Picking winners of a golf tournament is hard. Doing it consistently is downright impossible. However, finding value is something all bettors must practice in order to give themselves the best chance to make hay when the day finally comes that they select a champion.
Below, we will cover the best bets for the American Express based on current form, course fit, and -- of course -- the value of their golf odds.
The PGA Tour heads to the mainland with a top-heavy field to take on a quirky event that will serve as a litmus test to how we need to treat these fields going forward. With each golfer's first three rounds split between La Quinta Country Club and PGA West's Stadium Course and Nicklaus Tournament Course, everyone in the field gets at least 54 holes before cut-makers take on the Stadium Course again on Sunday. The courses vary in design and difficulty, but broadly, La Quinta is considered the easiest of the three.
As we discussed two weeks ago, when strong fields tee it up, we can usually expect at least one or two of the big dogs to rise above the fray. With 5 of the top 7 golfers in the Official World Golf Ranking and roughly half the top 20 in the field, this event certainly qualifies as a strong field, even without being one of the new "elevated" events on Tour. The variance is ratcheted up in a rotation format, and this event routinely sees some off-the-wall names in competition with long-shot winners. If we see the big names dominate the leaderboard, we will have to tread very carefully at mid-range plays and long shots in strong fields this year.
Aside from what this event will teach us about the rest of the season, we need a winner here! Course history plays a factor given the unique setup, but the main goal is to make birdies. All three courses are a par 72, which means a full allotment of par 5s, so in addition to birdie-or-better percentage, we need to strongly consider driving distance and par-5 scoring. We will always factor iron play and strokes gained: approach, but this week. driving can edge out approach if all else is equal between two golfers.
For more info on our three courses this week, along with this week's key stats, check out Brandon Gdula's primer.
At The Top
Tony Finau (+1500) - The books are not messing around with Jon Rahm (+550) in California, and truly, we can make a case for any of the options below 25/1. Finau gets our top spot as the first golfer longer than 10/1 and with injury or experience concerns behind him. It can't be overstated how odd it is to play this event and wake up with a new course each day and have no idea where you stand with respect to your competitors. Near the top of the leaderboard going into Saturday heading to Nicklaus? Too bad a quarter of the top 20 is playing La Quinta and will lap you before you know it. So some semblance of prior success here means a lot, and Finau has just that with a 4th-place finish two years ago and T14 the year before that. Finau has one of the most complete games on Tour and -- surprise -- he actually wins tournaments now.
Sam Burns (+3100) - Burns picked up three wins last season, including sniping then World number-one Scottie Scheffler (+1000) at Colonial. His driving and putting have always shined, and when the approaches are on, he's routinely in the mix. He has finished inside the top 10 in birdie-or-better percentage overall and par-5 birdies or better each of the last two seasons. Burns was T18 here in 2019 and 6th in 2020, and an opening 77 at the Nicklaus Course in 2021 that sunk him in a two-course/36-hole cut year can be glossed over in favor of a sterling 66 at the Stadium Course on Friday. Elite birdie-making plus confidence at Stadium is well worth the 31/1 number.
Cameron Davis (+3400) - Three trips to this event have yielded T29, T28, and 3rd-place finishes for the big-hitting Aussie. The pedigree drops off significantly in the mid-range, but Davis at least has one elite skill even among some of the best players in the world. He ranks third in driving distance in the short sample this season, and he's shown an ability to convert his strengths into scoring. He was 14th in par-5 birdies or better last season, the best mark of his career so far. He's ranked inside the top 35 in both birdies-or-better percentage and par birdies or better each of the last three seasons.
Davis Riley (+9500) - Riley's rookie season featured some extreme highs and lows -- at one point booking four top 10s over a span of seven events but finding such a finish just once the rest of the season. His debut at the American Express was a microcosm of his season, firing three rounds of 66, 69, and 68 before flubbing the worst round of the day on Sunday with a 78. That dud dropped him from inside the top 15 to a tie for 59th, but if the scar tissue isn't too bad, he should build off that disappointment. He ranked 18th on Tour in birdie-or-better percentage as a rookie and drove it just fine, checking in 41st in strokes gained: off the tee and 43rd in driving distance.
Davis Thompson (+34000) - One bomb to finish us off. Thompson is a great driver and is just a few events into his rookie season but already has finishes of T9 and T12 on the West Coast. He is 11th in driving distance so far this season, averaging 312.9 yards per pop as a rookie after averaging 322.3 on the Korn Ferry Tour last year, which was good enough for 6th. While we'd prefer course history, the fact is we are eyeing very little win equity in the long-range options. I am perfectly fine grabbing a huge number on a big hitter who showed some life in the fall at an event where big numbers have surprised us before.