Steve Bamford

Steve Bamford's The American Express Tips

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My view on the Sony Open in Hawaii last week was that we needed a putter who was hitting greens on the build-up. Naturally I never tipped up one Kevin Na, who for a putter ranked 6th in my 8-week Greens in Regulation tracker! A recent top 3 also seems a pre-requisite year in, year out of a Sony Open winner, and Na had finished T2 at the QBE Shoot Out in late December with partner Sean O’Hair. Well played if you were on Kevin at anything up to 80/1, and it’s worth noting that’s he’s now won across the past 4 seasons at 45/1, 70/1, 70/1 and now 80/1.

Low scoring again is the key this week as the PGA Tour reaches California for The American Express at PGA West. It was latterly known as the Desert Classic or CareerBuilder Challenge, but I’ll always remember this as the Bob Hope Classic. It used to be played over 4 courses and 5 days as a Pro-Am, but that latter aspect has been cancelled for 2021. Instead we’ll see a 156-man field play over the host Pete Dye designed Stadium Course and the Jack Nicklaus designed Tournament Course. Low scoring yet again will be the order of the day and we could well see something similar to Andrew Landry’s total of -26/262 being needed to grab the $1,206,000 first prize and a coveted Masters invite for those who haven’t received a letter through the post recently.

Before we go into the detail surrounding The American Express, we always have new visitors to Golf Betting System as the golfing year kicks off. Welcome to you all and let me point you in the direction of our weekly Golf Betting System podcast (published every Tuesday of the golfing calendar), the Steve Bamford Golf Channel on YouTube and our hugely popular, +5,700 strong, private Group on Facebook – you can Join Here.

bet365 2021 Majors Competition Sponsored By bet365:

Following on from the success of the last 9 annual GBS Majors competitions, bet365 have kindly offered to sponsor the 2021 edition once again with a massive £250 CASH prize fund! Our 2021 winner will receive £150 (or currency equivalent) in cash with additional £75 and £25 prizes for 2nd and 3rd place finishers.

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Course Guide: Where we see The American Express usually on a unique 3-course rotation, 2021 sees no Pro-Am format in play and the action will be restricted to the PGA West facility – 3 rounds at the TPC Stadium Course (Host Course) and a single Thursday/Friday round at the Nicklaus Tournament course. The tweak in format changes little except for our TV viewing.

This tournament is the ultimate resort course challenge with short Par-72 courses featuring extremely receptive and pure TifDwarf Bermudagrass overseeded with Poa Trivialis green complexes.

TPC Stadium, PGA West, Palm Springs, California: Designer: Pete Dye, 1986; Course Type: Desert, Resort; Par: 72; Length: 7,147 yards; Holes with Water In-Play: 7; Fairways Tifgreen Bermudagrass with Ryegrass; Rough: Tifgreen Bermudagrass with Ryegrass, 2″; Greens: 5,000 sq.ft average featuring TifDwarf Bermudagrass with Poa Trivialis; Stimpmeter: 11ft; Course Scoring Average 2016: 70.82 (-1.18), Difficulty Rank 41 of 50 courses. 2017: 71.59 (-0.41), Difficulty Rank 30 of 50 courses. 2018: 71.18 (-0.82), Difficulty Rank 36 of 51 courses. 2019: 70.24 (-1.76), Difficulty Rank 40 of 49 courses. 2020: 70.36 (-1.64), Difficulty Rank 36 of 41 courses.

Tournament Course, PGA West: Designer: Jack Nicklaus, 1987; Par: 72; Length: 7,181 yards; Greens: TifDwarf Bermudagrass with Poa Trivialis; Tournament Stimp: 10.5ft; Course Scoring Average 2016: 68.94 (-3.06), Difficulty Rank 49 of 50 courses. 2017: 70.74 (-1.26), Difficulty Rank 39 of 50 courses. 2018: 69.45 (-2.55), Difficulty Rank 50 of 51 courses. 2019: 69.06 (-2.94), Difficulty Rank 48 of 49 courses. 2019: 70.24 (-1.76), Difficulty Rank 40 of 49 courses. 2020: 69.24 (-2.77), Difficulty Rank 40 of 41 courses.

Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for TPC Stadium (Host Course) and how they compare to recent courses that we’ve seen on Tour:

  • TPC Stadium: 250 yards from the tee: 29 yards wide; 275:27; 300:26; 325:26; 350:24.
  • Waialae: 250 yards from the tee: 34 yards wide; 275:32; 300:34; 325:37; 350:34.
  • Plantation Course: 250 yards from the tee: 59 yards wide; 275:61; 300:65; 325:60; 350:62.
  • Seaside Course: 250 yards from the tee: 42 yards wide; 275:40; 300:34; 325:31; 350:23.
  • TPC Summerlin: 250 yards from the tee: 35 yards wide; 275:37; 300:33; 325:30; 350:31.

