Fortinet Championship 2021 picks: Why our experts are betting on a Kevin Na win in wine country
Remove Jon Rahm from the equation, and there is exactly one other player in the top 20 of the Official World Golf Ranking in the 2021 Fortinet Championship field. It makes sense, then, that Rahm, the clear-cut No. 1 player in the world in name and game right now, is a massive favorite to win.
Massive is actually putting it lightly, though. Rahm is a historic favorite at +350 at MyBookie, the shortest pre-tournament odds for a player in a full-field PGA Tour event since gambling was legalized in 2018. As our Rick Gehman explains below, it’s a prime, Tiger Woods-like number, one not many gamblers are prepared to bet, unless it’s actually prime Tiger Woods.
The next name on the odds board is Webb Simpson at 14-1, followed by Kevin Na at 22-1 (MyBookie), fresh off a Ryder Cup snub. That extra motivation, plus the fact he’s scorching hot, have two of our experts (including our anonymous caddie picker) in Na’s corner in Napa.
Read on to see who else we like this week at the 2021 Fortinet Championship.
Fortinet Championship 2021 picks: Our Experts’ Outright Predictions
Anonymous Caddie Picker of the week: Kevin Na (22-1, MyBookie) — This is one of the hottest golfers on tour—coming off six straight top 25s, including two seconds and a third at the Tour Championship. Plus, I like that he might be a little peeved that he was left off Ryder Cup.
Pat Mayo, DraftKings/Fantasy National, Mayo Media Network analyst: Doug Ghim (70-1, DraftKings) — Look, we all think Rahm is going to win, but out of principle I can’t lay odds that short on anyone not named Tiger Woods in the early 2000s. So, I’m scouring the bottom of the board and praying for some luck. The Ghim Reaper has taken a massive leap off the tee the past few months (second in the field over the past 12 rounds), and the putting has been far less horrible than usual. Recapture those early-year irons, and he’s got a shot.
Brandon Gdula, FanDuel/numberFire managing editor: Cameron Tringale (33-1, FanDuel) — Tringale has really good putting splits on Poa and bentgrass greens and also profiles as a plus birdie-maker, which is needed at Silverado to meet the historical winning score (around 17 or 18 under). Tringale’s current form puts him a cut above the large third tier of the field.
Rick Gehman, data scientist and RickRunGood.com founder: Kevin Na (22-1, MyBookie) — I’m not generally a fan of betting Na, but I’m happy to make an exception this week. The North Course at Silverado is short by tour standards and rewards the correct angles and playing from the fairway. That’s the blueprint for Na, who ranked 35th on tour in driving accuracy last year and can dial in his wedges and putter. He’s earned four top-eight finishes in his past six starts, and there’s no sign of slowing him down now.
Stephen Hennessey, Golf Digest dep. managing editor: Emiliano Grillo (60-1, FanDuel) — Grillo had a few chances to win last season but didn’t get it done. His ball-striking is elite—he’s second in this field in SG/approach over the past 24 rounds, per Fantasy National, and 14th in SG/off the tee more recently, in a 12-round sample size. He’s comfortable with these tighter driving corridors at Silverado, and obviously earned his only tour win here (in the first start of his rookie season!). It’s a nice number for someone with his course history in this weak field.
Christopher Powers, Golf Digest assistant editor: Marc Leishman (50-1, BetMGM) — The theme for my betting card this week is guys who need to turn the page on last season. While Leishman did win the team event with Cam Smith, there wasn’t much else to write home about in the 2020-’21 Super Season for the Big Aussie. Time to turn the page and get back to his winning ways. Against a weak field, at this number, this is a great spot for Leishman to do just that. Are you really going to bet Harold Varner III or Cameron Tringale at shorter odds with their combined zero wins? I’ll take the upside of the six-time tour winner instead. His ceiling is higher than all but two or three players on this odds board.
Lee Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Hideki Matsuyama (22-1, DraftKings) — Matsuyama comes into this event ranked third in the field for SG/total over the past two years and has a pair of top-five finishes in his past six events. He also loves Silverado, where he ranks ninth in the field for SG/total on the North Course.
Past results: Golf Digest's betting panel had another strong season in 2020-’21, correctly predicting 14 winners in the last 28 events of the year. Unfortunately, the gambling gods don’t care about last season. As Bill Belichick says, “We’re on to 2021-’22,” and our goal is to continue steering you in the right direction when it comes to betting on the PGA Tour each and every week. Good luck to all and let's cash some tickets.
