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PGA Tour Preview: Ben Everill on The American Express

PGA Tour fans face an intriguing week ahead as The American Express rolls into the Coachella Valley in the California desert. A sneaky strong field has been assembled with 10 of the top 20 players in the world, five of those inside the top 10, for this unique Pro-Am that guarantees all players three rounds before a 54-hole cut. 

A field of 156 will tee it up before the top 65 and ties will battle it out on the PGA West Stadium Course in the final round. Prior, a three-course rotation that began in 2016 (save 2021 due to COVID-19) continues with the Nicklaus Tournament Course and La Quinta Country Club joining Pete Dye’s Stadium Course. 

With three courses comes the possibilities of the draw providing some influence, so be mindful of checking local weather scenarios prior to each round as you look to make your most educated discussions. Historically, players go lowest at La Quinta with all three courses playing to regulation par-72 and find the most struggles at the Stadium Course. 

In the last six versions with these three courses in play, the winner started at La Quinta three times, Nicklaus Tournament twice, and Stadium just once. 

Short of some serious winds – which are currently not in the forecast – you can expect a significant shootout in the desert. Since this event changed to its current iteration as a four-round tournament in 2012 it is the only Tour event where the winner has always been 20-under or better!

With the Tour’s ShotLink data only used on the Stadium Course, we must be more cautious than usual when looking for our key stats for the event but we do know that nine winners in the recent past found themselves inside the top 10 of Strokes Gained: Putting on that track for the week and eight winners were inside the top 10 of Strokes Gained: Approach. Getting in play off the tee is always important but at over 72percent hit the fairways were third easiest to find all season a year ago and in terms of scrambling it was the easiest on Tour. 

With a shootout in play, we have to look at scoring stats like Rounds in the 60s and Birdie or Better Conversion Percentage. The reality is last season the Nicklaus Tournament Course and La Quinta had the fourth and fifth fewest bogeys or worse on the schedule so if you’re not moving forward, you’re in reverse. 

Just for good measure let’s check out Par-5 Scoring as there’s no doubt players have to make moves on the longer holes or risk getting left behind. One caveat to this is the fact the Stadium course had only 16 eagles last season, one of the stingiest all season in terms of the big bird! Make one there and you’re soaring.

Here is a look at the players in this field currently ranking inside the top 10 on Tour in these key stats. 

Strokes Gained: Putting

3 – Harry Hall

5 – Patrick Cantlay

7 – Tony Finau

7 – Taylor Montgomery

9 – Justin Rose

10 – Danny Willett

Note: Last season Denny McCarthy (2), Brendon Todd (3), Beau Hossler (5), Christiaan Bezuidenhout (6), and Sam Burns (10) all ranked inside the top 10 of this stat.

Strokes Gained: Approach

1 – Tom Hoge

3 – Si Woo Kim 

5 – Sung Kang

7 – Tom Kim

8 – Russell Knox

9 – Jason Day

10 – Adam Hadwin

Note: Last season Will Zalatoris (1), Scottie Scheffler (4) and Xander Schauffele (7), ranked inside the top 10 of this stat.

Rounds in the 60s

1 – Andrew Putnam 

3 – Will Gordon 

3 – Taylor Montgomery

5 – Greyson Sigg

5 – Patrick Rodgers

5 – K.H. Lee

8 – Brian Harman

Note: Last season Sahith Theegala (1), Tony Finau (2), Tom Hoge (3), Scottie Scheffler (3), Davis Riley (3), Keith Mitchell (6), Brian Harman (7), Sungjae Im (10) and Sam Burns (10), all ranked inside the top 10 of this stat.

Birdie or Better Percentage

1 – Jon Rahm 

2 – Patrick Cantlay 

3 – Tony Finau

6 – Cameron Young

10 – Tom Hoge

Note: Last season Scottie Scheffler (3), Patrick Cantlay (5), Cameron Young (6), Xander Schauffele (8), Will Zalatoris (9) and Sam Burns (10), ranked inside the top 10 of this stat. 

