PGA Tour best bets: The American Express

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Kevin Na shot 61-65 on the weekend to win the Sony Open in Hawaii at as high as 80-1 odds. Na (40-1) will attempt to win in back-to-back weeks this week at the American Express. This week's field took a bit of a hit Monday morning as 2018 tournament champion and odds-on favorite Jon Rahm withdrew. Therefore, we do not have a clear-cut favorite for this week's tournament in Palm Springs. 

Patrick Cantlay (14/1) won the last tour event held in Southern California last fall at the Zozo Championship at Sherwood. Patrick Reed was the 2014 winner here and is priced at 16-1 along with Scottie Scheffler, who finished third here in 2020 in his course debut. Tony Finau and Sungjae Im (20-1) have registered top-10s in the past at this event, while Brooks Koepka (22-1) and Matthew Wolff (25-1) make their 2021 calendar-year debuts this week. 

Abraham Ancer (30-1) is hoping for one better this year as he finished runner-up at the 2020 American Express. Defending champion Andrew Landry won here as a 200-1 shot last time and is currently priced at 130-1. 

THE EVENT

The American Express has had many 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 because it bore the entertainer’s name from 1965 to 2011. Hope served as the event’s host and chairman of the board for many years, and the event carried his name eight years after he died at age 100. 

The tournament’s winners are a who’s-who of golf legends, including Arnold Palmer (1960, 1962, 1968, 1971, 1973), Jack Nicklaus (1963), Billy Casper (1965, 1969), Johnny Miller (1975, 1976) and Phil Mickelson (2002, 2004). In 1995, history was made as three U.S. presidents (Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Gerald Ford) teed it up in the pro-am with Hope and defending champion Scott Hoch. 

Until 2012, the tournament was played over five days on four courses before switching to its current structure of a four-day event using three courses. This year only two courses will be in the rotation as La Quinta Country Club is out and the pro-am was  canceled because of COVID-19. 

 

THE COURSE

This year's American Express will be played on two courses: the PGA West Stadium Course and the PGA West Nicklaus Tournament Course.

PGA West Stadium Course is played by each player in one of the two early rounds and then for the weekend. The track was designed by the legendary Pete Dye in 1986. It is a par-72 of 7,113 yards and usually plays one or two strokes harder than the Nicklaus course. Water is in play on nine holes. Bermudagrass with Ryegrass comprise the fairways and rough while the greens are TifDwarf Bermudagrass. The average score over the last five years is 70.88.

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

* Austin Country Club: WGC Match Play since 2016

* Crooked Stick: 2012 and 2016 BMW Championship

* Harbour Town: RBC Heritage

* Ocean Course at Kiawah Island: 2012 PGA Championship

* TPC River Highlands: The Travelers

* TPC Louisiana: Zurich Classic of New Orleans

* TPC Sawgrass: The Players Championship

* Whistling Straits: 2010 and 2015 PGA Championship

The PGA West Tournament Course was designed by 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 score over the last five years is 69.49. 

The Tournament Course ranked as the second-easiest course on the PGA Tour in 2020. There are also plenty of Nicklaus designs on the PGA Tour schedule if looking for any designer correlation possibilities:

* Annandale Golf Club: Sanderson Farms Championship through 2013

* Glen Abbey: RBC Canadian Open 2008, 2013, 2015-2018

* Montreux Golf & Country Club: Barracuda Championship through 2019

* Muirfield Village: Memorial Tournament

* Old Greenwood: Barracuda Championship 2020

* PGA National: Honda Classic

* PGA West Nicklaus Private: Humana Challenge through 2015

* Sherwood Country Club, Thousand Oaks: World Challenge through 2013

* Valhalla Golf Club: 2014 PGA Championship

RECENT HISTORY/WINNERS

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

2019: Adam Long (-26/262), 500-1

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

SELECTIONS

Scottie Scheffler 16-1

Scheffler finished third in his debut here last year. This season he ranks fifth in Total Driving, 10th in SG: Off The Tee and 15th in Driving Accuracy. 

Cameron Champ 40-1

The big-hitting bomber Champ, third on tour in Driving Distance, returns to California, the site of his last PGA Tour win at the Safeway Open. Champ also had two top-10s in his most recent visits to his home state at the PGA Championship and Zozo Championship at Sherwood. 

Sam Burns 50-1

Burns has progressively good form here at PGA West with an 18th in 2019 and a sixth in 2020. Another bomber (fifth in Driving Distance), Burns also rates fifth on tour for Greens In Regulation and 15th in Birdie Average. 

Patton Kizzire 71-1

Kizzire comes in off a seventh last week at the Sony Open and ranked fifth in the field for SG: Tee To Green. 

He has finished 11th or better in three of his last four events dating to the Houston Open in November and has gained 30 strokes putting over his last 24 rounds on Bermudagrass greens. 

Keegan Bradley 100-1

Bradley missed the cut last week in Honolulu but gained almost six strokes combined off the tee and on approach. Unfortunately, he lost seven strokes on the greens. 

His overall tee-to-green numbers rate eighth on the PGA Tour, but the putter has held him back of late. 

Matthew NeSmith 120-1

NeSmith also missed the cut last week at the Sony Open, but there were some good signs, including hitting 86.1% of greens in regulation. 

He had a nice run of form toward the end of 2020, including a T-8 at the Shriners (a desert course event). 

James Hahn 130-1

Last week, Chris Kirk needed a fourth or better to retain his full PGA Tour status on the last start of his medical extension. He finished T-2 and to keep full playing privileges. 

Hahn is hoping for the same thing, though he still has a few more starts. He is one high-placed finish from locking up his status, and typically fares well in West Coast events, especially in California. 

