Wells Fargo Championship picks: Will Rory McIlroy turn around his Masters disappointment at Quail Hollow?
Nothing against the Zurich Classic, but the multi-format team event is difficult to handicap and hard to follow. We're looking forward to a stellar field—albeit without Tiger Woods—on one of golf's familiar confines, Quail Hollow Club. Annually a host to the Wells Fargo Championship, in addition to the 2017 PGA Championship and 2021 Presidents Cup, the Charlotte club has a similar feel to Augusta in many ways—the pine straw lining the outer reaches of the fairway and massive, elevated greens with subtle contours. It requires serious game to win at mighty Quail Hollow.
This will be a great warm-up for the upcoming PGA Championship, to see which players are ready to contend at another big ballpark, Bethpage Black. Can Justin Rose, a betting favorite here and at Augusta, get over his Masters missed cut? How about Rory McIlroy, the odds-on favorite who also disappointed at Augusta—he has won at Quail Hollow before, will he do it again this week?
Our experts weigh in. We're happy to add some more gravitas to this panel with a guest picker from the Action Network, a leader in premium handicapping data for sports fan, which is increasing its foothold in golf. The Action Network joins our weekly analysis from a PGA Tour caddie, offering insight from the range and putting green of this week's Wells Fargo Championship, thanks to our partnership with The Caddie Network; two of the most respected fantasy golf experts, Pat Mayo of DraftKings and Brandon Gdula of FanDuel; and Columbia University senior lecturer and Ph.D. Lou Riccio, who uses predictive analysis and modeling to forecast winners in golf. Read on to see who they like this week.
2019 Wells Fargo Championship Picks To Win (Odds from DraftKings Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie Guest Picker of the Week: Rory McIlroy (6-1) — Rory McIlroy is my pick to win. Yep he’s always a favorite here and this year is certainly no different. He’s had one of his best years up to this point of the season, drives it long, hits his irons to the moon and towering approaches will be necessary as we expect a firm and fast test this week. Given his past history at this venue—and current form—he is my pick.
Pat Mayo, DraftKings/Fantasy National analyst: Patrick Reed (40-1) — I need to start picking some closers, all these Top 5s aren’t paying the bills, and I hear Patrick Reed gets a lot of coffee and strictly follows his ABCs at least once a year. On first glance, this doesn’t look like a course that suits Reed whatsoever, but let me ask you, what course does? Does Augusta: Not especially. Doral? God, no. So, why not Quail Hollow? Either Reed shows up and is lights out that week, or he’s pretty mediocre. And, in a very Dustin Johnson-like fashion, he tends to win about once a year. Then I really started glancing hard at the places where Reed’s excelled in the past, so I decided to begin playing around with the filters on FantasyNational.com. I set it to past 50 rounds, courses over 7,400 yards, and scoring difficult relative to par. All of a sudden, Reed jumps from middle of the pack in this field to inside the Top 10 with he Rory’s, Rose’s, and Casey’s of the world. I decided to add “Fast” greens to the mix, and he leaps up inside the Top 5. In true Jason Day fashion, stats are never kind to Reed because of his inconsistent play, but when their swing isn’t a disaster, they find themselves at the top of leaderboards. Maybe another win at Bethpage is in the cards for Reed in two weeks, and that’s where he breaks his winless drought, but the site of his 2017 PGA Championship runner-up seems like it could be that place, too.
Brandon Gdula, FanDuel/numberFire editor: Tony Finau (20-1) — Finau doesn’t win often, and that’s problematic if your tickets aren't an each-way (an outright wager that pays out if the player finishes in a certain position, usually a top-6), but he finished 21st here last year after the 2017 redesign. He ranked 72nd in strokes gained/tee to green but 12th in putting. He always picks up strokes off the tee at Quail Hollow, and his approach play is sturdy entering this weekend. This could finally be the week.
Dr. Lou Riccio, Columbia University: Rickie Fowler (9-1) — The top of this field is loaded, so making a correct pick with one of your studs is crucial. Given his course history and how he rates out, my model gives Fowler the highest likelihood of winning this week. Rickie has the strong history at Quail Hollow, most notably the win in 2012, but two other top-6 finishes, along with a top-25 last year with a fade on Sunday.
