Best bets for PGA's The American Express

USATSI_17461252

​Hideki Matsuyama gained 7.537 strokes putting to lead the Sony Open field, the first time he ranked first in SG: Putting in a full-field event. But it was the 3-wood he knocked stiff to three feet for eagle on the first playoff hole that ultimately wrapped up his eighth career PGA Tour victory. 

Priced at 18-1, Matsuyama defeated Russell Henley on the first extra hole. Henley had a one-stroke lead heading to the par-5 18th but found the fairway bunker and settled for par. Matsuyama made birdie. Henley then found the same fairway bunker on the first playoff hole, and Matsuyama’s amazing 3-wood sealed Henley’s fate. This column settled for two third-place finishes, with Kevin Kisner and Seamus Power tied behind Matsuyama and Henley. 

This week, the PGA Tour leaves the islands and commences the West Coast swing in Palm Springs, Calif., with the American Express. World No. 1 Jon Rahm, who finished runner-up to Cameron Smith two weeks ago at the Tournament of Champions, is the tournament favorite at 6-1. Rahm won this event in 2018. Smith, by the way, was tipped here two weeks ago ahead of the TOC.

Patrick Cantlay (9-1) was the runner-up at the American Express last year, losing by a stroke to Si Woo Kim (65-1). Scottie Scheffler (20-1) makes his 2022 debut and is still seeking his first PGA Tour victory despite being ranked 14th in the world. He finished runner-up at the Hero World Challenge in his last start in December. Sungjae Im (22-1) started 2022 with a top 10 in Maui but missed the cut last week in Honolulu. Tony Finau (22-1) finished fourth here last year. 

Corey Conners (22-1, 11th last week), Power (33-1, 3rd) and Henley (35-1, 2nd) all played well at Waialae. Abraham Ancer (30-1) was the runner-up at the American Express two years ago. Matthew Wolff (33-1) makes his 2022 debut this week. Patrick Reed (35-1) won this event in 2014, shooting 63s in each of his first three rounds for a PGA Tour record of 27-under par through 54 holes. 

Aside from Scheffler and Wolff, players making their 2022 debuts include Rickie Fowler (60-1), Jason Day (125-1), Gary Woodland (80-1), Francesco Molinari (175-1), Justin Rose (50-1) and Will Zalatoris (50-1). Cameron Champ (100-1) is back after missing the Tournament of Champions with COVID-19.

The Event

The American Express has had many different names since its inception in 1960, when it was established as the Palm Springs Classic. Most remember and still refer to this event as the Bob Hope, since it bore the entertainer’s name from 1965-2011. The tournament’s winners include legends such as Arnold Palmer (1960, 1962, 1968, 1971, 1973), Jack Nicklaus (1963), Billy Casper (1965, 1969), Johnny Miller (1975, 1976) and Phil Mickelson (2002, 2004). Until 2012, the event was played over five days on four different courses before switching to a four-day event using three courses. Last year, only two courses were in the rotation as La Quinta Country Club was closed due to the pandemic. This year, La Quinta returns as does the three-course rotation, which means the cut comes after 54 holes.

The Courses

This year's American Express will be played at the PGA West Stadium Course, PGA West Nicklaus Tournament Course and La Quinta Country Club.

After one round is played on each course, the Stadium Course will be used for Sunday’s final round. Designed by Pete Dye in 1986, the Stadium Course is a par-72 of 7,113 yards and usually plays one to two strokes harder than the Nicklaus course. Water is in play on nine holes. Bermudagrass with Ryegrass comprise the fairways and rough while TifDwarf Bermudagrass makes up the greens. The average score over the last six years is 70.87.

Pete Dye courses are prevalent throughout the PGA Tour. Here are some other Dye designs on the schedule:

— Austin Country Club (WGC Match Play)

— Crooked Stick (2012 and 2016 BMW Championship)

— Harbour Town (Heritage)

— Kiawah Island (2012 and 2021 PGA Championship)

— TPC River Highlands (Travelers)

— TPC Louisiana (Zurich Classic)

— TPC Sawgrass (Players Championship)

— Whistling Straits (2010 and 2015 PGA Championship)

TPC Sawgrass is arguably the most comparable of the Dye designs. Other similar courses that are not Dye designs include TPC Summerlin, TPC Scottsdale, Silverado, Torrey Pines North and Narashino.

The PGA West Tournament Course was designed by Jack Nicklaus in 1987. It plays as a par-72 of 7,159 yards. The greens, 10.5 on the stimpmeter, are slightly slower than those on the Stadium Course. Bermuda is also the primary surface for this relatively easy resort course. The average round score over the last six years is 69.73.

