Wells Fargo Championship 2021 expert picks: Is it finally time to back Rory McIlroy?

By Powers and Hennessey  

Rory McIlroy. Photo by Golffile

Another week, another strong field, another unbelievably difficult golf course. The PGA Tour, which stops at Quail Hollow this week for the Wells Fargo Championship, remains a can’t-miss affair right now, and we’ve already got another major in the near future. There is no quit in this Super Season.

Last week, though, one of the elites didn’t get it done, though Sam Burns sure seems like an elite player in the making. He’ll get a much-needed—and deserved—break this week, opting to pass on Quail and potentially making way for another breakthrough winner, like, say, Tony Finau, who is at 28-1 to win this week on the William Hill Sportsbook. Or, perhaps Will Zalatoris at that same 28-1 number might have your attention. Maybe you are even ready to back Abraham Ancer, our guest on this week’s “Be Right” podcast, to notch his first career victory. He’s at 35-1, another attractive option in the just-past-the-favourites range that many golf bettors love to hammer.

Of course, bypassing the top of the board at a major championship venue like Quail Hollow could certainly prove costly. Justin Thomas, who won the PGA Championship here in 2017 and continues to put on a tee-to-green masterclass week in, week out, is a co-favourite along with Jon Rahm at 11-1. Bryson DeChambeau, making his first start since another disappointing Masters appearance, is next at 14-1. Then, it’s the impossible-to-ignore Rory McIlroy, whose struggles are well-documented but his history at Quail Hollow unmatched. Quail Hollow could prove to be his magic potion to escape that slump.

Read on to see who we like this week at the 2021 Wells Fargo Championship.

Wells Fargo Championship 2021 expert picks: Our Experts’ Outright Predictions (Odds from William Hill)

Anonymous Caddie Picker of the week: Viktor Hovland (20-1) — Quail Hollow will play even longer than usual this year with the early week rains we got. Hovland hits the ball plenty far and ranks seventh in strokes gained/tee to green. He’s coming off a T-3 at the Valspar and a hot Sunday, plus a T-21 at the Masters. This feels like a perfect place for his game to thrive.

Pat Mayo, DraftKings/Fantasy National, Mayo Media Network analyst: Joaquin Niemann (30-1) — I would’ve liked a better number, but you’re getting an elite off-the-tee player with positive approach numbers in all but one measured event since October. The results keep stacking up, and it’s time to pay that off with a victory.

Brandon Gdula, FanDuel/numberFire managing editor: Bryson DeChambeau (14-1) — Quail Hollow’s key stats boil down to driving distance and gaining strokes off the tee and putting well, which is the DeChambeau special. Irons matter a little less here than usual, which is good news for Bryson even though he’s been striping it lately. He figured out Quail Hollow when finishing fourth here in 2018.

Rick Gehman, data scientist and founder: Jon Rahm (11-1) — Quail Hollow will reward golfers who are excellent off the tee, and few golfers can compete with the driver of Jon Rahm. Per the golf database, he has gained strokes off the tee in 26 consecutive measured events, dating back nearly two years. That weapon has helped him earn 17 top-10 finishes and two wins during that stretch, and there’s little signs of it stopping anytime soon.

Stephen Hennessey, Golf Digest dep. managing editor: Viktor Hovland (20-1) — Hovland jumps off the page in terms of players who should do well at Quail Hollow. It’s a traditional venue that rewards great driving and iron play, which is Hovland’s game. He’s one of the most consistent drivers in the world, and he should love this ballpark. The number isn’t great, but I’m pulling the trigger on this proven winner.

Christopher Powers, Golf Digest assistant editor: Tony Finau (28-1) — Always tough to resist a Finau number north of 25-1, especially when he’s started to pop a bit again. After two uncharacteristic MC Hammers at Valero and Players, Finau tied for 10th at Augusta and got into contention at Zurich alongside Cam Champ before fading in the alternate shot format on Sunday. The actual experts in this column are telling me driving distance, SG/off-the-tee and SG/tee-to-green are key at Quail Hollow, and the past champions list here certainly backs up that theory. We know Finau does all those things well, and if he combines that with a hot putter you’ve got to love his chances this week, and just about any other week, for that matter.

Lee Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Justin Thomas (11-1) — Thomas comes into this event ranked first in both strokes gained/tee to green over the past two months and Opportunities Gained. His excellent ball-striking means he also ranks third in the FanShareSports course-suitability ranking, too. Sure, he won the 2017 PGA here, but more so to me, this pick is about his hot form at a fair price.

Results from last season: Golf Digest's betting panel is RED-HOT. Our experts have now predicted five of the past 12 winners—after going up 225.30 units last season. As we’ve said, our crew gets hot and tends to stay hot, so don’t miss out on our picks! Our Stephen Hennessey predicted Jordan Spieth (11-1) at the Valero Texas Open. At The Players, Christopher Powers called Justin Thomas’ victory (18-1) as did Rick Gehman. That’s each of their second accurate predictions of 2021, with Powers hitting Koepka (50-1) and Gehman calling Daniel Berger at Pebble Beach (14-1). Pat Mayo nailed Collin Morikawa at the WGC-Workday three events ago at 33-1 in addition to Koepka at the WMPO. And Brandon Gdula also called Berger’s win at Pebble Beach. We’ll stop there! Be sure to check this column every week for picks from the hottest betting panel in golf!