Jason Sobel, Action Network senior writer: Rory McIlroy (6-1) Regular readers of my weekly preview column know that while I might list the low man in terms of odds if I like him, I almost always recommend against anyone who’s less than 15-1 or 20-1 to win a tournament. With that in mind, if you’re ever going to bet a guy at 6-1, this might be the week. I’d be surprised if McIlroy isn’t right in the thick of things come Sunday, if not running away with it on the back-nine. Click here to read Action Network's full Wells Fargo Championship coverage.
Golf Digest editors: Rory McIlroy (6-1) — Sure, Rory's going to be disappointed with his Masters showing. But once he stepped onto the property at Quail Hollow, he was reminded of how well this course suits his game. His record at the Wells Fargo is insane: Wins in 2015 and 2010; a T-2 in 2012; a T-4 in 2016; a T-8 in 2014; T-10 in 2013. The odds are deservingly really low, but if you put down a sizable wager on 6-1 odds, you're not going to hate the payday. That's a guarantee.
(Results on the season: We’ve correctly predicted five of the season’s 22 events. Pat Mayo has correctly picked Bryson DeChambeau (12-1, Shriners); Matt Kuchar (60-1 at the OHL Classic) and Phil Mickelson (25-1 at Pebble Beach). Golf Digest editor Christopher Powers correctly picked Kevin Tway (55-1) to start the season at the Safeway Open. Lou Riccio called Rickie Fowler's win (16-1) in Phoenix. And Brandon Gdula has three picks of his who have finished runner-up. We're due for another winner.)
Sleepers/Dark Horses That Could Win at the Wells Fargo Championship (odds from DraftKings Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie: Jason Kokrak (33-1) — He’s familiar with this town having been his home not long ago, so there’s got to be a comfort factor there. This course favors a right-to-left ball flight off the tee and he plays a draw almost exclusively. He’s been playing well lately and his length and shot shape make him my dark horse this week.
Mayo: Luke List (80-1) — Being a Luke List fan is a great challenge for anyone who writes about golf. Every week you need to come up with new angles for why this is going to be the week, and why the those other week just didn’t work out. Beyond a terrible nine-hole stretch in Round 3 at Harbour Town, List would have been directly in the mix at the title come Sunday. Possessing one of the best combinations of distance and short game on tour, List’s largest advantage might actually come on the greens this week. Like Ben An, List can benefit from the staggering amount of missed putts short putts at Quail Hollow. If the entire field is three-jacking from 5-feet, that means List is gaining strokes on the field since he does that at every course.
Gdula: Luke List (80-1) — List can pick up shots on the field with his driver (he’s third in strokes gained/off the tee and fourth in distance over the past 100 rounds, via FantasyNational). He finished ninth here last year, while ranking third in strokes gained: tee to green. It’s the putting that would hold him back, but the price is nice.
Riccio: Keith Mitchell (100-1) — My model gives Luke List and Keith Mitchell the 10th and 11th best odds of winning this week—showing that elite power and iron accuracy is what it takes to play well at Quail Hollow. Luke List had a T-9 finish last year, but I'd side with Mitchell, since he has already gotten over the hurdle of winning on tour. These are great odds—my model says his price should be around 45-1 given his stats, so you're getting a discount because he's not a marquee name. That could change this week.
Sobel, Action Network: Sam Burns (100-1) — Whether you’re looking for a huge potential payout or trying to squeeze some cheaper players into DFS lineups alongside McIlroy, there’s a place for names such as Trey Mullinax or Tom Lovelady, two solid drivers of the golf ball. But my fave dark-horse is Burns, an ultra-talented young player who’s finished 30th or better in each of his last four starts.
Golf Digest editors: Keith Mitchell (100-1) — You need serious length off the tee and solid long-iron play to excel at Quail Hollow. And Keith Mitchell proved he had both those with his Honda Classic victory. If he gets a hot putter again, his game could absolutely translate to another victory.
