Wells Fargo Championship First Round Leader Picks & Predictions: Back McIlroy to Start Fast

After Aaron Wise came up just one shot shy of the opening-day lead last week, Tom Jacobs is back with another First Round Leader Preview. It is time for the Wells Fargo Championship, held at TPC Potomac this year, and we have some data to peruse this time!
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Wells Fargo Championship First Round Leader Picks & Predictions: Back for a Fast Start

After a close run thing last week with Aaron Wise, we are looking to go one better, and secure another First Round Leader winning ticket for 2022!

Wells Fargo First Round Leader Strategy

This is the first time we have seen this event be hosted at TPC Potomac, but it is not the first time we have seen this course on the PGA Tour. TPC Potomac was used for the Quicken Loans National in 2017 and 2018, and the Booz Allen Classic/FBR Capitol Open/Kemper Open from 1996-2003 and 2004-2006.

With that in mind then, let us at least look at who started the fastest at the Quicken Loans National in 2017 and 2018.

2018 Quicken Loans National

Andrew Landry (7:56 am) and J.J. Spaun (1:32 pm) shared the opening-day lead with a 63

2017 Quicken Loans National

David Lingmerth (1:10pm) led after Round 1, with a 65

Both years then we have seen the leader or the co-leader tee off in the afternoon. With that in mind, there is maybe not the usual early tee-time bias here at TPC Potomac, as long as the weather remains the same. There appears to be very little wind on Thursday, with it picking up on Friday.

Who Are The Fastest Starters in This Field?

A lot of the best players on Tour have opted for a week off this week, but there are still some of the fastest starters on Tour in the field, so let's check them a few of them below. Russell Henley:

3rd in Round 1 Scoring Average this season

Lowest Opening Round: 62 (Sony Open)

Matt Kuchar:

5th in Round 1 Scoring Average this season

Lowest Opening Round: 64 (Sony Open)

Cameron Young:

13th in Round 1 Scoring Average this season

Lowest Opening Round: 63 (RBC Heritage)

Jonathan Byrd:

14th in Round 1 Scoring Average this season

Lowest Opening Round: 64 (Mexico Open & RSM Classic)

Keith Mitchell:

T17 in Round 1 Scoring Average this season

Lowest Opening Round: 62 (CJ Cup)

Greyson Sigg:

T17 in Round 1 Scoring Average this season

Lowest Opening Round: 64 (RSM Classic)

What Score is Required to Lead After Round 1?

If you average out the two leading scores at the Quicken Loans in 2017 and 2018 you get 64, the leading score last week was 64 and the 25 events before last week had an average leading score of 63.68, so yet again, 64 looks like a good target! We got the leading score right last week, and a similar Thursday-leading score looks likely here, so lets not stray from a working formula!

Wells Fargo Championship: The Favorites

Rory McIlroy +2200

Last week I suggest at 16/1 odds v his 5/1 outright odds, that Jon Rahm looked generous in this market, which ended up being a fair assessment as he co-led on Day 1, and I think the same can be applied to Rory McIlroy.

McIlroy has been within two of the first-round lead a massive 64 times in total in his career, dating back to 2008, and the most recent of those came at Bay Hill where we bet him to be the First Round Leader and he duly delivered!

That was the second time since November he had led after Day 1, as he also led the DP World Tour Championship going into Friday.

Rory has co-led this event twice after day one, albeit at Quail Hollow as opposed to this course, but in total he's held 31 First Round Leads and he clearly loves a fast start.

One to ponder again.

Corey Conners +3500

While he may not have the resumé of Rory McIlroy in this market, or indeed any other, Canadian, Corey Conners has held four first-round leads in his career. One of those was a co-lead at Bay Hill last year, which I like as a correlative course, so that is a good sign!

In total he's been within two of the first-round lead 9 times in his career, so his four leads from that is a decent percentage!

This season alone he has opened with a 62 at the RSM Classic, a 64 at the Sony Open and also broken 67 on day one a further three times, including last time out at the Heritage, where he shot a Thursday 66.

He's clearly capable of starting fast then, and like Rory is hard to rule out in this market.

Matt Fitzparick +4000

Matt Fitzpatrick is enjoying a strong season on the PGA Tour, and in his career he has been within two of the first-round lead 21 times, and leading or co-leading on four of those occasions.

Fitzpatrick is another that plays Bay Hill well, and co-led there with a 67 back in 2017, but there is some doubt whether he will go as low as 64 on the PGA Tour.

Despite some brilliant performances this season, his lowest round remains 67 in any round, and while he does seem to be good for a 64/65 at some point in a PGA Season most years, it is rare and it would be even harder to predict that it comes on Day 1!

Tony Finau +4000

Tony Finau has been within two of the opening-day lead 26 times in his career, dating back to 2013 and he has led or co-led 6 times.

You have to go back to last year's WGC Workday Championship (Feb 2021) for the last time Finau was within two of the first-round lead, and he opened that week with a 68. The time before that was in Mexico, as he opened the Maykoba with a round of 67 to sit two back in 2020.

