American Express Golf Preview and Picks
AMERICAN EXPRESS GOLF PREVIEW AND PICKS - The PGA Tour is back on the mainland after two weeks in Hawaii to kick-off 2023. They'll be playing a trio of courses in the Palm Springs area of Southern California.
Your resident golf degenerate and superfan is here to preview some plays that I like, players who I think have a shot, and what to expect from this unusual format.
Before I get to the picks, let me quickly talk about the courses that the pros and amateurs will be playing on this week. PGA West Stadium (two rounds), Nicklaus Tournament (one round), and La Quinta Country Club (one round) will all be hosting golfers this week as they move from location to location throughout the week. None of these courses are particularly long by Tour standards and low scores are all but a necessity. In the last 15 years, nobody has won with a score of less than -20. Factor in some rain early this week that has likely softened the courses up a little, and guys could be going scary low here.
This is one of two pro-am tournaments on the schedule and, as such, it adds some interesting qualities to these tournament. First of all, the rounds take forever as the amateurs grind (and sign autographs, do interviews on-course, etc.) around these courses with their pro partner. The courses are also set up relatively easily to accommodate the amateurs who will be playing alongside the pros for the first 54 holes. The cut also doesn't happen until after Saturday when everyone has played a round at the three courses in rotation. The pro-am aspect of this means relatively light rough, easier pin positions and more moderate speed on the greens. This is why the pros shoot low scores here.
Skills Pay the Bills
Because of the unique qualities of this tournament, and because it's existed in more or less the same format on similar courses for so long, we have a lot of previous data to draw on both anecdotal and statistical that can help narrow down a list of guys we'd like to thrown money on.
The most important quality the the winner will need to have is SG: Approach. These dudes need to make birdies in bunches and that's not going to be possible without setting yourself up for a bunch of looks at birdie with your iron game. Much like last week at the Sony, this is a second shot golf course. Off the tee, the fairways are fairly generous, the rough isn't terribly penal, and the courses aren't very long. This puts the emphasis on approach shots since everyone should be fine off the tee. If you want to put an even finer point on this, you can single out guys who excel from 150-175 yards. Those are the most common approach yardages here and it's a good way to narrow things down a little further.
If you want to zoom out rather than zoom in on stats, might I suggest SG: tee-to-green? The greens here are not very big, and to a degree it can enable weaker putters to hold their own because the risk of three-putting is lower here than at other tournaments. Not just because the greens are small, but also because the pin placements aren't terribly challenging either. So there is less trickiness to throw off the shaky putters out there.
For the TL;DR crowd: Single out ball strikers here, particularly good iron players. Disadvantages off the tee or on the greens is often negated here.
The field is unusually strong for this tournament. Nine out of the top twenty players in the world will be teeing it up, including five of the top seven. The hottest golfer in the galaxy, Jon Rahm (+650) is the clear and deserving favorite, but you won't see me betting anyone at those odds in a PGA Tour event. Scottie Scheffler (+1000) and Cantlay (+1100) are in the second tier of players. If forced to play a favorite, I think it would probably have to be Cantlay. He's shown he can get red-hot with the putter in these low-scoring shootouts, and he tends to play some of his best golf on the West Coast. I'm actually shocked he hasn't won here before as his game lines up pretty perfectly.
I will not be playing any of the big favorites, as per usual. You'll seldom see me dip below 20/1 when I pick golfers just because there is a quite a lot of parity in professional golf. The one exception may be some of the majors where I'll dip a toe on somebody in the 15/1-18/1 range. But we'll talk about that in April when we head to Augusta National for The Masters.
If you're shocked by some of the suggestion I throw out in the paragraphs to follow, keep this one stat in mind: five of the last six winners of this event have come at odds of 50/1 or longer. It's open season on long shots this week.
Odds courtesy of DraftKings as of January 18th, 2023
Mid-tier guys worth a long look
We are going to lead here with Taylor Montgomery (+3500). If we can get some good ball-striking from our guy this week, he should be able to fill up the cup on these greens. He's eighth in SG: Putting, so we know the putter is likely to cooperate and he's been sniffing around the tops of leaderboards pretty consistently this season. In eight events, he's made the cut every time and has finished top-25 in seven of them. In four of them he's been top-10. He's playing well and the win will happen for him soon if he continues like this. The form is still there after a T12 at the Sony last week. This could be the week.
