The west coast swing gets underway with a tournament carrying a new name this week as the Desert Classic has become The American Express, but the same three courses are in use in the pro-am that kicks off a decent month of action stateside.
Adam Long had the time of his life here last year when he waltzed off with the title and he is in a large field looking to retain his title. With two big events going on over on the other tours this isn’t the best field of all time but it looks a competitive one.
2019 – Adam Long
2018 – Jon Rahm
2017 – Hudson Swafford
2016 – Jason Dufner
2015 – Bill Haas
2014 – Patrick Reed
2013 – Brian Gay
2012 – Mark Wilson
2011 – Jhonattan Vegas
2010 – Bill Haas
We have three courses in action once again this week – Stadium Course, Tournament Course at PGA West and La Quinta. Each professional and their amateur partner plays the rotation of the courses once over the first three days and then those who make the cut will fight it out for the title on the Stadium Course to crown our champion across the course of Sunday.
All three courses are par 72s and none of them are especially long. They are all set up a little easier than we would expect courses to be in big tournaments to allow the amateurs to get round them relatively successfully. The standard diet for this tournament is pretty simple – hit lots of greens and make a lot of birdies. We’re looking for a winning score in the 20s under par so it is imperative we back players who make a stack of birdies.
As I intimated above there are big events on the European Tour and Asian Tour this week and that has had an impact on the field here. Phil Mickelson is the biggest name on show with his foundation hosting the event, while Rickie Fowler will keep the crowds happy too. Aside from that there is a lack of genuine big names, although that might be being a little harsh on the likes of Paul Casey and Tony Finau who also tee it up here.
Sungjae Im is forming a huge reputation for himself and he is in the field as well while veterans such as Kevin Kisner, Charles Howell III, Billy Horschel and Brian Harman are also in the field. European stars Francesco Molinari and Alex Noren are here while the young brigade are headed up by Scottie Scheffler and Matthew Wolff. There is a competitive element to the field rather than a standout one.
Rickie Fowler is the 12/1 favourite to claim his first win since the Phoenix Open last season. That is his only PGA Tour win since The Honda Classic in 2017 so he isn’t exactly what you could call a winning machine at this level in recent times which might be an issue when considering him in a lottery event at a relatively skinny price. He does go well on the west coast though which is one positive and the strength of opposition isn’t the greatest which is another. He still isn’t for me though.
Sungjae Im comes in at the second favourite spot at 16/1. There is no doubt he is a tournament winner in waiting with the quality of his game but I guess the big question here is can you back a fella who hasn’t yet won at 16/1 in an event where a lot needs to go the way of the winner in order to get the job done? It doesn’t feel like a worthwhile investment to be so I’ll baulk on it as a result.
Paul Casey is next in the betting market at 22/1. He is someone who would interest me this week but I do prefer him in harder events, or events where the course is a little tougher than the three we are playing on this week. It is a Ryder Cup year and playing on this side of the pond, Casey needs to maximise every start he has so that is something to watch in the weeks ahead but perhaps not so much here.
Tony Finau is the only other man in the field under 30/1. He slots in at 25/1 and he is still looking for his full level PGA Tour win with his only previous one coming in the secondary Puerto Rico Open in 2016. First time winners are not rare in this tournament but I can’t possibly be backing a bloke who hasn’t won at this level before especially on three courses where his big strength, his length, is largely negated. He was also in Hong Kong last week so has been doing a fair bit of travelling which is never ideal.
I took Abraham Ancer last week with the view that I’m convinced he is going to run hot this year and although he didn’t feature, he did shoot three under par rounds in tricky conditions on a course which played a lot tougher than what any of these three are going to do so I’m prepared to give him a second chance this week. Ancer is a very good putter and he is aggressive with it so he should set up a lot of birdie chances and I would expect him to convert his fair share. There is always a lottery element to these multi-course pro-ams but Ancer has enough in his favour to merit a bet.
Vaughn Taylor was in the top 10 here last year when he arrived with no top 25s for the season prior to that, so the fact he comes in here with three finishes in the top 12 in his last three starts has to be a positive for a man who often goes under the radar. Taylor was second in Mexico on a total of 19 under par so we know he is no stranger to going low when everything is on it. He was six under last week after opening with a five over 75 so even a level par first round would have had him in the playoff. His form is sneaky good and he’s a big price at 50/1.
I always want good putters in this tournament so I’ll take two of the best as my first two outsiders. Andrew Putnam is third in strokes gained putting and he is always high up in the putting statistics of any tournament. He is improving all the time in the longer parts of the game and that bodes well for him here. We know if he gives himself the required amount of chances that he is going to take more than his fair share of them, so with that in mind he looks big at 66/1.
Another man who has always had a dream touch with the short stick is Zach Johnson, and he showed enough in Hawaii last week to suggest that a decent spell of form may not be far away. Whenever a player is involved in a team event in a role not as a player you often find their form improves as they realise how much the game means to them. Jim Furyk went on a long run of good form last year after his Ryder Cup role while Graeme McDowell won last year after being involved in Europe’s winning team in Paris. I see Zach Johnson doing similar and he started well with a decent spin last week. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him right in contention here.
Henrik Norlander comes in here with successive top 10s either side of Christmas and in the RSM Classic where he ended T5 he ranked third in GIR while last week his T9 was formed off the back of a second place ranking in strokes gained putting. Those two things are the main ingredients of success this week so if he can combine the two and put it together there is no reason why he can’t have a big week here. He is my three figure price fancy for a decent run over the course of this week.
PLACED – Back A.Ancer to win The American Express (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 41.00 with Sky Bet (1/5 1-7)
Back V.Taylor to win The American Express (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 51.00 with Sky Bet (1/5 1-7)
Back A.Putnam to win The American Express (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 67.00 with Sky Bet (1/5 1-7)
Back Z.Johnson to win The American Express (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 67.00 with Betfair (1/5 1-8)
Back him here:
Back H.Norlander to win The American Express (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 101.00 with Boylesports (1/5 1-8)
Back him here: