This article is part of our DraftKings PGA series.
THE AMERICAN EXPRESS
Winner's Share: $1.134M
FedEx Cup Points: 500 to the Winner
Location: La Quinta, Calif.
Courses: PGA West (Stadium Course, Nicklaus Tournament Course)
Yardage: 7,147 (Stadium), 7,181 yards (Nicklaus)
Par: Both 72
2020 champion: Andrew Landry
The tournament long associated with Bob Hope began to fall on hard times long ago, and things accelerated after the entertainer passed away at the age of 100 in 2003. His name was officially removed from the title eight years later. Now, for the first time in a long time, The Bob Hope/Desert Classic/Humana/CareerBuilder/American Express has attracted a star-studded lineup, giving it its strongest field in years. Seven of the top 25 in the world rankings will be on hand. That matches the total they had in the past two years combined – with just three players in that group teeing it up in 2019 and four in 2020. And it would've been eight had world No. 2 Jon Rahm not pulled out after the field was announced.
Who's left is still pretty impressive: Patrick Cantlay, Patrick Reed, Brooks Koepka, Matthew Wolff, Tony Finau, Sungjae Im and last week's winner, Kevin Na, plus perhaps the biggest draws of all – Rickie Fowler and tournament ambassador Phil Mickelson. There are four other names of note, all in on sponsor exemptions and all priced between $6,300 and $6,600. John Augenstein, the U.S. Amateur runner-up who is making his pro debut after tying for 55th at the Masters; Akshay Bhatia, the promising teenager from California who made 2-of-3 cuts during the fall season and tied for ninth at the Safeway Open; Joohyung Kim, the South Korean teenager who went 3-for-3 on the PGA Tour in the fall and is ranked 154th in the OWGR; and Harry Hall, the 23-year-old Englishman who had three top-10s on the Korn Ferry Tour last year.
We saw far-improved fields at the first two events of 2021 and will again at the third. So much golf took place in the longest fall season ever that there's no time to waste for those hoping to reach East Lake in less than eight months. About one-third of the PGA Tour calendar has already been played. While some of the seven top-25 golfers in the field had announced their intention to head to the California desert a while back, the recent cancellation of the three-day slog of a pro-am that has been a fixture at this event for six decades probably helped garner some of the bigger names. Because of the pandemic, those 54 holes worth of six-hour rounds featuring pseudo-celebrities and business titans were understandably scrubbed this year. No fans will be on site, either.
With that change come some others: The normal three-course rotation has been reduced to two – this would've been the 50th straight year for La Quinta, but now it's just the two PGA West tracks that have been in use since 2016. And instead of a 54-hole cut that was a bit of a safety net for us DFS players, it will be the traditional Friday cut, with the top 65 and ties in the field of 156 playing the weekend. The final two rounds will be played at the Stadium Course, traditionally the hardest of the three tracks. But that's not saying much. Last year, La Quinta and Nicklaus were the two easiest courses on the entire Tour, and the Stadium wasn't far behind, as the 36th-easiest of the 41 played.
We'll focus on the Stadium, the 1986 Pete Dye design that will be used for three rounds. It is short, so driver isn't always needed. With water on seven holes and more than 90 bunkers, there is some danger. And the bermudagrass greens are some of the smallest the golfers will see all year, averaging only 5,000 square feet. But they are simple and pretty slow. Three of the four par-5s are 560 yards or under. This is annually one of the biggest birdie-fests, and last year, Andrew Landry won at 26-under, two better than Abraham Ancer. This year's scores may not be as low as usual without the La Quinta track in the mix, but expect the winning mark to still check in around 20-under-par. There is one Stadium hole that is especially challenging, the 195-yard 13th, which was the 25th hardest hole on Tour last year.
Weather-wise, it will not be beautiful California weather. Temperatures will be on the cool side – especially for early-morning tee times – as overnight numbers will dip into the low 40s. Highs will be in the 70s on Thursday but only in the low 60s on the weekend. There's a chance of rain all four days, especially on Saturday. The wind should not be much of a factor.
Fun Amex factoid: The pro-am had been played every year since the tournament's inception in 1960 – except for just one round. That was during the rain-deluged 2010 event, when soggy conditions kept the amateurs off the course in the second round.
Key Stats to Winning at PGA West
The most important indicators every week are current form and course history. "Key Stats" follow in importance.
• Strokes Gained: Approach/Greens in Regulation
• Ball Striking/Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee
• Strokes Gained: Putting
• Birdie-or-Better Percentage/Par-5 Scoring
There's little mystery this week. Getting on the greens in short order will provide plenty of birdie of opportunities on some of the easiest surfaces the golfers will see all year. Last year, Landry made a whopping 31 birdies. Two years ago, Long made 23 birdies and three eagles. The year before, Rahm made 27 birdies and one eagle to beat runner-up Landry. As you may remember, Long came out of nowhere to defeat Phil Mickelson and Adam Hadwin in a playoff. As mentioned, things will probably not be quite as extreme this year with the La Quinta course on the shelf. Last year, seven of the top nine finishers ranked top-20 in fairways hit. Ten of the past 11 winners played at least one of the two Hawaii stops before coming here – there's something to be said for getting in some competitive rounds after the long winter break, even if it's only two. Since the tournament's inception in 1960, there have been only five non-American winners.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS
Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap
Tier 1 Values
Patrick Cantlay - $11,100 (Winning odds at golfodds.com: 14-1)
Cantlay became the de facto top player on the board when Jon Rahm ($11,500) withdrew Monday. He got his year going with a tie for 13th at Kapalua. He has played this event twice before and tied for ninth two years ago. Cantlay is ranked T23 in par-5 scoring this season, and he tied for fourth in the same category last season.