Course Designer Links: For research purposes, other Pete Dye and Jack Nicklaus designs include:

Pete Dye:

  • Austin Country Club – WGC Dell Matchplay since 2016
  • Crooked Stick – 2012 and 2016 BMW Championship
  • Harbour Town – RBC Heritage
  • Ocean Course – Kiawah Island – 2012 PGA Championship
  • TPC River Highlands – The Travelers
  • TPC Louisiana – Zurich Classic of New Orleans
  • TPC Sawgrass – The Players Championship
  • Whistling Straits – 2010 and 2015 PGA Championship

Jack Nicklaus:

  • Annandale Golf Club – Sanderson Farms Championship through 2013
  • Glen Abbey – RBC Canadian Open – 2008, 2013, 2015-2018
  • Montreux Golf & Country Club – Barracuda Championship through 2019
  • Muirfield Village – Memorial Tournament
  • Old Greenwood GC – Barracuda Championship 2020
  • PGA National – Honda Classic
  • PGA West – Nicklaus Private – Humana Challenge through 2015
  • Sherwood Country Club – Thousand Oaks – World Challenge through 2013
  • Valhalla Golf Club – 2014 PGA Championship

Course Overview: Since 2012, this tournament has played a 3-course rota over 72 holes because of the Pro-Am nature of the tournament. Things though have changed in 2021 with no Pro-Am and a 2-course setup. The odd course out is La Quinta Country Club, which sits outside of the PGA West estate, so it’s been cut. TPC Stadium Course and the Nicklaus Tournament Course are the 2 active courses in 2021 and both are known quantities.

2016 saw TPC Stadium Course added to the rota as the host course and the Nicklaus Tournament Course was also added for the very first time. TPC Stadium hosted a round of the Bob Hope Classic back in 1987 and has been home to the PGA Tour Q-School numerous times including 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2011 and 2012. The Nicklaus-designed Tournament Course shared hosting duties across these Q-Schools as well.

The TPC Stadium host course is a Pete Dye design and is viewed by many as the sequel to the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass. The course features its own island 17th hole which will play as a 165 yard par-3 this week. TPC Stadium will play as a 7,113 yard, Par 72 and has plenty of water in play. With a scoring average of 70.36 in 2020 it had a difficulty rank of 36 of 41 courses on the PGA Tour last season, in comparison to 40th for the Tournament Course. Eagles and birdies are certainly the currency this week.

Statistically TPC Stadium is an interesting course where flagrant power is seemingly negated just a little bit. The par-5s play tough, compared to both the par-3s and par-4s which yield masses of birdies. That comes across in the Going for the Green statistics where TPC Stadium traditionally ranks in the lowest 10 courses on Tour where players were aggressive. Those that go for the green see relatively little success. Brute power alone doesn’t work here – instead crisp wedge play from within 125 yards is critical. Scrambling on the course is easy for these PGA Tour pros and the TifDwarf Bermudagrass overseeded with Poa Trivialis greens are pure enough that One-Putt Percentages are always some of the very highest on the PGA Tour.

With calm conditions forecast, the Tournament Course (look for Nicklaus course experts) always plays slightly easier than the Stadium Course and is there to be taken apart.

This tournament is a testament to US resort-style golf – go low or go home, it’s that simple. Since 2012 when the tournament moved to a conventional 72-hole format; -24/264, -25/263, -29/259, -22/266, -25/263, -20/268, -22/266, -26/262 and -26/262 have been the winning totals. Birdie or better conversion rates at 36% (2012), 38% (2013), an astonishing 44% (2014 by Patrick Reed), 32% (2015), 42%, 36%, 38%, 36% and 43% last year are traditionally some of the highest we see all year. For reference Andrew Landry made 31 birdies 12 months ago – astonishing.

the american express tips

Winners: 2020: Andrew Landry (-26); 2019: Adam Long (-26); 2018: Jon Rahm (-22); 2017: Hudson Swafford (-20); 2016: Jason Dufner (-25); 2015: Bill Haas (-22); 2014: Patrick Reed (-29); 2013: Brian Gay (-25); 2012: Mark Wilson (-24).

Tournament Stats: We’ve published some key player statistics for this week’s event that are well worth a look. Naturally they’ll help to shape a view on players who could go well this week: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader | Combined Stats.

Published Predictor Model: Our published predictor is available here. You can build your own model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Top 10 of my published predictor are Kevin Na, Patrick Cantlay, Brendan Steele, Martin Laird, Patton Kizzire, Vaughn Taylor, Russell Henley, Sam Burns, Abraham Ancer and Jason Dufner.

Recent Player Skill Rankings: These top 25 in the field rankings are based on an 8-tournament window that stretches back to the Houston Open and Cyprus Showdown, which includes PGA Tour and European Tour events. Rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:

