The American Express: Expert picks and best bets
EDITOR’S NOTE: Brian Mull is a former caddie who spent several years walking alongside the world’s best players inside the ropes on the PGA Tour. Throughout the 2019-20 season, he will be filing a gambling picks piece — as well as a weekly fantasy golf picks piece — applying the expert knowledge he’s acquired over the years by following the players and courses on Tour so closely.
One year in the late 1990s during the old Bob Hope Classic, a young Tour pro entered the locker room at one of the courses in the rotation, may have been Indian Wells though the exact location is irrelevant, and damn near stepped on Charles Barkley and Michael Jordan, who were wrestling on the carpet. Just a couple of Dream Teamers rolling around on the floor. There may have been a card table nearby.
They had the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic girls in those days, four altogether, one for each word and all. They were striking in those blue shorts and white t-shirts, wandering about the grounds, just popping up out of nowhere, making it real, real difficult for a young, single man to put good effort into reading some silly birdie putt.
“Indio’s over there, boss. Roll it right in.”
Those girls were somethin’. So much so, that John Daly went off and married at least one of ‘em.
A scruffy caddie from North Carolina might have the opportunity to rap with Branford Marsalis about his nights playing sax with the Grateful Dead or spend five hours listening to Yogi Berra spin tales or bother Sam L. Jackson, the one and only Jules Winnfield, while he was grinding on the practice green. Say “what” again.
The famous faces, perfect weather, postcard days and lounge lizard nights gave the whole place a certain feel of make believe. Like many stops on Tour, I was often anxious to get there and seven days later eager to leave.
Those days are long gone. The Rhinestone Cowboy has passed on. The soap opera stars and talk show fill-ins all packed up and left town, leaving just another 72-hole stroke play PGA Tournament in their place. While the celebrity pro-am is no longer a part of this familiar stop on the schedule, one element will never change. It takes birdies, often and in bunches, to climb this leaderboard — five a day minimum and closer to six or seven to join an illustrious list of champions that includes Nicklaus, Palmer, Miller, Mickelson, Couples and the coolest cat from another time, Donnie Hammond, who clipped John Cook in sudden death on another cloudless day in 1986.
We fell one revolution short of landing in a playoff last week. So we’re gaining on it.
Odds on the favorites (via golfodds.com):
Rickie Fowler +1200
Sungjae Im +1800
Paul Casey +2000
Tony Finau +2500
Kevin Kisner +3000
Charles Howell III +3000
Billy Horschel +3000
Byeong Hun An +3000
Scottie Scheffler +3000
Cameron Champ +4000
Matthew Wolff +4000
Francesco Molinari +4000
Jason Kokrak +4000
Abraham Ancer +4000
Phil Mickelson +4000
Expert picks and best bets
Scottie Scheffler (+4000): Lacking star power from the stage, screens or greens, this is a wide-open event. If I could predict which pro was going to putt well each week, I’d be sending in this column from my island in the Caribbean. That is not the case, but there’s a strong case for Scottie Scheffler to win his first PGA Tour title on Sunday afternoon. The 23-year-old Texan flies under the clouds, overshadowed by peers like Wolff and Hovland but all he’s done in his rookie campaign is make the cut in all seven starts with five top-25 finishes and a trio of top 5s. This is also his first event of 2020, meaning he wasn’t over there in Hawaii letting his swing fall out of whack in the heavy wind. Course knowledge and experience aren’t significant factors this week and Scheffler wakes up pounding drives (313-yard avg.) and making birdies (4.89 per round).
Last week: Webb Simpson (+1200) finished third, one shot out of a playoff.
Brian Gay (+15000): Let’s get weird. We know he’s 48 years old (not that old). And he hasn’t won since 2013 — but that was right here in what was known as the Humana Challenge. Also, he’s having a fine year, with two top 10s and four top 25s in eight starts. Gay is also a birdie machine, ranking 18th on the PGA Tour with 4.57 per round. He’ll be in every fairway and if the putter heats up, thank us later.
Last week: Brian Harman (+6000) Top 5 after 36 holes but faded to T-32.
Tony Finau (+2500): We love Finau, he’s a gentle giant and terrific player. But he needs to start winning golf tournaments. As much as he’s in contention, he should have collected a handful of trophies by now. Until he starts proving he can close on Sundays, avoid taking this chance.
Last week: Hideki Matsuyama (+1800) Tied for 12th
Brendon Todd (even) over Jason Kokrak. Todd cooled off in Hawaii with a tie for 29th at Kapalua and a tie for 21st at Waialae, but the ideal conditions in the desert this week should help him return to the leaderboard. Kokrak has played well here in recent years, finishing top 20, but his struggles with the putter are troubling.