This week the PGA Tour stops is Charlotte, North Carolina for the Wells Fargo Championship. In the last five years we have seen a mixed bag of winners at this event, with Rory McIlroy winning it for the second time in 2015, two years after Derek Ernst won in 2013 in a play-off against England’s, David Lynn.
Since his win here in 2013, Ernst has actually missed more cuts (46) than he has made (32) and also has just three top-20 finishes in that spell too. Other recent winners include J.B Holmes (2014) who has elevated his game somewhat since that win, Rickie Fowler (2012) who won his first of three PGA Tour titles here and Lucas Glover (2011) who picked up his first win since his 2009 U.S Open win, and like Ernst has failed to follow it up.
In thirteen renewals of this event, six of them have resulted in a play-off and a further two being won by just one stroke, so it’s fair to say generally this tends to be a tight affair come Sunday. McIlroy however romped to victory last year, bettering both Patrick Rodgers and Webb Simpson by 7 strokes, two better than the previous record (5 strokes) held by Anthony Kim back in 2008 and three better than the margin he won by when he won here for the first time in 2010.
Back to this week and after multiple delays due to extreme weather at the Zurich Classic last week, the event had to finish on Monday officially being reduced to a 54-hole event. This wouldn’t have been the ideal preparation for this week although a certain, Brian Stuard will be happy after claiming his first PGA Tour victory.
A lot is made of “The Green Mile” as holes 16-18 is commonly known at Quail Hollow and although it is imperative you do not lose the tournament here, it’s very rarely the place to win it either. Of the 12 winners of this event, only two have negotiated the last three holes under par on the week, with both Joey Sindelar (2004) and Derek Ernst (2014) going -2 on the toughest holes.
Even when finishing -21 last year, McIlroy was still +1 at the closing holes so you need to take advantage of the scoring holes and look at the last three as somewhat “damage limitation” in order to get the job done here.
Due to the length of the course (7,575 yards) distance off the tee is an obvious advantage and on some of the longer par 4’s will cause an issue for the shorter hitters in the field this week. The par 5’s although also long can be played as three-shotters, but the par-4’s that need to be met in two may well cause a problem for those who can’t send their ball 300+ yards with their driver.
Of the 12 different winners here, six of them have also won major championships so you do get high quality winners here a lot of the time. Rising stars such as Anthony Kim (now missing off the face of the earth), Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy all got their very first PGA Tour wins here so it would not be a surprise to see a talented maiden winner this week.
Par 4 performance
The players who cannot hit it 300+ yards off the tee are going to need a perfect short-game with both a wedge and a putter in their hands whereas the longer hitters will immediately have less pressure on them so it will be interesting who will feature atop the leaderboard this week. Jim Furyk is the only winner to finish the season outside the top 72 in Driving Distance the year he won, highlighting the importance of Driving Distance.
I am not going to put my eggs all in one basket but if you are going to oppose the big hitters, you will need to find someone ready to have their best week on and around the greens all season long. These are tough greens to putt on, which balances it out for the players who have been struggling in that department so if you are ever going to side with a player battling with his putting, this may be the week.
With all this in mind here are my picks for the 2016 Wells Fargo Championship.
Daniel Berger 45/1 (PaddyPower) 1pt e/w: Daniel Berger has been in great form of late, with four top-20’s in his last five starts, including a T10 finish on his Masters debut and a 20th place finish last week at the Zurich Classic.
Berger, who was named PGA Tour Rookie of the Year last season finished 11th in the FedEx Cup standings in 2015 thanks to six top-10’s, which included two runner-up finishes. He really does look primed to win an event any time now and with his last three events reading T20-T10-T5 maybe he can ride the form train and get it done here.
Twelve months ago, Berger finished T28 here on debut and I can only see him bettering that this week. Not only has he now played four rounds at the course and therefore have extra knowledge heading into the week but he is also a great statistical fit.
He ranks 25th in Driving Distance and 21st in Par 4 scoring average so hopefully he should take the opportunity to rip it off the tee as he does so well and convert plenty of birdie opportunities. His short game could do with some work, ranking a lowly 81st in Strokes Gained – Putting and 115th in Scrambling and this has no doubt held him back for part of the season but in recent weeks his putting especially has improved.
At the Shell Houston Open he ranked 12th in Putting Average and he once again putted well last week, ranking T13 and as a result his finishes are improving.
Berger to me looks great value this week at 45/1 and that is why he is my top bet.
Patrick Rodgers 100/1 ( StanJames 6 places) 0.5 pt e/w: Rodgers, like Berger is an exceptional young talent who in glimpses last season and the start of this one looked destined to secure his first PGA Tour victory. It was here 12 months ago that Rodgers posted his best finish on TOUR finishing 2nd behind McIlroy and clearly he has not been able to better that yet.
Rodgers started this season with four straight top-20’s, two of which were also top-10’s and he’s posted another two top-20’s since.
He did lose his way during February and the start of March missing three straight cuts, but in his last five starts he’s gone 3-2 with a T20, T21 and T31 when he’s made the weekend.
As aforementioned he finished 2nd here last year and I see no reason why he cannot put in a similar effort this time around, now he seems to be settling down again.
Statistically, this event is absolutely perfect for him. He ranks 23rd in Driving Distance and 21st in Par 4 Scoring Average, whereas the weakest part of his game (181st in Strokes Gained – Putting) isn’t a big deal here as previously mentioned.
