The American Express 2021 betting preview

The American Express represents the first mainland event of the 2020-2021 season and the official beginning of the West coast swing, which will see players play a variety of events in California and Arizona over the next month. The Amex has gone by several other names in the past, including at one time the Bob Hope Classic, where it was a five-round Pro-Am. The Careerbuilder and the Desert Classic were other monikers it held for a while but with a big corporate sponsor now on board hopefully we’ll get some name continuity for the next couple of years. 

While the name has changed several times, this event has stayed relatively the same. It was changed to a four-round Pro-Am format way back in 2012 and has stayed that way ever since. The event has always featured a rotation of courses in and around Palm Springs, although more recently it has settled on three: La Quinta, Nicklaus Tournament and TPC Stadium (host). In a normal year the pros and their Pro-Am partners would play each venue once, with the pros who made the 54-hole cut dueling it out for the win on TPC Stadium in round four. 

With Covid-19 still an issue though, there will be no Pro-Am portion in 2021, which means the event will feature a regular 36-hole cut line (top-65 players and ties after Friday) with only the Nicklaus and TPC Stadium course used–with the TPC Stadium being the main venue used on the weekend. One thing to expect from this week, regardless of format, is scoring. The winner here has reached 20-under or better every season since 1990, bar one (2007 CHarley Hoffman won at 17-under) as the resort style courses, easier Pro-Am setups, and mild weather always makes ripe pickings for the professionals. 

While the lack of a Pro-Am may hurt the Tour’s bottom-line, the exclusion of the slow rounds and extra venue has attracted a few bigger names to the event this season. Both Brooks Koepka and Patrick Cantlay will be teeing it up here this week, with Koepka making his ever appearance at the event. At number 10 in the OWGR, Cantlay represents the top-ranked player in the field but he’ll be joined by number 11 Patrick Reed and number 15 Matthew Wolff, who is also making his tournament and season debut here.

Finally, we’ll also be getting a look at Phil Mickelson in competition for the first-time in 2021. The 50-year-old is still bullish about his chances on the PGA Tour and is actually the “brand ambassador” for this event. It’s a pretty solid fit too as Phil has won this event twice and finished T2 here as recently as 2019. 

The American Express course details

The Course

  • PGA West—Palm Springs, California
  • TPC Stadium (host course) 7,113 yards, par 72
  • Nicklaus Tournament 7,100-7,150 yards, par 72
  • Field Size: 156 players
  • Greens: Bermuda
  • Fairway: Bermuda
  • Rough: Bermuda
  • Architect: Pete Dye (Stadium-built in 1986)
  • Past Champions 
    • 2020 – Andrew Landry -25
    • 2019 – Adam Long -26
    • 2018 – Jon Rahm -22

TPC Stadium was built specifically by Pete Dye to be used on the PGA Tour. However, after seeing it in play once, the pros actually led a petition to keep it off Tour as they thought it was too hard. It’s a strange story but a true one and the venue wasn’t seen on the PGA again until 2015 when the Tour moved it back into the rotation. The modern pros seem to have really welcomed the challenge as there’s been little pushback from its inclusion and the venue has led to some exciting finishes since getting into the rotation. 

At its core, the Pete Dye designed TPC Stadium is meant to be a sister setup to TPC Sawgrass, its more famous family member and host the PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP every year. The two courses share a ton of similarities including its use of water to test players off the tee and on approaches, its quirky bunker layout and the placement of a short island Par 3 on the 17th holes. Yes, Stadium also carries an island Par 17, and while it hasn’t led to as much drama as the Sawgrass version, it still brings a lot of excitement to this sometimes overlooked event down the stretch. 

As for the setup, PGA Stadium features smallish greens that really put an emphasis on accuracy. Players who miss here aren’t left with brutal rough to deal with–the Bermuda grass in the winter is generally dormant–but bunkers and water make it so bad misses can be punished. The same can be said off the tee, where at least some accuracy is required as nasty bunkers, mounds and water will mean bad news for far off-centre shots. The winner’s stats here have really sent home that message too. Of the last four, three of them gained +3 or more strokes on their approaches on the Stadium Course over two rounds. That said, a good off the tee game can go a long way too and more so than several other shorter venues, like the Sony, where there’s less penalty areas and man made traps to catch players who don’t hit it long or find a ton of fairways.

In a lot of ways, TPC Stadium is really a pure ball-strikers course, where power is an asset but not necessarily the be all, end all. After-all, the first and second place finishers here last year ranked 98th and 158th on Tour, respectively, in Driving Distance for 2020. While putting will be key, targeting those players who have given us great consistency in hitting fairways, with good proximity stats on their approaches attached, will be the name of the game here. 


The American Express Betting Preview by Geoff Ulrich

The American Express betting discussion and picks

  • 2020 – Andrew Landry +50000
  • 2019 – Adam Long +5000
  • 2018 – Jon Rahm +900

Both Adam Long and Andrew Landry came into this event with virtually no form and managed to blitz the venue over four days, riding solid iron play and hot putters. Landry was so-cold last year that he’d actually missed five cuts in a row on the fly. The Pro-Am nature of the event, and the rotation of courses always seems to bring more of the field into play here.

