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13D AGO

Draws and Fades: The case for (and against) Xander Schauffele, Rory McIlroy at Wells Fargo Championship

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Draws and Fades

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    Written by Will Gray @GolfBet

    At the halfway point of the Wells Fargo Championship, I wrote that the 68-man event at Quail Hollow Club had turned into Xander Schauffele vs. the field. With one round to go, he now has some company.

    Schauffele’s four-shot lead is down to just one, as three-time champ Rory McIlroy is on the prowl for another blue blazer. The two men have separated from the pack on the odds board more so than on the leaderboard: Sungjae Im sits four shots behind Schauffele, while Sepp Straka is five shots off the pace.

    But according to oddsmakers at BetMGM Sportsbook, it’s all but assured that either Schauffele or McIlroy will take home the trophy on Sunday.

    Updated odds to win Wells Fargo Championship (via BetMGM)

    • -110: Xander Schauffele (-12)
    • +105: Rory McIlroy (-11)
    • +1600: Sungjae Im (-8)
    • +4000: Sepp Straka (-7)
    • +15000: Jason Day (-6)

    Look at that. Only four players are still standing with odds shorter than 150-to-1. It’s understandable given both the caliber of the top two players, their course history at Quail Hollow and their play through 54 holes.

    So let’s lay out the case for (and against) both Schauffele and McIlroy, given the overwhelming likelihood that one will emerge victorious.

    Xander Schauffele (First, -12, -110 to win)

    • Why he’ll win: Schauffele has been the man to beat all week, and he’s looking to go wire-to-wire at the place where he let one slip away last year while playing alongside eventual champ Wyndham Clark for the final 36 holes. Schauffele has the motivation of last year’s near-miss, the motivation of trying to end a nearly two-year victory drought and the confidence that his game is in a great place on a course where he thrives.
    • Why he won’t: Schauffele’s margin for error just evaporated. After playing the first two days with a multi-shot buffer over the field, he stalled out while playing his first 13 holes in even par. It allowed McIlroy to make up ground and now sets up a scenario where the Ulsterman will have him in his sights during the final round. Schauffele is first or second this week in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green, SG: Approach, Scrambling and Putts per GIR. But he’s surely going to need more than the two birdies he circled in the third round in order to keep McIlroy at bay.

    Rory McIlroy (Second, -11, +105 to win)

    • Why he’ll win: At this point, he basically needs a key to the Queen City. McIlroy has already won this tournament three times, holds the course record (61) and seemingly can do no wrong along the fairways and greens of Quail Hollow. Entering off a team win with Shane Lowry at the Zurich Classic, he has finally found some confidence and gotten a bit of swagger back inside the ropes while dealing with plenty of topics outside of them during the week. McIlroy has a penchant for winning the week before a major, and he’ll likely benefit from having Schauffele in his sights in the final pairing. Were it a player of lesser caliber than Schauffele, he would likely be the betting favorite despite starting the final round one shot back. He led the field Saturday in SG: Off-the-Tee and SG: Tee-to-Green, a performance that will likely bode well for his title chances should he replicate it.
    • Why he won’t: First of all, Schauffele isn’t chop liver. He’s facing a capable opponent who has won several times on TOUR and has all the motivation in the world to get the job done. But on a more micro scale, there are some questions around McIlroy’s performance on the greens. He actually lost strokes to the field with the putter on Friday en route to a 3-under 68, and his 4-under effort on Saturday was buoyed more by his pristine ball-striking than by anything he did with the flat stick. McIlroy will surely create some chances on the greens in the final round, but he’ll need to convert his fair share to keep pace with (and pass) Schauffele. In a situation where it feels like one player is destined to reach 15-under or even lower, the putter will need to cooperate for a player who has not ranked better than 32nd out of 68 players in any round for SG: Putting.

    Verdict: I didn’t like Schauffele at an even chalkier price of -135 yesterday, and that price has since risen. But I still give the edge to McIlroy here and would look to take him at plus money. Time and again, Schauffele has found new and different ways to turn strong performances into near-victories – his runner-up at THE PLAYERS earlier this year being the most glaring example. I simply trust McIlroy a little more to get the job done, perhaps more at this course than any other on TOUR, so I’ll back him to get a victory that will only serve to raise his profile around next week’s PGA Championship as he returns to Valhalla.

    Spoiler candidate: If things are going to get really weird, a sprinkle on Sepp Straka (+4000) could prove fortuitous. The big Austrian carded seven birdies over his final 12 holes Saturday en route to a 67, and he’s top 10 in SG: Tee-to-Green, Approach and Putting. It’s a tempting combo for a player who had the ball-striking skills to conquer PGA National and emerged from a wild final round last year at the John Deere Classic to take the title. It’s an unlikely scenario to expect both Schauffele and McIlroy to falter, but I like Straka’s chances of putting some heat on them if things go a little sideways.

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