WGC-Workday Championship 2021: Fantasy picks, power rankings and analysis
The PGA Tour makes its annual migration from California to Florida this week but only the game’s elite and top money earners from tours around the world are invited to the WGC-Workday Championship.
It’s a fine invitation to receive. The 72-man field will share $10.5 million and the winner receives $1.82. Thanks again, Tiger. There’s no cut, of course, which could be more curse than blessing for the lost and struggling if some reports about the difficulty of this week’s venue are believable.
The Concession Golf Club is a par 72, 7,474-yard layout in Bradenton, Fla. designed by Jack Nicklaus with an assist from Tony Jacklin. According to our main source for architectural insight, The Fried Egg, this course was constructed at a time when Nicklaus was shifting away from penal designs and toward more strategic offerings. Insight gleaned from folks on the ground this week confirms the plethora of options available and the importance of leaving approach shots in the proper position to provide the best opportunity for an up-and-down.
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Wide fairways dotted with bunkers, lined with trees and water hazards, should give the game’s bombers an edge, however, the sharp short game crowd is worth strong consideration as well. The par 5s should create thrilling opportunities for eagles and disasters.
As you may have heard, Bryson DeChambeau won the 2015 NCAA Championship here.
We’ve been digging deeper and deeper into building pre-tournament models each week. It’s all part of the process of trying to produce the best choices in this space. This week our models focused on a) golfers who have played well in Florida in the past b) those who have fared well on Nicklaus layouts, and other comparable courses such as East Lake, Augusta National and Kapalua and c) those who have played the best on the PGA Tour over the last four to six tournaments. Firm, fast Bermuda conditions were factored into the models.
There’s no magic genie that spits out the winner. At least not that we’ve found. But the pursuit of the process and the constant tweaking from week-to-week is the enjoyable part. There’s a thorough review of the week before each Sunday night or Monday morning and then full steam ahead. We always want better results.
You may notice that two of the top-10 players in the world are absent from these rankings. Would it surprise me if Justin Thomas or Rory McIlroy won this week?
Absolutely not. Should you play them in your preferred fantasy game? Neither is ever a bad play, just realize there may be better values around them. Thomas, for example, lost strokes in every area of his game last week, something that hadn’t happened since 2016. He’s also back home in South Florida.
If you’re looking for a longshot, Thomas Detry tied for third in the 2015 NCAA Championship as a member of the Illinois golf team. He shot 6 under for the week.
As always, good luck.
Golfer power rankings
20. Matthew Fitzpatrick – Has a stellar record in the WGCs and one of my men on the ground at Concession believes his sharp short game will keep him in the mix this weekend. Enjoys the company of one of the best caddies in the business, Billy Foster, and missing the ball in the right spots will be critical this week.
19. Will Zalatoris – Dialed in with his irons and on the greens at Riviera. Playing his fifth consecutive week so fatigue could be a factor. Then again, a flusher feels less stress from shot-to-shot. Must be considered on a course that requires players to hit the proper shot and play aggressively to tucked flagsticks. He’s 17th on the PGA Tour in driving distance and ninth in SG: Approach.
18. Jason Day – After missing the cut in San Diego and Scottsdale, rebounded with a top 10 at Pebble, seemingly an annual occurrence for the 2015 PGA Champion. Nobody expects him to reach No. 1 in the world again, however, he’s healthy for a change and possesses the power and touch Concession will demand this week.
17. Louis Oosthuizen – Has been less than sharp with his irons in the last five tournaments, finishing slightly worse than the field average in SG: Approach each time. Still, the results have been solid – 29th at Torrey Pines, 11th at TPC-Scottsdale – and he has a knack for climbing the leaderboard in the big events, finishing top-6 in two of the last three WGCs and third last fall at Winged Foot.
16. Viktor Hovland – He’s won twice in 38 PGA Tour career starts and finished in the top 10 seven times. Last week he gained four strokes on approach and led the field in SG: Off-the-Tee. The progress he’s made around the greens will receive a full examination this week and Bermuda is his weakest putting surface. He’s still a value play.
15. Patrick Cantlay – Seeking his seventh consecutive top-20 finish, enjoying a win, a runner-up and a third in the span. He’s been better in Florida than I realized, and like his fellow Southern Californian, Schauffele, it’s difficult to identify a weakness. Putting stats are better on Bermuda than poa annua.
