2021 Wells Fargo
More Sunday frustration. Yet again we had quite a few rods in the fire going into Sunday’s play, and yet again we left with very little. I can’t complain so much about Matt NeSmiths performance on the greens, he actually had a slightly positive strokes gained figure for the week, and it was written on the tin beforehand. He didn’t hole one putt over 6ft though on payday, and only 3 over 2 feet!! That takes a little bit of bad luck, and that it resulted in him finishing 21st was a right kick in the stones. I actually really fancied the chances of Joaquinn Niemann heading into the final 18 holes, with those ahead of him not instilling much confidence or fear. He didn’t birdie the easy first, and never gave us a run for our money thereafter. Again slightly galling that he couldn’t obtain a full place dividend. Kyoung Lee holed a 9ft par on the closing hole to tie Sungjae Im for Top Asian, therefore halving the return there also. Again, although the results don’t back it up, I am very happy that we have had so much Sunday action, and remain confident that the tide will turn and show some Sunday returns.
We move on to one of my favourite stops on Tour, a course most deserving of it’s reward of hosting the 2017 US PGA Championship. Quail Hollow is one of the longest Par 71’s on Tour weighing in at 7521 Yards, quite the beast. A classical tree lined layout, distance off the tee is important around here. Rain is forecast in the lead in, and that could make it play even longer. Greens, like at Augusta, can be controlled by a sub air system and they are typically amongst the quickest on Tour. Distance from the tee has proved quite important here, as has hitting a higher than normal percentage of greens in regulation. Again like Augusta, course form tends to stack up pretty well here.
Players of Interest:
Jon Rahm returns for the first time since a solid display at The Masters, where he arrived as a new father. Many golf pundits go on about the ‘nappy factor’, and indeed place plenty of stock in it when weighing up a player’s chances. To me it is vastly overrated, and in turn such players are overbet on the back of it. Rahm had said he had done very little on the golf course the days before Augusta, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the same was the case since. I would view this week as a back to work situation, with all eyes on the PGA Championship in two weeks time. He hasn’t bothered with this tournament in the past, only playing here in the 2017 version of the least important Major, and that he shows up this time suggests it is a tuning up exercise. He disappointed in that PGA shooting two rounds of 75, and only once going under par. He doesn’t jump off the page this week.
In truth there were quite a few towards the head of the market that I glossed over quite quickly this week. As ever Bryson DeChambeau was one of those. Still afforded too much respect by pre tournament markets, 16/1 does nothing for me here. Xander Schauffele is 20 over par for his 6 rounds here, and with an ever widening question mark over his ability to close one of these out, sub 20/1 quotes don’t interest me here. I wouldn’t mind seeing him once again blow out here, and see an inflation in his price ahead of Kiawah Island.
I was more interested in Viktor Hovland, but had been hoping for bigger than 20/1. At that, I can leave him alone. Patrick Cantlay hasn’t been his consistent robotic self from the fairways of late, and that is a worry here. Once again, and though a bigger price than last week, I just don’t see ‘ready to win’ from Patrick Reed’s play. Tony Finau doesn’t win much, but he rarely underperforms, though that is certainly something you could accuse him of during his attepmts around Quail Hollow. Never better than the 16th he produced on debut in 2015, one has to begin to doubt whether this layout particularly fits the eye of the public favourite.
There have been monumental shocks in this tournament, but there are also plenty of recent examples of class rising to the top. Rory twice, Jason Day, Anthony Kim, Ricky Fowler were all amongst the games biggest names when successful. JUSTIN THOMAS lifted the Wanamaker Trophy here in 2017, and I can very easily see him adding the Wells Fargo title to that this week. In a rare bet after 18 holes, I added JT to the team sheet last week, due to his sublime tee to green game on Day One. That didn’t stop after Thursday, but unfortunately from our perspective the putter didn’t really get much better. He led the field in both strokes gained approach, and tee to green. That is the kind of red flag Thomas usually hoists before another win.