Listen to Golf Digest's weekly betting podcast, "Be Right," (below) where we interview the industry's leading experts (and sometimes tour pros) to help you make your bets and pick your fantasy lineups. And be sure to subscribe to "Be Right" wherever you get your podcasts!
Fortinet Championship 2021 picks: Sleepers/Dark Horses Who Could Win
Caddie: Cameron Champ (45-1, DraftKings) — For some reason, the oddsmakers aren’t discouraging us from betting this guy. He won less than two months ago at the 3M Open and dominated here two years ago. Plus, he’s from the area. It’s easy to make a case for Champ.
Mayo: Taylor Pendrith (90-1, DraftKings) — If anyone is going to follow the Champ strategy, it’s Pendrith. The Canadian absolutely gauges the field off the tee and has been surprisingly consistent on the greens in his Korn Ferry Tour career. The irons are usually not good, but he is better with his wedges overall and Silverado has one of the highest percentages of any approach shots from 100-125 yards.
Gdula: Emiliano Grillo (60-1, FanDuel) — He’s won here once before, and while there’s a lot more to it than that, it helps because Grillo isn’t exactly the most trustworthy golfer with how bad his putter is. He ranks second in the field in birdie-or-better rate gained over the past 50 rounds, via FantasyNational, and that’ll move the needle if he hits his field-best irons as well as he can.
Gehman: Hudson Swafford (130-1, DraftKings) — Swafford ended his 2020 season as a great ball-striker, gaining a total of 13.73 strokes on approach in his final three events, per the RickRunGood.com golf database. That contributed to his three straight top-40 finishes, including back-to-back top 20s to end his season. He will need to putt slightly better than average this week to actually win, but he can make plenty of noise at this event.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Hank Lebioda (175-1, Bet365) — People (not me) were just betting Hank at numbers like 35- and 40-1 just a few months ago … in stronger fields, too. As our podcast guest Iain MacMillan pointed out on this week’s “Be Right” podcast, Lebioda’s wedge play in the key yardage ranges are stellar, and he’s consistent off the tee. These are simply outrageous odds for someone who was playing really well this summer.
Powers, Golf Digest: Ryan Moore (100-1, DraftKings) — Much like Leishman, Moore is a guy who needs to turn the page on last season and return to his peak, 2016 form. You may recall, he (almost) stared down Rory McIlroy at East Lake that season and then was a member of the victorious U.S. Ryder Cup team at Hazeltine. At the John Deere Classic in July, he flashed a bit of his former self, finishing runner-up. I expect to see more of that in 2021-’22. Napa, where he owns a runner-up and a pair of top-17 finishes, is as good a place as any to kickstart his comeback season. By the way, all five of his PGA Tour victories have come between the months of August and November.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Doug Ghim (70-1, DraftKings) — Ghim comes into this event ranked top 30 for SG/total over the past two months, SG/total over the past two years and SG/total at Silverado. Add to that the fact that he ranks seventh for Opportunities Gained over the past two months, per Fantasy National, and Ghim looks very good on paper.
Fortinet Championship 2021 picks: Players to Fade This Week (who will disappoint)
Caddie: Hideki Matsuyama (22-1, DraftKings) — He hasn’t done much since a second in Memphis. A hard summer of travel may have taken a lot out of him. I also don’t like the narrow fairways with trees everywhere for his tendency to spray the ball off the tee.
Mayo: Webb Simpson (14-1, DraftKings) — These odds are too short for a player in middling form. If he’d been hitting fairways at a high rate, that would be one thing, but the driver has been holding him back. Not great at a course that demands either a lot of distance or a lot of accuracy.
Gdula: Will Zalatoris (21-1, FanDuel) — A lot of strong golfers are listed around Zalatoris’ odds, and while this is a scary fade because he can easily lead the field in SG/tee-to-green, he has yet to show enough putting upside to convert his close calls. He’s also put forth poor bentgrass putting splits.
