Fortinet Championship 2021: Fantasy picks, power rankings and analysis

Recently crowned PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Will Zalatoris will be at the Fortinet Championship looking for his first victory.

There are too many political pontificators. There are too many Greenvilles in the South. There could be too many podcasts.

But there are not too many PGA Tour tournaments.

We’ve only been apart for a week, reader friends, still it was strange not to share this time together and stranger to not have a live golf tournament to watch last Sunday afternoon.

If the people in Ponte Vedra can round up enough sponsors, why shouldn’t there be an official event on the schedule each week? Sure, folks will watch football in the fall and ratings will suffer when the superstars are fishing and chilling. Some fans will only tune in for the biggest events and lose interest for long spells. Yet there’s never been a deeper pool of talent in professional golf, so why not let these pros put their skills on display, following the sun to the sublime, cashing checks for our pleasure, sipping wine as many wives and players surely will this week at Silverado.

It’s the action we crave.

RELATED: Podcast with Napa native J.J. Jakovac, caddie for Collin Morikawa | Caddie Line homepage

The Fortinet Championship begins Thursday morning in Napa, California on the resort’s par-72, 7,123-yard North Course, designed by Ben Harmon in the 1950s, renovated by Robert Trent Jones Jr. in the 60s and again by tournament host Johnny Miller in 2011.

The field will enjoy ideal weather, temperatures in the mid-to-upper 70s and a chance of a slight breeze each afternoon. Course superintendent Mat Dunmyer said the conditions are the best he’s seen for the tournament, which likely means firm(ish) and pure, ripe for a cut around 2 or 3 under and a winning total somewhere in the mid-teens.

The course is fairly straightforward, featuring generous corridors between the trees, minimal hazards and playable rough. Two of the last three champions – Brendan Steele (2018) and Cameron Champ (2019) led the field in SG: Off-the-Tee. The fairways are among the most difficult to hit each season on the PGA Tour (52.8 percent compared to Tour average of 62.2) but the field still manages to hit the greens in regulation 68 percent of the time, slightly better than the Tour average.

Some will plod along, from point A to point B, hitting fairways and greens and hoping to roll in a few putts. Others will bomb away and ask questions later, knowing they’ll have a wedge in their hand on half their approach shots and can reach each of the four par 5s in two shots. There are a half-dozen par 4s in the 400-450-yard range.

Certain players thrive on shorter courses on the PGA Tour each year. We targeted many of those players this week. We’re also taking a chance on a handful of new faces, believing they’ll continue the form they showed on the developmental circuit over the last year or so.

Bargain Bin

  • Brice Garnett, Mark Hubbard, Cameron Percy, Kyle Stanley, Brandon Wu

For a moment, I thought the Tour had signed a video game as a sponsor, which would have been quite the coup indeed. I was mistaken. It’s a cybersecurity outfit based in California and I feel safer just for having gained and now shared that knowledge.

As always, good luck.

Golfer power rankings

25. Doc Redman – Lackluster 2020-21 campaign is behind him and where better to get a fresh start than Silverado, where the North Carolinian tied for third last year. Having three weeks off had to be helpful. He’s top 20 in the field in SG: Total over the last 36 rounds on shorter courses and top 15 in par-3 scoring.

24. Adam Svensson – The 27-year-old Canadian rookie finished third on the Korn Ferry Tour combined money list, recording eight top 10s behind a spiffy 69.28 stroke average. Hit fairways (sixth in accuracy) and greens (11th in GIR) on that Tour while also ranking top 40 in putting.

23. Greyson Sigg – Yet another Georgia Bulldog joins the PGA Tour after a consistent (10 top 10s) season on the Korn Ferry that included a pair of victories and a runner-up in the season-ending Tour Championship. After navigating the closing stretch at Victoria National, Silverado should present a pleasant stroll.

22. Pat Perez – He’s 22nd in the field in SG: Approach on courses less than 7,200 yards and 20th in SG: Putting on poa annua. He tied for ninth here last year and finished 16th or better in three of his last four tournaments in the recently completed season.

21. Taylor Pendrith – Third on the Korn Ferry Tour in driving distance and 18th in greens in regulation produced fifth on the regular season points list. Likely the next outstanding Canadian on the PGA Tour. Made the cut in four of five PGA Tour starts in 2020-21, including an 11th at Barbasol.

20. Jon Rahm – Hopefully he’s the 2020-21 PGA Tour Player of the Year. Obviously he’s worthy of a higher ranking. His polished all-around game and recent form demand it. But combine his short odds, premium fantasy price and the impending Ryder Cup and there are better options on the board.

19. Brian Stuard – Proficient on the 400-450-yard par-4s (17th in the field), a sneaky birdie maker on shorter courses and excellent poa annua putter (third). The seasoned pro understands how to amass FedEx Cup points when the best are resting.

