Sobel’s 2020 American Express Betting Preview: Will Scottie Scheffler Get Off the Mark?


Rob Carr/Getty Images. Pictured: Scottie Scheffler

Jan 14, 2020, 12:25 PM EST

Over the past few weeks, I’ve referred to the upcoming PGA Tour event on multiple occasions as something to the effect of The Bob Hope Humana Career Builder Desert Classic, which still somehow fails to mention the actual title sponsor of this year’s edition of the tournament.

If you’re scoring at home, this tourney is now called The American Express – no Championship or Classic suffix necessary and not to be confused with the old WGC of the same sponsor.

As if we couldn’t have guessed in a three-course pro-am format, no matter the name, this one remains one of the toughest to handicap on the annual schedule. In the past decade alone, the winner’s list has included studs like Jon Rahm and Patrick Reed, unknowns like Adam Long, long hitters like Jhonattan Vegas, short-knockers like Brian Gay and Mark Wilson, and the peculiarly unpredictable Bill Haas – twice.

Instead, let’s start with what we do know.

This week is going to be a birdie-fest. During that past decade, the lowest winner’s score was an eye-popping 30-under, while the highest was a still impressive 20-under. The forecast calls for some wind in La Quinta, but nothing like the stuff we witnessed during the two-week Hawaii Swing, so expect that trend to continue.

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We also know that there will be plenty of Phil Mickelson sightings this week.

Last year’s co-runner-up will shelve his social media stardom – you know, his “phireside” chats and calf raises and bigger bombs off the tee – and take on the role of tournament host this year, following an eclectic list that has previously included Bob Hope, George Lopez, Arnold Palmer, Yogi Berra and Bill Clinton.

There’s a lot going on for Lefty these days – and it’s not all about his tweets.

He’ll turn 50 on Tuesday of U.S. Open week, the same U.S. Open which will be held at Winged Foot GC, site of perhaps his most infamous of a half-dozen runner-up results at the tournament.

Just as it remains to be seen whether that window of opportunity to claim the career grand slam is still cracked open just a bit, it also remains to be seen whether he’ll follow that event by competing in his first 50-and-over circuit tourney the next week, which just happens to be the U.S. Senior Open.

Looking for more golf betting content? Check out The Action Network Golf Podcast’s preview of the 2020 American Express.

All of this might take place while he’s being considered for a pending Ryder or Presidents Cup captaincy, currently just a month removed from failing to be part of a U.S. team for the first time in a quarter-century.

Of course, none of this answers the question you came here asking: Should I back him or fade him this week?

The easy answer is to stay away. He’s a year older, his precipitous fall from the top-50 now has him 79th in the world, he’ll be dealing with various hosting duties throughout the week and – most importantly – his recent record doesn’t justify your financial support. Since winning last year’s AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am three weeks after his runner-up in the desert, he’s made 20 starts with no finish better than a T-18 at the Masters.

I was about to add to that list the fact that he also hasn’t played a single competitive round in two-and-a-half months, however that one might be better served amongst the pros, not the cons.

Anyone who moderately pays attention to the game knows that Mickelson often plays his best golf on the West Coast – and while that can be attributed to the fact that, hey, he’s a West Coast guy and feels more comfortable in these surroundings, there’s something to be said for him being able to better prep for these tournaments as opposed to those during the later flow of the schedule.

As he approaches 50, being fresh might be a bigger benefit to Mickelson than being battle-tested, which could help make the case for backing him this week.

Knowing everything on those two sides of the fence probably means we should firmly straddle it instead, going after other players who fit the profile.

Oh, and there’s one other thing we know about this week, if it holds form with this year’s trend: It’s going to get a little nuts at the end. After PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan stated that he wouldn’t mind if every event went to a playoff, he’s gone 2-for-2 on his wish, with a pair of conclusions that endured some crazy circumstances down the stretch.

Let’s hope for another crazy finish this week – and let’s hope some of the following players are involved in it.

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