2023 American Express Odds, Picks: Sahith Theegala Among Top Bets
Via Andy Lyons/Getty Images. Pictured: Sahith Theegala of the United States plays his shot from the fourth tee during the first round of the Sentry Tournament of Champions at Plantation Course at Kapalua Golf Club on January 05, 2023 in Lahaina, Hawaii.
Golf is a funny game – and no, not that kind of funny. Call it the Golf Gods or karma or the law of averages or some existential leveling of the score, but the game has an innate ability to give and take, take and give, forever leaving us confounded like some elaborate three-card monte game.
We’ve all seen it. Most of us have even witnessed it. You hit a slicing drive that appears headed for a watery grave, only to watch your ball hit the thinnest of limbs and carom back into the fairway. Still beaming from your good fortune, just minutes later your birdie putt appears targeted for the center of the cup when it inexplicably goes halfway down, pops back out and rests dubiously on the edge of the hole.
Those Golf Gods are funny. But not really.
Anyway, it occurred to me once again this past weekend that the infinite spirits are getting involved in the betting side of the game, too.
Two weeks ago, in the first PGA Tour event of the year, pre-tournament favorite Jon Rahm prevailed at the Sentry TOC. Even though it was a hard-fought, come-from-behind win which needed some help from Collin Morikawa, the end result was that the player with the shortest odds wound up winning the golf tournament.
All of which was probably enough to get some bettors into the mindset of playing a favorite or two at the Sony Open. So, what happened? The three players at the top of the pre-tourney board – Tom Kim, Sungjae Im and Jordan Spieth – each missed the cut, enough to again change your mindset from playing faves to forever fading ‘em. It’s that ol’ three-card monte game again.
Prepare for more of it at the American Express.
This week is a convergence of push and pull, the proverbial immovable object meeting an unstoppable force, or something like that. Alright, so maybe that’s too dramatic, but Palm Springs has notoriously been the land of the longshots, with five of the last six winners at 50/1 or longer and three in the past decade coming from way off the radar.
And yet, this is arguably the best AmEx field we’ve ever seen – at least in the past quarter-century – with nine of the world’s top 20 and enough elite-level players to hinder any fever dreams about hitting another lottery ticket here.
We do know that there will be plenty of birdies on the cards at this one. With three full pro-am rounds for every player at the PGA West Stadium Course, the Nicklaus Tournament Course and La Quinta, followed by a 54-hole cut and a final round on the Stadium, every winner since 2007 has logged a final tally of at least 20-under. With heavy rains in the early-week desert forecast, the usual birdie barrage might pale in comparison to what we witness on softer tracks this week.
Let’s get to the picks, an admitted amalgam of high-end fades and mid-tier plays for a tournament which so often yields both.
Outright Winner (Short Odds)
One player to win the tournament
Sahith Theegala (+5500)
I wrote in the intro about this convergence of longshot winners and an uncommonly strong field here. Well, I’m siding with recent history over the current scene. Unless you really want to dip down and play deserved tourney favorite Jon Rahm (+700) or Patrick Cantlay/Scottie Scheffler (each +1100), I prefer to just fade the entire top of the board altogether – for outrights, at least – and find some bigger prices with value.
That all leads me to Theegala, though perhaps I led myself there while continuing to floor the gas pedal as I drive his bandwagon from week to week. There are some who will undoubtedly roll their eyes at this pick, disbelieving that a player who’s never won can somehow win.
(I’m a big true-crime buff, and this always reminds me of the next-door neighbor who can’t believe the murderer actually did it, because they’d never seen ‘em murder anyone before.)
Theegala is a West Coast guy and someone I want to target a few times on this opening swing of events before the Tour leaves the Pacific Time Zone. In seven starts already this year, he owns three finishes of sixth or better, proving that he’s just a couple of lucky bounces or lipped-in putts from finally cashing his first winner’s check.
I’ll admit that perhaps I’m blinded by these results and neglecting the things we usually don’t neglect, such as the glaring fact that he didn’t rank inside the top 50 in any major statistical category last season and isn’t there this season, either. It’s usually a fool’s errand to trust the eyeball test over analytics, and I promise that I won’t keep blindly recommending Theegala if the results don’t continue. But at a West Coast venue where the favorites usually don’t prevail, this number feels too good to ignore.