La Quinta Country Club returns to the event after a one-year absence. A private course designed by Lawrence Hughes, La Quinta is the shortest of the three courses at 7,060 yards. Bermuda is the primary surface but overseeded with rye in the fairways and poa trivialis on the greens, just like the Dye and Nicklaus designs. The greens, which roll 11 on the stimpmeter, are a bit smaller at an average of 4,000 square feet, compared to 5,000 square feet on the Dye course and 7,000 on the Nicklaus course. From 2017-2020, the average round score was 69.09, so this track tends to play the easiest of the three. 

TPC Summerlin is one course that is comparable to all three racks being used this week.

Recent History/Winners

— 2021: Si Woo Kim (-23/265); 55-1

— 2020: Andrew Landry (-26/262); 200-1

— 2019: Adam Long (-26/262); 600-1

— 2018: Jon Rahm (-22/266); 10-1*

— 2017: Hudson Swafford (-20/268); 66-1

— 2016: Jason Dufner (-25/263); 40-1**

— 2015: Bill Haas (-22/266); 30-1

— 2014: Patrick Reed (-28/260); 135-1

— 2013: Brian Gay (-25/263); 80-1***

— 2012: Mark Wilson (-24/264); 125-1

*Playoff win over Andrew Landry

**Playoff win over David Lingmerth

***Playoff win over Charles Howell III and David Lingmerth

​Trends and Angles

Per @PGASplits101, here are some winning trends for the American Express:

— 9 of the last 12 winners had odds of 55-1 or higher. 

— 12 of the last 14 winners played in at least one previous American Express, with 11 of those 12 playing the event at least twice.

— 11 of the last 14 winners played in the Sony Open before the American Express.

— 12 of the last 15 winners were 32 or younger.

— 10 of the last 13 winners had a finish of 33rd or better in a previous American Express.

— 12 of the last 15 winners had at least one top-25 finish earlier in the season.

Players that qualify in all of these trends include: Adam Schenk, Andrew Putnam, Austin Cook, Hank Lebioda, John Huh, Kramer Hickok, K.H. Lee, Sam Ryder, Si Woo Kim and Tom Hoge. 

If you remove the 55-1 odds qualifier, three others qualify: Abraham Ancer, Sungjae Im and Talor Gooch. 

Stats

If looking for an in-play angle, ​strokes-gained data will only be available from the Stadium Course this week. Here are some statistical categories that might assist in finding a winner.

SG: Approach (last 36 rounds)

— Russell Henley, 33.3

— Chez Reavie, 25.1

— Patrick Cantlay, 25

— Talor Gooch, 24.4

— Carlos Ortiz, 24.2

— Russell Knox, 23.1

— Adam Svensson, 22.6

— Jon Rahm, 21.7

— Luke Donald, 21.1

— Harold Varner III, 20.9

— Hudson Swafford, 20.9

— Will Zalatoris, 20.3

SG: Ball Striking (last 36 rounds)

Neither distance nor accuracy matters much off the tee because there’s not much of a penalty for missing fairways here. However, there are some forced lay-ups, especially on the Dye design, where players will have to leave driver in the bag on some holes. Strokes Gained: Ball Striking measures Off-The-Tee plus Approach.

— Patrick Cantlay, 49.4

— Jon Rahm, 49.1

— Jhonattan Vegas, 41.4

— Russell Henley, 40.9

— Luke List, 39.6

— Will Zalatoris, 36.7

— Corey Conners, 35.5

— Carlos Ortiz, 33.4

— Hudson Swafford, 32.4

— Sungjae Im, 32.2

— Chez Reavie, 29.9

— Russell Knox, 29.8

Birdie or Better (last 36 rounds)

The winning score in relation to par should be in the mid-20s, so birdie-makers tend to flourish here.

— Jon Rahm, 32.1

— Patrick Cantlay, 22.1

— Sam Ryder, 21.3

— Hank Lebioda, 19.3

— Scottie Scheffler, 18.3

— Jhonattan Vegas, 17.7

— Russell Henley, 17.6

— Danny Lee, 16.9

— Davis Riley, 15.3

— Sungjae Im, 15.3

— Luke List, 15.1

— Matthew Wolff, 14.5

Strokes Gained: Total on courses of less than 7,200 yards (last 36 rounds)

All three courses in the rotation measure less than 7,200 yards.

