Perry’s PGA TOUR Picks and Preview: Best Bets for The 2021 American Express
Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images. Pictured: Cam Champ
The Sony Open held true to its narrative. This year it was Kevin Na who shook off the rust at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and then won at Waialae. Overall, seven of the top-10 players at the Sony played at the TOC. So make sure to bookmark that for 2022.
As for our picks, Marc Leishman provided a little sweat, but a few errant drives early in the round proved too much for the Aussie to overcome.
The TOUR now heads to California for the 2021 American Express.
This event has a few notable changes, most notably that it isn’t a Pro-Am anymore. That means there will be a 36-hole cut, rather than the 54-hole one that we’ve seen at this event in year’s past. It also means the 3-day, 3-course rotation is cut down to just two courses. La Quinta Country Club will get the season off as the first two days will be held on the Stadium and Nicklaus courses.
This event follows a similar narrative to the Sony Open. Going back to 2010, only one player, Bill Haas in 2015, has won this event after skipping both Hawaii tournaments. That said, Haas was a prior winner here (2010), so he is an exception to the rule.
While it has been important that players participated in the Hawaii Swing, the results don’t matter much. The last two winners at this event — Adam Long and Andrew Landry — both missed the cut at the Sony Open and didn’t play in the TOC.
As mentioned, it’s just a two-course rotation this time. Both the Stadium and Nicklaus Course are very easy by TOUR standards, measuring a little over 7,100 yards for par 72’s. The Nicklaus Course usually plays about a stroke easier on average, so it’s the one to target if you’re playing first-round leaders.
This tournament is set up to be a birdie-fest. The only winner in the last 30 years who didn’t break 20-under par was Charley Hoffman in 2007. Scoring will likely be a little harder with an extra round at the Stadium Course replacing La Quinta, but that won’t change the strategy here. We’ll still be looking for someone who can keep the driver in play, hit a ton of greens and catch fire with the putter on Bermudagrass.
Jon Rahm was the clear favorite, but he has withdrawn. That means that Patrick Cantlay, Patrick Reed, Tony Finau, Scottie Scheffler, Brooks Koepka and Sungjae Im are the new top-six on the board between +1300 and +2100.
Koepka is the easiest one of that group to steer clear of since he didn’t play in Hawaii. If you really wanted to play one of the favorites, I would look at Cantlay and Reed, both of whom I had on my TOC card to no avail. Both Reed and Cantlay have decent history here. The former won in 2014 and Cantlay finished ninth in his most recent appearance in 2019. You could also make a case for Im, who has finished inside the top-15 in both of his starts in this event. Meanwhile, Scheffler was third in his debut at this event last season and finished 13th at the TOC.
The multi-course rotation and Pro-Am format has made this a tough event to handicap in the past, but the opportunities have been there since favorites tend to struggle to win here. Rahm (2018) is the only player in the last decade to win this event with odds shorter than +2500.
Because of that, I’ll steer clear of the top of the board and take a few more chances on longshots.
We’ll start with Cameron Champ at +5500. Champ didn’t have the best showing at the TOC but he did finish 21st here last year. He’s obviously long off the tee and that will make all of these Par 5’s fairly easy for him. The California native also has a tendency to pop up in his home state. He’s won the Safeway and finished in the top-10 of two California events last fall, The Zozo and PGA Championship.
Next up is Patton Kizzire at +9000. Kizzire continued a good run of form at the Sony where he finished seventh. That makes four top-25 finishes in his last five events, going back to last fall. The AmEx has never really been a good spot for him, but strong past results, while nice to have, aren’t a prerequisite to win here. We’ll take a chance on his current form at that price.
My last play in this range is Cameron Davis at +9000. Davis finished middle of the pack at the Sony but he had an interesting week. He led the field off the tee, but was inconsistent with his irons. He did seem to sort that out, though, as he gained over a stroke with his approach in the last round. Davis is usually a good ball-striker, so I’ll take a chance he shook off the rust and has things ironed, out so to speak.
Considering that the last two winners here were +20000 and +50000, respectively, it’s hard not to take some shots down in this range.
Normally, I’d stick to just a couple plays this dep, but with no one really at the top of the card catching my eye. I’ve decided to spread out on four long shots down here instead.
My first play in this range will come on Talor Gooch at +10000. Gooch has finished fourth and 17th in his past two starts here. He missed the cut at the Sony, but he did have strong driving metrics. His irons were a bit of an issue, but after a poor opening round his approach was field average in Round 2.
Gooch is usually a good iron player, so I’ll chance that he’ll get that part back this week.
We’ll also take a look at Sepp Straka at +10000. Straka has been on a great run with his approach game since the fall and has made eight of his last nine cuts. He’s coming off a 25th at the Sony where he was able to overcome some uncharacteristic driving issues. Straka is usually a solid driver, so we’ll see if he can regain that form at an event where he finished fourth a year ago.
Next up is Charley Hoffman at +10000. Hoffman has a good combination for form and history. He finished 14th last week thanks to some strong ball-striking and he’s got fond memories at this event thanks to a win in 2007 and a runner-up in 2015.
Adam Schenk is my last play at +21000. Schenk was 14th here a year ago, so he can play well on these courses. He got off to a really bad start at Waialae last week and was never really able to recover. His ball-striking did return to the field average the second round. The driver is usually his best club, so this tournament should allow him to take better advantage of that.
The Amex Card
- Cameron Champ +5500 (.6 units)
- Patton Kizzire +9000 (.37 units)
- Cameron Davis +9000 (.37 units)
- Charley Hoffman +10000 (.33 units)
- Talor Gooch +10000 (.33 units)
- Sepp Straka +10000 (.33 units)
- Adam Schenk +21000 (.16 units)
Total Stake: 2.49 units