Players to Fade This Week (who will disappoint)
PGA Tour Caddie: My fade this week is really any of the shorter small ball players in the field. Yes the course is going to give everyone a chance with the conditions but this type of player is still giving up a little too much off the tee. Lower ball flight into these firm greens will make for less birdie opportunities and less margin for error. Think players like Ryan Armour, Ted Potter Jr., etc.
Mayo: Tony Finau (20-1) — I love Tony, but I think he’ll get his breakthrough at a track that won’t require him to get up-and-down so many times. I like his Riviera crossover course narrative and 90 percent of his skills for this course, because they’re ideal. However, the one place where Finau’s losing strokes to the field this season is around the greens. Maybe his ball striking will be so on point scrambling isn’t going to matter for him, but I don’t want to pay a 20/1 price and pray absolutely everything goes exactly to plan for him.
Gdula: Rickie Fowler (9-1) — Fowler’s odds are very short. He has a win here in 2012 and has finished 4th, 5th, and 21st here the past three years. However, he’s actually lost strokes with his approach play at this course since 2014. It’s nothing against Rickie — just the price.
Riccio: Charles Howell III (33-1) — Charles Howell III has had a great season—winning the RSM Classic for his first victory since 2007, and he has been consistent all year. But my model pegs him as the 76th most likely golfer to win this week, which is not so good in a full-field event. The 33-1 odds are way too high, so you should pass and look elsewhere in this area.
Sobel, Action Network: Justin Rose (14-1) — I don’t hate too many of the top players this week, so Rose is getting named here by process of elimination. He’s fresh off a missed cut at the Masters and also MC’d the last time he was here at Quail for the 2017 PGA Championship. In a Tuesday interview session, he explained that he might’ve overprepared too early in the season and “ultimately kind of burned out a little bit too quick.” Expect him to ease his way into this one, knowing he’s got three more majors in the next three months.
Golf Digest editors: Paul Casey (28-1) — The Englishman has had time to regroup after his putrid Masters showing, nearly finishing DFL at Augusta. But you're paying a premium for Casey at this price. We've read how this is a bounce-back week for Casey. That might be true, but we're going to see signs of his game before we back him any time soon.
2019 Wells Fargo Championship: Matchups
PGA Tour Caddie: Lucas Glover (-115) over Patrick Reed (Sportbet) — Reed has been scuffling of late and Glover has quietly been putting together quite a consistent season with 10/13 cuts made and all 10 cuts finishing in the top 17. Reed is still trying to find the magic again (and he will) but this week is a good one to ride Glover.
Mayo: Sung Kang (-110) over Chesson Hadley (Sportsbook) — Maker of his past seven cuts and nine of 10 overall in 2019, Kang rates out far better than you’d think for a long shot. Overall, over the past 36 rounds, he rates out 15th in the field solely on the key stats, with above-average grades in driving distance, short game and approach, especially in proximity from 175-200 yards, where he’s sixth, gaining 9.6 strokes per round against this field. Plus, don’t overlook his yearly consistency at Riviera as a tiebreaker when pitting him against the other longshots. Also, Hadley legit can’t get up and down. That’s going to be problem at Quail Hollow.
Gdula: Hideki Matsuyama (+108) over Rickie Fowler (FanDuel) — Hideki grades out a distant second in strokes gained/tee to green at Quail Hollow since 2014 (Hideki is at 33.7; Rory is at 53.7), via FantasyNational.com. He just doesn’t putt well here. Fowler, meanwhile, has actually lost strokes with his approach play here since 2014 despite great overall form. There’s some value on the line.
Riccio: J.T. Poston (+100) over Rory Sabbatini (Sportbet) — Sabbatini's slightly inflated because of his success last week at the Zurich Classic, finishing T-3. TPC Louisiana is a much different course than Quail Hollow. Sabbatini lacks the length necessary to have an advantage at Quail Hollow. He hasn't broken par in six of his last seven rounds there, though he does own a few top-10s in the past. I favor Poston, a Charlotte native, who charts out in the top-15 in my model this week, whereas Sabbatini is in the bottom 75.
