cover for the Wells Fargo.

This event has run since 2003 and was first called the Wachovia Championship. 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. The 221-yard par-three 17th is sandwiched between awkward par-fours of 508 and 478 yards. These three holes typically average almost a shot over par. The par-fives (fifth, seventh, tenth, 15th) are where birdies are freely available and the champion will almost certainly need to play them under par.

Further course tickles have taken place over the last few years, the most significant change after the 2013 event was to the greens. The bentgrass greens were torn up and replaced with more heat-tolerant Bermuda grass. Some trees were removed prior to 2014, making the track more appealing to big-hitters. The par was reduced from 72 to 71 for the USPGA, with the first becoming a par four.

The story of last year Brian Harman repelled Dustin Johnson, Pat Perez and Jon Rahm, the little left-hander winning the first Wells Fargo at Eagle Point with a 28-foot birdie putt on the final hole.

Weather forecast Hot and sunny, with hardly any breeze

Type of player suited to challenge All types of player have won on this track, from cautious operators David Toms and Jim Furyk to mavericks Anthony Kim and JB Holmes. Course changes over recent years have aided the powerhouses, though, and outright punters should concentrate on them

Key attribute Power

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He returns to the scene of his finest hour full of self-belief and hunting top spot in the world rankings
E.W. Terms
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