The first two events of the PGA TOUR season have produced a pair of long-shot victors in the Hawaiian Islands.
Returning to California for the West Coast swing, the TOUR heads to the desert in La Quinta for the 65th playing of The American Express.
The first 156-player, full-field event will spread across three courses in the Coachella Valley. The newest rotation began in 2016 and includes the Pete Dye Stadium Course at PGA West, the Nicklaus Tournament Course at PGA West, and La Quinta Country Club.
On the line this week is a purse is $8.4 million, with the winner earning $1.512 million, 500 FedExCup points, entry to the Masters in April, and the 2025 Sentry, among other perks.
Scottie Scheffler (11/2): Go on, take the money, and run, goes the song. As Scheffler’s putter goes, his weekly paycheck increases. Nobody hits it better, but when 25-under or better is required, I’m not sure he has enough makes in the flat stick. Take the top 10 and carry on.
Patrick Cantlay (9/1): Don’t forget he used to dominate in the desert outside Las Vegas! The California desert hasn’t been as profitable, but the Californian has racked up three top-10 paydays, including solo second in 2021, in his last four starts. Owning the course record, 61, at the Stadium Course, he’s also produced 62 at La Quinta. He’s my first name on the team sheet this week.
Xander Schauffele (11/1): Returning for the first time since 2017, the Las Vegas resident closed with 62 at the Stadium Course last year to steal a spot on the podium at T3. The last time we saw him in the winner’s circle was the summer of 2022 in Scotland before The Open Championship. Sitting in the top five in SG: Approach AND Putting, that’s an incredible streak without a win.
Sungjae Im (20/1): Setting the PGA TOUR record for most birdies in a tournament (34) and cashing T5 at Kapalua, the spotlight shines brightly on him this week. Never finishing better than T10 and never worse than T18, it’s not surprising he’s in the field for the sixth consecutive season. This week will be the first time in six seasons he’s not coming directly from Waialae. The Korean posted 20-under last year, his best total, yet it was only good enough for T18.
Tom Kim (20/1): Once Cantlay left the Las Vegas desert, Kim picked up the ball and ran with it. Winning the event the last two seasons, his first two times in the field, he’s proven he can fill it up in perfect scoring conditions. Cashing T6 here last January, the 21-year-old circled 26 birdies and an eagle, plus signed for 62 at the NT. With plenty of options from Korea in the field, he stands out.
Justin Thomas (22/1): Qualifying for Signature Events in 2024 is the carrot for the two-time major winner. Missing out on the playoffs last season, 2024 will require additional concentration, especially with the PGA Championship in his backyard of Louisville coming up in May. The last time he played The American Express was 2015 (T7). A fresh start to a fresh year. All aboard!
The first pro-am of the season will also be the first event to use multiple courses.
The Stadium Course at PGA West, designed by Pete Dye, has been the host since entering the rotation in 2016. Stretching to 7,187 yards, the Par-72 is the longest of the three tracks.
The Nicklaus Tournament Course at PGA West reaches 7,147 yards and plays to Par 72. Dylan Wu and Will Zalatoris, both entered, share the course record of 61, set in each of the last two editions.
La Quinta Country Club, omitted during the 2021 event for health and safety reasons, makes its 52nd appearance in the rotation, the most all-time. Tipping at 7,060 yards and playing to Par-72, Adam Hadwin holds the course record with 59.
All three resort courses rank as some of the easiest on TOUR annually. The top 65 and ties after 54 holes will return to the host course to play the final round.
All eight winners have posted 20-under or better to win and have ranked in the top 10 in Par-4 and Par-5 scoring.
Adam Long, the 2019 winner, is the only champion to start on the NT course. He’s also the only winner in this rotation to win on debut.
Overseeded greens with Poa annua (Poa trivialis at La Quinta) provide a new test on the putting surfaces.
Perfect weather (read: no wind) provides incredible scoring conditions. The rough is less than two inches in most places.
The field of 156 contains 21 of the top 50 in the Official World Golf Rankings.
Players to consider for Top 10, Top 20, or Top 40 action:
JT Poston (30/1): Making his third start in three events to start the season, he posted T3 in Las Vegas in the fall, T5 at Sentry, and solo sixth last week. Circling 29 birdies in 2023, he cashed T6 here last season. When trends converge, I jump.
Taylor Montgomery (50/1): Solo fifth on debut last year included three rounds of 66 or better. This desert doesn’t have the distraction of his home tournament in Las Vegas.
Adam Hadwin (60/1): One of the course horses this week, he’s never missed in seven visits and owns four top-10 paydays. Running second to Kim at Shriners in the fall, a missed cut last week at Sony will not deter me.
Taylor Pendrith (80/1): I might add every Canadian to my ticket. In his last five events, he’s posted T15 in four of his last five, including three in the top 10. Buy all you can get.
Grayson Murray (125/1): In six visits he’s posted T14 or better three times. I’ll ride the bounce from last week.
Patton Kizzire (125/1): Second consecutive week as a sponsor’s exemption. Cashing T13 last week, he’ll look to add to T11 and T22 in his previous two visits to La Quinta.
Sam Ryder (150/1): T13 and T10 in his last two appearances during his streak of nine consecutive made cuts.
Chesson Hadley (200/1): Cashing his last eight on TOUR includes T7 twice in two of his last four, including one in Las Vegas. He’s missed the weekend here on his last three trips so something has to give!
Jacob Bridgeman/Adrian Dumont de Chassart (300/1): The kids are all right. After both missed the cut last week, it’s time to put their heads down and make a bunch of birdies, just like they did all last season on the KFT.