The American Express: The Tournament of Capitalism
Last week, we kicked off the new Golf article season with the tagline, “Hawaii in January is a good way to start 2022.” Hideki Matsuyama proved us right by hoisting the title after making an Eagle in the playoff on Sunday. It paid out 18:1 and was one of our three picks to win.
Last week’s hit on Matsuyama was our lone cash for the week, putting us at +12 units to start off the season. Midway through last season, we peaked around this same unit count. Let’s see if we can finish the year at +15 units.
The American Express Overview
The American Express (formerly known as the Desert Classic and Bob Hope Chrysler Classic) is a tournament that has been held at the La Quinta Country Club in California (Nicklaus, Dye, and La Quinta), on and off since 1964. The course is a Pete Dye design (TPC Louisiana, home of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans and TPC Sawgrass are two other notable Pete Dye courses). There’s also a Nicklaus Course and La Quinta course (rotating each round).
Like many of the courses out west, PGA West is an oasis surrounded by desert. The winning scores at this tournament have been around 23 under since moving to this course rotation in 2016 (though the low scores really come from the La Quinta course). The final three holes are described as one of the most challenging final three holes on the tour (for the Stadium course), and the course features plenty of sand, water hazards, steep bunkers, and an island green on 17.
Advanced Stats to track this week
This week, we’re looking at the golfers who have done well here in the past, more than anything else. Due to the rotating factor, it’s too difficult to put a lot on each course and try to find common ground:
- Past performance at The American Express
- Recent form
- Strokes Gained: Approach
Good luck this week!
Odds via DraftKings Sportsbook
Teeing Off – One Player to finish in the top 40
Henrik Norlander +230
Henrik Norlander is a 6’4, 34 year-old Swede. He’s currently 56th in the FedEx Cup standings, fresh-off a 55th place finish in Hawaii. Though it isn’t really impressive, the Swede now has made six cuts in seven tournaments this season. What’s more fascinating is his track record at this tournament. Last year, Norlander finished 12th here (La Quinta was excluded last season in the rotation). In 2020, he finished 68th with the same course rotation they’re using this year.
Regardless of the 2020 result on the same setup, Norlander has made the cut twice here; finishing 12th last season. This season, he’s coming-in hot. You have to like the strong form plus the past performance here. Norlander is 50th in Strokes Gained: Approach. That’s going to serve him well on the two tough courses. If Norlander survives the cut through the La Quinta shootout course, this should be an easy cash for us.
Middle of the Fairway – Two Players to finish in the top 20
Doug Ghim +400
Doug Ghim failed to make the cut here in 2020 under the same setup, but finished 5th here a year ago. Ghim is a 25 year-old, former Texas Longhorn (like Spieth) and had a decent season last year (83rd in 2021 FedEx Cup). He’s off to a mediocre, but consistent start thus far in 2022. In six tournaments, he’s made five cuts, but has not finished better than 27th.
Ghim has the track record here (though not the same course rotation last season), and he has been good enough to survive cuts. His best advanced stat is Strokes Gained: Approach (75th), and that’s a good one to have in the desert. If Ghim can keep pace at the La Quinta course, we could be in for a nice payout this weekend.
Brian Harman +275
Brian Harman had a great season last year (41st in the FedEx Cup). This season, he’s off to a pretty slow start, but took some steps in the right direction last week, finishing 48th (second straight top 50 finish this season). Harman’s campaign has started slow, but he finished 8th here last season and 21st the year prior. He also finished 20th in 2018.
Harman is just 135th in Strokes Gained: Total this season, but was 38th a year ago. Despite the slow start, Harman is due to regress to the mean this week in the areas he was so good in 2021. His odds are favorable, considering the quality of player he is.
Edge of the Green – Two Players to finish in the top 10
Michael Thompson +550
Michael Thompson is an interesting case this week. For one, he fulfills both top categories this week (recent form & previous performance at this tournament). Thompson is 54th in the FedEx Cup standings; making the cut in all six events this season. Last week, Thompson finished 5th at the Sony Open in Hawaii.
Thompson failed to make the cut here in 2020, but finished tied for 5th (alongside Ghim and Ancer) last season. He also finished 9th here back in 2018 under this exact same course rotation. The difference between now and 2020 is the current form he’s in. On the advanced numbers side, Thompson is middle of the pack, but it’s his putting (45th) that’s kept him in the money this season. Another Top 10 finish this week and we may be able to safely exit this ride before the clear fall off we should expect from him.
Chris Kirk +600
Kirk is in that “consistently mediocre” form this season. He’s 91st in the FedEx Cup standings, but finished a solid 27th last week in Hawaii. Why that’s so important is his track record here. Kirk finished 16th here in 2021. He had his best finish in the FedEx Cup last season (62nd) in the last six years. Kirk is 43rd in Strokes Gained: Total. That’s not elite, but it’s better than the guys we’ve spoken about up to this point.
At +600, Kirk is a deep play here, but one with some definite upside, who finished strong last week in Hawaii (final round: 66 on Sunday).
Short Putt – One Player to finish in the top 5
Jon Rahm +100
This bet is just a safety play for our card. Rahm is the pick so we can say, “well, we couldn’t even get a top 5 finish from the guy who had 16 of them last season, so it was just an unlucky week.” Jon Rahm is as close to a machine as you can get on the tour. He’s also won here before under this same course rotation.
This season, Rahm has only played in two events (Fortinet Championship and Sentry TOC). He was cut in the Fortinet, but secured 2nd at the Sentry, shooting a 61 in Round 3. Rahm is in his prime and again crushing it on the advanced stats (2nd in Strokes Gained: Total. He is going to be a weapon with this format, particularly on the La Quinta course. He finished 6th here in 2019 with the same course rotation and won it in 2018.
In the Hole – Three Players to Win
Abraham Ancer +2500
Abraham Ancer finished 18th here in 2019 and 2nd here in 2020. He’s now 30 years-old and has climbed higher in the FedEx Cup standings in each of the last four seasons (60th to 9th over that span). Ancer is off to a slower start this year (cut last week in Hawaii), but has three top 15 finishes already on the season.
Though his form has been erratic and his advanced stats are nothing to get excited about, the two top 10 finishes with this format at this event make him an easy target for a winning wager.
Corey Conners +2200
30 year-old Corey Conners has two top 30 FedEx Cup finishes over the last three seasons. He’s 58th in the FedEx Cup this season, so you can bet he’s going to kick things into gear soon. Sometimes, timing these things are the most critical aspect to betting golf, and Conners is due at this point. He’s 16th at Strokes Gained: Total and 7th at Strokes Gained: Off the tee.
Conners has played this event in its current format a couple times (2018 and 2019); placing 50th in 2018 and cut in 2019. It’s been a few years now since Conners has played this course, but he finished 5th at the QBE Shootout and 11th last week in Hawaii at the Sony Open. Everything seems to be coming together for Corey now. Expect a strong performance this week to catapult him back into the spotlight.
Sungjae Im +1800
We like Sungjae the most this week. For one, he’s got the same odds as Matsuyama had last week. The second big reason is previous success here (12th in 2019 and 10th in 2020). On the season, Sungjae has three top 10 finishes this season, including a victory at the Shriners Children’s Open.
The 23 year-old South Korean star has the overall game to win this kind of tournament. He’s very capable of low scores, especially on weak courses (La Quinta). Trust Sungjae this week and try to forget about how he missed the cut last week in Hawaii.