  • Driving Accuracy: 1) Steve Stricker; 2) Tim Wilkinson; 3) Brian Stuard; 4) Jason Dufner; 5) Abraham Ancer / Ryan Armour / Adam Long; 8) Martin Laird; 9) Keegan Bradley / Austin Cook; 11) Scottie Scheffler; 12) Brice Garnett; 13) Brian Harman / Russell Henley; 15) Matthew NeSmith / Doc Redman / Brandt Snedeker; 18) Vaughn Taylor; 19) Patrick Cantlay / David Hearn; 21) Chris Baker / Michael Thompson / Erik van Rooyen; 24) John Huh; 25) Sam Burns / James Hahn / Sungjae Im.
  • Greens in Regulation: 1) Sam Burns; 2) Adam Long; 3) Paul Casey; 4) Abraham Ancer; 5) Cameron Champ; 6) Charles Howell III; 7) Jim Herman; 8) Charley Hoffman; 9) Cameron Tringale; 10) Patrick Cantlay / Kyle Stanley; 12) Matt Jones / Aaron Wise; 14) Emiliano Grillo / Kevin Na / Kevin Streelman; 17) Akshay Bhatia; 18) Zach Johnson / Sepp Straka; 20) Keegan Bradley / Kevin Tway; 22) Matthew NeSmith / J.J. Spaun; 24) Michael Thompson / Erik van Rooyen.
  • Scrambling: 1) Patrick Cantlay; 2) Paul Casey; 3) Kevin Na; 4) Adam Long; 5) Patrick Reed; 6) Matthew Wolff; 7) Scott Brown; 8) Josh Teater; 9) Michael Thompson; 10) Brooks Koepka / Troy Merritt; 12) Scott Piercy; 13) Bo Hoag; 14) Nick Taylor; 15) Sungjae Im; 16) Kelly Kraft; 17) Austin Cook / Max Homa / John Huh / Roger Sloan; 21) Chris Baker / Jason Dufner / Russell Henley / Charles Howell III / J.T. Poston / Charl Schwartzel.
  • Putting Average (Putts per GIR): 1) Anirban Lahiri; 2) Wyndham Clark / Bill Haas; 4) Patrick Reed; 5) Rickie Fowler; 6) Michael Thompson / Steve Stricker; 8) Patton Kizzire; 9) Max Homa; 10) Scottie Scheffler; 11) Brooks Koepka; 12) John Huh / Alex Noren; 14) Cameron Tringale; 15) Patrick Cantlay; 16) Tony Finau / Matthew Wolff; 18) Kevin Na / Pat Perez; 20) Chris Kirk / Kelly Kraft; 22) K.H. Lee; 23) Joel Dahmen / Martin Trainer; 25) Sam Burns.

Recent Player Strokes Gained Rankings: These top 25 in the field rankings are based on an 8-tournament window that stretches back to the Houston Open and Cyprus Showdown, which includes PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:

  • Top 25 SG Off The Tee: 1) Sam Burns; 2) Brooks Koepka; 3) Max Homa; 4) Patrick Cantlay; 5) Scottie Scheffler; 6) Joel Dahmen / Tony Finau; 8) Charley Hoffman; 9) Si Woo Kim / Matthew NeSmith; 11) Keegan Bradley; 12) Cameron Champ; 13) Charles Howell III; 14) Doc Redman; 15) Abraham Ancer / Scott Brown / Jim Herman / Vincent Whaley; 19) Patrick Reed; 20) Michael Gligic; 21) Chris Baker; 22) Bronson Burgoon / Sungjae Im; 24) Nick Taylor / Erik van Rooyen.
  • Top 25 SG Approach: 1) Sam Burns; 2) Sepp Straka; 3) Adam Long; 4) Keegan Bradley; 5) Cameron Champ; 6) Russell Henley / Brian Stuard; 8) Abraham Ancer; 9) Kevin Na / Patrick Reed; 11) Kyle Stanley / Erik van Rooyen; 13) Charley Hoffman; 14) Joseph Bramlett; 15) Patrick Cantlay / Lanto Griffin / Michael Thompson / Camilo Villegas; 19) Kramer Hickok / Matthew NeSmith; 21) Emiliano Grillo / Cameron Tringale; 23) Will Gordon / Andrew Putnam; 25) Francesco Molinari.
  • Top 25 SG Around The Green: 1) Lucas Glover / Patton Kizzire; 3) Max Homa / Scottie Scheffler; 5) Patrick Reed; 6) Ben Taylor; 7) Kevin Na; 8) Patrick Cantlay; 9) Cameron Champ / Francesco Molinari; 11) Peter Malnati; 12) Russell Henley; 13) Roger Sloan / Aaron Wise; 15) Denny McCarthy / Martin Trainer; 17) Chris Kirk / Brooks Koepka; 19) Brian Harman / Kramer Hickok; 21) Bo Hoag; 22) Tony Finau / Sung Kang; 24) Fabian Gomez; 25) Alex Noren / C.T. Pan.
  • Top 25 SG Tee to Green: 1) Sam Burns; 2) Adam Long; 3) Cameron Tringale; 4) Patrick Reed; 5) Russell Henley; 6) Charley Hoffman / Francesco Molinari; 8) Kramer Hickok; 9) Cameron Champ; 10) Keegan Bradley / Patrick Cantlay / Kevin Na; 13) Brooks Koepka; 14) Sepp Straka; 15) Jim Herman / Chris Kirk / Aaron Wise; 18) Brian Stuard / Erik van Rooyen; 20) Max Homa; 21) Scott Brown / Tony Finau; 23) Abraham Ancer / Lucas Glover; 25) Charles Howell III / Roger Sloan.
  • Top 25 SG Putting: 1) Chesson Hadley / Brooks Koepka; 3) Patrick Cantlay; 4) Michael Thompson; 5) Josh Teater; 6) Scottie Scheffler; 7) Ryan Brehm; 8) Nelson Ledesma; 9) Francesco Molinari; 10) Austin Cook / Tony Finau / Bill Haas / Beau Hossler / Patton Kizzire; 15) Cameron Percy; 16) Kevin Na; 17) John Huh / Patrick Reed; 19) Zach Johnson / Matt Jones; 21) Joel Dahmen / Brice Garnett / Nick Taylor; 24) Anirban Lahiri / Alex Noren.
  • Top 25 SG Total: 1) Brooks Koepka; 2) Sam Burns; 3) Chesson Hadley; 4) Patton Kizzire; 5) Patrick Reed; 6) Patrick Cantlay; 7) Francesco Molinari; 8) Cameron Tringale; 9) Kevin Na / Michael Thompson; 11) Charley Hoffman; 12) Scottie Scheffler; 13) Chris Kirk; 14) Cameron Percy; 15) Russell Henley; 16) Tony Finau; 17) Cameron Champ / John Huh; 19) Erik van Rooyen; 20) Peter Malnati; 21) Aaron Wise; 22) Austin Cook; 23) Abraham Ancer / Joel Dahmen / Sungjae Im.