18. Doug Ghim – Cooled on the former Texas All-American last year, frustrated by his sloppy performance on the greens. Whatever. This is a brand new season! Perhaps he’s more comfortable on the Tour now and ready to convert on those opportunities. He’s top 10 in SG: Off the Tee and Birdies or Better.

17. Hayden Buckley – The 25-year-old Tennessee native and Mizzou grad finished ninth on the Korn Ferry Tour in greens in regulation last season, racking up five top 10s. He was also 19th in driving accuracy and 48th in driving distance. That is a moneymaking recipe that should produce points in his first PGA Tour start.

16. Luke List – The 36-year-old has made 197 starts on the PGA Tour and is still seeking his first victory. Finished 102nd in the FEC standings in ‘20-21, has made the cut in four of five appearances at Silverado (T-4 in ‘18) and has a tasty stat profile: fifth in SG:OTT and top 25 in SG: Approach and par-3 scoring.

15. Harold Varner III – Has consistently played the Silverado North as well as anyone, making the cut in all six tries with a trio of top 20s. He’s second in the field in par-3 scoring and third in SG: Approach on shorter courses. Finished 11th and 12th in the first two playoff events and eager to build on his best season yet on the PGA Tour.

14. Hank Lebioda – Contended until the 71st hole at Detroit Golf Club, which offers some similarities tee-to-green. Fully exempt on the PGA Tour for the first time, he’s 10th in the field in scoring on 400-450-yard par 4s and not far removed from a stretch of three top 10s in a row.

13. Talor Gooch – Breakout season coming and might as well commence this week considering he’s sixth in the field in SG: Approach on shorter courses and 23rd in SG: Putting on poa annua. Made the cut in two of three Silverado starts.

12. Charley Hoffman – Nothing special on his Silverado resume (T-56 and two MCs), however, he thrives on shorter courses, ranking third in the field in Birdies or Better Gained and 17th in SG: Approach. Also flourishes on the 400-450-yard par 4s. Enjoying a resurgence in his 40s, giving hope to the middle aged.

11. Cameron Champ – The 2019 champion found his groove, specifically putting stroke, late last season, winning in Minnesota and can attack the course Johnny Miller redesigned in 2011 by bombing drives and flipping pitches. Makes buckets of birdies on the shorter layouts.

10. Marc Leishman – About this time last year, right here in this space, I predicted a big season for the affable Aussie. It didn’t quite work out, although there were flashes. He finished third here in 2019 and leads the field in SG: Approach on courses less than 7,200 yards over the last 50 rounds. Knows how to win.

9. Brendan Steele – The two-time champion is top 10 in the field in SG: Total and SG: Approach on courses measuring less than 7,200 yards and also 10th in par-3 scoring anywhere over the last 50 rounds. Has made the cut in all six appearances in wine country.

8. Emiliano Grillo – Tee-to-green, not many in the field are better. His ballstriking numbers, always strong, are elite on the shorter courses. Short game and putting (119th on poa annua) are always a question mark, but we’re willing to believe. He’s added three top 30s since winning here in 2015.

7. Mito Pereira – Everybody’s new fantasy darling – and with good reason. The Chilean became the 12th player to earn the ‘battlefield’ promotion to the PGA Tour by winning three Korn Ferry tournaments. Had top-6 finishes at the Barbasol, 3M and Olympics. Just 26 years old, he’s bound for an outstanding Tour career.

6. Max Homa – Looking beyond the stats and focusing instead on the Californian’s strong record in his home state and fair price. Putts these greens well and creates birdie opportunities inside 150 yards.

5. Maverick McNealy – Californian. Short course specialist. Played the best golf of his young PGA Tour career in the latter part of last season. Wish he was better than 129th in SG: Approach on shorter courses but seventh in SG: OTT and and SG: Putting on poa annua and 25th in par-3 scoring provide the tools for another week in contention.

4. Hideki Matsuyama – The reigning Masters champion finished second on the PGA Tour last season in proximity from 125-150 yards. He lost in a playoff in August in Memphis. He’s top 25 in the field in driving and approach play and has played well in the fall historically.

3. Webb Simpson – At the beginning of 2021 it was safe to assume he’d be on the U.S. Ryder Cup team. But injuries and illness led to an inconsistent spring and summer, leaving him eager to return to form. Leads the field in SG: Total and Birdies or Better gained on courses less than 7,200 yards. T-17 here in 2017.

2. Will Zalatoris – The 2020-21 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year won’t miss the playoffs this season. The only player in the rankings who didn’t participate in the Korn Ferry Tour or FedEx Cup end of season festivities. Should be fresh and ready to start populating leaderboards again.

1. Kevin Na – Bypassed for the U.S. Ryder Cup team – which was the right choice – but the 2015 runner-up at Silverado is enjoying the pinnacle of his career, having ascended to a place where we expect him to win once a year. He has a stunning statistical profile, ranking top 10 in every significant category, finding fairways and draining putts on poa annua. He was sharp at East Lake and should ride that momentum back home in California.

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