Justin commented last week that if he was putting well, he would be leading the tournament, and such is the prowess of his long game at the moment that could be the case most weeks. Of course he could fire more blanks on the greens here, but given that it is highly unlikely he could be as bad as last week, and he was only 2 shots out of the places there, I am prepared to take my chances. The amount of putts he missed from the 11-20ft range last week will have been very infuriating to both JT and his supporters. He also missed 11 putts from inside 10ft, holing only 3 all week from outside that range. So, why expect any different this week? Well firstly given his long game is at its absolute brilliant best, we won’t need too much of an improvement at all. Secondly he will have very happy memories of these greens as they are the scene of his sole Major triumph to date. He was 4th for strokes gained putting that week, and topped the charts in putts made over 10ft, quite the contrast from last week and reason to believe he can make the improvement needed in that department to bank the win here.
To my eye Justin should be a clear and definite favourite here at around the 8/1 mark, and I see 11/1 as an excellent bet.
I honestly had no thoughts of siding with RORY MCILROY this week, but when the prices went up the pros started to outweigh the cons. Everyone knows about his ridiculously good course form here, scene of his first win on the PGA Tour in 2010. He has backed that up with a second Wells Fargo title in 2015, and 5 other top 10 finishes. Such is his affinity with the course he started a 6/1 favourite or a Major Championship here. But obviously odds makers are well aware of this history, yet are still happy to put him in at 18 and 20/1, due to his recent travails on the golf course. Rory has admitted to being drawn into the power game on the back of Bryson’s new found length, and that alongside struggling with the lack of on course spark due to no fans allowed, has seen him suffer this past year. Having made the change in coach to Pete Cowen ahead of this year’s Masters, Rory is clearly still hungry and searching for more success. Hunger for Masters glory has certainly hindered him at Augusta in recent years, and his display there this time around is very easy to draw a line through in my opinion. It’s the subsequent time off, and shape of the upcoming schedule which I believe may lend us to seeing something more akin to peak McIlroy here.
Though the likes of Rahm may have had some downtime in recent weeks, I have little doubt that Rory will have been working very hard with Cowen to iron out any problems in his swing. Many more knowledgeable than me will say that the process will take longer than a few weeks for most, but Rory and his talent aren’t most golfers. He won’t need a dramatic overall, and if anyone can get him back to where he was, it’s Cowen. If Rory has found something, it won’t have come at a better time. In any other year he would simply chomping at the bit for the next couple of weeks. Back at his beloved Quail Hollow this week, and then just 14 days later returning to the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, scene of his 8 shot win in the US PGA in 2012. That, allied with the real return of fans to the course, could be just the spark this crowd pleaser needs, and at 18/1 on this course which perhaps suits him better than any other he will play is just too big to ignore for me. The soft conditions they will face on Thursday is the final piece in the jigsaw, and though he has let me down on a couple of occasions this season already, I am prepared to keep the faith.
WILL ZALATORIS makes his debut here, but he is another who I expect to absolutely revel on this layout. His display at The Masters last month really didn’t surprise me, and I wouldn’t be surprised if made an equally impressive debut here. His tee to green game is a joy to watch, and given how far he hits it his consistency is all the more remarkable. Typically big hitting rookies will be pretty hit and miss, but there is so much more to the game of Zalatoris than just grip it and rip it. Lying 4th for strokes gained approach this term, and 18th for greens in regulation, it is certainly a game well equipped to tackle Quail Hollow. With a par 5 scoring average of 4.5, he can make his score on the Par 5s here, with his accurate iron play keeping him in the game by containing the tough set of par 4s.
His most recent display at the RBC Heritage was probably his worst of the season, but being post Masters, it was nearly to be expected. A few weeks off since, and there is no reason to believe the Will that has shown up pretty much each and every week since he began his journey on the PGA Tour, won’t show up here. A local lad, who graduated not far away in Wake Forest, he is sure to have his fair share of support around the fairways this week. These are fairways that he will further down that pretty much anyone else, and given his superb approach play of late, we only need a half decent week on the greens and Will could well be landing his maiden win on Tour. He seems to be on a fast track to the top of his sport, and on a course that seems absolutely made to measure, it makes sense to get involved whilst there is still a bit of juice in his price.
I have toyed with Ian Poulter at a quite reasonable 125/1 but his lack of length has seen me swerve him here. I do feel he is showing enough to pop up somewhere soon.
But in keeping with the fact that in the last 7 Wells Fargo’s held here, we have 3 winners at SPs of 300/1 and bigger, I have gone with the two others at big prices.