His tee-to-green game is as good as most on Tour this season and if he can put in an above average effort on the greens this week, he should no doubt be in for a good tournament once again.
At 100/1 I am willing to chance that he has found his early season form again and is ready to compete on the courses that suit his game – which Quail Hollow clearly does.
Draft Kings selections:
I have been separate posts about betting and fantasy in the past but I am now going to combine them. I will be rostering both Berger ($8,400) and Rodgers ($7,700) in most line-ups this week, but there are others I like in each bracket.
Elite Picks ($10,000+):
Rory McIlroy ($12,800) – This week is about as keen as I will get on McIlroy’s chances all year and will be one of the rare times I am willing to build my line-up around him and thus have to take a few from the bottom in order to put together a team.
In five starts at this event, Rory has won twice (2010 on debut and 2015) has 3 other top-10’s one of which was a play-off loss to Rickie Fowler in 2012 and only one missed cut back in 2011.
You have to respect his chances because he is arguably the best player in the World, is playing a course he loves and wins at and also doesn’t need to be on his A-game around the greens – the perfect scenario for him.
If he is going to win State-side this year, this is where he is most likely to in my opinion and as a result I cannot leave him out completely.
High-end Picks ($8,000-$9,900):
Phil Mickelson ($9,500) – If Phil Mickelson is going to win again on the PGA Tour he needs to do take advantage of just how well he is playing this season. His scoring average is superb (69.713) and currently sits 2nd on TOUR in that department behind only Adam Scott who has already won twice this season.
His record here is insane despite never winning the event. In 12 starts here he is 12/12 in made cuts has 6 top-5’s and a further two top-10’s.
Distance is not a problem even in his twilight years and he will relish the chance to let rip off the tee knowing how forgiving the course is.
He could definitely win this week, but a top-5 will be enough to warrant his value and I am confident he can achieve that at least.
Daniel Berger ($8,400) – See all the above, I absolutely love his chances and I will be betting him and picking him in fantasy, he is overdue his first win and I am convinced he can grab it here this week.
Mid-Range Picks ($6,800-$7,900):
Kevin Chappell & Jamie Lovermark ($7,900) – Right at the top-end of this bracket and so they should be. I have coupled them together not only because they share the same salary but because they are also having similar seasons.
In his last four starts, Chappell has finished 4-9-mc-2, so barring the missed cut he is in spectacular form and that elusive first win could come here this week. At the very least he can definitely find himself in the top-10 for the 5th time this season and therefore he represents good value for his modest salary.
Lovemark is the same. He lost in a play-off last week in New Orleans and he can react one of two ways. It could have really demoralised him and he will struggle to pick himself, or he will go again this week knowing he’s playing the best golf of his career and could go on to get that first win.
That 2nd place finish last week was his fifth top-10 of the season and hopefully he can make that six this week.
Patrick Rodgers ($7,700) – Again see all the above in the betting write-up, like Berger I love him as a betting prospect and a fantasy option and will have him onside plenty this week.
Kevin Streelman ($7,500) – In his last three starts on this course he has gone 9-14-6 after missing his first three cuts here plus he has also come into some recent form.
After showing positive signs earlier in the year, Streelman missed three straight cuts in March, however a T34 finish at the Masters and T37 at the Texas Open is enough for me to give him a chance here at a course he seems to like. I do not like him as much as the previous three in this bracket, but I will own him in some line-ups.
Harold Varner III ($6,900) – At the lower end of the bracket we have East Carolina graduate, Harold Varner III. Coming off the back of two top-9 finishes, Varner who hits a long way will surely like his chances in his collegiate state and if he can keep his current form going should have a chance to threaten the top of the leaderboard.
He did miss the cut here two years ago but he is a different player altogether now and I will not let that put me off owning in. I did look at betting him but after seeing his odds cut from the 200/1 that I liked to 150/1 before finishing this preview, I decided against it.
Low-value/Good up-side ($6,700 and below) –
Lucas Glover ($6,300) – Glover is my favourite low-end pick this week and I really do think he’s great value. A previous winner of this event, Glover comes into the week off the back of some steady form. He has made his last four straight cuts, after missing three and also showed some decent form earlier this season.
He has four top-20’s on the season and just five missed cuts in 15 events, which is good going for him considering how inconsistent he has been in recent years.
Since his win in 2011, he has gone mc-27-mc-28, so as long as he makes the weekend we should be looking at a top-30 finish, which is enough given the little salary cap he takes up. With some decent current form behind him he may well produce better than that and given he had two top-5 finishes before that win five years ago there is a possibility we could see him featuring come Sunday.
Sean O’Hair ($6,100) – Another cheap former winner is the 2009 champion, Sean O’Hair. He has had an up and down season and has been inconsistent of late admittedly due to injury however I do think he is worth chancing at such a bargain price.
O’Hair came 20th last year and if he can replicate that again, you will feel good about having him in your line-up at scrub value.
Honourable mentions go to Rickie Fowler ($10,900) who I like but can’t quite pull the trigger on at the price, Luke Donald ($7,300) who I think is making great strides in returning to the top of his game but I just don’t think this course suits. Given his lack of length Donald would have to put together his best short-game week of the season, which is a big ask in itself on top of the fact that in three starts here he has missed the cut twice and withdrawn once. Lastly right at the bottom is Ricky Barnes ($5,800) who has been playing well in flashes all season and also has three top-30 finishes in five starts here, he also has a 4th and a 9th in last three starts on TOUR.
That is it for me this week, best of luck with your bets and fantasy line-ups!