Going to put it right out there, friends.
The American Express, forever The Hope, in lovely La Quinta, California is a week for the longshots, the less familiar, the unheralded and unknown. For every Jon Rahm as champion you have an Andrew Landry or Adam Long, a Hudson Swafford or Jhonattan Vegas, maybe a Mark Wilson or Patrick Reed before he made a Ryder Cup team or won a green jacket, when he started the tournament with winning odds of 135/1.
First, the three courses in the rotation are not difficult for a touring professional. Never have been in any era. They are resort courses, measuring less than 7,200 yards in pristine playing condition with typically little to no wind (more details on the forecast later). The hazards and deep bunkers frighten a foursome of snowbirds from Wisconsin, creating the reality of running out of golf balls on the front nine. The same water and sand is, for the most part, just a scenic diversion in between shots for the touring professional. Something to gaze into this week as his amateur partner tries to strike his 7-wood solid and shake in a four-foot par putt.
For the first three rounds, the hole locations are comfortable and accessible. The par 5s present eagle and birdie opportunities. Any ‘5’ on the scorecard feels like a fatal error. The greens are smooth and not particularly fast. The fairways are narrow in places but the rough is light and playable. A hybrid or 3-wood is the right club off many par-4 tees. Keep your ball dry, take advantage of the par 5s, roll in a few 15 footers and the leaderboard awaits. Assuming the numbers average 5-under-par per day.
The Strokes Gained data is limited to the PGA West Stadium Course – which the players will play one of the first three days (alongside their amateur partner, and another pro and his amateur), along with the birdie-friendly La Quinta CC and Nicklaus Tournament Course. I have witnessed disasters on this property but those episodes occurred during PGA Tour Qualifying School, which is another matter altogether.
The practice facility is exquisite. It’s a great place to chip away any rust that may have accumulated over the holidays. Those making their season debut were wise if they arrived late last week and started the fine tuning.
Kept it simple this week and tried to identify the best ballstrikers of late, the top mid-range putters over the last six months or so, the short-course specialists, the birdie machines and those who have played well on certain Pete Dye designs – TPC Sawgrass comes to mind after 2017 Players Champion Si Woo Kim’s victory (66-1) last year.
The high temperatures are projected in the mid-70s. The wind may blow 10-15 mph on Saturday. With eight of the top 30 players in the world in the 156-man field battling for the $7.6 million purse, expect to see some favorites on the board. Just dig down deep and find room on your roster for an unexpected name or two. We tossed a couple extra in the Bargain Bin this week. As always, good luck
- Nick Hardy, Max McGreevy, Pat Perez, Chad Ramey, Davis Riley, Scott Stallings, Dylan Wu
Golfer power rankings
26. Sungjae Im – Not at all concerned by Im missing the cut last week. This three course rotation provides the perfect place to start a new streak. He’s finished in the top 12 each of the last three years, bettering the field average with his irons and putter each time.
25. Adam Hadwin – From 2016-19 he finished no worse than sixth in the AMEX with a pair of runner ups. Making his 2022 debut looking to build on a string of five consecutive weekends played in the fall including a T-6 at the Shriners, also in the desert.
24. Alex Smalley – Missed the cut at the Sony but the irons were dialed (gained 1.6 shots on approach). Makes birdies and his consecutive top 20s in the fall were promising for the rookie.
23. Andrew Putnam – Made the AMEX cut each of the last four years with a pair of top-20 finishes. Gained shots on approach in three of the last four measured starts and finished T-27 at the Sony. Good mid-range putter.
22. Patrick Reed – Missed the cut here in his two most recent appearances but has posted a T-12 since his victory. He’s fifth in scoring on shorter courses and bettered the field average in approach play and putting in his T-15 at the Sentry TOC two weeks ago.
21. Carlos Ortiz – Record here isn’t great (T-48, T-65 last two years), however it’s worth noting that Si Woo Kim had a WD and T-40 in his two previous AMEX starts and last year worked out just fine. Strong putter from 10-20 feet and finished 2021 dialed with his irons – and runner-up in Mayakoba..
20. Alex Noren – 2-for-2 making the cut in this part of the desert. Ranks high on shorter courses and easier courses. Can make the middle-range putts.