First of those is KEITH MITCHELL. He was on my radar last week, and though finishing a lowly 69th there, he actually played very well tee to green. He simply putted atrociously, and though that is always a worry with Mitchell, his price is more than taking that into account. The 2019 Honda Classic winner has built his game around an excellent driver, and as alluded to earlier ‘getting it out there’ here at Quail is a big advantage. In his 3 completed seasons on Tour to date he has been 6/7/21st in strokes gained off the tee, and again performed well in that regard last week. There have been plenty of signs of late that he is just a reasonable putting week away from contending, and at 125/1 here, I am prepared to take the risk attached.
After a decent opening to 2021 with a 14th at The Sony, he then missed 4 of his next 5 cuts. But a return to the scene of his only win on Tour to date at The Honda seems to have reignited his season. After making the weekend there, he notched a top 20 finish at The Valspar. He then teamed up with Brandt Snedeker for a 4th place finish in the Zurich Classic, ahead of what was a better than the result showing last week. Mitchell has teed it up at Quail twice before, finishing 34th on debut in 2018, before an excellent 8th in the last edition in 2019. Typically good tee to green on both occasions, he actually gained strokes on the field putting on his latest visit, and if he can repeat that feat this time around I feel we will have a live one come Sunday evening.
Last man in for me this week is DOC REDMAN. Having been an absentee from this year’s Honda due to a positive Covid test, Redman has rebounded by making 3 weekends from 4, and there were plenty of positives to be taken from bookending his card with a pair of 68s at a tough Innisbrook last week. In his first full season on Tour last year, he performed very well indeed, and was challenging for favouritism in a few of the weaker fields he played in. As with so many others before him, he has struggled slightly with ‘second season syndrome’ and the 2021 calendar year hasn’t been kind to Doc as yet. There weren’t many better off the tee at The Valspar than North Carolina man, and with confidence now returning to his long game, he will be looking forward to getting back to a venue where he played excellently here on debut in 2019. 18th then, when his only over par round was Sunday (totally acceptable given his rookie status), Redman had positive strokes gained figures in all departments. He isn’t the longest off the tee, though nowhere near as short as say the likes of Poulter, and I just like the overall fit of Quail Hollow for a player who has the raw ability to be starting at much shorter than 200/1 for these events. With an upturn in his form of late, confidence building off the back of that, and returning to a venue where he excelled on debut I feel the price on offer is certainly worth a dabble.
Top 20 Finish:
I had toyed with the idea of including STEWART CINK in the outright portfolio, but on seeing him chalked up at 16/5 for this section, I have decided to plump for him here instead. Winner 3 weeks ago in that RBC Heritage, Cink has cut a different figure since teaming up with his son Reagan. Already twice a winner this season which brings his career wins to 8, he has been really enjoying his time on course with his new caddy. Those two wins haven’t just been flashes in the pan either, he has amassed a further 5 top 20 finishes from just 15 outings. Very nearly a one in two strike rate. His display in closing out that most recent win was very assured indeed, and his new found length from the tee was no less accurate than it was before. It suggests he will be even more suited to this week’s challenge than he was before, which given he has 5 top 20’s from his last 9 visits here, leads me to think he will likely give this another good rattle this week. Now averaging 306 yards off the tee, and 2nd for greens in regulation, Cink’s game looks very much in the right place. I didn’t expect anything over 5/2 here, and would be quite happy to take that or above.
A weak section. Tommy Fleetwood is really struggling for his consistent best at the moment, and form figures of MC/61 don’t suggest he is likely to find it here. Matt Wallace has on the other hand been in pretty good nick recently, churning out better than expected results most weeks. He has been very busy of late though, and his Sunday showings are still a cause of major concern for his backers. Tom Lewis is making cuts, but not much else, and he will need to find a few more greens in regulation than is normally the case to contend around here. Luke Donald would be as well off watching it at home. That leaves me coming back to IAN POULTER, who I have to say I do think is close to a really big performance. Once again a big showing came at the Matchplay, but that was followed by very respectable displays at Augusta and Innisbrook last week, and in Ryder Cup year Poults will be keen to keep the ball rolling here. 5th here back in 2009, he was also an excellent 22nd in the PGA Championship in 2017, and though his lack of length will hinder him, I expect him to perform well enough to account for his fellow countrymen. At 10/3 I believe he is too big to do so, and would take anything from 11/4 upwards.
