It’s been 60 years since a professional golf tournament has been held in Wilmington, North Carolina, when the Azalea Open was won by none other than Arnold Palmer.
This week the PGA TOUR returns to Wilmington with the Wells Fargo Championship at Eagle Point Golf Club, designed by renowned architect Tom Fazio. For the first time since the tournament began in 2003, the Wells Fargo will not be staged at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, North Carolina, as it prepares to host the PGA Championship in August. So for one year Eagle Point gets the call. Opened in 2000, the par-72 course that winds its way through tall pines measures 7,259 yards.
Among the players to watch this week are Webb Simpson and Carl Pettersson, both members at Eagle Point. Pettersson holds the course record with a 62. Perhaps of more interest will be the exploits of World No. 1, Dustin Johnson, who returns to action after missing The Masters because of a back injury suffered from a fall in his rented home in Augusta, Georgia, on the eve of the year’s first major. The FedExCup leader, Johnson has won his last three starts — the Genesis Open, WGC-Mexico Championship, WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. The last player to win at least four in a row was Tiger Woods when he captured five straight at the end of 2007 and early 2008.
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Peter Kostis, longtime on-course reporter for CBS Sports, assesses this week’s event.
We’ve heard great things about Eagle Point. How will it hold up this week?
It will hold up quite well. It’s an excellent course. By all accounts it’s going to be a very good test. You have to drive it well there with all the trees. It’s going to be a fun week of golf.
Is there an advantage for anyone at a new venue?
I don’t know if they have an advantage, per se, but when no one has seen a golf course, that plays into the rookies’ hands. The playing field is leveled, you might say. They have no history at most places. They have to learn a new golf course every week on the fly, and they are usually at a disadvantage. Now just about everyone is a rookie, except Carl Pettersson and Webb Simpson. So rookies might have a little bit more of a chance than most weeks.
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What can we expect or should we expect from World No. 1, Dustin Johnson, as he returns from his back injury at the Masters?
Well, that’s the big question mark. Hopefully, he has waited long enough to be completely healed and healthy. You don’t want to see him playing just to get a week under his belt to get ready for The Players. But before he got hurt he was playing well, obviously. But he might be a little bit rusty, which could manifest itself in the short-game area more than anything else.
How hard will it be for players in the team event at the Zurich Classic to transition back to the mindset of playing on their own?
The tough transition was last week going to a team situation. These guys play their own ball all the time, so I don’t think it’s going to be difficult for the guys who played in New Orleans to get back into that mode of thought.
Who are your favorites and dark horses?
You have to put Webb Simpson at the top of the list. Then you have Dustin Johnson, Adam Scott, and you have Bill Haas. This is the type of golf course that Paul Casey will do well on, because he’s good at plotting a strategy. I know he’s a member and holds the course record, but you have to look at Carl Pettersson as a dark horse, especially after he played decently in San Antonio (T-16 at the Valero Texas Open).
Journalist and author David Shedloski of Columbus, Ohio, has been covering golf since 1986, first as a daily newspaper reporter and later as a freelance writer for various magazines and Internet outlets. A winner of 23 national writing awards, including 20 for golf coverage, Shedloski is currently a contributing writer for Golf World and GolfDigest.com and serves as editorial director for The Memorial, the official magazine of the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio. He is the author of three books and has contributed to three others, including the second edition of “Golf For Dummies,” with Gary McCord. He’s a fan of all Cleveland professional sports teams, the poor fellow.