Winners & Prices: 2020: Andrew Landry 200/1; 2019: Adam Long 600/1; 2018: Rahm 10/1; 2017: Swafford 66/1; 2016: Dufner 40/1; 2015: Haas 30/1; 2014: Reed 135/1; 2013: Gay 80/1; 2012: Wilson 125/1; 2011: Vegas 200/1; 2010: Haas 100/1. Past 7 Renewals Average: 154/1. Overall Average: 144/1.

For a full summary of winner’s odds on the PGA Tour since 2010 click here.

Historical Weather:

  • 2020: Thursday: Mostly sunny, with a high of 68. Wind SE at 5-10 mph. Friday: Mostly sunny, with a high of 68. Wind NE 4-8 mph. Saturday: Sunny, with a high of 72. Wind E 3-6 mph. Sunday: Sunny, with a high of 77. Wind ESE 3-6 mph.
  • 2019: Thursday: Mostly cloudy and rainy. High of 66. Wind SE 6-12 mph. Due to fog, play at La Quinta Country Club was delayed one hour (9:30 a.m. start) and delayed at the Stadium and Nicklaus Tournament Courses one hour, 15 minutes (9:45 a.m. start). Friday: Sunny. High of 74. Wind NW 6-12 mph. Saturday: Sunny. High of 75. Wind light and variable 4-8 mph. Sunday: Mostly sunny. High of 74. Wind SE 4-8 mph.
  • 2018: Thursday: Mostly sunny. High of 78. Wind variable 4-8 mph. Friday: Mostly sunny. High of 78. Wind variable 5-10 mph. Saturday: Mostly sunny. High of 65. Wind NW 20-30 mph, with gusts to 40 mph. Sunday: Mostly sunny. High of 66. Wind variable 4-8 mph.
  • 2017: Thursday: Overcast, with light morning rain. Mostly sunny in the afternoon, with a high of 64. Wind W 8-15 mph. Friday: Overcast, with intermittent rain throughout the day. High of 61. Wind NE to SSE 8-15 mph. Saturday: Sunny, with a high of 63. Wind NW 10-15 mph, with gusts of 25 mph. Sunday: Cloudy, with intermittent rain throughout the day. High of 61. Wind SSE 8-15 mph.
  • 2016: Thursday: Clear skies with an afternoon high of 74 degrees. Wind SE 4-8 mph. Friday: Mostly sunny, with a high of 73 degrees. Wind SE 5-10 mph. Saturday: Partly cloudy, with a high of 71 degrees. Wind SE 5-10 mph. Sunday: Sunny, with an afternoon high of 82 degrees. Wind NW 7-15 mph.

Weather Forecast: The latest weather forecast for La Quinta, California is here. Weather in the main looks okay for The American Express. Despite little rain in the Californian desert, greens are always watered and responsive here. No rain is expected for tournament week and expect minimal breeze. The only twist could be cold temperatures: 18-20 degrees Celsius on Thursday and Friday fall to a chilly 15 degrees at the weekend.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of winners since 2016 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:

  • 2020, Andrew Landry (-26). 286 yards (61st), 75.0% fairways (3rd), 76.4% greens in regulation (7th), 27’11” proximity to hole (16th), 76.5 % scrambling (25th), 1.46 putts per GIR (1st).
  • 2019, Adam Long (-26). 291 yards (28th), 69.6% fairways (12th), 70.8% greens in regulation (41st), 29’5″ proximity to hole (30th), 85.7 % scrambling (7th), 1.51 putts per GIR (1st).
  • 2018, Jon Rahm (-22). 310 yards (5th), 64.3% fairways (28th), 72.2% greens in regulation (20th), 328″ proximity to hole (31st), 75.0 % scrambling (21st), 1.56 putts per GIR (8th).
  • 2017, Hudson Swafford (-20). 307 yards (5th), 55.4% fairways (61st), 80.6% greens in regulation (1st), 30’2″ proximity to hole (27th), 71.4 % scrambling (30th), 1.66 putts per GIR (24th).
  • 2016, Jason Dufner (-25). 290 yards (49th), 75.0% fairways (5th), 75.0% greens in regulation (15th), 30’6″ proximity to hole (20th), 72.2 % scrambling (40th), 1.54 putts per GIR (5th).

Tournament Skill Averages:

  • Driving Distance: 30th, Driving Accuracy: 22nd, Greens in Regulation: 17th, Proximity to Hole: 25th, Scrambling: 25th, Putting Average 8th.

Strokes Gained Tournament Trends:

  • 2020, Andrew Landry (-26). SG Off the Tee: 5th, SG Approach: 9th, SG Around the Green: 65th, SG Tee to Green: 13th, SG Putting: 6th.
  • 2019, Adam Long (-26). SG Off the Tee: 40th, SG Approach: 43rd, SG Around the Green: 30th, SG Tee to Green: 46th, SG Putting: 9th.
  • 2018, Jon Rahm (-22). SG Off the Tee: 4th, SG Approach: 7th, SG Around the Green: 60th, SG Tee to Green: 12th, SG Putting: 28th.
  • 2017, Hudson Swafford (-20). SG Off the Tee: 1st, SG Approach: 5th, SG Around the Green: 71st, SG Tee to Green: 7th, SG Putting: 44th.
  • 2016, Jason Dufner (-25). SG Off the Tee: 26th, SG Approach: 42nd, SG Around the Green: 8th, SG Tee to Green: 23rd, SG Putting: 14th.