— Patrick Cantlay, 73.1

— Russell Henley, 54.4

— Jon Rahm, 53.9

— Tony Finau, 50

— Corey Conners, 47

— Seamus Power, 46

— Si Woo Kim, 45.9

— Cameron Tringale, 44.3

— Sungjae Im, 44.2

— Justin Rose, 43.8

— Patrick Reed, 42.2

— Scottie Scheffler, 41.7

Strokes Gained: Pete Dye Courses (last 36 rounds)

The Pete Dye Stadium Course will be the venue for two of the four tournament rounds. '

— Abraham Ancer, 71

— Patrick Cantlay, 57.4

— Brian Harman, 53.8

— Jason Day, 52.7

— Jon Rahm, 43

— Kevin Streelman, 40.1

— Justin Rose, 39.8

— Patrick Reed, 34.8

— Sungjae Im, 30.9

— Charles Howell III, 29.8

— Emiliano Grillo, 29.5

— Si Woo Kim 27.3

Selections

Talor Gooch (30-1)

Gooch won the RSM Classic, the last event of 2021, to earn his first PGA Tour victory. He has made all four of his cuts here (4th, 17th and 21st in his last three appearances). He adds some strong correlating form with a fifth-place finish at TPC Sawgrass, fourth at Silverado and multiple top 20s at TPC Summerlin. 

Abraham Ancer (30-1)

Perhaps he’s too obvious of a choice due to a runner-up finish here in 2020 and fifth last year, but 30-1 seems a fair price even off a missed cut last week in Hawaii. Ancer has the look of a Pete Dye specialist with a runner-up in 2020 at the Heritage, fourth last year at the Travelers and eighth last year at the PGA Championship. No player in the field has been better than Ancer over the last 36 rounds on Dye layouts (71 strokes gained). In addition, TPC Summerlin is a strongly correlated course to all three layouts and Ancer has two top-5 finishes there. 

Christiaan Bezuidenhout (62-1)

The South African rates sixth in the field for SG: Putting and second for SG: Short Game over the last 36 rounds. He finished a respectable 17th last week in his Sony Open debut. Bezuidenhout has made 31 of his last 32 cuts worldwide. 

Russell Knox (100-1)

Knox finished seventh last week at the Sony Open and gained strokes across the board. He has good pedigree on Dye courses, having been a winner at the Travelers and a runner-up at the Heritage. Knox also has top-10 finishes at Summerlin and Scottsdale. With three top 20s here, he clearly plays well on desert tracks.

Tom Hoge (125-1)

While missing the cut last week at the Sony, Hoge returns to a place where he has played well before (6th, 2020). Hoge has been knocking at the door for his first PGA Tour victory for a while, with five top-5 finishes in the last four seasons. 

Hayden Buckley (140-1)

PGA Tour rookie Buckley posted two top-10 finishes (4th, Sanderson Farms; 8th, Shriners) during the fall. Last week, he finished 12th at the Sony and was second in the field for SG: Off-The-Tee. 

Andrew Putnam (150-1)

Putnam has made six of eight cuts this season, highlighted by an 11th-place finish at TPC Summerlin. He was 27th last week at the Sony, where he shot four rounds of 68 or better and gained strokes in all categories. He has made all four cuts here (10th two years ago). 

Adam Schenk (205-1)

Schenk posted a career-best third-place finish in the fall at TPC Summerlin, one of three top-5s for Schenk in 2021. He ranks fifth in this field for SG: Putting over the last 36 rounds.

​Abu Dhabi Championship

​The newly named DP World Tour begins the 2022 season with the Abu Dhabi Championship. With an $8 million prize pool and 8,000 Race to Dubai points up for grabs, 14 of the world’s top 60 players will be in Abu Dhabi this week.

Collin Morikawa became the first American to win the Race to Dubai last November and returns as the 7-1 co-favorite with Rory McIlroy, who finished runner-up in this event four times at the old Abu Dhabi Golf Club. This year’s event moves to a new venue at Yas Links. 

Viktor Hovland (10-1) began his 2022 at the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii (as did Morikawa) after finishing 2021 with victories at Mayakoba and the Hero World Challenge. 

After those three, there’s a gap in the market down to 2019 Abu Dhabi winner Shane Lowry (22-1), 2017 and 2018 winner Tommy Fleetwood (22-1) and defending champion Tyrrell Hatton (25-1). Min Woo Lee (25-1), ranked in the top 50 in the OWGR, finished 2021 with three top-10 finishes and has a fourth-place finish already in 2022 (Australian PGA Championship last week). A group of four at 35-1 are next in the market, including Adam Scott, Bernd Wiesberger, Robert MacIntyre and Thomas Pieters. 

The Event

The Abu Dhabi Championship made its debut in 2006. The event has always had strong financial support with current title sponsor HSBC, the seventh-largest bank in the world, presenting sponsor EGA (Emirates Global Aluminum), one of the world’s largest aluminum producers, and the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority. In its 16-year history, the event has had three multiple winners: Martin Kaymer (2008, 2010, 2011), Paul Casey (2007, 2009) and Tommy Fleetwood (2017, 2018).