Sobel, Action Network: Luke List (-125) over Zach Johnson (Sportsbook): Even though it hasn’t been the greatest season for List, he still ranks 10th in driving numbers (the most important metric for this event), gaining .655 strokes on the field per round off the tee; Johnson is mired at 146th, losing .183 strokes per round. Over four rounds, on a course where driving is paramount, this means Kokrak is expected to pick up nearly three-and-a-half shots over Johnson with the big stick alone. Then there’s this: In a dozen trips to Quail Hollow for this event, Johnson owns a lone top-10 finish, while List was T-9 just a year ago. This one makes too much sense on a few different levels.
Golf Digest editors: Joel Dahmen (+110) over Zach Johnson (DraftKings) — This is equally a fade on Johnson while also backing the consistency of Dahmen this year. Dahmen has a significant length advantage—and though ZJ hits his irons high enough into these elevated Quail Hollow greens, he'll be hitting a lot of long irons with his lack of length, which will make this a tough week for him.
(Matchup results last week: Gdula: 1 for 1; PGA Tour Caddie: 0 for 1; Mayo: 0 for 1.)
(Matchup results for the year: Riccio: 8 wins, 6 losses; PGA Tour Caddie: 8-8; GD Editors: 9-6-1; Mayo: 7-6-2; Gdula: 7-7-1.)
Top 10 (odds from DraftKings Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie: Gary Woodland (+300) — Common theme this week. Quality long iron players, high ball flight, length. He checks all the boxes and is due to break back out again after a torrid stretch between the CIMB Classic and Waste Management (7 top 10’s). Gary has played somewhat sparingly since, so should be well rested and ready to go this week.
Mayo: Byeong Hun An (+500) — Fresh off destroying many quality DraftKings lineups and burning all of the outright wagers at the RBC Heritage with his first MC in almost 20 starts, the South Korean gets a chance to TOTALLY REDEEM HIMSELF in Charlotte; a spot, as previously mentioned, that has seen its share of terrible putters hoist a novelty check in past seasons. An has the required length off the tee, sitting 21st in the field in Distance gained over the past 36 rounds, along with top-10 grades in all three facets of tee-to-green: off the tee, approach, and around the green (where he’s No. 1).
Gdula: Keith Mitchell (+800) — Mitchell debuted with a 34th here last year while ranking 13th in strokes gained/tee to green and first in strokes gained/off the tee. His win at the Honda Classic and his sixth-place showing at the Arnold Palmer Invitational of late have been on Bermuda greens.
Riccio: Hideki Matsuyama (+200) — Matsuyama rates out well this season in every important stat that should predict success, most notably proximity to the hole. Though he hasn't really threatened to win tournaments, he has sneakily compiled a solid record. All you need is another sneaky top-10 from Matsuyama to cash this ticket.
Sobel, Action Network: Tony Finau (+200) — I like both Byeong Hun An and Jason Kokrak here if you want to chase a bigger price, but the surer bet is Finau, fresh off his first top-10 of the year at the Masters. At some point, it’s all going to click for him. Contending in the final group at Augusta National alongside Tiger Woods and Francesco Molinari might help give him the confidence to finally break through with a bigger win than his lone victory at the 2016 Puerto Rico Open, and this course should fit his game nicely.
Golf Digest editors: Jason Kokrak (+350) — You're getting a slight discount based on his poor course history at Quail Hollow. But Kokrak is a different player than he was in those part appearances. He's playing the best golf of his life, and he has the power to contend at Quail Hollow. He should be able to take advantage of these par 5s—essentially to scoring well at Quail Hollow, so we like this price on one of the hottest players in the world, though he might not be on everyone's radar.
(Top-10 results last week: 0 for 1, everybody
(Top-10 results for the year: Mayo: 7 for 16; Gdula: 4 for 15; GD Editors: 4 for 15; PGA Tour Caddie: 4 for 16; Riccio: 3 for 15)
Mayo: This is a great bounce-back spot for Casey following his flame out at Augusta. He’s once of the few players in the field who consistently gains in all three facets of tee-to-green along with having the required length to take the teeth out of Quail Hollow a little. And, while not a good putter, per FantasyNational.com, sits top 10 in the field in strokes gained/putting on fast greens over the past 50 rounds.