Tony Finau - $10,500 (20-1)
Finau didn't have a good week at the Tournament of Champions, finishing tied for 31st, but he at least got in some competitive rounds, which goes a long way toward determining the Amex winner. He finished 14th here a year ago. Finau's putting is getting better, and he could get a big boost on these easy greens.
Patrick Reed - $10,200 (16-1)
Reed's second career title came here in 2014. He has not been back since 2018. He tied for 21st two weeks ago at the TOC but then pulled out of the Sony Open. Reed is ranked 10th on Tour in SG: Putting and tied for fourth in par-5 scoring.
Sungjae Im - $9,900 (20-1)
Im has already played twice in 2021, but he was off his game last week with a tie for 56th at Waialae. This will be his third go-round at the Amex, tying for 12th two years ago and for 10th last year. He is ranked 12th on Tour in SG: Off-the-Tee.
Tier 2 Values
Scottie Scheffler - $9,500 (16-1)
The first thing to note is that Scheffler's price is $9,500 but his odds are only 16-1. That tells us he is vastly underpriced. He finished solo third last year in his maiden visit to the tournament. He's coming off a tie for 13th at Kapalua. Scheffler is ranked 10th in SG: Off-the-Tee – he is long but also very accurate. He is ranked 23rd on Tour in birdie-or-better percentage this season.
Abraham Ancer - $9,100 (30-1)
Ancer was about as a hard-luck loser as possible last year, when he led the field in greens in regulation, was second in both SG: Tee-to-Green and Putting, and rang up a 24-under score. But Andrew Landry was just too good. Ancer endured a rare missed cut for him last week at Waialae. He also tied for 17th at the TOC.
Cameron Champ - $8,900 (40-1)
Champ kicked off 2021 with a tie for 31st at Kapalua. He tied for 21st last year in his Amex debut. He has been one of the absolute worst putters on Tour this season but we're expecting improvement on these greens. Champ is also ranked T13 in birdie or better and T4 in par-5 scoring, and you have to make some putts to do that.
Sam Burns - $8,300 (50-1)
This will be Burns' 2021 debut. He had a good fall season, with a pair of bookend T7s – opening his season at the Safeway and closing it at Houston. He tied for sixth here a year ago and was T18 in his first visit the year before. Burns is ranked T16 on Tour in birdie or better and T20 in par-5 scoring.
Tier 3 Values
Adam Hadwin - $8,000 (50-1)
Hadwin had quite a track record going here until missing last year for the birth of his first child. He was runner-up two of the previous three years and third in the other visit. There's really not much more to think about, even though Hadwin has yet to tee it up in 2021.
Cameron Davis - $7,700 (60-1)
Davis is back for a third trip to the Amex; he finished top-30 the past two years. He also tied for 31st last week at Waialae. Davis is another guy in the mold of Champ, who isn't a good putter but still manages to put up good numbers in birdie or better (ranked 12th) and par-5 scoring (T30).
Joel Dahmen - $7,500 (80-1)
Dahmen has missed the cut twice in two trips, but those were three and four years ago. He's ranked in the top-50 on Tour in greens in regulation, helping to fuel a ranking of T38 in birdie or better. This will be Dahmen's first start of 2021.
Doc Redman - $7,500 (80-1)
One of the more accurate iron players around, Redman tied for 29th in his Amex debut a year ago. He's ranked in the top-20 in SG: Off-the-Tee. Redman tuned in a pair of top-5s during the fall season but has yet to tee it up in 2021.
Matthew NeSmith - $7,100 (100-1)
NeSmith is coming off a missed cut last week at Waialae. He tied for 17th last year at the Amex and the course seems a good fit for this accurate iron player. He leads the Tour in greens in regulation and is ranked 20th in both SG: Off-the-Tee and Approach.
Andrew Landry - $7,000 (150-1)
When a guy wins and finishes second at a tournament, even though he doesn't do much elsewhere, don't fight it. Landry even tied for 28th in between in 2019, which would still justify his price. Landry has also gotten in six rounds in 2021, tying for 38th at Kapalua before missing the cut at Waialae.
Kristoffer Ventura - $6,600 (200-1)
Ventura is ranked 22nd on Tour in SG: Off-the-Tee and 15th in Putting – it's the in-between stuff that gives him trouble. He's ranked eighth on Tour in eagles made this season.
Joohyung Kim - $6,300 (200-1)
The up-and-coming Korean teenager played three PGA Tour events in the fall and made all three cuts (one was a no-cut event). He didn't have a high finish, but he doesn't need one at this price. Before that, Kim had a stretch in Asia where he won, finished runner-up and fourth twice. He last played anywhere in the world at the CJ Cup in October.