Gehman: Jon Rahm (+350, DraftKings) — As good as Rahm is right now, there’s no way you can actually bet him at this number. This is a full-field event with a cut and the sportsbooks are implying that he’s going to win this 25 percent of the time. Let’s compare that to prime Tiger Woods who won 82 of his 280 events worldwide from 1999 to 2013. That’s a staggering 29.2-percent win rate. Bookmakers are asking us to pay full “Tiger Prime” prices on Rahm right now, which is a tough pill to swallow.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Jon Rahm (+350, DraftKings) — This take could haunt me. But I’m betting the World No. 1 to miss the cut here (+800). I think there’s a chance he sees this as a chance to enjoy Napa with his wife ahead of the Ryder Cup. Yes, the most likely scenario this week is him winning … but who is betting Rahm at this number in a full-field event? If it was this field at Torrey Pines, sure, but look at the most recent winners here, per Steve Bamford’s Golf Betting System: Stewart Cink (200-1); Cameron Champ (150-1); and Kevin Tway (66-1). I’m banking on more of a longshot than +350.
Powers, Golf Digest: Jon Rahm (+350, DraftKings) — What Rick said.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Will Zalatoris (21-1, FanDuel) — Zalatoris’ poor putting on bentgrass greens has me staying away from the full-time PGA Tour member this week.
Fortinet Championship 2021 picks: Matchups
Caddie: Maverick McNealy (-110) over Si Woo Kim (DraftKings) — Mav must be licking his lips a bit here. He’s from the Bay Area and coming off a great season. He’s made eight cuts in a row, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him contend here for his first win.
Mayo: Mito Pereira (+100) over Chez Reavie (DraftKings) — Chez has some solid history at this course, but, as we know, the guy can’t putt. Maybe he’ll get it rolling at a familiar track; I’ll side with the ball-striking of Mito.
Gdula: Doug Ghim (-102) over Brendon Todd (FanDuel) — Ghim is a volatile golfer because of his putter, but he’s got a huge tee-to-green edge over Todd over a large sample, so I’m siding with Ghim in this one at near-even odds.
Gehman: Charley Hoffman (-110) over Harold Varner III (Caesar's Sportsbook) — Hoffman had an outstanding 2021 season, where he was 16th on tour in SG/approach and 24th in SG/tee-to-green. He ended his season by piling up 10 top-25 finishes in his past 17 events. That high floor is very valuable when betting matchups, so I’ll take Hoffman over the more volatile Varner.
Hennessey: Kevin Na (+235) over Jon Rahm (DraftKings) — It’s not often you get better than 2-to-1 on your money on the third favorite in the field against the favorite. You read above why I’m fading Rahm, and I’ve bet Na … so this is an easy one. He shouldn’t be this long of an underdog.
Powers: Adam Hadwin (-120) over Charles Howell III (DraftKings) — Dangerous game to bet against the human ATM machine in CH3, but Hadwin has been playing very well of late and usually feasts on the West Coast. Chucky Three sticks will get his top-30 finish, but I like Hadwin’s top-10 potential much more here.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Kevin Na (-111) over Will Zalatoris (Betway) — As you can see above, I’m not a big fan of Zalatoris this week. Na on the other hand should go very well here. He ranks second on the field for SG/total over the past two months, second for SG/putting on bentgrass greens over the past two years and first for SG/total at Silverado.
Final Matchup Results from last season (Wins-Losses-Pushes): Alldrick: 28-15-1 (up 7.53 units); Hennessey: 25-17-3 (up 5.85 units); Powers: 23-20-4 (up 0.93 units); Gdula: 22-23-2 (down 2.12 units); Gehman: 21-24-2 (down 3.98 units); Mayo: 18-25-3 (down 7.83 units); Caddie: 16-26-5 (down 8.79 units).
Fortinet Championship 2021 picks: Top 10
Caddie: Chad Ramey (+900, FanDuel) — Here’s a name only really hardcore golf fans know. Ramey had zero missed cuts on the Korn Ferry Tour last year in 21 starts. And in 16 of those starts, he produced top 25s. A top-10 might be reaching in his debut, but snatch up those top-30 and top-40 bets.
Mayo: Hudson Swafford (11-1, DraftKings) — Swafford has been crushing it on his approaches the past three events (two of which against stacked fields in the playoffs) and HAD been driving the ball at an elite level before the BMW Championship. Still, if you want to find someone in the mold of two-time winner Brendan Steele, it’s the Swafficer.
Gdula: Chad Ramey (+900, FanDuel) — Why not a top 10 for Ramey? He finished 13th on the Korn Ferry Tour in ball-striking—and when adjusted for field strength and recency—a top-20 golfer in the field in my database over the past year. The odds are good here.