Strokes Gained Tournament Skill Averages:

  • SG Off the Tee: 15th, SG Approach: 21st, SG Around the Green: 47th, SG Tee to Green: 20th, SG Putting: 20th.

So let’s take a view from players as to how the American Express sets up with the Stadium Course as host plus what skill sets the course favours:

Andrew Landry (Nicklaus Course): “I like that atmosphere over there, there’s some good holes, there’s some mediocre holes, you just got to drive the ball well out there, you got to hit your irons very well out there and you got to play smart, because there’s some par-5s out there that can jump up and bite you if you’re not playing smart. So we got a good game plan for it, we played well there in the past, and now we’ll see what happens tomorrow.

The key to this week has been good putting. I’ve been putting the ball absolutely beautifully and just kind of everything’s been there, my wedge play has been there, I hit some really good wedges. I went to a 54 degree this week instead of a playing a 52, 60 and it’s just kind of given me that 105 to 115 number just a lot better. And I’ve had it three or four times and I’ve hit every one of them gimmie. So the wedges are there, the putting’s there, just need to go out and go do it again tomorrow.”

Adam Long: “I had some pretty good hopes, I guess, because I played well in my practice rounds and made a lot of birdies and felt pretty good leading up to Thursday, so I would have been surprised had I not had a good start. But yeah, it’s three awesome golf courses and you hit fairways and greens and you can make a lot of putts because these greens on all three courses are just perfect. So you can make them from all over. I played here for Q-School in 2011, so, yeah, it’s been a bit. I think a junior tournament too before that. But been here a few times, but it’s a great place to play golf and, yeah, I’ve had good mojo here and hope to keep it going.”

Jon Rahm: “This area, the courses are always in really, really good shape, so it’s tough to pick one. But just because I’m familiar with it I would say the Nicklaus, just because I played it, I mean, this would be about my ninth round on this golf course, so I know it pretty good. But again, I feel like any other person, when you have a good day, any course is fit for you. It’s about making good shots. Well, yeah, I mean I’ve been living in this area for five years and most of the college tournaments we played was around here, so exactly, we played here – we played the Norman course as well – I’m just familiar with this type of golf course.

The Stadium Course, it’s a Pete Dye design, where I played four years of my life, it’s a Pete Dye design. Very, very similar type of golf. You need to hit it a lot more accurate off the tee because being in the fairway is a lot more important. With the small greens, you have water in play, you need to be more precise, clearly the hardest golf course. If you can have 5- or 6-under there you’re going to pick up a lot of shots. So hopefully have an organized round like I did yesterday, not have to fight too much to shoot under par.

Hudson Swafford (TPC Stadium): “Absolutely, yeah, no, this is a tough golf course. When you come to the desert, all you think is birdies, usually the scores yield birdies. But this Stadium Course has kind of changed that. I know there is a lot of good rounds out here, but one errant shot, it’s very penalizing. So you got to be super patient on this golf course.

Jason Dufner: “I came out before I went to Sony and played these golf courses, both of them, twice. Spent some time out here practicing and playing. So I felt good. We have had some great weather, obviously that helps. The courses are in great shape. So I’m pretty comfortable right now.

The Stadium Course, it’s a difficult golf course. There’s a little bit of room to play off the tee, in my opinion, but if you get off the path a little bit, you can get into some trouble. He’s got some water out there, he’s got some tricky bunkers, you get some uneven lies here and there. The greens kind are difficult. They run on some angles and there’s some slope. So it’s definitely the most difficult of the courses we have played here in the desert area. But today it just was one of those days, but I had a wedge in my hand. So just be aggressive. I know that, if I miss, it’s a soft fade to the right, so I can manage that.

Kevin Na: “It’s quite a bit of a change. The Nicklaus, no. But the Stadium, yes. We get to play these courses every year and you get comfortable. You don’t even have to have play a practice round, you just want to go out and – we’re playing holes just to see how the course is playing, how it’s bouncing, the firmness or the wetness, whatever the rough might be. But it’s a big change. I think the Stadium’s going to play a lot more difficult than the Palmer Course, in my opinion. But the Nicklaus Course will be about the same.

Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the 5 winners since the tournament moved to the current course rota – Stadium/Tournament plus previous to this year La Quinta:

  • 2020 – Andrew Landry: Round 1: 6th, Round 2: 3rd, Round 3: 1st.
  • 2019 – Adam Long: Round 1: 2nd, Round 2: 11th, Round 3: 3rd.
  • 2018 – Jon Rahm: Round 1: 1st, Round 2: 2nd, Round 3: 4th.
  • 2017 – Hudson Swafford: Round 1: 2nd, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 3rd.
  • 2016 – Jason Dufner: Round 1: 1st, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 1st.

