Hawaii is over, and the west coast swing is here for the PGA Tour. This (hopefully) means a month of primetime golf preceding the Florida swing and eventually the Masters. It also means a return to play for guys like Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler and Brooks Koepka, all of whom have yet to tee it up in 2021. First up on the west coast is a new-look The American Express.
Let’s take a closer look at this week’s contest, with odds and prop bets provided via William Hill Sportsbook.
What: The American Express
When: Jan. 21-24
Where: PGA West Stadium Course and PGA West Nicklaus Course — Palm Desert, California
Three things to know
1. No ams, fans or big man: The shift this year at this tournament — which is normally played as a pro-am across three courses — is the removal of the amateur portion which has shrunk the tournament to two courses across four days. This is a bummer for both the amateurs and the charities that receive a portion of their entry fees, but it’s probably a good thing for everyone else (especially those of us watching on TV). As will likely be true of all of the tournaments in California, no spectators will be in attendance either. And lastly, the big fella from Spain and No. 2 player in the world, Jon Rahm, recently withdrew from the event.
2. Dogs on championship weekend: As Jason Sobel recently pointed out, this has been an event traditionally won by longshots. Of course it has also been an event where most of the best players in the world are sitting at home, which won’t exactly be the case this time around (see below). Dating back to 2006, only one major champion (at the time he won) has hoisted a trophy here (Jason Dufner in 2016). While this might not create the most intrigue, it’s a great opportunity for the Andrew Landrys and Hudson Swaffords of the world to change their career trajectories with a victory here.
3. Brooks? Four-time major champion Brooks Koepka ended 2020 significantly on-brand for what he’s been over the past 18 months. Following top-seven finishes at the Houston Open and Masters, Koepka missed the cut at the Mayakoba Golf Classic. While his legacy is secure(ish), 2021 feels like a big year for whatever the future of Koepka’s career holds. Is it unreasonable to think he simply found a two-year heater akin to the one Jason Day was on five years ago and rode that to those four majors, or is there more left in the tank? For the sake of golf, I hope it’s the latter, but I’m actually leaning more toward the former heading into this year.
Grading the field
Despite no Rahm, the list of star names in this field is unusually strong (similar to last week’s Sony Open, which saw one of its strongest fields ever). Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler, Tony Finau, Patrick Reed, Patrick Cantlay and Matthew Wolff are all teeing it up this week. And while some of those players might not be playing the best golf of their careers, they’ll still be intriguing follows throughout the week. Grade: A-
1. Sam Burns top 20 (+240): Burns has been the best player in this field from tee to green over the last three months. The problem with that is that he also has not played since Mayakoba, so there could be some rust.
2. Cameron Champ top 20 (+175): I’m not sure why we don’t talk more about Champ when it comes to good young players, but his length will be rewarded disproportionately at PGA West compared to other PGA Tour courses. In fact, this course fits him better than anyone else in the entire field.
3. Robby Shelton top 20 (+800): He’s been one of the better tee-to-green players in the field of late, and he finished top 25 last week at the Sony Open despite driving it poorly.