PGA Tour Picks: Wells Fargo Championship

By TOM LaMARRE

After playing in Mexico for the second time this season when second-ranked Jon Rahm captured the Mexico Open in Puerto Vallarta on Sunday, the PGA Tour is back in the United States for the Wells Fargo Championship, which begins Thursday at TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm in Potomac, Md.

The tournament usually is played at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C., but has been moved to TPC Potomac this season because Quail Hollow will play host to the Presidents Cup in September.

Seventh-ranked Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland is the overwhelming favorite, having won the Wells Fargo for the third time at Quail Hollow last season by one stroke over Abraham Ancer of Mexico.

“It’s always good to have Rory in the field, as he adds another element to the competition wherever he plays,” Gary Sobba, Wells Fargo Championship tournament director, said in a statement. “To have him defending his title will be a special experience for the fans and all involved in this year’s tournament.”

The 32-year-old McIlroy played the last three rounds of the Wells Fargo in 66-66-68 a year ago to win his 19th PGA Tour title by one stroke over Abraham Ancer of Mexico, and added No. 20 in the CJ Cup at the Summit in his first start of the 2021 season in October.

McIlroy also won the 2010 Wells Fargo, when it was known as the Quail Hollow Championship, by four strokes over Phil Mickelson for his first PGA Tour victory, and then won by a whopping seven shots over Patrick Rodgers and Webb Simpson in 2015.

“I love this place,” McIlroy, who closed with a 64 to finish three strokes behind winner Scottie Scheffler last month in the Masters while trying to complete the Career Grand Slam, said of Quail Hollow. “I even feel like I don’t even have to play that good and I can still get it round.

“This place has been good to me. Ever since I first set eyes on this golf course, I loved it and that love has been reciprocated. I’ve played so well here over the years.”

The question is, will that feeling carry over to TPC Potomac this week.

McIlroy, the only player in the top 10 of the World Golf Rankings competing this week, will be challenged by a field that includes Ancer, Tony Finau, Matt Fitzpatrick of England, Gary Woodland, Corey Conners of Canada, Tyrrell Hatton of England, Russell Henley, Paul Casey of England, Stewart Cink and Matt Kuchar.

Former Wells Fargo champions in the field include Rickie Fowler (2012), Brian Harman (2017), Jason Day of Australia of Australia (2018) and Max Homa (2019).

Like McIlroy, they all claimed the title at Quail Hollow.

BEST BETS

1. Rory McIlroy, Northern Ireland – A three-time winner of the Wells Fargo, but all of those titles came in Quail Hollow, not TPC Potomac, where the tournament is being played this week. McIlroy has five other top-10 finishes in the event. This season he has six top-10 finishes, including a victory in the CJ Cup and a tie for second in the Masters, when he closed with a 64.

2. Tony Finau, United States – Found his game last week he tied for second in the Mexico Championship, one stroke behind Jon Rahm, only his second top-10 finish this season. Finau claimed his second PGA Tour victory and first since the 2016 Puerto Rico Open last year in The Northern Trust, and his best result in the Wells Fargo Championship was a tie for 16th in 2017.   

3. Abraham Ancer, Mexico – Finished a disappointing tie for 42nd last week in the Mexico Championship in front of the home crowd after tying for seventh earlier this season in the other Mexican event at Mayakoba. He recently tied for fifth in the WGC-Dell Match Play. Ancer closed with a 66 last year in the Wells Fargo to finish one shot behind winner Rory McIlroy.

4. Corey Conners, Canada – Coming off a tie for sixth in the Masters recently after also finishing third in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in March, Connors also was 11th in the Sony Open in Hawaii and the Arnold Palmer Invitational, and tied for 12th in the RBC Heritage in his last start. His best result in three Wells Fargo starts was a tie for 42nd in 2018.

5. Matt Fitzpatrick, England – Has tied for fifth in the Valspar, tied for sixth at Pebble Beach, tied for ninth in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and tied for 10th in the WM Phoenix Open this season. Also tied for 14th in the Masters, in addition to tying for 18th in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. Fitzpatrick is making his debut on the Wells Fargo this week.

6. Russell Henley, United States – After finishing second in the Sony Open in Hawaii early this year, Henley has eight finishes in the top 25 for the season, including a tie for seventh in the Houston Open, ties for 13th in the Players and the Arnold Palmer Invitational, and a tie for 14th in The American Express. His best result in the Wells Fargo was only a tie for 43rd in 2013.  

7. Tyrrell Hatton, England – After claiming his eighth pro victory in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship last year, Hatton has tied for second in the Arnold Palmer Invitational (which he won in 2020) and tied for ninth in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play among six top- 25 finishes this season. Tied for 42nd in only Wells Fargo start in 2018 after opening with a 67.

8. Gary Woodland, United States – The 2019 U.S. Open champion has tied for fifth in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Honda Classic in addition to tying for eighth in the Texas Open, and tied for ninth in the CJ Cup among six top-25s this season. Woodland led after the second round in the Wells Fargo last year before finishing fifth, and tied for fourth in 2015.  

9. Paul Casey, England – Claimed his 20th professional victory in the 2021 Omega Dubai Desert Classic and tied for 12th in his title defense early this year. His best results on the PGA Tour this season were third in the Players Championship and a tie for 15th in the Genesis. Casey tied for fourth in the 2019 Wells Fargo, tied for fifth in 2018 and tied for 12th in 2017.

10. Max Homa, United States – Earned the first of his three PGA Tour victories in the 2019 Wells Fargo after shooting 63 in round two, and also captured the 2021 Genesis Invitational and the Fortinet Championship this season. In addition to winning the Fortinet in 2021-22, Homa also has tied for 10th in his title defense in the Genesis among seven finishes in the top 25.

OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH: Keegan Bradley, United States; Patrick Reed, United States; Marc Leishman, Australia; Sergio Garcia, Spain; Webb Simpson, United States; Seamus Power, Ireland; Jason Day, Australia; Matt Kuchar, United States; Si Woo Kim, South Korea; Stewart Cink, United States; Rickie Fowler, United States; Brian Harman, United States.

SLEEPERS

1. Cameron Young, United States – The 24-year-old rookie has yet to win, but has T-2s in the Sanderson Farms and Genesis Invitational, and a T-3 in the RBC Heritage among six top-25s.

2. Mito Pereira, Chile – A seven-time winner on lower tours, Pereira has a solo third in the Fortinet Championship, a T-13 in the Valero Texas Open and T-15 in the Genesis this season.

3. Martin Trainer, United States – Winner of 2019 Puerto Rico Open was T-11 last week in the Mexico Championship after a T-5 in Houston Open and a T-7 at Puntacana earlier this season.

4. Aaron Rai, England – The six-time winner as a pro around the world has a T-4 in New Orleans and T-6 in the Farmers among his six top-25 finishes on the PGA Tour this season.

5. Brandon Wu, United States – Champion in 2021 Korn Ferry Tour Championship closed with 66-63 last week to tie for second in Mexico Championship, also was T-3 in Puerto Rico Open.  

For first-round tee times, visit https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard.html   

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