Wells Fargo Championship 2021 expert picks: Sleepers/Dark Horses Who Could Win (Odds from William Hill)

Caddie: Talor Gooch (100-1) — This tournament has produced four maiden winners in its past 10 occurrences. Talor has knocked on the door a number of times the past couple of years, and this could just be the time he punches through.

Mayo: Joel Dahmen (70-1) — Dahmen and Max Homa were tied heading into the final round at Quail Hollow in 2019—and a 1-under 70 was enough for a T-2 finish for Dahmen, but not that elusive trophy. Of course, Dahmen now has his PGA Tour title, having won in Puntacana. Now he’ll tee it up at a course that suits him with his game at its best. There’s a lot of upside with this bet.

Gdula: Bubba Watson (55-1) — Watson lacks experience at this course (one missed cut in 2013), but it’s been kind to fellow lefty Phil Mickelson (five top-12s in seven starts). He has the distance to figure it out, though.

Gehman: Keegan Bradley (50-1) — Many will look at Bradley’s runner-up finish last week as a disappointment, but I’m encouraged by it. He gained over 12 strokes from tee to green at the Valspar and was a small positive putter. That’s the exact foundation that Bradley needs to build to contend on a weekly basis. The Valspar wasn’t an outlier either—Bradley has gained strokes putting in four of his past five starts, something he has rarely done in his career. You can find a better number elsewhere.

Hennessey, Golf Digest: Cameron Davis (100-1) — Like you’ll read all week, the key to success at Quail Hollow is elite driving and ball-striking. Davis has been inconsistent of late, but the off-the-tee game hasn’t left him. And he’s had a few really bad around-the-green weeks, which have brought down those results. Quail Hollow should reward what he does best.

Powers, Golf Digest: Matt Wallace (66-1) — I searched far and wide for the quote, but it turns out it was just a tweet, and a simple one at that - “I love the PGA Championship.” - Matt Wallace, before TPC Harding Park last August. Of course, he went on to finish 77th that week, but prior to that he finished third at the 2019 PGA at Bethpage and 19th in the 2018 PGA at Bellerive. Those two courses, just like Quail Hollow, are very long and very hard (so, very PGA-like), which seems to be the Englishman’s specialty. Other difficult venues he’s had success at include Muirfield Village (T-4 last July in the Memorial, AKA the week it played harder) and Bay Hill (three top 25s in three appearances).

Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Matt Wallace (66-1) — Wallace ranks 10th in FanShare’s course-suitability ranking this week, due to the fact he plays great on long, difficult courses. He hasn’t played competitively at Quail Hollow, but his game matches the venue. And his game is in fantastic form, ranking third in the field in SG/tee to green over the past two months.

Wells Fargo Championship 2021 expert picks: Players to Fade This Week (who will disappoint)

Caddie: Max Homa (30-1) — Homa has been a trendy pick lately, and people will back him here after a nice week at Valspar and him winning here in 2019. But don’t understand the extra duties as a defending champion. My guy’s been there, it really can be a lot. After a Sunday in which he struggled, plus him defending, this might be a good week to stay away from him. And look closer at the stats: His play last week was bolstered by a really hot putter, which could be very hard to duplicate.

Mayo: Xander Schauffele (20-1) — As I continue to say, he keeps getting priced around players who have won recently, whereas Xander is in a winning slump. So I will continue to not bet him.

Gdula: Rory McIlroy (20-1) — Rory’s form is getting better despite the missed cuts at the Players and the Masters, but it’s not good enough to like him relative to the others in his odds range. The course history and name value make the number too short.

Gehman: Patrick Reed (30-1) — Reed missed the cut at the Valspar Championship last week and now travels to Quail Hollow, which doesn’t look like a great fit on paper. While Reed possesses the shot shape, a draw, to play well at this course, I worry about his lack of distance. On top of that, he often relies too heavily on his short game, which has proven to be volatile over the years. This isn’t saying Reed cannot find success but that his path to success has narrowed.

Hennessey, Golf Digest: Will Zalatoris (28-1) — The young phenom was getting touted by every Tom, Dick, Harry on gambling Twitter on Monday. I get it. And hey, I even get the Augusta corollary with Quail Hollow—the pine needles outside the fairways have an Augusta feel to them. But I still just haven’t seen Zalatoris truly contend enough to back him. Yes, of course he was great at Augusta. But think about it: That was really one time where he contended. You can make a lot of narrative leaps with Zalatoris—I think he’ll be trying to prime his game for the upcoming majors.

Powers, Golf Digest: Rory McIlroy (20-1) — I’ve seen a lot of “you have to bet Rory at this number” takes this week, and normally I’d agree, especially with the elite course history factor. But it feels like we’ve been saying that since last summer and it consistently ends in disappointment. My betting card will disappoint me enough without the added pain of another Rory dud on it.

Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Xander Schauffele (20-1) — Schauffele enters this week in poor form, ranking just 83rd in this field in SG/tee to green over the past two months. He also loses strokes to the field when putting on fast Bermuda greens.

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