14. Bryson DeChambeau – If not for his previous victory, he’d be omitted from these rankings. Since his brilliant performance at Winged Foot last fall, his iron game has been below the field average each week. Still, his power will be an asset this week and he leads the Tour in par-3 scoring.
13. Sungjae Im – Breaking news: The Tour’s iron man took two weeks off! A well-rested Im is a rare sight indeed but his name on leaderboards in Florida is more common. He won the last event held in the Sunshine State, the Honda, and is fifth in the model we built based on recent performance in Florida.
12. Tommy Fleetwood – Making his first U.S. appearance of the year as he builds toward the Masters. Played the three desert events on the European Tour, finishing no worse than 26th, with one top 10. Top-25 on Tour in SG: Around-the-Green and ranks first on our Florida course model.
11. Justin Rose – The No. 35 player in the world has three tournaments on the board in 2021, finishing runner-up in Saudi Arabia in his most recent start. His name dominated our models and his pairing with caddie David Clark (Cameron Tringale, Adam Scott) could provide the stability he’s been missing on the bag. I expect Rose to win a time or two worldwide this year and climb back into the top 20.
10. Tyrrell Hatton – Missed the cut in all three major championships last year but won Bay Hill and has been outstanding in Europe, adding three more victories, including Abu Dhabi in January. He’s vaulted to No. 5 in the world and is motivated to validate the ranking by playing better in the U.S. and against the strongest fields.
9. Webb Simpson – Anytime the Tour plays on pure Bermuda greens, expect Simpson to be a factor. Gains more than a quarter shot per round putting on the surface. Making his fourth start of 2021 and seeking his second top 10. Great week to put his elite short game on display.
8. Patrick Reed – Last time we saw Reed stateside he blitzed the field at Torrey Pines. In between, he stumbled to 66th at the Saudi International. On paper, the wide landing areas and undulating greens at Concession should suit him. He’s fared well in Florida in his career and when he’s near the lead on the weekend is as reliable as anyone on Tour. Plays well at East Lake, Kapalua and Augusta National which should translate to success here.
7. Tony Finau – Hard to ignore a man who has had three consecutive runner-up finishes, preceded by a tie for fourth from the last group on Sunday. The results are remarkable. He could do more in the final round. Much is required to win on the PGA Tour. But when you’ve lost to only six pros in your last four tournaments, it’s easy to believe the track you’re following is the right one.
6. Xander Schauffele – Several years ago, Nick Watney asked Fred Couples how he could become more consistent, from round-to-round and week-to-week on the PGA Tour. Boom-Boom’s reply was simple and classic: improve every part of your game. Schauffele’s strength is no glaring weakness, other than recent sub-standard performance on Sundays. He hasn’t finished outside the top 20 since Labor Day, a nine-tournament span. Also participated in the 2015 NCAA Championship here.
5. Jon Rahm – Despite putting worse than the field average last week at Riviera, Rahm still finished tied for fifth, closing with a 67. Unfortunately, taking too many shots on the greens has been a troublesome trend for the No. 2 player in the world. He’s 47th in the field in SG: Putting over the last 24 rounds.
4. Brooks Koepka – Received treatment for a stiff neck last week, felt better and finished in the middle of the pack in L.A. Driving and short game have been steady and strong. Loves Bermuda greens, gaining .352 strokes per round on the field. The strongest fields elicit his full attention.
3. Dustin Johnson – Never looked in sync last weekend at Riviera yet still recorded yet another top 10. The generous fairways will suit his eye, and having mid-to-long irons into the par 5s should generate ample birdie chances. Has gained at least 3.2 strokes on approach in his last four tournaments. Seeking a seventh WGC trophy.
2. Scottie Scheffler – He tied for 33rd in the 2015 NCAA Championship, sandwiching three rounds of 72 around a 78. His performance on comparable courses and in Florida is strong – top 15 in the field in each category. Putts his best on Bermuda, doesn’t mind a little wind and has top 20s in his last two starts.
1. Daniel Berger – The U.S. needs Berger on the Ryder Cup team. And if he continues to play like he has the last nine months, he’ll be in uniform at Whistling Straits in the fall. Hit sensational shots to clinch victory at Pebble Beach, and throughout the final round two weeks ago as in full command of all 14 clubs. I’m going to assume the South Florida native has played Concession a time or two.