Alvaro Ortiz is real wildcard. If you want to afford Rory this week, or pay up for two stars, you’re going to need someone down in this range to save your salary cap. And, you’re not going to find more pure skill than the highly touted amateur, in his pro debut, fresh off a T-36 at The Masters in his first time at Augusta. Maybe the added pressure of playing for big bucks will get to him, but we’ve witnessed Jon Rahm, Bryson DeChambeau, and Joaquin Niemann instantly start posting top-20s the moment they turned pro, making the good Ortiz a legit gamble.
Paul Casey ($9,500); Patrick Reed ($8,900); Byeong-Hun An ($8,300); Luke List ($8,000); Alvaro Ortiz ($6,200).
Riccio: You can replace with Beau Hossler and Sam Saunders with whomever your favorites in that range is, but I really like my core of Rickie, Matsuyama, Wise and Poston. Rickie and Matsuyama rate out as my No. 1 and 2 players most likely to win this week.
Rickie Fowler ($10,600); Hideki Matsuyama ($10,100); Aaron Wise ($8,100); J.T. Poston ($7,500); Beau Hossler ($6,900); Sam Saunders ($6,600).
Golf Digest Editors: Only a matter of time before Kokrak breaks through, and the off-the-tee prowess of Mitchell and Mullinax (great name for a law firm, by the way) should play well in Charlotte.
Rickie Fowler ($10,600); Charles Howell III ($8,400); Jason Kokrak ($8,700); Keith Mitchell ($7,800); Trey Mullinax ($7,500); Harold Varner III ($7,000).
Gdula: Rory McIlroy ($12,500) is going to be a popular pick but still makes a lot of sense for head-to-heads and double-ups. In tournaments, we can consider looking to the other studs at the top if you have a preference.
There’s a glaring lack of safe value below $9,000, though Wise ($8,500) stands out. The key could be hitting on the correct mid-range plays: Jason Kokrak ($10,000), Sungjae Im ($9,900), Byeong Hun An ($9,800), Keith Mitchell ($9,600), Jhonattan Vegas ($9,500), and Luke List ($9,500).
Riccio: Great value on Wise here, who finished T-2 last year to Jason Day. The others have a great history at Quail Hollow, too, with the exception being Sam Saunders, who pops on par-4 scoring for me.
Justin Rose ($12,100); Rickie Fowler ($11,600); Hideki Matsuyama ($11,000); Luke List ($9,500); Aaron Wise ($8,500); Sam Saunders ($7,300).
GD Editors: The only wild card here is Sepp Straka, who does boast serious length, which should give him an edge at Quail Hollow. The other five players we're confident will have a chance to win on Sunday.
Rory McIlroy ($12,500); Tony Finau ($11,400); Keith Mitchell ($9,600); Luke List ($9,500); Trey Mullinax ($8,900); Sepp Straka ($8,100).
About our experts
Dr. Lou Riccio, a PhD senior lecturer, teaches rational decision making at Columbia's Graduate School of Business and has served on the USGA's handicap research team for three decades. His predictive analysis and modeling helps him make expert picks for our column.
Pat Mayo is known as one of the pre-eminent experts in daily-fantasy sports and golf handicapping specifically. Mayo is a 17-time fantasy sports-writers association finalist, the most of any writer this decade, and Mayo won the 2019 Fantasy Sports Writing Association Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year and Podcast of the Year awards, along with the Fantasy Sports Trade Association Best Video award. Mayo is on the board of governors at www.fantasynational.com. Here’s a link to watch his complete DraftKings preview of the Wells Fargo Championship.
Brandon Gdula, a senior 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.
Jason Sobel is the Action Network's senior golf writer, and one of the most respected writers on tour, having previously covered the PGA Tour for ESPN.com and the Golf Channel. One of the Action Network's experts will join our weekly column every week. Click here to read Action Network's full Wells Fargo Championship coverage.