Shots From the Lead: Below are the 5 winners since the tournament moved to the current course rota – Stadium/Tournament plus previous to this year La Quinta – and where they were positioned in terms of shots from the lead during the tournament:

  • 2020 – Andrew Landry: Round 1: 2 back, Round 2: 1 back, Round 3: level.
  • 2019 – Adam Long: Round 1: 3 back, Round 2: 6 back, Round 3: 3 back.
  • 2018 – Jon Rahm: Round 1: 1 ahead, Round 2: 1 back, Round 3: 2 back.
  • 2017 – Hudson Swafford: Round 1: 1 back, Round 2: 1 ahead, Round 3: 2 back.
  • 2016 – Jason Dufner: Round 1: level, Round 2: 1 ahead, Round 3: 2 ahead.

Form of winners since 2016:

  • Andrew Landry: MC Sony/MC RSM/MC Mayakoba/MC Houston.
  • Adam Long: MC Sony/MC RSM/MC Sanderson/63rd Safeway.
  • Jon Rahm: 2nd ToC/1st DPWTC/36th HSBC/MC Valderrama.
  • Hudson Swafford: 13th Sony/36th RSM/46th Mayakoba/23rd HSBC/29th CIMB.
  • Jason Dufner: 9th Sony/1st Shark Shoot/9th RSM/40th Mayakoba.

Due to local COVID-19 circumstances, the tournament will be conducted without traditional Pro-Am format and contested on PGA West’s Stadium Course (host) and the Nicklaus Tournament Course.

Course Rotation since 2016:

  • 2020 – Andrew Landry: Round 1: Stadium; Round 2: La Quinta; Round 3: Tournament.
  • 2019 – Adam Long: Round 1: Tournament; Round 2: Stadium; Round 3: La Quinta.
  • 2018 – Jon Rahm: Round 1: La Quinta; Round 2: Tournament; Round 3: Stadium.
  • 2017 – Hudson Swafford: Round 1: La Quinta; Round 2: Tournament; Round 3: Stadium.
  • 2016 – Jason Dufner Round 1: Tournament; Round 2: Stadium; Round 3: La Quinta.

5 of the last 9 winners, namely Jason Dufner, Bill Haas, Patrick Reed, Brian Gay and Mark Wilson, had all won PGA Tour titles on Bermudagrass greens prior to capturing the title here in La Quinta. Jon Rahm extends that trend to a degree, on the basis he’d won the DP Tour Championship on the European Tour at the Earth Course in November 2017, prior to winning this in January 2018.

For the record, here’s the breakdown of Bermudagrass PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:

  • 4 – Brian Gay, Bill Haas, Zach Johnson, Patrick Reed.
  • 3 – Brandt Snedeker, Camilo Villegas.
  • 2 – Paul Casey, Luke Donald, Jason Dufner, Rickie Fowler, Fabian Gomez, Russell Henley, Si Woo Kim, Chris Kirk, Phil Mickelson, Scott Piercy, Jimmy Walker, Mark Wilson.
  • 1 – Ryan Armour, Aaron Baddeley, Keegan Bradley, Cameron Champ, Austin Cook, Tyler Duncan, Branden Grace, Lanto Griffin, Adam Hadwin, James Hahn, Jim Herman, Max Homa, Charles Howell III, Sungjae Im, Patton Kizzire, Satoshi Kodaira, Brooks Koepka, Martin Laird, Andrew Landry, Adam Long, Peter Malnati, Francesco Molinari, Sebastian Munoz, Grayson Murray, Seung-yul Noh, Sean O’Hair, C.T. Pan, Pat Perez, J.T. Poston, Rory Sabbatini, Charl Schwartzel, Scott Stallings, Kevin Streelman, Steve Stricker, Brian Stuard, Hudson Swafford, Nick Taylor, Michael Thompson, D.J. Trahan, Nick Watney, Gary Woodland.

Recent champions here include Vegas and Long (both Tour Rookies); Swafford, Perez, Hoffman (all 1st time PGA Tour winners); Trahan, Reed and defending champion Landry (1 Win at the time); Campbell (2 Wins); with Dufner, Gay (3 Wins) plus Wilson (4 wins). Bill Haas has won this title in both 2010 and 2015, being his 1st and 6th PGA Tour titles. The very elite Jon Rahm won this in 2018 – he had won 3 main Tour victories in 2017, one of which was a PGA Tour victory at Torrey Pines. Pick the bones from that little lot!

The plot thickens further when you look at the circumstances prior to victories for recent winners. Defending champion Andrew Landry had inbound form of MC/MC/MC/MC/MC before winning here 12 months ago. Out of 6 seasonal outings, he had a single 23rd to his name. Course form lovers could have plucked out a 2nd place finish here 2 years earlier where he lost in a play-off to Jon Rahm, but let’s be frank – Landry was a find and a half.

Then we have Adam Long, who was a 600/1 prior to winning this. In 4 previous starts on the PGA Tour he had 3 Missed Cuts and a 63rd to his name. Again pick the bones from that! Rahm in 2018 had finished 2nd at Kapalua 2 weeks before winning this tournament. Hudson Swafford in 2017 finished 13th the week before at Waialae – he had been T3 after 54 holes. 2016 saw Jason Dufner win this after another showing the week before at Waialae. He ultimately finished 9th at the Sony Open, and had been 6th after 54 holes. He had also won the Franklin Templeton Shoot Out in late December with Brandt Snedeker.

So what’s the right recipe for success this week? In all honesty it’s very hard to gauge, as it would be at a tournament where the average winning price over the past 7 renewals has been 154/1 and where the past 3 winners have been 200/1, 600/1 and the 10/1 Favourite. If previous renewals are anything to go by then all types of player can thrive here, both the long bomber, accurate ball-striker and a player who has a career-breaking week with the putter.

