Wells Fargo Championship 2021: Fantasy picks, power rankings and analysis
With a kinder spot on the schedule, the Wells Fargo Championship has once again attracted an outstanding field. The ardent golf fans of Charlotte will watch 10 of the top 15 golfers in the world compete at Quail Hollow Club beginning Thursday, battling for a first-place check of nearly $1.5 million and a chance to join a strong roster of champions.
From the outset, the Wells Fargo has been an excellent addition to the PGA Tour.
I walked inside the ropes with Tiger Woods when he smoked Rory Sabbatini on a Sunday. Watched in awe as Anthony Kim dismantled the place. Even caddied in the event a few years ago, enjoying the valet parking, tasty food and excellent treatment bestowed upon the loopers this week.
The golf course is a beast, measuring more than 7,500 yards as a par 71. The Bermuda greens are slick and pure. The dogleg par 4s and 5s require players to maneuver their tee ball and the overseeded rough is generally thick, although it’s been a dry month or so in the Carolinas, for the most part, which could make the challenge less daunting.
As my Caddie Network colleague John Rathouz said earlier this week, Quail Hollow tests every facet of a player’s game. A well-rounded game is required to answer the questions Quail asks. The pros will encounter a multitude of 175-yard plus approach shots and one of golf’s most difficult finishing stretches, the three-hole Green Mile that brings the golfers home, or to their knees.
A few other thoughts:
Analyzing the three tournaments held at Quail Hollow since it was remodeled (2017 PGA, 2018 Wells Fargo, 2019 Wells Fargo), there is a strong correlation between Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green and top-10 finishes.
When fairways are difficult to hit, length is a greater asset. We saw this at Winged Foot and Harding Park in the two majors in 2020. These are some of the more difficult fairways to find on the PGA Tour (54 percent compared to 62 percent on average).
In the models this week, we emphasized players who have gained strokes on the field across the board in recent weeks and on longer courses where the fairways are difficult to hit. Strong mid-iron and long-iron players and those who excel on Bermuda greens. Over the course of four rounds, expect the strongest ballstrikers to climb the leaderboard. I wouldn’t be surprised if 10 under is good enough to win the tournament and four rounds of par or better should provide a fat paycheck.
The Bargain Bin
- Akshay Bhatia, James Hahn, Luke List, Sebastian Munoz, Seamus Power, Charl Schwartzel
While there are many fine dining options in the Charlotte area, the wise ones will be sure to visit City Barbeque once this week. They know what’s going on over there. As always, good luck.
Golfer power rankings
25. Ryan Moore – He’s made only 8 of 15 cuts since the Tour resumed last June, however, he’s made five of the last six and three in a row, finishing T-39 at the Valspar. Played well on earlier incarnations of Quail Hollow, finishing top 10 in 2012 and ‘13. Ballstriking numbers are strong on courses of 7,400 yards or more.
24. Bubba Watson – Always like the creative lefthander on a tree-lined course with doglegs (Riviera, Augusta National). He excelled on the bending fairways at Innisbrook last week, gaining four shots tee-to-green to tie for 13th, extending a solid run of late. Recent course history is a mild concern. Missed the cut in 2017 PGA and last competed in Wells Fargo in 2013. Was the 2009 runner-up though.
23. Kyle Stanley – Tied for 39th at the Valspar despite a rare poor performance with his irons (-3.5 SG: APP). Top 15 each of the last two times the Tour has visited Charlotte. The putter is his achilles’ heel, but it was a strength last week.
22. Rickie Fowler – The 4.7 strokes he gained Tee-to-Green in a T-17 at the Valero Texas Open was his best effort since Torrey Pines and he was better than the field average on the greens for only the second time in nine starts in 2021. Perhaps he turned the corner. Returning to Quail Hollow, where he has a win and four top 10s and has never missed the cut in eight tries, should allow him to continue building momentum.
21. Jhonnatan Vegas – He’s 94th in the field on 450-500 yard par 4s, but otherwise his rankings are strong across the board in the categories I identified as pivotal for success this week. Gained 6.1 strokes tee-to-green last week and has made six of the last seven cuts. Tied for eighth and 42nd in his last two attempts at Quail Hollow.
20. Matt Wallace – Excellent value for the Englishman whose recent form pushed him into the top 30 of the two primary models I ran this week. Appears to benefiting from his partnership with veteran caddie Gareth Lord, who steered Henrik Stenson to millions and a major. Making first appearance at Quail Hollow.
19. Francesco Molinari – Tied for second in the 2017 PGA Championship at Quail Hollow and finished top 25 in the Wells Fargo in 2016 and 2018. Has cooled since posting three top 10s in four starts on the West Coast swing, but is sixth in the field in SG: Tee-to-Green in his last 12 rounds on courses longer than 7,400 yards with fairways that are difficult to find.
18. Brian Harman – Playing the best golf of his career, Harman has been surprisingly good at Quail Hollow, finishing top 15 in the 2017 PGA and top 25 in the ‘19 Wells Fargo. Offsets his lack of power with accuracy off the tee and a superior short game. His strong finish at Augusta National is a good comp.
