The American Express

The Hawaii adventure is finished for another year and we now head to California for The American Express - the first pro-am of the year across three courses. We know the drill by now with the Pete Dye Stadium course being played for two days of the four, whilst the La Quinta and Nicklaus courses are used for the other two rounds.

Rahm likened this to a 'putting contest' last year and whilst his comments were made in anger he isn't far wrong. The courses have little or no rough and driving distance holds little advantage. Grace is given to those who struggle around the greens with simple enough green complexes and very low rough. You'll want to avoid the greenside bunkers though as we've seen some horror stories from those down the years.

I'll be looking to those playing well on approach and guys who have a tendency to get hot with the putter. That recipe worked last year for us when backing Hudson Swafford all the way to his victory at 150/1. 

Tom Kim at 25/1 (Eight Places)

These elevated events with more in the prize pot will evidently mean more of the better players will win them and I feel it necessary to go to war with some of the best in the game. It's difficult to choose between the first handful in the betting then we have Zalatoris who performed well after a spell on the sidelines, but maybe it's still a week or two early for him. Then we have Schuaffele who pulled out of the Sentry during round 2.

The 25/1 about Tom Kim looks the most attractive bet among the top players. Kim has burst onto the scene like no other in a long time and looks a special player. He doesn't hit the ball a long way so courses such as these that give little reward to the bombers are always a shade more interesting for him.

The rest of his game is hugely impressive and only two poor weeks on the greens have put pay to a better start to 2023. 5th in the Sentry whilst losing strokes to the field on the greens is a huge effort.

Last week in Hawaii it was a horror show with the putter on route to a missed cut. To date he has won the Wyndham, ranking 1st on the greens that week, and his second win coming at Summerlin certainly perks the attention for this week.

He ranked 3rd on the greens that week when he won for the second time so he certainly fits the bill of a streaky putter. Another win and we'll see his major odds come tumbling, but I do worry about the length of many of the major courses for him.

This year's PGA certainly looks like one very suited to him though. The putting woes last week results in him being pushed 25/1 and I can't turn that down in an event the favourites have struggled to win in recent history.

2.5pts each-way T.Kim  25/1  (1/5 8)

Tom Kim - 2.5pts e/w @ 25/1

Tom Hoge at 40/1 (Eight Places)

It is difficult to steer yourself away from Tom Hoge this week for a myriad of reasons and at 40/1 he looks worth chancing. Hoge's ball striking has been imperious for a fair while now hitting top form in the Summer of last year. Having finished 4th in the 3M Open in July top 10's followed at the Tour Championship, Shriners, Zozo and then 3rd at the Sentry a few weeks ago.

12th at the Fortinet and 13th in the CJ Cup have ensured a solid start to the season and now he enters a period where he is a serious threat. He already has a win in the pro-am at Pebble Beach so the format isn't of any concern. His desert form makes for great reading also with 4th, 7th and 14th placed finishes at Summerlin, two top 25s at Scottsdale and two top six finishes here at this event.

22nd and 33rd at the last two Players Championships at Sawgrass is enough to suggest he is more than at home at this Stadium Course. He has a tough field to beat but birdies will be plentiful and if his ball striking continues like it has been he'll only need a good week on the greens to put him in the frame.

2pts each-way T.Hoge  40/1  (1/5 8)

Tom Hoge - 2pts e/w @ 40/1

Cameron Davis at 45/1 (Eight Places)

Cameron Davis ranked inside the top 30 on tour last year in birdie or better percentage and there's every chance he clicks into gear on one of the easiest weeks of the year. He won the Rocket Mortgage back in 2021 on a score of 20 under par and earlier on that season he reached the same score to finish 3rd in this event behind Si Woo and Cantlay.

His ball striking last week in Hawaii was impressive for his first outing of the year and only a poor effort on and around the greens stopped him from finishing higher up the leaderboard. His better results have all been in events where there are plenty of birdies and I don't believe it will be long before the Aussie lands another victory on tour. 

1.25pts each-way C.Davis  45/1  (1/5 8)

Cameron Davis - 1.25pts e/w @ 45/1

Ben Griffin at 140/1 (Eight Places)

Ben Griffin can be backed at 150/1 and having made a bright start to his maiden season must be included in the staking plan. Griffin isn't the straightest off the tee and will be suited by the room granted to him here in the desert. In only his fourth start on tour he finished 4th at the Wyndham, a shot behind Sungjae Im that week.

Since then he has been riding the crest of a wave with a 3rd placed finish in Bermuda and top 20s in Houston and last week in Hawaii. He joint lead heading into the final round in Bermuda and royally fluffed his lines going 6 over during the final seven holes to finish two behind Seamus Power. That hasn't seemed to set him back though and should he reach the 23 under mark like he did in Bermuda any time this Sunday he should be right in the mix.

12th last week was achieved with some poor work around the greens and he should get relief in that department this week. He looks a streaky putter to date and that fits the bill here. 

0.75pt each-way B.Griffin  140/1  (1/5 8)

Ben Griffin - 0.75pts e/w @ 140/1

S.H Kim at 150/1 (Eight Places)

Matthew NeSmith is one of the more consistent iron players on the tour and a return to the desert is welcome. He has a top 20 here back in 2020 as well as a top 10 at Scottsdale and finishes of 18-8-14-2 across the last four renewals of the Shriners at Summerlin. He isn't one of the longer hitters so venues such as these is where he can capitalise.

The only time he has made the cut here though is after an outing at the Sony Open and not having had that in the bag is just enough to put me off backing.  Keith Mitchell is another who made the shortlist and who played some excellent golf early on in 2022.

He kicked off his campaign last year at the Sony where he finished 7th and he followed that up with 12th at Pebble, 10th at Scottsdale and 9th at PGA National. This time around his first outing didn't go according to plan with a first round of 74 putting him in an impossible position. He did bounce back in round two with a 66 to miss the cut by two strokes but he showed enough in that round to suggest he had maybe shaken off some rust.

At bigger odds though my preference is for Seong Hyeon Kim. Kim kicked off his 2023 in fine fashion last week with a top 15 finish at the Sony Open performing well in all departments of the game. His only other desert outing on tour to date was at the Shriners last October finishing on 20 under par and in a tie for 4th place.

That bodes well for another desert outing this week and no doubt he'll take inspiration from his fellow Koreans Si Woo and Tom Kim both winning recently. This is a much stronger field than last week but Kim has all the credentials to go well once again and has been slightly overlooked by the books.

0.75pt each-way SH Kim  150/1  (1/5 8)

S.H Kim - 0.75pts e/w @ 150/1

Andrew Novak at 400/1 (Eight Places)

One worth chancing at huge odds is Andrew Novak. With limited starts this season he needs to make hay fast and he has done to date. 17th in Bermuda at the back end of last year has been backed up with 12th place in Sony last week. The driver and putter are the clubs that worry him the most but his iron play remains decent.

His ball striking was good last week and it's encouraging to see a good week off the tee on a somewhat tricky first shot golf course. Had he managed a better week on the greens he could have landed a bigger prize. Last year at this event he missed the cut with poor iron play but his putting was among the best in the field through two rounds. Given his effort last week he is worth chancing at the 400/1 mark.

0.5pt each-way A.Novak  400/1  (1/5 8)

Andrew Novak - 0.5pts e/w @ 400/1