My The American Express Tips Are As Follows:

Russell Henley 1.5pts EW 33/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Boylesports

We were on Russell Henley last time he played in California at the CJ Cup, played at Sherwood Country Club back in October. He was a 45/1 shot in an absolutely loaded short-field event which featured Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Webb Simpson, Patrick Reed, Collin Morikawa, Tommy Fleetwood, Harris English, Tiger Woods and eventual winner Patrick Cantlay, plus many more from the World’s Top 50. He didn’t disappoint that week, landing 4th spot and covering the week after my win-only chance Justin Thomas lost by a single shot. Sounds familiar!

So it’s nice to be back on-board at what I think is a decent enough price. 11th last week at the Sony Open saw him finish at -17/263, featuring 1 eagle, 19 birdies and just the 4 bogeys. Amazing how such a great total doesn’t even get you a top 10 finish, but that’s the PGA Tour. Fact is though that Henley undoubtedly turned a corner in late 2020. As recently as the Travelers Championship, the University of Georgia graduate was 193rd in the OWGR. But since then, 7th at the Workday Charity Open, 9th at the Wyndham Championship, 8th at the Northern Trust, 3rd at the CJ Cup (in the desert outside of Las Vegas) and the aforementioned 4th at the ZOZO Championship have undoubtedly boosted his career. After last week he sits at 52nd in the Official Golf World Ranking and naturally will be looking to add to his 3 wins on the PGA Tour and grab a place at the top table of golf.

In this week’s field across my 8-week trackers, Russell ranks 13th for Driving Accuracy plus from a Strokes Gained perspective 6th for Approach, 5th for Tee to Green and 15th for SG Total Recent Form. 7th for Tee to Green at the Sony, his putter showed signs of life for 36 holes before turning negative on the weekend. But Waialae Country Club is ultimately won by a high-class putter, whereas the champions list here reads Dufner, Swafford, Rahm, Long and Landry. They ranked 180th, 119th, 96th, 218th and 224th for Strokes Gained Putting on the PGA Tour when arriving in California.

So with new found confidence and TifDwarf Bermudagrass results such as 1st (2013) at Waialae Country Club (with 3 additional top-17s), plus 4th (2014), 6th (2015) and 10th (2016) at Sea Island, I think Russell will overcome a poor record here to have a strong week in the desert. RESULT: MC

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Cameron Champ 1.5pts EW 40/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Betfair

Californian Cameron Champ is another who has impressed in recent outings. 5th, 22nd and 18th for Strokes Gained on Approach across the CJ Cup, ZOZO Championship and Sentry Tournament of Champions highlights a player who has excellent control of his irons right now. That also translates directly to his Tee to Green game where ranks of 18th, 7th and 20th have also shown an all-round game in rude health. 8th at the ZOZO, 19th on debut at The Masters and 31st at Kapalua highlight that the 25 year-old Californian is playing some excellent stuff and we know he goes well out west.

1st at Silverado Country Club, 10th at TPC Harding Park and 8th at Sherwood Country Club in his home state since September 2019, he was also 6th after 54 holes at TPC Summerlin in 2018. But it’s Champ’s free scoring which really appeals this week on a course that is set up for Birdie or Better Conversion. Cameron across last season ranked 37th for Total Birdies and 32nd for Birdie Average. With 2 eagles and 23 birdies at the less-than-driver Sherwood Country Club, he ranked T8 for Birdie or Better Conversion – on the same mark as tournament winner Patrick Cantlay. And he surpassed that at Augusta National where he ranked T5 for Birdie or Better Conversion.

Champ is undoubtedly playing well and that comes across in my 8-week tracker numbers where in this field he ranks 5th for Greens in Regulation, 13th for SG Off the Tee, 5th for SG on Approach, 10th for SG Around the Green, 10th for SG Tee to Green, 26th for SG Putting and 17th for SG Total Recent Form.

And a look at his only outing here at PGA West from 12 months ago is also fascinating. He averaged 68.25 and finished 21st overall. Across his final 36 holes played at La Quinta and Stadium he shot 68/67 and was bogey-free at the weekend, which was T11 for the final 36 holes. A winner on Bermudagrass at the CC of Jackson back in 2018, he was also 6th at the 2018 RSM Classic played on similar TifDwarf  Bermudagrass greens. RESULT: MC

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Patton Kizzire 1pt EW 60/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Betfair

Patton Kizzire loves a birdie-fest and I reckon he’s primed for a real attack on The American Express title this week. 2 eagles and 21 birdies was an excellent haul across the 4 days at Waialae last week and his weekend score of -11/129 was only bettered by Kevin Na and Matt Jones.

Up to an 18 month high of 195th in Official Golf World Ranking, Kizzire lives on Sea Island, Georgia and his recent form is impressive. 24th at the Shriners Open, 11th at the Houston Open, 10th at the RSM Classic, 32nd at the Mayakoba Classic and 7th last week at the Sony Open, Patton is playing some of his best stuff. And if anything has been missing it’s been his iron-play, but even that seems to be peaking as he was in the top 20 for Greens in Regulation at Waialae, 5th and 10th for Proximity to Hole over Rounds 3 and 4, plus ranked 5th for Strokes Gained Tee to Green on Sunday when he shot -6/64. He’s peaking.

