Sobel’s Desert Classic Betting Preview: Mickelson, Cantlay Could Contend in California

Sobel’s Desert Classic Betting Preview: Mickelson, Cantlay Could Contend in California article feature image

John David Mercer, USA Today Sports. Pictured: Phil Mickelson

  • John Rahm (+650) and Justin Rose (+900) are the betting favorites for the 2019 Desert Classic.
  • Jason Sobel breaks down the field for the tournament and makes his picks for the best value to win the tournament as well as his favorite matchup bets.

You probably didn’t click on this golf column expecting to read about East Coast-West Coast feuds.

That’s exactly what we need to talk about, though.

It’s time to separate the Tupacs from the Biggies.

That’s right – the East Coast-West Coast rivalry hasn’t been relegated to the world of hip-hop. Plenty of players have a permanent beef against East Coast courses, while others are biased against those on the West Coast.

The PGA Tour’s early-year West Coast Swing begins in earnest this week, starting with the sponsor-less Desert Classic, then continuing with the Farmers Insurance Open, Waste Management Open, AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and concluding with the Genesis Open.

I wanted to find the players who traditionally fare the best in these West Coast events, so I leaned on my colleague Bryan Mears, who ran the numbers on FantasyLabs and uncovered some valuable information.

Based on players who have competed in at least five of these tournaments over the last six years, Bryan compiled a list of players with the highest average fantasy points – useful info for betting, pools, DFS or anything else.

The verdict? This week’s defending champion, Jon Rahm, topped the list. He was followed by Alex Noren, who just barely hit the minimum of five starts, followed by a group of players you’d probably expect to see here: Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Charles Howell III, Adam Hadwin, Kevin Na, Byeong-Hun An, Phil Mickelson, Matt Kuchar, Brendan Steele and Martin Laird.

Need more? Here you go: Jason Dufner, Gary Woodland, Graham DeLaet, Zach Johnson, Austin Cook, Patrick Cantlay, Jordan Spieth, Brendan Harkins, Webb Simpson, Vaughn Taylor, Justin Rose, Pat Perez, Branden Grace, Bubba Watson, Trey Mullinax, Brooks Koepka, J.B. Holmes, Patrick Reed, Rafa Cabrera-Bello and Keith Mitchell round out the next 20.

As for those at the bottom of the list? Well, probably not many names you’d be considering over the next five weeks anyway: Andrew Yun was at the bottom, followed by Robert Allenby, Michael Block and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano.

Of those you might be considering during this time, Troy Merritt ranked 232nd on the overall list, Danny Lee was 261st and – wouldn’t you know it? – some guy named Tiger Woods checked in all the way down at 340th, albeit with only seven starts and plenty of ailments over those last six years.

That’s not say the guys near the top of the list are must-haves and the guys near the bottom are untouchables, but the numbers at least give us some insight as to which players are more Tupac than Biggie.

Let’s get to the Desert Classic picks, which definitely favor some of those West Coast superstars.

The Favorites

Jon Rahm (+600)

I’m not a fan of picking tourney favorites or defending champions, but there’s a reason Rahm is both of those this week. Even if you don’t like the potential ROI on a 6-to-1 bet against the field, he should be a serious candidate for one-and-done picks and DFS lineups.

Patrick Cantlay (+1600)

There was a time when I would’ve shied away from the introverted Cantlay in a format that has him playing competitive pro-am rounds, but the experience he’s gained over the last two years should make him a viable selection, albeit in a tourney he hasn’t played since 2013.

Adam Hadwin (+2300)

My guess is that more people will jump on last week’s runner-up, Andrew Putnam, at the same price, but Hadwin has taken a liking to the desert, where he once posted a 59 at La Quinta, one of three host tracks again this week.

Patrick Cantlay
Patrick Cantlay sizes up a shot at the 2018 PGA Championship. Credit: John David Mercer, USA Today Sports


Beau Hossler (+4000)

Sometimes this isn’t rocket science: Pick the California kids in California. Despite a third-round 73, Hossler finished T-20 at this event last year. He’s become a more complete player and is primed to win his first PGA Tour title soon.

Peter Uihlein (+6500)

I’m again jumping past Sony Open studs Chez Reavie and Hudson Swafford, each of whom should be a popular pick again this week, in favor of the higher odds of Uihlein, who was T-17 last year and, like Hossler, is another young player ready to win for the first time.

Brendan Steele (+8500)

Without tipping any bias toward my former loop, pricing Steele at higher odds than Corey Conners and Richy Werenski is downright shameful. He owns a strong record not far from his hometown, with results of 34th or better in each of the last four years, including a pair of top-10s.


C.T. Pan (+10000)

While his record at this event (MCs in the last two editions) doesn’t merit much of a look, Pan tends to play better on the West Coast and this week could be a nice launching point for the world’s 101st-ranked player.

J.J. Spaun (+10000)

Here’s another West Coast specialist who fits many of the same parameters as the players above – a guy who should fare well on familiar turf and seems ready to win soon.

Bud Cauley (+12000)

Last year, Cauley finished T-14 at this event. In the time since, he was involved in a serious car accident that shortened his 2018 season, but he’s already returned with some success, so I have no problem using him as a value pick in any type of fantasy format this week.

Tournament Matchups

Hudson Swafford (+110) over Lucas Glover 

I omitted Swafford above, just because I think he’ll see too much of a bump heading to the site of his lone PGA Tour victory on the heels of a T-3 finish last week. But as the underdog against the admittedly streaky Glover, I like the plus-money value here.

Sungjae Im (-120) over Kevin Kisner 

The second-ranked rookie on the PGA Tour (behind only Cameron Champ), Im hasn’t skipped a beat since winning the Tour money title last year. It might take guts to pick the frosh as a favorite over a seasoned veteran, but it’s the smart play.

Patrick Cantlay (+125) over Justin Rose 

Look, Rose is one of the world’s best players and capable of winning anywhere, anytime. I just have a suspicion, though, that he’s using this event to get one of those “new tourney” rules out of the way early in the year and wonder about his motivation. If he’s using this tourney as Spring Training, expect Cantlay to be better prepared.

My Favorite Bet

Phil Mickelson Top-20 finish (+125)

Can you believe we made it all the way to the bottom of this column without a Lefty reference?

I’m not sure I love him this week, but I do like him – especially enough to pull a top-20 at plus-money.

In the last four years, this is a bet that’s only cashed once, but that’s only because of a bit of bad luck on two occasions, as his final results have been: MC-21st-3rd-24th.

I know Mickelson is gearing up for what he believes could be a big year, one during which he’ll turn 49. While other big names are using this week as more of a warm-up, I expect him to come out firing at flagsticks with his game in midseason form.

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