2021 The American Express Buys & Fades: Looking Back and Ahead Using Strokes Gained Data
Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images. Pictured: Russell Henley.
Kevin Na had all of the swagger working on Sunday afternoon as he chased down Brendan Steele with club twirls and early putt walk-ins on his way to victory at the Sony Open. He makes it four consecutive seasons on TOUR with a victory and ensures himself a trip back to Hawaii to start 2022.
As is common, Na finished the tournament first in total strokes gained on the week, as he was on the plus side in all four facets of his game. The key that led him to victory this week was being so solid tee-to-green since he is always a strong putter. Na’s irons were the aspect of the game that shined the most at Waialae, gaining 1.43 strokes on the field on approach, including just short of a full stroke in his final round.
It will be interesting to see if he stays in the field for next week’s American Express, but since we know he played great this week, we will focus on some others. Let’s take a look at some of the top performers from the Sony Open that will look to carry that momentum to La Quinta, Calif.
Before we get into my buys for the week, I need to start with some housekeeping as this event is the first of likely many that will look different in 2021. The American Express is traditionally a three course pro-am with a 54-hole cut, but the pro-am portion has been eliminated this year. Now, there will be no amateurs, just two courses, and a more standard 36-hole cut. I start there because it will be hard to use things like course history as the results in prior years will be skewed. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get to the picks.
3 Buys for The American Express
Patton Kizzire put together a good week at the Sony Open, as he often does as a former winner of the event, and it played out in his strokes gained figures. The overall numbers will not jump out at you on the surface but digging just a bit deeper, you see they are influenced by a second round in which he lost 5.67 shots on approach. That was simply an awful day with his irons, but he bounced back over the weekend and finished gaining more than a stroke on approach in three of his four rounds.
Kizzire closed the tournament with a really solid, final round 64 where he gained strokes on the field in all metrics. He will take the flight across the Pacific to La Quinta for The American Express, where he gets to remain on his preferred Bermuda grass greens and will be looking to build off of his T7 finish in Hawaii.
One of my picks to make a run at the win on Sunday, was Russell Henley, but he just couldn’t get anything going in the final round. He would finish in a tie for 11th after a 2-under 68 left him dropping down the leaderboard in the low-scoring event.
Despite the less than stellar Sunday round, Henley was as consistent as any player through most of the week. He gained strokes on the field in all categories over the four rounds, finishing in the Top 10 in the field tee-to-green.
Henley had two field average rounds on approach, and two really strong ones, which bodes well heading into a second shot course like he will face in California. Unfortunately for the former Georgia Bulldog, his putter failed him over the weekend as he lost strokes putting in each round. He will be looking to bounce-back with the putter at The American Express and should benefit from staying on his preferred Bermuda grass putting surfaces.
It was a similar story this week for Cameron Davis, who had one really bad round on approach, losing 2.29 strokes to the field in Round 2, and a couple where he just couldn’t roll the ball in the cup. He would still gain 1.44 strokes tee-to-green on the week and led the cut-makers in strokes gained off-the-tee.
The Australian finished with a 4-under 66 on Sunday to climb into a 31st place finish for a decent start to the new year. He will look to improve on two Top 30 finishes in his two prior trips to La Quinta by carrying some of his positive form into The American Express.