Outright Winner (Long Odds)
One player to win the tournament
Andrew Putnam (+8000)
Even before his T4 finish at the Sony, this was a spot I’d been targeting Putnam. I listed him as a potential OAD selection for this event in my annual analysis of options and even announced a recent mid-round pick in a season-long fantasy draft as, “I’ll take 2023 American Express champion Andrew Putnam.”
While I’ll admit that I would’ve preferred for him to do more of his damage at Waialae with the irons than wedges and putter, leading last week’s field with the flatstick should lead to more birdies this week, too.
In his last five starts in Palm Springs, Putnam owns an average finish of 19.2, with nothing better than 10th but nothing worse than 34th. A title contention seems inevitable at some point, so let’s chase the one from last week and hope for a few notches better.
Editor’s Note: Since the time of writing. Putnam has moved to a consensus market price of +5000, but FanDuel currently has the best odds available at +5500.
Potential selections for one-and-done options.
Cameron Young (+2500)
For a PGA Tour sophomore whose limited history shows seven top-three finishes, mostly on venues to which he’ll return this year, it might feel counterproductive to select him at an event where he finished T40 last year.
That hardly tells the entire story, though. After rounds of 64-68-69, Young was in a share of fifth place entering the final day, just three strokes behind the leaders, only to post a final-round 77.
Whether that was due to rookie nerves or just an outlier performance, we’ve found that despite failing to notch his first victory yet, Young has become pretty unflappable in these situations, which should leave us more confident the second time around. If you want to take one of the bigger names for your OAD this week, I think Young’s ceiling is as high as nearly anyone’s this week.
Wyndham Clark (+6000)
Clark is one of those players I’ve identified previously as a guy who should take a massive leap in status this year. He’s ready to win and/or play more consistent high-level golf – and either option should send him soaring up the ranking.
Like Theegala, he’s another West Coaster whom I want to target on the West Coast. Unlike the guy I’m about to mention in the next selection, his outright price is a little too short for my liking, but also unlike that player, his putter is much more to my liking. At an event which could very well turn into a putting contest, Clark has the ability to post plenty of red numbers.
Luke List (+20000)
First things first: Betting List at 200/1 should be an auto-play this week. A notoriously poor putter, I’m not sure he can roll in enough birdies to actually win here – he’s probably more valuable at a place like Torrey Pines, where scoring conditions are tougher, and he won last year – but I’m willing to pay a little bit to find out.
Coming off a T11 two weeks ago at Kapalua, List isn’t just a massive outright price with some potential win equity, he also offers leverage in OADs, as I can’t imagine he’ll be targeted by too many of your fellow competitors. In eight starts here, he’s made the cut five times, with three finishes of 22nd or better.
He’s not your no-doubt-about-it, gotta-have-him play, but if you’re trying to get contrarian in a bigger pool, he should qualify. I don’t mind him for conservative props and as a piece for a DFS lineup, either.
One player to finish in the top five
Cam Davis (+1000 for Top five)
I’m going back to the well on this one as I also listed Davis for a top-five play last week, albeit with the caveat that it was based on talent alone, and I really didn’t love him as a course fit for Waialae. He didn’t cash those tickets, instead finishing T32, but there’s greater reason for optimism at this one, as he followed a pair of top-30 results in his first two starts with a solo third-place finish in his most recent start here two years ago.
I won’t reiterate everything that I wrote about him in last week’s preview, but here are the CliffsNotes: He’s extremely proficient in all areas of the game, he should be brimming with confidence, and he remains undervalued in the marketplace. I like the idea of chasing that 2021 success when he closed with a 66-64 weekend.
One player to finish in the top 10
Taylor Pendrith (+650 for Top 10)
There are a couple of things which will dissuade some bettors from Taylor Pendrith this week. The first is that he hasn’t competed in nearly two full months, last playing the RSM Classic in mid-November, where he finished T15. The other is that he’s only played the AmEx once previously, missing the cut last year.
For those only seeking the cross-section of form and course history, he won’t show up on any radar screens. But if we look beyond the usual standards, we find a player with value who should thrive on courses where birdies are readily available. The Canadian ranked T26 in Birdie Average during an injury-plagued last season, with his combination of length off the tee and a propensity for hitting greens in regulation overcoming a negative putting number.