It is also worth noting that a young Jon Rahm picked up the second win of his career here too, and last year we nearly saw 23-year-old Scottie Scheffler pick up his first. I wouldn’t be putting all my cash on the favorites here but taking one or two of the “young guns” higher up in the odds isn’t a bad idea either as the confidence of youth can help in a low-scoring event like this just as much as veteran moxy.  

As for trends, there’s a couple this week and they’re worth noting: 

  • 10 of the last 11 winners of this event played in one of the two season-opening events in Hawaii in the year of their respective wins. 
  • Of the past eight winners, five played in the Sony Open the week before. 
  • Seven of the last eight winners had played in this event at least once before prior to their win—the exception was Adam Long in 2019.

Getting the competitive rust off early in the year has been big for winners here, as has at least a little experience at this venue. Perhaps the experience factor won’t be as big this week without the Pro-Am, but as we saw with Kevin Na last week (who played in Maui the week prior) getting a little competitive action under your belt doesn’t hurt your chances early on in the PGA season. 


Patrick Cantlay
Jul 12, 2020; Dublin, Ohio, USA; Patrick Cantlay on the 14th hole during the final round of the Workday Charity Open golf tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Betting favorites to win the 2021 American Express

Patrick Cantlay +1250

Cantlay became the de facto favorite for this event when Jon Rahm withdrew early Monday. The American played decent golf in his opener, posting a T13 finish there and gaining +3.0 strokes putting. 

Finished T9 here in 2019 but he’s still been one win a year player since coming back on Tour in 2018. His odds here are pretty hard to swallow at an event like this.

Patrick Reed +1500

Reed is getting some respect in the odds as a past champion of this event as he’s significantly shorter than both Matt Wolff and Brooks Koepka.

The American has also been a one win a year player for most of his career so getting him at under +2000 hasn’t exactly been a great value proposition. He was playing well towards the end of 2020 though, posting top-15 finishes in his last four starts of the year. 

Scottie Scheffler +1700

Scheffler finished in 3rd place at this event last Winter and that seems to have driven his odds down past a couple of names who often go off much shorter than him. 

The American does deserve the respect though. He had a fantastic Fall, posting a T4 at the PGA Championship and despite his preparation being interrupted by a bout with Covid, he finished T19 at his debut at the Masters. 

Brooks Koepka +1800

Playing this event for the first time ever in his career and also making his first start of 2021. Koepka won in the desert back in 2015 at the Phoenix Open, where he was also coming in cold, so he’s certainly capable of showing up and grabbing a W here. 

A T7 at the Masters and a T5 at Houston in two of his last three starts of 2020 bode well for him in 2021. The odds are intriguing enough to at least consider an outright, but a top-20 bet might be more suitable until we see more.

Tony Finau +1950

Finau was objectively horrible in his first start in Maui but we saw Kevin Na do the same thing and then bounce back for the win quickly. 

Finau lost in a playoff in Phoenix last year so perhaps he’ll figure out this desert venue at some point too. He finished T14 here last season though, which was his best finish in three visits to this venue/course. 


Favorite bets (each-ways and outrights)

For more info on types of golf bets available each week, be sure to check out more info here. Each way bets refer to bets that include a bet to win and a bet to place (usually to at least top-5 but sometimes are available up to top-8 or more).

Scottie Scheffler +1700 or better (outright)

As I mentioned above, Scheffler’s odds have come down after opening around +2300 but ultimately this isn’t a player I mind grabbing at shorter odds right now in these kinds of fields. The American had a terrific 2020 where he found himself in the final group of a major at the PGA, landed a 5th place finish at the Tour Championship (and won a ton of money for it), and also landed a T19 on his debut at Augusta. In short, Scheffler did everything but win and with the Tour Championship appearance and slots in all four majors sewn up already for 2021, that will certainly be his next focus. 

While he may not possess the full-throttle attack of a player like Matt Wolff, Scheffler’s shown to be more consistent around and on the greens better and he comes into this week ranked 5th in SG: Tee to Green stats, 4th in Off the Tee stats and 18th in Around the green play, all over the last 50 rounds. He shot a bogey-free 66 at TPC Stadium here last season and showed well at these shorter birdie-fest type venues last summer and Fall as well. Already with a warm-up event under his belt, he fits our main trend here (see above) and makes for a proper way to start cards for me, even if it means leaving off another name at bigger odds as a result. 

While he may not possess the full-throttle attack of a player like Matt Wolff, Scheffler’s shown to be more consistent around and on the greens better and he comes into this week ranked 5th in SG: Tee to Green stats, 4th in Off the Tee stats and 18th in Around the green play, all over the last 50 rounds. He shot a bogey-free 66 at TPC Stadium here last season and showed well at these shorter birdie-fest type venues last summer and Fall as well. Already with a warm-up event under his belt, he fits our main trend here (see above) and makes for a proper way to start cards for me, even if it means leaving off another name at bigger odds as a result. 