It is hard to tell whether Finau could get it rolling in Round 1, after closing with a bogey-free 63 last Sunday, after a fine Saturday 66 as well.

The odds are fine, and on his only start here, he shot 69 or better three of the four rounds to finish 29th, it is just whether you think his putter allows a hot start.

Tyrrell Hatton +4500

26 times in his career, Tyrrell Hatton has been within two of the First Round Lead, including at this event in 2018, when he sat two back after a 67. That was on a different course obviously, but that was his first of four starts on the PGA Tour where he's managed to be within two on Thursday on the PGA Tour, with one opening-day lead at the CJ Cup to his credit in 2020.

Hatton is 63rd in Round 1 Scoring Average on the PGA Tour this season, but has yet to open with a round lower than 67, and his second-round 66 at the Mayakoba remains his lowest round.

He wouldn't be for me, but he has posted five Round 1 leads worldwide in his career, so he's got previous if you like him.

Wells Fargo Championship: The Selections

Rory McIlroy +2200

I simply think Rory is overpriced in this market, and the last time I thought that was the case was when he cashed for us at Bay Hill.

31 First Round Leads. 64 times within two of the lead after day one. It really seems a no-brainer to me.

Rahm looked overpriced in relation to his outright price last week and tied for the opening-day lead, and I think the same applies this week, so take the player who is far and away the best player in the field, and hope he carries on the form, that saw him shoot a final-round 64 at Augusta.

Beau Hossler +11000

Beau Hossler has enjoyed a decent season so far, and did in fact have a chance to win for the first time at this level, at Pebble Beach, where Tom Hoge, a fellow maiden actually got over the line.

I love Hossler's course, correlative and current form, so we really have hit the trifecta with this one.

Hossler finished T6 at the 2018 Quicken Loans, where he opened with a 65 to sit two back.

Hossler also finished 2nd at the 2018 Travelers Championship and 10th at the 2021 renewal of that same event, which I like as a correlative course. On both of those weeks, he opened with a 65 to sit two back of the first-round lead, and he found himself in the same position when opening with a 67 at Bay Hill earlier this year. Another course I like is Torrey Pines and he has started fast there twice two, sitting two back on Thursday, so it looks good for Hossler.

He's missed two cuts either side of his T4 finish at the Valero Texas Open, but now returns to a course he's shown he likes and his profile seems to fit, based on performances elsewhere.

In total, Hossler has been within two of the First Round lead 14 times in his career, and while he's only led twice going into Friday, he does have experience of starting fast, so you could argue he's due a Thursday lead.

Sung Kang +14000

Sung Kang has an unbelievable record at this golf course, and while I do not trust him to win given his current form, I could certainly see him firing a low one on Thursday, based on his record here.

In 2013, Kang opened the Mid-Atlantic Championship with a 67 at this golf course, before finishing 6th, and his record here on the PGA Tour is even better.

Twice he played the Quicken Loans National here, finishing 5th in 2017, when he opened with a round of 66 to sit one back of David Lingmerth on day one, and while he started slower a year later with a 72, he then hit 64 on both Friday and Sunday to finish in 3rd.

That is three rounds of 66 or better and six rounds of 68 or better in total, at this golf course then, which is impressive in a twelve-round sample size.

Kang has previous of leading after Round 1, opening with a 61 in October to lead the Shriners, and rounds of 64 and 65 to lead the Farmers and the Viking Classic respectively in 2011. Some years apart then, it might not be easy to trust Kang, but he's posted six first-round leads or co-leads in his career, and has been within two of the lead on Thursday 26 times in total.

Three times in 2021, Kang was within two or led after day one, and his 66 here on day one in 2017 is yet further evidence he could do it this week.

I will chance he can channel good vibes at this golf course for one round at least, at solid odds!

Scott Piercy +14000

Scott Piercy has found some form over the past two weeks, after what has been a bit a lean season for him, and I am hoping he can come out the blocks on Thursday.

Piercy ranked 9th in SG Approach in Mexico last week which is encouraging, as he finished T33. At the Heritage the start before, he posted bookend 67's and finished T12 without his best irons, so I am hoping he can piece all of it together for one round.

42 times in his career, Piercy has been within two of the opening-day lead, converting eight of those into first-round leads, and if you go back to the Wyndham Championship last September, he opened with rounds of 64-66 to sit 2nd after both days.

This could be considered a bit of a plodders course, and that will suit Piercy who just needs to flash with his putter to make a run at it.

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Tom Jacobs is the host of the Lost Fore Words golf podcast and has been writing betting articles on golf for the past decade. Tom also co-host the DP World Tour Picks & Bets show on the Mayo Media Network, so has his finger on the pulse on the tours on both sides of the pond. A long-suffering Nottingham Forest fan, Tom also enjoys watching Soccer at the weekend, but his main passion remains golf, and every year he holds onto the hope of Lee Westwood winning his first major championship.

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