Wells Fargo Championship: Can Rickie Fowler spoil Rory McIlroy's return to the PGA Tour?

The ninth designated event of the season is here, and the PGA Tour has returned to Quail Hollow Club after a year's hiatus.

Here’s everything you need to know ahead of the Wells Fargo Championship this week:

Wells Fargo Championship basics

Dates: May 4-7
Course: Quail Hollow Club | Charlotte, North Carolina
Length: Par 71 | 7,538 yards
Purse: $20/$3.6 million
FedExCup points for winner: 500
Betting favorite, via BetMGM: Rory McIlroy (+750)

Last time out: Max Homa wins in Maryland

Max Homa won his second Wells Fargo Championship last season in Maryland, where the tournament moved ahead of the Presidents Cup at Quail Hollow. Homa took a 2-shot win over Keegan Bradley, Cameron Young and Matt Fitzpatrick with a final-round 68.

The win was Homa’s fourth on the PGA Tour.

“I just feel like I’m coming into my own,” he said after the win. “I’m starting to believe in myself a lot, and that’s all I can ask for.”

Homa has won two more times since then this season, first at the Farmers Insurance Open and again at the Fortinet Championship. He’s currently ranked No. 7 in the Official World Golf Rankings.

Rickie Fowler at the Wells Fargo Championship
Rickie Fowler, who is back this week at the Wells Fargo Championship, is trying to lock up a U.S. Open spot after missing the Masters last month. (AP/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Rickie Fowler still hunting for win, U.S. Open qualification

Rickie Fowler is still at risk of losing his PGA Tour card at the end of the season, and he narrowly missed out on qualifying for the Masters last month.

That, he said, “sucked.”

“It was a bummer,” he said Wednesday. “I ended up watching a decent amount, as I think everyone does … But that was some motivation to be back. We were close, but I put myself in a little bit too big of a hole to get back there.”

Fowler hasn’t won on Tour since the 2019 WM Phoenix Open, though he has climbed back from the triple digits to No. 53 in the OWGR this week, which is just one spot shy of his best ranking since 2020. He has nine top-25 finishes so far this season and has finished worse than T20 only once in his past eight starts. Fowler is coming off a T15 finish at the RBC Heritage in his latest time out.

Perhaps more importantly, Fowler has already earned a spot in the PGA Championship later this month. He’s also on track to qualify for the U.S. Open in Los Angeles in June.

Finally, for the first time in a long time, Fowler is in a pretty good spot.

“I need to try harder this year. I've been working my ass off and would have liked to have been in this position the last few years and not necessarily gone through any of those slumps or whatever you want to call it,” Fowler said. “But definitely nice to be in a good position moving forward and with the changes [the Tour has made].”

Fowler still needs a win to solidify his Tour card for next season and fully prove that he’s back to the level he can be. There’s no better place to do that than Quail Hollow, where he picked up his first win in 2012.

McIlroy returns after break

McIlroy is back on Tour this week after a tough showing at the Masters and a surprising withdrawal the following week.

McIlroy missed the cut at the Masters last month, marking another missed chance to complete the Career Grand Slam and win his first major in almost a decade. He then withdrew from the RBC Heritage the following week due to a “private matter.” That decision ended up costing him $3 million.

“I needed a break for me,” he said Tuesday. “Obviously, after the disappointment of Augusta, and it’s been a pretty taxing 12 months mentally, so it was nice to just try to disconnect and get away from it.”

While Homa is the defending champion, McIlroy is the last person to win the event at Quail Hollow. He beat Abraham Ancer by a stroke in 2021. McIlroy is the betting favorite this week, too.

Cantlay hires Tiger’s caddie

Patrick Cantlay is the second-highest ranked golfer in the field this week, at No. 4 in the OWGR, and he has a new caddie by his side.

Cantlay hired Joe LaCava, Tiger Woods’ longtime caddie, to hop on his bag for the foreseeable future. Cantlay split with Matt Minister after the Zurich Classic last month. LaCava has been with Woods since 2011 and was on the bag with him both when he won the Masters in 2019 and as recently as earlier this year. But Woods is now recovering from his latest surgery and is out indefinitely.

“I wasn’t actively looking,” LaCava said Tuesday. “I missed it, and I wanted to work more. [Cantlay] knows me well enough, and I know him well enough that we know it’s hopefully-slash-probably going to work.”