19. Cameron Young – Ran into his college coach, Jerry Haas, at a tournament recently. He described Young as the kind of guy who might miss three or four cuts in a row and then shoot 20 under. We’re on board for the volatile and unpredictable this week.
18. Taylor Pendrith – The young Canadians, in their amateur days, are known to travel to a mild desert climate for a week of competition and training. If the powerful Pendrith can tighten up on approach, the rest of the recipe is there: par-5 acumen and elite touch from 10-20 feet.
17. Taylor Moore – Leads the field in Birdies or Better Gained over the last 50 rounds and ranks seventh in par-5 scoring. Making first start since a T-8 at the RSM Classic.
16. Luke List – He’s fifth in the field in ballstriking over the last 50 rounds. Backing him in a week when you have to hole putts is a little dangerous but his combination of par-5 scoring and SG: Approach is among the best in the field. Just play all the 5s in four shots, Luke.
15. Cameron Tringale – He’s really good at every aspect of golf. He’s made 24 of the last 29 cuts with seven top 25s since July. Last three years at AMEX he’s played all four rounds but nothing better than T-43.
14. Hayden Buckley – With two top 10s in the fall and a T-12 at the Sony, he’s on his way to earning a place in the playoffs in his first season as a Tour member. The momentum is real – he’s gained shots on approach in five consecutive tournaments.
13. Jhonattan Vegas – Making his first start since a T-12 at the RSM Classic. When he won the tournament, the final round was played across the street at the Palmer Course, still he made four consecutive AMEX cuts from 2017-20 before skipping last year. Top 10 in birdies or better, short-course scoring and ballstriking.
12. Will Zalatoris – After his amazing run from the summer of 2020 through last spring, Zalatoris cooled off. He played five events in the fall with two top 15s and two missed cuts to show for it. His sharp iron play and proficiency on shorter courses makes this a good week to find a roster spot for the former Wake Forest star.
11. Adam Svensson – With the steady hand of Tim Tucker on the bag last week at Waialae, he finished T-7 (his best on Tour), gaining 6.1 shots on approach. Confidence is a powerful tool for any golfer, especially a young one trying to carve out a spot on the world’s best Tour.
10. Corey Conners – A popular play a week ago and he finished T-11, gaining 5.9 shots on approach and 6.6 shots Tee-to-Green. No reason to abandon him this week despite a less than stellar record (T-50 and MC) in this shootout.
9. Seamus Power – The time has come to accept Power as one of the more consistent players on the PGA Tour after he finished T-3 last week despite mediocre iron play. It was his fifth top-15 in the last six starts.
8. Talor Gooch – This is where the magic started for Gooch in 2019 with a tie for fourth. His tee-to-green game and play around the greens was strong in Kapalua and Sony (T-15, T-27). Finished T-17 and T-21 in the last two AMEX starts.
7. Christiaan Bezuidenhout – He’s won three times in Europe and is eager to make the most of his first full season on the PGA Tour, finishing T-17 at the Sony behind 3.4 shots gained on approach.
6. Abraham Ancer – Poor putting proved costly at Waialae but the sight of the desert should help the birdies drop. He’s finished fifth, second and 18th here the last three years and would be higher but he’s only 28th in scoring on the all important Stadium Course.
5. Jon Rahm – This is absolutely the lowest Rahm should ever be ranked. He tops every model built on any given week. The best player in the world doesn’t have a weakness and shot 33 under the last time he teed it up. Leads the field in SG: Ballstriking and Par-5 scoring.
4. Scottie Scheffler – He’s a birdie machine (second in the field) with a third-place finish here in 2020. Thrives on shorter, easier courses (and difficult ones too), bombs the par 5s. Needs to secure the elusive first victory.
3. Tony Finau – After picking up his second career PGA Tour victory in the FedEx Cup playoffs and playing well at the Ryder Cup it feels like the uber talented Finau – who loves the West Coast swing – will enjoy more frequent Sunday celebrations. Was solid tee-to-green at Kapalua.
2. Matthew Wolff – Like his chances to win again on the PGA Tour this year after he finished the fall with four consecutive top 20s, including a runner-up at TPC Summerlin.
1. Patrick Cantlay – He closed with a 62 on the Stadium Course last year to finish runner up and his play was so precise it was as if he was playing a video game. He’s going to win on the West Coast and enter Augusta as one of the favorites. Might as well be this week.