You’ll have to put a little faith in his abilities over any form/history, but those abilities suggest he owns big-time upside when he’s got his best stuff.
One player to finish in the top 20
Jason Day (+240 for Top 20)
This is what happens when a former No. 1-ranked player loses his elite-level status: He starts trying new things. I’m not talking about a new swing or a new grip or a new mindset, although alterations to each of those things have undoubtedly happened for Day, who’s now outside the OWGR top 100.
What I mean is that he starts trying things he never needed to try back when he was the world’s best player – like entering this event, which Day hadn’t done prior to last year.
Look only at the leaderboard number next to his name and you’ll likely shrug off his T49 result as a non-starter for selecting him this week, but as we know, not all T49s are created equal. Day opened with a 67 last year on the Nicklaus Tournament course then faltered to a 75 on the Stadium Course before bouncing back with another 67 at La Quinta and a Sunday 70 on the Stadium.
There’s reason to believe he might not figure out the host track one year later, but Day was at least showing flashes of consistency toward the end of 2022, with four results of 21st or better in his last five starts. I like him to cash top-20 tickets at this one.
One player to finish in the top 30
Matthew NeSmith (+240 for Top 30)
If you’re a fan of betting Matthew NeSmith, there was so much reason for encouragement during the fall portion of the schedule. It’s not just the fact that he posted a runner-up and two ninth-place finishes, but it’s where they happened.
The first T9 made sense, occurring at the Sanderson Farms, an event which always should’ve fit his skillset. But the runner-up came at the Shriners Children’s Open in Las Vegas and the second T9 happened at the Zozo Championship in Japan. NeSmith is a top-30 ball-striker, but one whose previous limited repertoire for where he could contend has been expanded.
One player to finish in the top 40
Beau Hossler (+230 for Top 40)
On the surface, there doesn’t appear to be much value in a player who’s made four starts at this tournament and MC’d each of the last three times, then skipped it last year. I do believe, however, that Hossler is a more improved and more dedicated player than he was just a few years ago.
What I like best about him in relation to this event is that he finished last season ranked fifth in putting and currently ranks 18th. I won’t go too crazy with expectations for this one, but I do think there are some good reasons to play him here or as a low-end DFS option.
DFS Free Bingo Square
A safe plug-and-play option for DFS.
The correct answer here is Rahm because as long as he’s teeing it up, he might be the very definition of a “safe” option right now. Sure, you’ll have to spend up for the recent Sentry TOC champion, but you shouldn’t have much trouble finding five cheaper guys to round out your lineup. And there’s history, too, as he won this event in 2018 and has finished sixth and 14th in two starts since.
If he’s Exhibit 1A, though, allow me to introduce Patrick Cantlay as Exhibit 1B. I get it – that’s not exactly shocking info, either, as Cantlay owns a runner-up and two ninth-place finishes here in his past three starts. The bigger point is that these two players are currently tied for the PGA Tour lead in Birdie Average, with 6.50 per round – or 52 total in eight rounds. This comes after Cantlay ranked fifth to Rahm’s 15th a year ago.
At a venue where we know there will be plenty of birdies, I don’t mind looking at this category as a barometer. Again, Rahm is the ultimate safe option for your DFS lineups, but Cantlay makes for a very strong candidate if you either want to save a few bucks or be just the slight bit contrarian at the top.
A medium-priced option for DFS lineups
Despite the name recognition, I wasn’t originally considering Rose for a play here. I couldn’t recall any noteworthy results for him, even though his profile shows five finishes of 34th or better in six career starts; perhaps that’s because only two of those results have occurred in the past decade.
And yet, here I am writing his name, for one major reason: According to Data Golf, 21.1 percent of recorded approach shots at last year’s AmEx took place in the range of 150-175 yards – over six percent more than any other 25-yard distribution. Well, even though last season was largely one to forget for Rose, he did excel in one area – from 150 to 175 yards, where he led the PGA Tour with a Birdie or Better percentage of 23.19.
By comparison, Cantlay birdied 19.23 percent of these opportunities, Rahm just 15.61 and somewhat surprisingly, Matt Fitzpatrick ranked second-to-last with birdies on just 10 percent of his 190 total attempts.
