The American Express, formerly known as the Desert Classic, CareerBuilder Challenge, Humana Challenge and Bob Hope Classic, is played each January in California. The tournament forms part of the early season West Coast Swing.
In 2012 the tournament changed its format from having five rounds to the more familiar four round tournament. The event is traditionally played over three different courses – TPC Stadium Course and Nicklaus Tournament Course at PGA West and La Quinta Country Club. However, as a direct response to the Covid-19 Pandemic, this year’s edition of the tournament will only be played over the two courses at PGA West.
The Par 72 Pete Dye-designed TPC Stadium Course will continue to serve as the host course. It’s infamous 17th hole is known as “Alcatraz” and has an island green that was inspired by the 17th at TPC Sawgrass.
The field will play the Nicklaus Tournament Course in either the first or second round before a 36-hole cut this year. The TPC Stadium Course takes over for the final 36 holes.
Historically, courses used in the American Express rank among the easiest annually on the PGA Tour. As with previous editions, those players who wish to contend will need to be aggressive with their approach play, hit the ball close to target and drain plenty putts. Key statistics this week will be Proximity to Hole, Strokes Gained Putting and Birdie Average.
Last year, Andrew Landry captured the American Express with a two stroke victory over Abraham Ancer in solo second for his second PGA Tour title. Landry lost a playoff to Jon Rahm in the same tournament in 2018. He closed with back-to-back birdies for a final round -5 (67) giving him a total -26 (262) for the week.
“This is a golf course that has suited me very well in the past and just to look back on some of the things that happened a couple years ago and then now, just to be able to finally get it done”Andrew Landry
Just over three-quarters of his strokes gained on the field for the two rounds on the Stadium Course came from the putter. He finished just inside the Top 10 in Strokes Gained Putting which translated to a gain of 3.184 strokes. Other stats for the tournament include T12 for Driving Accuracy, 28th for Driving Distance, T41 for GIR and 1st for Putts per GIR.
The 2019 champion, Adam Long captured the title in only his sixth start on Tour. He shot a final round -7 (65) on the Stadium Course to beat playing partners Adam Hadwin and Phil Mickelson by a solitary stroke. Mickelson began the day with a two shot lead and looked odds on to be the wire-to-wire winner, but his putter let him down on the final day.
“It was a huge thrill to play with Phil, I looked up to him my whole life and big fan of his and he couldn’t have been greater to me out there and he was awesome to play with, a lot of fun”Adam Long
Long’s victory earned the PGA Tour rookie $1,062,000 and a two year exemption. Three-quarters of Long’s strokes gained on the field came from the flat-stick. He finished 9th in SG:Putting gaining 3.184 shots on the field average. Other stats for the week include T12 for Driving Accuracy, 28th in Driving Distance, T41 in GIR and 1st in Putts per GIR.
In 2018, Jon Rahm beat Andrew Landry on the fourth hole of a playoff to win his second PGA Tour title. He closed with a final round -5 (67) on the Stadium Course to finish on -22 (266).
The Spaniard’s play from the tee and on approach laid the foundation for his victory. He gained almost 6 strokes over the two rounds on the Stadium Course over the field average. He finished T28 for Driving Accuracy, 5th in Driving Distance, T20 in GIR and 8th in Putts per GIR.
In 2017, Hudson Swafford won his first PGA Tour tournament at the American Express beating Adam Hadwin by one shot. On his way to victory Swafford was 1st in Strokes Gained Off-The-Tee and 5th in Strokes Gained Approach-The-Green. Combined these stats yielded a gain of 7.48 strokes over the field average for the two rounds on the host course. He finished the week T61 in Driving Accuracy, 5th in Driving Distance, T1 in GIR and 24th in Putts per GIR.
In 2016, Jason Dufner prevailed in a playoff with David Lingmerth after shooting -25(263) in regulation play. Lady luck played her part in Dufner’s win with an incredible up-and-down in regulation play at the aforementioned “Alcatraz”.
Dufner finished the week T49 for Driving Distance, T5 for Driving Accuracy, T15 for GIR, 14th in Strokes Gained Putting. He was also T18 in Proximity to the Hole and T40 for Scrambling.
This week is a lottery and definitely one to approach with caution. Best advice is to keep bets small or have a bet in running after 36 | 54 holes are completed
American Express Betting Tips
Sungjae Im 20/1 (E/W) – sticking with the talented Korean again this week. Two previous visits to PGA West has yielded a T12 (2019) and a T10 (2020). Finished a lacklustre T56 in last week’s Sony Open but this was preceded by a T5 in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and a T2 in the Masters. A solid all-round game puts the 22 year old inside the Top 30 in this week’s Stats Analysis table. Tops the pile on Tour for Total Birdies with 166 from 38 rounds. Willing to overlook last week’s ‘no-show‘ based on other compelling arguments. Perfect week to get his game back on track and make it win number 2 on Tour.
Sam Burns 50/1 (E/W) – followed up a T18 on his debut appearance at the American Express in 2019 with a T6 last season. His strong showing last year was punctuated by a record equaling 63 in the final round. Hasn’t teed it up on Tour since November of last year, but prior to that he had 4 x Top 25’s from five starts including a pair of T7’s in both the Houston Open and Safeway Open. The big-hitting 24 year old tops the pile in this week’s Stats Analysis. He is also 5th on Tour for GIR and 15th for Birdie Average. No questioning his talent and fit for this week’s challenge. Big question is can he hit the ground running after a lengthy break? Andrew Landry captured last year’s title off the back of three straight MC’s, so arriving with poor (or no form in this case!) may not be an issue. This year’s adjusted format should suit as he arrives to a course with good memories. Hard to resist at these odds.
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