Par 5 Scoring

1 – Jon Rahm 

1 – Patrick Cantlay 

7 – Sungjae Im

8 – Cam Davis

10 – Tony Finau

10 – Kyle Westmoreland

Note: Last season Patrick Cantlay (1) Scottie Scheffler (5), Sam Burns (7) and Sungjae Im (10), all ranked inside the top 10 of this stat. 

TOP OF THE BOARD

Not surprisingly the top of the odds board brings the top players in the world. World No. 4 Jon Rahm 6/1, No. 5 Patrick Cantlay 10/1, No. 2 Scottie Scheffler 10/1 and No. 12 Tony Finau 14/1 occupy the top four spots. 

World No. 6 Xander Schauffele and No. 7 Will Zalatoris both sit 20/1 after coming into the event with recent injury troubles. 

Rahm won in 2018 in his second trip to the tournament and has since added a sixth in defense and a T14 last year. All 16 career rounds par or better with tournament average 67.88. Has a best of 62 at La Quinta. First start since winning the Sentry Tournament of Champions two weeks ago.

Cantlay’s last three finishes in the event are 9-2-9 including an opening 62 last season. Holds the Stadium Course record – a 61 in the final round of 2021. Held the 18- and 36-hole leads in 2022. Since joining the Tour at the start of the 2013-14 season, leads all players with a minimum of five rounds at The American Express in Scoring Average (67.17) and birdies per round (6.17).

Scheffler was third on debut in 2020, missed the cut in 2021 and was T25 a year ago. Scoring average of 68.20 in the event but hasn’t shot better than 66 since the third round of 2020.

Finau has five starts in the event, four made cuts, with the high a fourth-place finish in 2021. Tournament scoring average of 68.63 with a 62 in 2020 the pick of the bunch. He sits inside the top three this season in Strokes Gained: Total (2), lowest round (T3), scoring average (69.07), and birdie average (3).

The foursome pops up all over the key stats so they can’t be left out of considerations despite the fact that recent winners at the event have all been pre-tournament longshots. 

Call it part stats, part feel, but the lean is towards Cantlay and Finau this week. 

“It's awesome to be back. I enjoy playing golf here,” Finau, who has three wins since his last start in the event, said from La Quinta. “I have some great memories here over the years. I got through qualifying school here to get on to the Korn Ferry Tour… so I would say that's right at the top for me as far as the memories around this place.”

SLEEPERS

Three players jump off the board from the mid-tier this week. 

Cameron Davis at 45/1, Sahith Theegala at 50/1 and Andrew Putnam at 60/1.

Davis has three top 30s in three starts at the event including a T3 in his last start in 2021. Since then, he’s become a Tour winner and member of the International Presidents Cup team. He also knows how to get after the par fives. 

Theegala, a standout rookie from last season behind only Rookie of the Year winner Cameron Young, is a California kid with miles of experience in the area. On debut last season he finished T33 with a 62 at Nicklaus Tournament Course. He has two rounds of 63 or better this season already and with 549, has the most birdies of any player since the start of last season. The 5/6 odds to be 41st or better seem friendly.

After missing the cut in 2015 on tournament debut, Putnam has finished inside the top 34 five years running, with all 20 rounds under par. T14-T21-T10 the last three years with scoring average of 68.42. Leads the Tour in rounds in the 60s. As with Theegala the 5/6 to be 44th or better is enticing.

LONGSHOTS

We might be drawn away from this group given the depth of talent in the field this season but the fact remains we’ve had multiple massive longshots in Andrew Landry, Hudson Swafford and Adam Long claim the trophy in recent times. 

With three courses, anything can happen.

If we go purely on names popping up in the key stats, we have reason to think about the likes of Jason Day at 70/1 (5/6 to be 49th or better), Denny McCarthy at 90/1 and veteran Justin Rose at 90/1 in the high double figure odds. 

If you want the lottery play (or of course decent each way options), you could take a punt on the likes of Davis Riley or Keith Mitchell at 100/1; Christiaan Bezuidenhout at 125/1; Beau Hossler at 200/1 or even English boys Danny Willett 250/1 and Harry Hall 300/1.

As always, best of luck with your bets. 

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