Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:55 AM

Best Bets - The American Express

The American Express – Best Bets

After an extended stay in Hawaii, the PGA Tour returns to the mainland this week with The American Express. Formerly known by many other monikers, this PGA tournament is one of those multi-course events that has the entire field play one round on each course (3), cut the field after 54 holes, and then a final round on the 'toughest' course of the three; PGA West TPC Stadium Course.

Venue: PGA West TPC Stadium Course
Par-Yardage: 72, 7,200

I use the word 'toughest' in the lightest sense of the word, as all three of these tracks are very easy for PGA Tour pros, and to win here you'd better be prepared to make plenty of birdies. The winners here are almost always in the -20 or better range - only one winner this century finished with score that wasn't -20 or better (Charley Hoffman in 2007 with -17) – as this really is golf stripped to its simplest form: hit fairways and greens and the birdies will come.

The other two courses – La Quinta Country Club and PGA West Tournament Course – are routinely ranked as two of the very easiest courses guys see in Tour for the entire year, and that's given just one round played on them from a full field. If guys aren't making their hay, or at least keeping up with the pace – when they've got their turn on these easier tracks, chances are they aren't going to have a chance at climbing too high on the leaderboard on Sunday as it is.

Betting Odds

Which brings me to the betting approach for this week, as these multi-track events are never my favorite. Three-course events always have two courses that are some level of degree easier then the third (main) course, and tournaments like these are much more susceptible from a betting view to getting burned by guys who simply get ultra-hot on one of those easier tracks and keep the momentum rolling. These events I do tend to scale down the unit sizes even further because of it, and tend to prefer to jump in on some live betting after the cut has been made. That gives you a better picture of who's legitimately got a chance, and knowing that they'll all be on the same course that can bring some resistance to it is just a level of comfort thing as well.

Historically speaking, outside of defending champion Adam Long winning as a huge longshot here a year ago, you generally want to stick with guys in the sub-100/1 range for this event. Long may have won here last year, but there were seven guys who finished T12 or better who were listed at sub-60/1 odds. Prior to that we had the tournament favorite – Jon Rahm – take home the trophy, while no winner here since prior to Patrick Reed winning in 2015 has been worse then 80/1 to start the tournament outside of Long last season.

Theoretically that does tend to make sense, as you give the best players in a given field three cracks at some very soft – dare I say, not worthy of hosting PGA Tour rounds – courses, and more often then not, the best of the best will be in it at the end. Barring someone getting scorching hot like Long did, this is a tournament where your selections may want to stick to the top third of the field in terms of odds.

Top 10 Betting Choices

  • Rickie Fowler 12/1
  • Sungjae Im 18/1
  • Paul Casey 20/1
  • Tony Finau 25/1
  • Kevin Kisner 30/1
  • Charles Howell III 30/1
  • Billy Horschel 30/1
  • Byeong Hun An 30/1
  • Scottie Scheffler 30/1
  • Cameron Champ 40/1
  • More...

So after coming up just short on connecting on back-to-back winners to start 2020 with Webb Simpson last week, let's get to this week's selections:

Golfers to Watch

Favorite: Rickie Fowler (12/1)

Two weeks ago it was Fowler made the short list of golfers for me in the Tournament of Champions, and a 5th place finish there did nothing to discourage me about the big season I expect to see from Fowler this year. He's a guy that may want to get that first win of the year under his belt before sponsorship duties potentially become too much of a distraction and next week's Farmers Insurance Open, and a birdie fest event where Fowler is among the best of the best in this field should have him in contention on the weekend.

The price isn't exactly the best for a guy like Fowler who's been known to have a tough time actually reaching the winner's circle during his career, but it will be this short price and all those runner up's, thirds, and other Top 10's Fowler routinely produces outside of victories that won't have him as that popular of a choice this week. That's always an attractive thing to me, and given his skill set, going low shouldn't be a huge concern. As long as Fowler doesn't get off to too slow of a start having not teed it up here since 2014, I do expect him to have a shot on Sunday.

Mid-Range: Brian Harman (50/1)

Harman is a guy that never has a problem playing to his strengths, and for this event those strengths should play out nicely.

Harman's best skills deal with the strokes he gains on the field pretty much everywhere but around the green. He's always been a great putter (30th in Strokes Gained:Putting in this young season), and his accuracy off the tee and with his irons can be deadly when he's on. With this event being one where you need to go low, if Harman is hitting too many shots from around the green, he won't have a shot as it is, so his weakness is not concerning at all. None of the three courses are all that long either so his lack of length (which can be problematic some places) isn't a concern either.

If Harman sticks to his guns and does what's needed to be done here – strip the game down to it's basics of fairways, greens and holing putts, Harman's among the best in terms of all-around guys in those categories in this range. He is someone that has four Top 20 finishes and three Top 11 finishes here in eight starts at this event since 2011, and after missing the cut here a year ago after going 20, 3, 11 the previous three seasons, this year's event is one where I believe he can bounce back and play his way into contention come Sunday.

Long Shot: Daniel Berger (80/1)

Berger is another guy who's known to be better on the shorter and easier tracks, and he'd love to get back in the winner's circle this week.

We've seen him go very low when his putter gets scorching hot before on Tour, and in five starts during this wraparound season, he's got one missed cut and four finishes of T38 or better. To me, that's a guy that's starting to find his game again after some relatively non-existent seasons on Tour, and the fact that he didn't have a single round over par last week at the Sony Open when conditions were as tricky as they were suggests that he's someone to ride while on this upward trajectory.

Berger was 12th here a year ago as he failed to put together that one or two ultra-low rounds you need to be a winner here, but the consistency in terms of going low each day is always a good start. He has been great at scoring on the Par 5's this year - 19th on Tour in Par 5 scoring average and 10th in Par 5 birdie or better - and scoring well on those holes is the easiest path to success here.

Remember, this was a guy who was routinely receiving odds much better then this on Tour just a couple of years ago, and if he can tap into that talent/potential again, we could see him threaten numerous leaderboards again this season.

72 Hole Matchup to Take: Cameron Champ (+100) over Matthew Wolff

I did consider both of these young studs as potential mid-range plays this week, but historically, the maiden voyage for PGA players at this three-track event just doesn't bring wins. I don't know if it's getting used to the logistics of playing on different courses, the lack of comfort from a new venue each day or what, but first timers here are not guys I look to back. But the lack of experience is a dead head between Champ and Wolff, thus, for matchup purposes it means very little.

Both of these guys can bomb the golf ball and should rack up plenty of birdies at any of these three courses they play, but it is Champ at the plus-money price tag that I've got to go with, even if it somewhat based on that price. The two are a dead heat in terms of “To Win” prices at 40/1, and when that's the case, why not side with the underdog in the head-to-head play.

For one, you'd better be able to score on the Par 5's at this event, and with more rounds played this season, Champ holds they edge there as he ranks 9th to Wolff's 17th in Par 5 birdie or better this season. Last year, Champ finished 35th on Tour in that statistic, as his extraordinary length off the tee gives him a tremendous advantage on those Par 5's as long as it's in play.

Both guys are very capable of being involved with the leaders this week, but in the one-on-one showdown, I'll take the guy who's got a plus-money price tag, got more length off the tee, and may not be as rattled with the lack of normal routine with three courses given his more time spent on Tour.

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