In 2019, the tournament was upgraded to a Rolex Series event, which offers a larger purse and increased Race to Dubai points. Abu Dhabi is one of five Rolex Series events in 2022 (Scottish Open, BMW PGA Championship, DP World Tour Championship, Dubai Desert Classic). 

The Course

After 16 years at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club, this year’s event moves to a new venue at Yas Links. Geographically, the course is not far from Abu Dhabi Golf Club, but it is a links-style setup which will present a different type of test.

Listed as a 7,425-yard, par-72, Yas Links is a typical 36-36 setup with four par-3s and four par-3s. Sub 400-yard par-4s followed by mid-length par-5s open both 9s and should allow players an opportunity to get off to a positive start before the course bites back. 

Designed by Kyle Phillips (think Kingsbarns) and opened in 2010, Yas Links will undoubtedly fall into the links-style category as all modern imitations do. With exposed fairways, fescue and pot bunkers, it can play pretty close to a true links if the wind blows, which looks a distinct possibility. Paspalum grass has been used from tee to green.

Recent History/Winners

— 2021: Tyrrell Hatton (-18/270); 12-1

— 2020: Lee Westwood (-19/269); 90-1

— 2019: Shane Lowry (-18/270); 60-1

— 2018: Tommy Fleetwood (-22/266); 20-1

— 2017: Tommy Fleetwood (-17/271); 60-1

— 2016: Rickie Fowler (-16/272); 16-1

— 2015: Gary Stal (-19/269); 150-1

— 2014: Pablo Larrazabal (-14/274); 125-1

— 2013: Jamie Donaldson (-14/274); 66-1

— 2012: Robert Rock (-13/275); 150-1

— 2011: Martin Kaymer (-24/264); 8-1

— 2010: Martin Kaymer (-21/267); 14-1

The above events were played at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

​Trends and Angles

— ​Each of the previous 10 winners of this event had at least one top-10 finish in their previous four starts leading up to the tournament.

— Shorter prices have not gotten into the winner’s circle here in recent years, including the following: 2013: Rory McIlroy (5-1), Tiger Woods (15-2); 2014: McIlroy (6-1), Henrik Stenson (8-1); 2015: McIlroy (4-1); 2016: McIlroy (4-1), Jordan Spieth (9-2); 2017: Dustin Johnson (6-1), Stenson (7-1); 2018: Johnson (5-1), Justin Rose (8-1), McIlroy (8-1); 2019: Johnson (6-1), Brooks Koepka (9-1), Tommy Fleetwood (10-1); 2020: Patrick Cantlay (8-1), Koepka (10-1), Fleetwood (10-1); 2021: McIlroy (6-1), Justin Thomas (13-2).

​Selections

​Shane Lowry (22-1)

The 2019 Open Championship winner obviously has links pedigree, having hoisted the Claret Jug at Royal Portrush. Lowry might relish the change in venue. Although he won at Abu Dhabi Golf Club in 2019, he had several missed cuts prior to the victory. 

Adam Scott (35-1)

Unlike Lowry, Scott does not have a Claret Jug to his credit but should have won it back in 2012 at Royal Lytham. He also has five top 10s in the Open Championship, so he is more than capable on a links setup. Scott has been practicing recently in the UAE, and this looks like a good place to kickstart his year after he dropped out of the top 50 in the OWGR on Monday for the first time in four years. 

Erik van Rooyen (40-1)

Van Rooyen is at a similar price this week as he was last week against a much stronger field in the Sony Open. He finished a respectable 20th in Honolulu and was ranked ninth for SG: Off-The-Tee. A large number of players will be rusty this week and that gives him a leg up.

Danny Willett (80-1)

Willett doesn’t have a lot of consistency but tends to be a big-game hunter in big-time events, cashing at 66-1 (2016 Masters), 80-1 (2018 DP World Tour Championship), 66-1 (2019 BMW PGA Championship) and 100-1 (2021 Alfred Dunhill Links) in his last four victories. He has also won in this part of the world (2016 Dubai Desert Classic) and is a proven links performer with the Alfred Dunhill Links victory and two top-6 finishes at the Open Championship (2015, 2019).

Haotong Li (125-1)

Li missed 13 straight cuts plus withdrew from another tournament to start 2021. Then he turned it around on his last visit to links golf with a 14th-place finish at the Alfred Dunhill Links. Since then, he has made three of his last four cuts with a runner-up at the Volvo China Open to end 2021 and a 12th-place finish last week at the Sony. He has also won in the UAE (2018 Dubai Desert Classic). 

Joakim Lagergren (125-1)

The Swede is becoming a bit of a links specialist. His lone DP World Tour victory was in 2018 at Verdura Golf Resort, designed by Yas Links architect Kyle Phillips. Furthermore, he has four top-4 finishes at the Alfred Dunhill Links where Kingsbarns, another Phillips design, is part of the event’s rotation.

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