Russell Henley +3500 or better (each-way)

Henley’s a player I managed to grab at slightly bigger odds this week too (before the Rahm withdrawal) but I don’t think dipping down to this range makes him a bad pick either. The three-time winner has the exact type of game we want to target here and came out in fine form in his 2021 debut last week, ultimately landing a T11 at the Sony. Henley’s last round was only marred by missed birdie putts, but otherwise, his game looked solid as ever, as he gained over +1.0 strokes in every single major statistical category. 

Ultimately, a few more made putts last week would have just meant he would have drifted into the +2500 range here, and be far less appealing. As for course history, it’s really not that great. Henley seems to know that he should play well here (the setup favours him) and he’s played here four of the past five seasons, but missed the 54-hole cut three years running now. A fast player by nature, the loss of the Pro-Am may benefit him more than anyone and he makes for the perfect mid-tier target to start off each-way bets with for me. 


Zach Johnson +6000 or better (each-way)

I’m not shying away from guys I liked last week for my bets here as the trends tell us that any start in Hawaii can go a long way this week. Johnson’s T62 at the Sony didn’t do much for our bankrolls but he did play better than the finish indicates. ZJ gained +3.1 strokes on his approaches there and has now gained strokes with his irons in seven straight starts dating back to last year. He now ranks 10th in SG: APP stats over the last 50-rounds. Ultimately, TPC Stadium is a course where veterans like Johnson should be able to compete. Phil Mickelson and Ryan Moore are just a few of the names on the wrong side of 35-40 here who have got themselves in contention at this event, of late, and Johnson feels like a player determined to push for one more late career win (his last came at the Open in 2015). 

Johnson finished T20 here as recently as 2018 and with odds that are 1.5x bigger than we saw last week, adding him on as an each-way was a pretty easy decision here. A better putting week is really all that’s needed for him to get in contention given the way he’s striking it and he’s gained over +2.0 strokes with the putter in three of his last eight starts. I expect a better effort from Zach here and for him to find his way into contention if the putter goes really well. 


Doc Redman +9000 or better (each-way)

I couldn’t leave out my old pal Doc Redman, especially not at this price. Redman nearly paid off for us in a big way the Wyndham last year, coming agonizingly close on a Sunday where his putter simply couldn’t stay hot enough to close the deal. The 23-year-old was a killer as an amateur and has found his way into contention numerous times already on Tour. Three top-5 finishes over his last eight starts showcases the kind of mentality he has when he finds himself on a good setup on the weekend and TPC Stadium should be a great venue for him long term. Redman is deadly accurate off the tee (13th in Driving Accuracy last year) and ranks eighth in SG: Approach stats in this field over the last 50-rounds. 

His T29 finish here was off the back of two rounds of 68 at the stadium venue too, which is impressive given it was his first time playing the venue/event. The setup here is great for his style of fairways and greens over power approach. The odds are simply too big to pass up on a player who could easily be half the price and still be a potential target here. 


Long Shots and Top-20’s

Wyndham Clark +500 top-20 (+16000 outright)

Despite not striking the ball well at all, Clark finished T19 here at the beginning of 2019 which really speaks to the kind of upside he carries with his putter. He ended 2020 showcasing a more consistent game, by landing a T23 at the RSM and a 2nd place playoff loss in Bermuda over his last three starts. The number on him here for a top-20 feels like it’s not respecting his end of season surge at all or his experience at the venue. While the top-20 is the real bet for me, he’s also one of my favorite long-shot outrights here as well given the fact he’s now been in contention on Sunday in two of his last four starts on Tour. 

Danny Lee +800 top-20 (+25000 outright)

I also don’t mind throwing a flyer on Danny Lee here for a decent finish. Lee played last week at the Sony, and while he missed the cut he struck the ball with his irons over two rounds. Lee’s mainly a boom or bust player anyways and has ventured well in desert settings before, as he has put together some solid finishes in Phoenix and Vegas over his career. I’m not expecting much but we’re getting solid odds here in a weaker field and the Sony start should help him over those who took last week off. 


Tournament Matchups 

Paul Casey -110 over Charles Howell III

I know Howell III is the West coast maestro, but in what world should he ever be even money against Paul Casey? Casey’s a desert guy anyways having attended Arizona State, he also lives just down the road in Phoenix. The Englishman started things off at this event last year too landing a T21 finish, and ranks 11th in this field in SG: Approach stats over the last 50-rounds –while Howell III ranks 140th. Break the piggy bank open if you have to. 

Scottie Scheffler +100 over Tony Finau 

Finau has just never really clicked at this event or at any Pete Dye venue over his career. The big man likes bombing it into open areas which is exactly the opposite of what this course gives you off the tee and on approaches. Scheffler has the more controlled off the tee game and the more consistent putter and short-game. He should win out in this matchup and setup long-term so taking the plus-money makes sense. 

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