We’ve waited for the proper test of brains and brawn all season long, and finally, Quail Hollow has arrived. What used to be a known commodity has been architecturally refined and will demand nothing less than greatness from the golfers who wish to add a major championship to their resume.

The PGA Championship returns to the Tar Heel state for the first time since 1974. Tanglewood Park, near Winston-Salem, hosted the event in which Lee Trevino denied Jack Nicklaus another major title. Quail Hollow is well known to the traveling professionals (it hosted the Wells Fargo Championship from 2004-2016), and it should yield a familiar winner. New holes, a new feel, and the air of a grand slam event will make Quail Hollow shine like never before. Time to get pumped for glory’s last shot, the 2017 PGA Championship in Charlotte.

Turning a PGA Tour Layout into a Major Venue

There are new, front-nine holes at Quail Hollow, meaning television viewers may not recognize them. No. 1 is a combination of the old 1st and 2nd holes. It’s a par-4 that will play more like a par-5, erasing the notion of a gentle handshake for an opening hole. The 4th is an entirely new par-3, shaped on land once occupied by the old 5th hole. The 5th is a massive par-4, playing over a valley to a hillside green. On the inward half, the 11th was lengthened by 40 yards. A corner oak was replaced by sand, and the hole will test the validity of Dustin-proofing a golf course.

Remember that Quail Hollow is home to the toughest three-hole stretch on the PGA Tour. The closing triumvirate of 4-3-4 demands nothing less than power and precision to avoid watery graves and close the door on the competition. The putting surface at No. 16 was moved nearly 100 yards to bring it up against … you guessed it … a lake.

Let’s talk grass for a second. Quail Hollow was regrassed with a strain of bermuda. Normally bermuda doesn’t engender fast and firm, unless it replaces rye, which encourages balls to drop and nestle. It hugs them with a mother’s embrace, which is not what professional golfers want during a round.

Four Groups you Probably Overlooked

  • 8:40 a.m. Thursday-Pieters, Schauffele, Pampling
  • 1:15 p.m. Thursday-Horschel, Fitzpatrick, Kim
  • 1:45 p.m. Thursday-Kuchar, Rose, Snedeker
  • 2:15 p.m. Thursday-Vegas, DeChambeau, Smith

Pieters and Schauffele are young guys with recent close calls in major championships. Kuchar and Rose are middle-aged guys who had major titles STOLEN from them this year. Vegas, DeChambeau, and Smith are recent winners on the PGA and European tours, who still have the good vibes of victory pulsing in their memory. And Horschel, Fitzpatrick and Kim are good, young players who could manage the traditional, tree-lined tour layout of Quail Hollow well.

Top-10 Contenders

World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational - Round Three

  • 1A: Rory McIlroy, Won 2X at QH-Wells Fargo Championship
  • 1B: Rickie Fowler, won 1X at QH-Wells Fargo Championship
  • 3: Matt Kuchar, DONE with having no major wins & on form
  • 4: Justin Rose, DONE with having one major win & on form
  • 5: Hideki Matsuyama, No one has more talent & temperament
  • 6: Jordan Spieth, Putting well, so you can’t discount him
  • 7: Jason Day, Finally on the mend, finally comfortable again
  • 8: Jimmy Walker, Cool enough to defend-none since Tiger in ’07
  • 9: Thomas Pieters, Time for more than Ryder Cup, lad
  • 10A: Grayson Murray, Young and confident #TotalDarkHorse
  • 10B: Zach Johnson, The little guy who can. See #Firestone

Dustin Johnson? Not on form. Justin Thomas? He will have to wait for 2018 for a major title. Henrik Stenson? See Dustin Johnson. Patrick Reed? Rubik’s cube of the PGA Tour. Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia, et al.? Who knows? So many great golfers!

Related: Full betting odds for the 2017 PGA Championship

The Weather

It’s August in North Carolina, but it feels like September in Wales. Forecasts suggest precipitation for the next 10 days. The golf course should be soft, the rough might be difficult to tame, and if the rains do come to North Carolina’s Queen City during the tournament’s four days, Quail will eliminate a number of competitors. In fact, it might be reduced to a bomber competition. Forget the little guys; it will be the 290-yard carries that win the week.

My Predictions

World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational - Preview Day 3

Rory and Rickie will be paired together all four days. They will fend off all comers, and will reduce the field to a mano a mano duel. In the end, one will stuff an iron on the waterlogged 17th hole… while the other one goes for a swim. It will be an easier walk down the 72nd fairway for Rickie Fowler, as he captures his first major professional title.

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