The beautiful Hawaii swing is over for the PGA Tour, and now the long, grueling west coast swing begins this week with a new-name tournament hosted by an old face. Phil Mickelson has moved from being the ambassador for The American Express to being the host of this year’s event for the first time ever. He might also have a say on how the tournament goes on the course (more on that below).
Let’s take a look at this week’s contest.
What: The American Express | When: Jan. 16-19
Where: PGA West, PGA West Stadium Course, La Quinta Country Club — Palm Desert, California
Ranking the field (odds)
- Tony Finau (25-1): He can score with anybody in the world, and this is a scorer’s course.
- Rickie Fowler (12-1): Probably the most talent of anyone in the field. T5 at Tournament of Champions.
- Sungjae Im (18-1): Finished T12 here last year. Three straight top 25s on the PGA Tour.
- Charles Howell III (30-1): Don’t know that he’ll win, but he’s a safety pick amid some wild cards.
- Phil Mickelson (40-1): Lefty finished second here last year, and is fourth all-time in strokes gained.
- Matthew Wolff (40-1): I mentioned wild cards. He’s one of them. Finau lite.
- Scottie Scheffler (30-1): Not totally sure what he’s going to be yet, but three top 20s in his last three.
- Vaughn Taylor (60-1): Love him as a long-ish shot (see below).
- Paul Casey (20-1): No appearances since T58 in 2017, but I have to respect the talent.
- Francesco Molinari (40-1): Good feeling about him this week. T12 in 2017. T10 in 2015.
Field strength — C+: Several stars are taking part in the festivities overseas with the European Tour’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship going on in conjunction with this event. Still, any event with Fowler and Mickelson has enough star power to carry it through the weekend, especially if those guys are in contention.
Three things to know
1. Bring your scorecard: If your final score has been in the teens under par since this tournament moved from five rounds to four back in 2012, you were on the outside looking in. Every winner was at least 20 under or better. This trio of courses isn’t difficult, but you still have to score at an absurd rate to sniff a win on Sunday afternoon.
2. Mickelson’s double duty: Lefty is the perfect person to host this event — or any event, really — but I’m curious to see how (if at all) that affects his play. His downward slide has not been great, and the trajectory here is not super encouraging. He nearly won this tournament just a year ago, and that was — gulp — his second-most recent top 10 on the PGA Tour. Another contention this week would be a great start to his new gig in the desert.
3. Presidents Cup redux: I don’t know why, but I’m really intrigued to see how all the Presidents Cup participants play this week. Im and Fowler are the favorites, but I’m looking at players like Tony Finau and Abraham Ancer. I don’t know that it’s an obvious next step to go from Presidents Cup success to contention at this particular PGA Tour event, but the names certainly stand out more than they did three months ago, and with that comes the expectation of great play.
- 2019: Adam Long
- 2018: Jon Rahm
- 2017: Hudston Swafford
- 2016: Jason Dufner
- 2015: Bill Haas
The American Express picks
Winner: Tony Fianu (25-1) — He’s never really played well at this course in his few appearances, but he’s coming off a good showing last week at the Hong Kong Open, and he can get on mammoth heaters that you need to get on to win at this tournament.
Top 10: Charles Howell III (+290) — It’s Charles Howell III SZN on the west coast. He’s among the all-time leaders in strokes gained on this course and just doesn’t miss cuts here. You’ll be in it until the end with him.
Sleeper: Vaughn Taylor (60-1) — He’s a steal at this number, as the good folks over at PGATour.com pointed out. Taylor has a good historic record here and has gone T2-T10-T12 in his last three events.