A look at his career CV shows strong results across Waialae, TPC Louisiana, TPC River Highlands, Montreux, TPC Summerlin, Seaside and El Camaleon. 8th (2016) and 5th (2017) at TPC Louisiana where low scoring is a pre-requisite, those results plus 6th at TPC River Highlands (2020) all came on Pete Dye designs.  2nd (2015) and 4th (2017) at TPC Summerlin, plus 9th (2017) at Montreux all came on desert set-ups in Arizona and Nevada. Indeed desert results have always been strong for Patton as he won the 2015 Utah Championship at Thanksgiving Point Golf Course.

I also like another line of enquiry with Kizzire, this time when it comes to green surfaces. The greens this week feature TifDwarf Bermudagrass base and that surface is shared with Waialae and Seaside (RSM Classic). Patton has now finished 1st (2018), 13th (2019) and 7th (last week) at the former and 15th (2019) and 10th (2020) at the latter, and it’s worth remembering that he uses the Sea Island Performance Centre as his practice base.

3 top-50 finishes from 5 outings here is nothing to write home about, but I get the feeling with Patton Kizzire that a win is inbound. And it’s also fascinating that his previous 2 PGA Tour wins came at 70/1 and 80/1 respectively, when in very buoyant form. RESULT: 53rd

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Sam Burns 1pt EW 66/1 (6EW, 1/5) with Unibet

Recency bias can be an issue in golf but the last time we saw Sam Burns he finished 7th at the Houston Open. He shot 68-65 across Thursday/Friday to lead by 2 strokes after 36 holes, and unlike previous flirtations with a PGA Tour lead, Sam played nicely on Saturday shooting -2/68 to hold onto the lead, before he again started leaking oil on the Sunday – eventually grabbing his 8th top-10 PGA Tour finish. It’s all valuable experience for the 24 year old from Louisiana.

Ranking 22nd for Strokes Gained Total across this season to date, fact of the matter is that Sam has played some exceptional golf since the summer. 13th at the Wyndham Championship, 7th at the Safeway Open and 7th in Houston, Sam was also in the top 10 after 36 holes at the Corales Championship. He’s undoubtedly percolating and his forte is low scoring. 11 rounds from his last 18 have been in the 60s and I have counted 6 times already this season where he’s been in the top-10 best scorers of the day across Silverado, Corales GC and Memorial Park GC. 15th for Birdie Average and 20th for Strokes Gained Tee to Green this season, he’s also 8th for par-5 Birdie or Better Conversion. From my 8-week tracker perspective in this field he’s 1st for SG Off the Tee, on Approach and Tee to Green. He also ranks 2nd for SG Total Recent Form.

Now ideally we’d like a start so far in 2021, but we nearly scored the winner here 12 months ago with Scottie Scheffler who hadn’t played PGA Tour golf since November, so we can’t exclude Sam for that, and from an American Express perspective he ranks 4th for Scoring Average in this field for those with multiple outings. 18th (2019) and 6th (2020) he’s the sort who could come from slightly off the pace this week to take a maiden PGA Tour title – something that Bill Haas (2010), Jhonattan Vegas (2011), Hudson Swafford (2017) and Adam Long (2019), have all done here at PGA West. RESULT: MC

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Michael Thompson 1pt EW 125/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Betfair

A winner at any price is possible this week at a tournament where 6 of the last 11 winners have been at triple-digit odds, and a long-shot who has caught my eye over the past 3 outings at a price is Michael Thompson.

You may well remember that Michael was a winner in 2020 and has undoubtedly raised his game over the past 6 months. 272nd in the OWGR as the PGA Tour resumed, Michael finished 8th at Harbour Town shooting -17/267 into the bargain – that was his first PGA Tour top 10 for 14 months. That performance though was only the precursor for the 3M Open in late July, where Michael saw off the likes of Tony Finau, Matthew Wolff, Richy Werenski and a pack of fast finishing professionals including Emiliano Grillo, Charles Howell III, PGA West winner Adam Long and Robby Shelton to pick up his 2nd PGA Tour title, over 7 years after the first. TPC Twin Cities accepts birdies and Michael shot -19/265 to win that week – one for the memory bank.

Looking at Thompson, his west coast form is under the radar – but worthy of note. 2nd at the 2012 U.S. Open played at Olympic Club, the Arizona-born, Alabama native has finished 6th at Waialae, 11th at Torrey Pines, 7th at Riviera, 10th at Pebble Beach and 9th here 2 years ago. Thompson was actually 5th after 54 holes that year, but a closing 71 derailed all each-way returns. Interestingly he ranked 12th for SG on Approach and 6th for SG Tee to Green. 19th (2014) at TPC Scottsdale, 15th (2018) at Montreux and 13th (2012) at TPC Summerlin also highlights that Michael can play well enough in the desert.

But it’s Thompson’s current form which has caught my eye. 15th at Houston, 21st at Kapalua and 25th at Waialae has been a good return. He’s up to 102nd in the OWGR powered by T15, T14 and T21 for Birdie or Better Conversion across Memorial Park, Kapalua and Waialae. Plus there are few in this field with better 8-week tracker rankings, especially at 125/1. 21st for Driving Accuracy, 24th for Greens in Regulation, 9th for Scrambling and 6th for Putting Average; from a Strokes Gained perspective, he also ranks 15th for Approach, 4th for Putting and 9th for SG Total Recent Form. RESULT: T5

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 06:45GMT 19.1.21 but naturally subject to fluctuation.