Top Continental European:
Rightly or wrongly, I suppose only time will tell, but I am fairly luke warm on the chances of Jon Rahm this week. For reasons outlined above, he may not be quite at full throttle here, and his course form doesn’t inspire confidence. With very little else to beat, VIKTOR HOVLAND looks the value play at 2/1 in a virtual match with the Spaniard. Another fast tracking his way to the summit of the game, Hovland just doesn’t seem to have a bad week in him at the moment. He makes his debut here, but it really does promise to suit one of his attributes. Long enough off the tee, his laser like long irons will be a valuable weapon here, especially into the Par 5s where scoring well is paramount. If Rahm isn’t at the peak of his powers here, or quite simply performs anything like he has in his previous two visits, Hovland will be more than ready to pick up the pieces. I would make him more of a 13/8 shot.
Top Rest of the World:
A speculative each way wager here on MATT JONES. Similar to Cink, Jones has really found a new lease of life this year, and he too was clinical in closing out the Honda Classic. Not surprisingly for an Australian, he yet again proved adept at handling windy conditions, and with 20mph+ forecast in that department over the weekend here Jones will cope better than most. He hasn’t threatened the judge in two outings since that second win on Tour, but I view Quail as a layout where he can once again get involved at the weekend. In a section that has plenty with bits and pieces of chances, but no stand out performer, the 18/1 on Jones is worthy of each way support.
First Round Leader:
Call it gut feeling if you like, but I wouldn’t be surprised if RICKIE FOWLER sparked a return to form here this week. I was keen to get him onside in some form, and given his penchant over the years for fast starts that don’t always turn into dividends on Sunday’s, I felt this was the best place to punt him. The fans favourite has fallen from the top of the golfing tree over the past 2 years, but his display at the Houston Open was very much a step back in the right direction. It will have hurt him to have missed the ensuing Masters, and akin to McIlroy I expect Rickie will have been pounding the fairways since in search of his best. Quail Hollow has proved a very good fit for Fowler over the years, with a win here in 2012, backed up by 3 other top 5 finishes. Those 3 top 5’s all came in his last 4 visits here, one being a Major Championship. 66/1 that he lands yet another first round lead is too big on this course specialist.
3pts ew Justin Thomas 11/1 (⅕ odds 8 places, WH/Betfred) **Recommended Tue AM *Still 11/1 with WH, 10/1 8 places PP/BFSB/Skybet/888/Betfred all fine
1.75pts ew Rory McIlroy 18/1 (⅕ odds 8 places, WH/Coral/Lads) **Recommended Monday *Now 20/1 with WH, will obv settle at 18/1
1.2pts ew Will Zalatoris 28/1 (⅕ odds 8 places WH/PP/Coral/Lads/BFSP) **Recommended Monday *Still 28/1 to 8 places with WH
.3pt ew Keith Mitchell 125/1 (⅕ odds 8 places, WH/Skybet/PP/BFSB/Betfred/888) **150/1 with 365/Unibet to 5 places *Much bigger on exchanges, may be worth monitoring their ew 10 places market
.3pt ew Doc Redman 200/1 (⅕ odds 8 places, Coral/Lads) *150/1+ to 8 places acceptable, and widely available
Top 20 Finish:
6pts Stewart Cink 11/4 (WH/888/Betvictor/Unibet/Betway/Sporting Index) **10/3 with PP/BFSB, for those that can get on there obviously do so. I won’t quote PP stand alone top price in Alt markets until shops reopen *5/2 upwards acceptable
Top Continental Euro:
7pts Viktor Hovland 2/1 (Coral/Lads/365/Skybet/Betway) **11/5 with PP/BFSB *15/8 upwards acceptable Top English:
5pts Ian Poulter 10/3 (365/Coral/Lads) *11/4 upwards acceptable
Top Rest of World:
1pt ew Matt Jones 18/1 (¼ odds 4 places, Betway/PP/BFSB) *16/1 upwards acceptable, plenty of other firms still to price up
First Round Leader:
.4pt ew Rickie Fowler 60/1 (⅕ odds 6 places, PP/BFSB/Skybet) **Plenty of 60/1 available to ¼ 5 places *50/1+ acceptable
Running Totals 2021:
Best of luck all, I will be back with the Byron Nelson next week.