Gehman: David Lipsky (16-1, DraftKings) — Lipsky will be making his first start with full PGA Tour status this week, but he’s no stranger to the big tour. This will be his 19th PGA Tour start, and he has made the cut in 15 of his previous 18 starts. In those events, he has four top-25 finishes and two top-10s, highlighted by his T-8 at the Palmetto Championship in June.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Aaron Rai (+950, FanDuel) — Rai’s a name all European Tour fans are familiar with, but apparently oddsmakers for the PGA Tour are not. A top-100 player in the world in this field shouldn’t be nearly 10-1 to finish in the top 10.
Powers, Golf Digest: Patrick Rodgers (12-1, FanDuel) — Anyone who knows me knows of my Rodgers obsession, but I’m not the only one touting him this week. A few folks I respect are high on the former Stanford standout’s chances, too, and while I’ll definitely bet him to win I’ll go the conservative route here and take him to top 10. If he combines his elite driving with a hot putting week, there’s no reason he can’t contend in this field.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Pat Perez (+750, FanDuel) — Perez’s excellent approach game on these easy, short setups along with his excellent putting on bentgrass greens means he ranks 13th in the FanShareSports’ course-suitability ranking this week. His recent form has also been promising, ranking 18th in the field for SG/total over the past two months.
Final Top-10 results from last season: Gehman: 10 for 44 (up 11.85 units); Hennessey: 8 for 42 (down 0.72 units); Powers: 8 for 44 (down 5.37 units); Gdula: 4 for 43 (down 15 units); Tour caddie: 7 for 43 (down 18.98 units); Mayo: 4 for 43 (down 20.2 units); Alldrick: 3 for 42 (down 27.5 units).
Fortinet Championship 2021 picks: One and Done
Gehman: Kevin Na — Let’s not overthink this one! Na is rolling right now and has legitimate winning upside. Outside of the Shriners Hospitals Open in a few weeks, there’s really no event where he is worth saving. This might be one of the better course fits for him on tour, and he’s likely to carry over great momentum into this week.
Hennessey: Emiliano Grillo — Not even counting his win in 2015, Grillo has the seventh-best SG/total numbers in this field in the past five years at Napa, per Fantasy National. I’ll ride with my pick to win here.
Powers: Brendan Steele — You’re not saving Brendan Steele for another tournament, are you? The only place to take him is here, the Brendan Steele Open Fortinet Championship.
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By The Numbers (courtesy of Rick Gehman of RickRunGood.com):
-17 — The average winning score at this event in the last five years. Stewart Cink’s 21-under par victory last year is the record for this event.
2.01 — The average number of strokes gained per round by Harry Higgs at this event, the most of any golfer in this field. Higgs has played twice, finishing runner-up and T-23.
751 — The number of days since Jon Rahm last lost strokes off-the-tee. That was the 2019 Tour Championship, creating a streak of 33 consecutive measured events.
30.3 — The average finish for Harold Varner III in six trips to Napa, the best mark of any golfer with at least three starts.
About our experts
Pat Mayo is an award-winning video host and producer of long and short-form content, owner of the Mayo Media Network and host of The Pat Mayo Experience. (Subscribe for video or audio. Mayo (@ThePME) won the 2020 Fantasy Sports Writing Association Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year and Golf Writer of the Year awards, along with the Fantasy Sports Trade Association Best Sports Betting Analyst award, and was finalist for four FSWA Awards in 2020 (Best Podcast, Best Video, Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year, Golf Writer of the Year). His 21 FSWA nominations lead all writers this decade and are third-most all-time. Mayo is on the board of governors at www.fantasynational.com.
Brandon Gdula, managing editor and analyst for NumberFire, a FanDuel daily-fantasy analysis company, recently won the 2018 fantasy sports-writers association Golf Writer of the Year *(congrats, Brandon!)*. Gdula also co-hosts the DFS Heat Check podcast.
Rick Gehman is the founder of RickRunGood.com and the RickRunGood YouTube Channel, is one of the industry’s leading experts on golf DFS and gambling. Gehman is co-host of the First Cut Podcast and appears regularly on the Pat Mayo Experience golf podcasts. Follow him on Twitter: @RickRunGood.
Lee Alldrick of FanShare Sports started out writing an article highlighting the best bargain plays for fantasy golf under his twitter handle @DKGolfBargains. His success at this prompted FanShare Sports to enlist him as a guest writer, which evolved into him writing the weekly Under The Radar article. As a U.K.-based expert, Alldrick’s insight into European Tour regulars and low priced, low owned plays has provided an invaluable edge for readers when it comes to DFS GPPs.