Cam Davis (+4500) is a hot pick this week among golf touts and for good reason. He's been playing well this season, making all six cuts. He's also got a good history here. In three starts, he's made the cut every time. He didn't play this event last year, but in 2021 he finished solo third, so the course seems to suit him and he's playing well at the moment. He fits the ball-striker angle. Davis was excellent last week from tee-to-green but got held back by a balky short game. Those trends won't last.
More or less, everyone in the golf world is betting on Cam and Montgomery here, so we'll have a lot of company on those particular bets. More details on the bets they're receiving here.
For me, every season, there are just some dudes that I like and look for opportunities to bet on. This season is no different. Sahith Theegala (+5500) is just a dude that I like. He played decent here in his debut last year finishing T33. He's had even better results this season where he's landed in the top-6 three times already. His stats aren't out of this world, and he can be incredibly streaky. His best golf seems to happen out West which makes sense for the former All-American from Pepperdine. His oft-wayward driver shouldn't hurt him here and his magic hands should be able to save some shots around the small greens at these courses. This is more of a gut play than anything that I can throw stats at. He's played too well in his short career not to have a W. It will happen, and soon.
One guy who has been getting a little bit of love lately, and has in his prime fit the mold of a player who could do very well here, is Jason Day (+5500). He's been playing better, and when he plays well, he excels with his irons, particularly from the ranges I highlighted earlier. Some health woes, and then swing changes to accommodate his ailing back took him down from the elite tier he'd previously occupied. Don't be shocked if a healthy Jason Day can make some noise here. He's never been a guy who backs down when he's in contention and he's shown the ability to be a closer. These odds just feel a little too long for a proven winner when healthy.
There goes that man
Now we get to the fun stuff. The deep long shots. The kind you brag about bagging. And this tournament serves up a fair amount of them. Sure, you could just bet Rahm or Scheffler and collect some peanuts for you troubles. Or, maybe, just maybe, you spread a little money around on some deep sleepers to try and snag a real fun payout.
As an aside, for the more risk-averse crowd: these guys make for safer bets as top-10 or top-20 options, so feel free to explore their odds there. I tend to mostly play outright myself, so that's what I focus on for the purposes of this column.
David Lipsky (+13000) is the first one who stands out as the type of ball striker who could end up surprising some folks here. He finished T4 at the Sony, so you know the form is there, especially on a shorter course that favors iron play. The comps aren't perfect between Waialae and the courses in the desert, but his form is sharp. He seems comfortable here as well, as he finished T14 in his debut last season.
Another guy who I just love to watch play and find reasons to talk myself into betting on shorter tracks is J.T. Poston (+9000). He has been an absolute beast with the flagstick throughout his career, but his numbers aren't there yet this season. Like Theegala, he can struggle on tighter courses because he isn't particularly accurate nor long with the big stick, but these courses neutralize that disadvantage. He's typically solid with his irons and he's an elite putter. The putter will heat up for him soon and I want to be there when it does.
I'm not sure if he's in a place in his career where he can jump up and win, but the statistics show that Ben Taylor (+13000) can be right there on a Sunday. He's been solid all season off the tee, with his irons, and on the greens. He finished top-5 last week and the breakthrough could be coming.
One last guy I'll mention is Adam Hadwin (+6000). We haven't seen much of him this season since he last teed it up in early November at the Houston Open and didn't make the trip to Hawaii to kick of the calendar year start to the season. But, he was solid in Houston and is another guy who tends to excel at shorter courses where his iron play and a hot putter get him in contention.
Putting it all together
You have a lot of options here. I think the best way to play this is to grab 2-3 guys from the mid-tier range that I've mentioned and throw in 1-2 long shots. Betting golf outrights is a long, lonely journey. Ultimately, we're just not going to hit every week.
It can be a grind sort of akin to tournament poker. It's a lot of bad beats and frustration. Then, a few times a season, your guy gets in contention and cashes a fat ticket to reward you for your persistence.
Make sure you have the bankroll to sustain the swings that come with this sort of high-variance approach and dial down your units if you get to feeling like you need to hit one immediately or you account will be tapped out. This is a long season and we're just getting started
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