2021 American Express Desert Classic: First Round Leader Picks

Sam Eaton brings us his predictions for First Round Leader at this week's PGA Tour event, The American Express Desert Classic
Sam Eaton
Wed, January 20, 5:19 PM

All of Sam's tips are based on statistics and models built on the course requirements and he's picked out six selections for The American Express, three on the Stadium course and three on the Tournament course.

First of all it’s worth pointing out this isn’t your normal first round leader market, the first two days at the American Express are played on separate courses. Therefore there are two first round leader markets, one for the Nicklaus Tournament Course and one for the Stadium Course. 

Both courses play relatively easy, last year the Nicklaus courses played the second-easiest on Tour and the Stadium course was the 10th easiest. 

The greens on both courses are Bermuda, however, with a change of climate expect them to play a little different to the last couple of weeks. 

In terms of statistics I’ve focused on this week, as both courses are relatively short, the approach games comes massively into play, especially from under 125 yards. Hitting the fairways will also be key, and despite driving distance not being a huge factor, it will certainly benefit on some of the more gettable holes.

Stadium Course

Matthew Wolff @ +1800

Matthew Wolff finished off 2020 with a whimper, he didn’t finish in the top 50 in his last three events which includes missing the cut at the Masters. However, despite that, the five events before the Masters he was averaging 3.4 shots gained in approach. 

Wolff produced some shocking Tee to Green stats at both the Zozo and CJ Cup, an area he normally excels in. 

Bermuda isn’t Wolff’s preferred putting surface but this won’t put him out of content, and he normally excels at courses which are both easy and have relative clam conditions.

 

Keegan Bradley @ +3100

Keegan Bradley is a pretty poor putter which concerns me about this week, especially with this being his less favored surface. However, his approach game brings him into play. 

Bradley hasn’t lost shots on the field in approach since August, and the same can be applied to T2G. 

The American over indexes in first round leads, he claimed two in 2019, and one in 2020. Despite Bradley’s putting being a concern he’s played well at this course previously.

 

Scott Harrington @ +11000

On paper Scott Harrington goes against a lot of the key statistics I mentioned above, however, when you split out Harrington’s first round scores, he actually fairs much better in these areas. 

He’s not played too well in his last two events, but his highest opening score in the last seven events of 2020 was 70. Not bad for a player who missed three of the cuts after a good start on day one. In that time he recorded three top 7 first round finishes, including a win at the Corales. 

This one is a bit of a gamble given the inconsistency in his game, however, he wouldn’t be 110/1 in a split field without it.

The Tournament Course

Emiliano Grillo @ +3500

Emiliano Grillo should have a pretty good week on the PGA Tour, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see another top ten finish for him. 

Grillo’s game should fit perfect for this weeks test, he was 14th on the PGA Tour in 2020 for shots gained approach. Despite not being a long driver, he tends to gain shots on the field due to his accuracy. 

He’s not had a first round win since 2018, but comes into the comp in good form, and also has four top ten finishes after the first round in his last six rounds.

 

Peter Malnati @ +4500

Peter Malnati has been flying after the first round in recent weeks, with two wins to his name lately. This is Malnati’s preferred putting surface, and has the ability to gain plenty of shots on the field with approach we he showed at the Shriners and Sandersons. 

Another where his price looks big for a split field event.

 

Paul Casey @ +2800

Everyone knows Paul Casey’s approach ability, he ranked 9th on the PGA Tour for shots gained in approach in 2020. The Englishman is a pretty poor putter, but his fortunes with the flatstick started to swing in the back end of 2020. 

Casey nearly always gains shots off the field on the tee, he ranked 15th on the Tour in this facet last season. 

He only had one first round win last season which came at the Masters.

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