17. Patrick Cantlay – Enters the week having missed three consecutive individual cuts for the first time in his pro career. What’s troubling is he’s been awry in each area of his game. Still, Quail Hollow feels like the ideal place for his all-around skill set to shine again. Tied for 37th in 2017 PGA, making first Wells Fargo appearance.
16. Emiliano Grillo – Struggled with his irons and putter at Valspar and missed the cut. Expect a better performance this week as he pursues his second top 10 in his fourth Wells Fargo appearance.
15. Talor Gooch – Not sure which of Gooch’s moves I enjoyed more last weekend after he missed the cut. His decision to refund a bettor who backed him or his willingness to face a disgruntled Twitterite who challenged him to a $50,000 putt-putt competition. Either way, it tells me his attitude remains strong and a T-13 at Quail Hollow in 2018 means he’s ripe for more success this week.
14. Rory McIlroy – On a golf course that demands tee-to-green excellence, McIlroy is number one in the field in the conditions the golfers will face at Quail over the last eight, 12, 24 and 50 rounds. Also enjoys a phenomenal history here, recording a 69.53 stroke average that’s produced two victories and seven top-10s in nine starts. Looking to rebound after missing the cut at the Players and Masters.
13. Tony Finau – Reasonable price for Finau in the fantasy formats and in Vegas this week. One of only four players to rank top 10 in both my models this week. Played the weekend in all four Wells Fargo appearances, landing in the top 25 twice. One day he will win again. Too talented not to.
12. Corey Conners – Over his last five tournaments Conners has averaged gaining 6.6 strokes on the field tee-to-green. Last week he putted worse than the field average – for the first time in five events – and still tied for 21st. Such ridiculous ballstriking has produced 10 top 25s in his last 12 starts. No sign of cooling off anytime soon.
11. Max Homa – The 2019 Wells Fargo champion struggled with distance control and the putter on Sunday at Innisbrook, squandering a chance to win and slipping into a tie for sixth. But he’s having a terrific season. Over the last 10 tournaments he’s well ahead of the field average in each significant Strokes Gained department.
10. Aaron Wise – Wells Fargo runner-up in 2018 and T-18 in 2019. Missed the cut at RBC Heritage in last start. Ranks 15th in the field in SG: Tee-to-Green over the last 24 rounds on long courses with difficult to find fairways.
9. Xander Schauffele – He has four top 5s in eight starts in 2021 yet somehow it feels like a disappointment. That’s the price for having supreme control over each of the 14 clubs in your bag. Bermuda is his worst surface, so it’s possible he’s mildly overpriced in the fantasy world this week, still it would surprise no one if he’s contending again late Sunday. Tied for 72nd and 24th in two Wells Fargo appearances.
8. Sungjae Im – Generally a wizard on Bermuda greens, Im endured a rare subpar week at Innisbrook, yet still finished T-29 thanks to an approach game that’s trending upward. Tied for 31st in lone Wells Fargo appearance but course could bring to mind Augusta National, where he was runner-up in the fall of 2020.
7. Joaquin Niemann – Stumbled to a 72 on Sunday at Innisbrook to barely hang on to a top 10, his first since the Hawaii swing to start the season. Tied for 38th and missed the cut in two previous Quail Hollow starts.
6. Bryson DeChambeau – Finished fourth in the 2018 Wells Fargo. Ranks seventh in the field in SG: Tee-to-Green over the last 50 rounds but 84th in SG: Approach. When he’s been sharp with his irons over the last nine months, he’s been in contention or won.
5. Viktor Hovland – I will never omit Viktor Hovland from the Power Rankings again. I will never omit Viktor Hovland from the Power Rankings again. I will never omit Viktor Hovland from the Power Rankings again.
4. Jon Rahm – Making his first start at Quail Hollow, a course that should be a perfect match. He’s top 10 in the field in proximity from 175-200 yards and 200-yards plus on courses where the field struggles to find fairways. That’s a testament to not only long, accurate drives but his strength out of the rough. Leads the field in SG: Tee-to-Green over the last 50 rounds.
3. Webb Simpson – Having a 2021 – three top 10s in seven starts and a T-12 at the Masters – but hasn’t had a realistic chance to win entering the back nine on a Sunday. The Quail Hollow member can rectify that this week. His ballstriking was superior last time out – a top 10 at the RBC Heritage. Loves fast Bermuda greens.
2. Will Zalatoris – Should be recharged after two weeks off that included getting engaged. Even though he’s secured playing privileges for 2021-22 and earned a boatload of cash, still has FedEx Cup and possibly Ryder Cup dreams to fulfill. The former Wake Forest star would love to hoist the first trophy of many in the Carolinas.
1. Justin Thomas – The ballstriking numbers last week were silly. Led the field in SG: Tee-to-Green (13.2!) and Approach (6.9) but putted miserably, settling for a T-13. Won the 2017 PGA Championship here. I expect him to contend every week and with 13 top 25s in his last 14 starts, he usually isn’t too far from the hunt. Just can’t putt as poorly as he did last week and another similar ballstriking effort wouldn’t be surprising in the least.