ABU DHABI HSBC CHAMPIONSHIP

The European Tour's 2021 season commences this week with the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. Abu Dhabi kicks off the early Middle East Swing with events in Dubai and Saudi Arabia to follow. An $8 million purse and 8,000 Race to Dubai points have attracted 13 of the OWGR Top 50 players to this week's field.

Three of the world's top 10 will tee it up, including tournament favorites Rory McIlroy (No. 6) at 6-1, Justin Thomas (No. 3) at 13-2 and Tyrrell Hatton (No. 9) at 14-1. Victory in Abu Dhabi has long eluded McIlroy, but he has four runners-up and three third-place finishes in 10 career starts here. Thomas is making his debut here and began his 2021 season with a third at Kapalua. But he also lost one of his chief sponsors, Ralph Lauren, after being caught on course using a homophobic slur to describe himself following a poor shot. Does that linger with Thomas or could it light a fire under him in a rare appearance in a European Tour event? 

Hatton joins Matthew Fitzpatrick, last year's runner-up here and a winner in the season finale at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, and Tommy Fleetwood, a back-to-back winner here in 2017 and 2018, at 14-1. Defending champion Lee Westwood is priced at 40-1 and former champions Shane Lowry (2019) and Martin Kaymer (2008, 2010, 2011) are just ahead in the market at 35-1. 

THE EVENT

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship debuted in 2006. The event has always had strong financial support with current title sponsor HSBC, the seventh-largest bank in the world based in London, presenting sponsor EGA (Emirates Global Aluminum), one of the world’s largest aluminum producers, and the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority. In its short 14-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 higher prize purse and increased Race to Dubai points. 

THE COURSE

The Abu Dhabi Golf Club was designed in 1998 by Peter Harradine, who also constructed Doha Golf Club, where the Qatar Masters will be held in March. It plays as a par-72 of slightly less than 7,600 yards and is a fairly typical flat and exposed desert track. However, the fairways are relatively tight and thick rough can punish errant shots. There are also 90 bunkers and a few lakes. The Bermuda TifDwarf greens are quick (12-6 on the stimpmeter) but can be had. Top ball strikers who rank highly in the category of Greens In Regulation tend to fare well here. 

 

RECENT HISTORY/WINNERS

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

Note: There has never been a playoff in this event. 

TRENDS AND ANGLES

* All winners of this event, dating to its inception, have registered a top-10 finish in their previous four worldwide starts leading up to Abu Dhabi.

* Although big names have won here, it is very rare for the tournament betting favorites to come out on top.

 

2013: Rory McIlroy (5-1) – MC; Tiger Woods (15-2) – MC

2014: Rory McIlroy (6-1) – T-2; Henrik Stenson (8-1) – MC

2015: Rory McIlroy (4-1) – 2nd; Justin Rose (11-1) – T-12

2016: Rory McIlroy (4-1) – T-3; Jordan Spieth (9-2) – T-5

2017: Dustin Johnson (6-1) – T-2; Henrik Stenson (7-1) – T-8; Rickie Fowler (13/1) – T-36

2018: Dustin Johnson (5-1) – T-9; Justin Rose (8-1) – T-22; Rory McIlroy (8/1) – T-3

2019: Dustin Johnson (6-1) – T-16; Brooks Koepka (9-1) – T-9; Tommy Fleetwood (10/1) – T-42

2020: Tommy Fleetwood (17-2) – T2; Patrick Cantlay (10-1) – T-34; Brooks Koepka (12/1) – T-34

SELECTIONS

Tommy Fleetwood 14-1

Fleetwood turns 30 this week, and a third win here would make for the perfect birthday present. 

He finished 2020 with a solid finish of 10th in Dubai and ranked fourth in that field for SG: Putting. Fleetwood's approach game is always solid and in both his victories here, he rated No. 1 in the field for Greens In Regulation (2017: 90.3%; 2018: 87.5%). 

Although 2020 was a disappointing year for Fleetwood, he nearly claimed two victories (Portugal and Scotland) despite not being near his best. This looks like a great spot for him to get right and back to his top-10 form of 2019. 

Martin Kaymer 35-1

Last year represented a bit of a career turnaround for Kaymer as he played his best golf in years late in the season. 

Kaymer posted three top-5s in his last eight events of the season. Now he returns to a venue where he has won three times and has five additional finishes of eighth or better. 

The two-time major champion led the European Tour in 2020 for SG: Approach, and no one knows this course better.

Bernd Wiesberger 45-1

Wiesberger has three top-8 finishes in his last six appearances here.

He also finished 2020 with two top-10 finishes, one on each side of pond at the RSM Classic and in Dubai. 

Andy Sullivan 50-1

Last year also provided a career resurgence for Sullivan. He won a tournament for the first time since 2015 with a triumph at the English Championship. Furthermore, he had four top-5s and six top-10s during the restart, including a second and a 10th in the final 2020 events in Dubai.

In his last five European Tour starts, Sullivan has rated ninth, fifth, 13th, eighth and second for Greens In Regulation. 

Sullivan is No. 54 in the OWGR and is very close to reaching the top 50 for his first Masters invitation since 2017. 

Thomas Detry 72-1

Detry continues to knock on the door for his maiden European Tour victory. He posted two runners-up (Hero Open and Celtic Classic) and had five top-10s on the restart to end 2020. 

Adri Arnaus 100-1

Arnaus finished 2020 with three top-10s in his last five starts. He also seems to like desert golf with a third and a 10th in two events in Dubai, where he is now based.

Jamie Donaldson 120-1

Donaldson began the 2020 restart outside of the world’s top 500, but he climbed into the top 200 with seven top-20s, four top-10s, a third in Cyprus and a runner-up at the South African Open. He is also a former winner of this event (2013).

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