Granted, numbers for this tourney can be a little skewed, since they only take the Stadium Course into account, but half of all players’ rounds (who make the cut) will be contested on this track, so it makes sense to target a guy who can get it dialed in from this range.
A lower-priced option for DFS lineups
Let’s start here with a quick reminder that every player in the field is guaranteed not two rounds, but three, essentially rendering low-cost players more valuable than usual with an extra 18 holes. On to Yuan: After finishing just $1,260 out of first place on the Korn Ferry Tour money list last year, there was plenty of reason for optimism toward Yuan’s game coming into his rookie season in the big leagues.
He didn’t immediately impress anyone, with three missed cuts and nothing better than 35th place in his initial five starts, but a T21 at the Sony should have us feeling a little bit of that optimism again.
He gained strokes off the tee, with his approach shots and on the greens, but perhaps the strongest sign that another solid performance could happen is the fact that many of his best finishes on the KFT came in bunches, which suggests that last week’s result might beget yet another.
One player to post the low score Thursday.
Just as a I doubled up on last week’s Davis pick for a top-five finish, I’m doing the same here after that oh-so-close heartbreaker on Kim, whom I picked for FRL prior to the Sony. In case you weren’t sweating this one, get the vomit bucket ready: Playing in the Thursday afternoon wave, with a few players already in the clubhouse at six-under 64, Kim played his first 16 holes in five-under before darkness forced a suspension of play for the day.
When he returned the next morning, Kim made par on the difficult par-3 17th then headed to the par-5 18th hole, where birdies come in bunches, and eagles are always a possibility. He needed the former to clinch a four-way chop for FRL honors and the latter to post 63 and take ‘em all by himself. After hitting his drive just right of the fairway, Kim found the greenside bunker with his second shot. Then he almost made an improbable eagle, splashing out to five feet, five inches.
At the very least, we’d get that FRL chop – except, of course, you already know how this story is going to end. That’s right, Kim missed the bunny, made par, shot 65 and gave us no return on this bet other than the memories.
So, why am I going back to him here? I’m a glutton for punishment, I suppose. Or maybe it’s the fact that he’s now posted six opening rounds of 68 or better in nine starts here in his rookie season. Not to bury the lede, but with a three-course rotation this week, you’ll likely have three different FRL betting options.
(If all players are listed together in your book, hammer those playing La Quinta on Thursday, which traditionally yields the lowest scoring average of the three.) As always, I’m writing this preview before tee times have been released, but I’ll have Kim on the card again, wherever he’s playing.
One player who should beat comparable players.
Si Woo Kim (+3500)
If you can, try to think back to, oh, two years ago and remember what the 2021 version of you thought about Si Woo Kim. Chances are, you loved him for outright purposes, because his variance was so extensive. With three wins – the third of which came at this event two years ago – he owned an obvious ceiling, but his weekly odds were often offset by a tragically low floor.
I don’t know if this is something he worked on last season – frankly, I’m not sure how you “work on” raising your floor – but it happened. Despite just a single top-10 finish, Kim made the cut in 23 of 29 starts, essentially going from a high-ceiling, low-floor play to a low-ceiling/high-floor play within one year.
Well, what we’re seeing now is that continued high floor, but the ceiling has been raised once again. So far this season, he’s five-for-five in making the cut, culminating in last week’s Sony Open victory. Back at a tournament he obviously loves, with that win and two other top-11 finishes in four career starts, I won’t rule out the possibility of Kim making a run at back-to-back victories, but I’m more interested in chasing that floor than the ceiling.
Against similarly priced players such as Brian Harman, Aaron Wise and Taylor Montgomery, I like Si Woo in head-to-head matchups.
Also Receiving Votes
Other players who should provide value
Sungjae Im (+2200), Taylor Montgomery (+3500), Adam Hadwin (+6500), Rickie Fowler (+8000), Will Gordon (+8000), Dean Burmester (+10000), Justin Suh (+13000), Lee Hodges (+15000), Joseph Bramlett (+25000), Nick Taylor (+25000), Austin Eckroat (+30000), Harry Higgs (+60000), Harryson Endicott (+80000)