2023 Wyndham Championship First-Round Leader Picks: Bet Eric Cole & Kevin Yu
Via Octavio Passos/Getty Images. Pictured: Eric Cole of the United States plays his second shot on the 1st hole during Day One of the Genesis Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club on July 13, 2023 in United Kingdom.
The PGA Tour heads to Greensboro, North Carolina, for the Wyndham Championship this week. Without a plethora of elite players in the field — and no one shorter than 20-1 in the outright market — Thursday presents an opportunity to cash a longshot ticket on a first-round leader at the Wyndham Championship.
Sedgefield Country Club is a par-70 at just 7,131 yards, and it features just two par-5s along with 12 par-4s. Eight of those par-4s are in the 400-450-yard range, which means that shorter hitters have a better chance this week than normal, especially with several forced layups off the tee.
I'll be targeting players with strong approach play and high birdie rates, as I anticipate the first-round lead being in the 8-under-par range.
Here are my two picks for first-round leader at the 2023 Wyndham Championship.
Wyndham Championship First-Round Leader Picks
Eric Cole +7000 (bet365)
First-Round Tee Time: 7:12 a.m. ET
This is the perfect week to back Eric Cole because of the emphasis on approach play and putting at Sedgefield.
Cole is a rare golfer on the PGA Tour who is below average in both driving distance and driving accuracy, but he's elite everywhere else, ranking among the top 32 on tour in Strokes Gained: Approach, SG: Around the Green and SG: Putting.
The 35-year-old rookie lost strokes on approach in each of his first three tournaments this season in September and October, but in 24 tracked tournaments since then, he has lost strokes just three more times (and Cole didn’t lose more than a full stroke on approach to any of those three fields over four days, showing that he is incredibly consistent).
His approach play has been surging in his last five starts, gaining an average of 3.544 strokes on approach in that span. He has made all five of his last five cuts, but his upside has been limited by his off-the-tee game, which has lost strokes in all five of those starts.
Sedgefield Country Club won’t reward distance off the tee like most other courses on tour, which works in Cole’s favor.
Cole’s putter is also hot. Over his last seven tournaments, he has gained strokes putting six times with an average of 3.3 Strokes Gained: Putting per tournament over that span.
Overall, he’s 16th in SG: Putting this season, and his putting — especially his rank of fourth in three-putt avoidance — will be valuable this week on the lightning-quick greens at Sedgefield that will roll at a 12.5+ on the Stimpmeter.
The Nova Southeastern product is a mini-tour legend (who won his 54th career Minor League Golf Tour event in December 2021 — and has won more since his PGA Tour bio was last updated), and he won so many times because he's a clutch birdie-maker.
The PGA Tour rookie ranks 23rd in birdie average and has done so on all types of holes, as he ranks among the top 50 in par-3, par-4 and par-5 Birdie or Better Percentage.
Not only does he make birdies on all holes, but he also has avoided mistakes on all of them, ranking among the top 30 in par-3, par-4 and par-5 scoring average on tour. Overall, he's 19th in bogey avoidance this season.
Cole is in the third tee time on Thursday morning in Greensboro at 7:12 a.m. ET, and playing in the morning with softer and more receptive conditions will give him a leg up on the rest of the field.
With players hitting from similar spots in the fairways this week, I like Cole’s chances of separating himself from the field from then on with his combination of birdie-making and bogey avoidance thanks to his strong approach play and short game.
I’ve bet him for first-round leader at +7000 and have also included him in my outright card at +7500.
Kevin Yu +8000 (FanDuel)
First-Round Tee Time: 7:01 a.m. ET
I’m going back to rookie Kevin Yu again, as I believe he remains undervalued in upside markets as a flusher who has tremendous potential if his putter cooperates.
Yu is the top player in the field this season in SG: Off the Tee, as he's third on tour thanks to his elite combination of driving distance (32nd) and accuracy (47th), which has helped him gain strokes off the tee in all 13 starts this season (he only has 13 starts because of a meniscus tear in February).
He’s also a strong ball-striker with his irons, which has helped him rank second in Greens in Regulation Percentage this season.
This has helped him score on all holes but on par-4s in particular, which are an emphasis this week with 12 of them at Sedgefield. The former Arizona State Sun Devil ranks third on tour in par-4 scoring average and sixth in par-4 Birdie or Better Percentage (21.31%).
Overall, he's seventh in birdie average and ranks among the top 16 in each of par-3, par-4 and par-5 scoring average.
While I don’t think Sedgefield fits his game as well as TPC Twin Cities did last week because his advantage off the tee isn’t as magnified this week, the number is still too long for Yu in the FRL market at 80-1.
Yu’s putter is a major question mark, as he ranks 187th in SG: Putting. But if he puts together a decent or even strong day on the greens, he could get us to that 8-under range on Thursday.
Despite the poor overall putting numbers, he led the John Deere Classic in SG: Putting in July, showing that he's more than capable of putting the pieces together to go low in that T6 result.
Like Cole, Yu also has an early tee time in the second group off at 7:01 a.m. ET off the back nine, giving him an advantage over the field with more receptive conditions.
I’m backing Yu in the FRL market at 80-1 at FanDuel in addition to playing him outright at 100-1 and in the top-20 market at +400.