The American Express Betting Picks: Our Favorite Outrights, Longshots, Props and Matchup Bets
Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images. Pictured: Charley Hoffman
- After two weeks in Hawaii, the PGA TOUR heads to the mainland to being the 2021 California Swing at the American Express.
- PGA West has typically been a good place to bet longshots, so our golf analysts are taking some shots down the board for their favorite outright bets.
After two weeks in Hawaii, the PGA TOUR heads to the mainland this week to kick off the California Swing with The 2021 American Express at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif.
Although this tournament will look a little different from past iterations, you can still expect it to play out in similar fashion. In other words, prepare for a birdie-fest and don’t be surprised if we see a huge longshot win. The past two winners here, Andrew Landry and Adam Long, were 200/1 and 500/1, respectively.
Here are our favorite outrights, longshots, props and matchups at the 2021 American Express:
Aaron Wise (+9000)
Why him? Well… why not? My main goal with this week’s outright selection was to walk the talk. I can’t write all about how winners here have averaged a huge number entering the tourney, then offer up a chalk play. There’s not much about Wise’s past results at this one which suggest he’s ready to win, though he has played 11 of 14 rounds under par. He’s also a West Coaster, which at least helps the narrative.
More than anything, though, he’s a talented young player coming off a down year which showed late improvement, as he finished runner-up at Mayakoba in his final start of 2020, yet he’s still undervalued in the marketplace, with higher odds than the likes of John Huh. On a week proven to give us anything at the top, my card will have plenty of value plays who own some win equity.
Cameron Champ (+4200)
Champ is my only play under +9000 this week. Longshots tend to thrive at this tournament and since Jon Rahm, the only favorite to win The American Express in the last decade, withdrew, I’m expecting someone down the board to take this title again.
Champ has the length to turn these two courses into pitch and putts. He’s gained strokes both off the tee and with his approach in seven of his last nine events.
The short game is hit and miss, but Bermuda is where he does his best putting work, and he’s got a win on the surface at the Sanderson Farms.
Russell Henley (+3500)
The story of this season has been players breaking through for their first TOUR wins in multiple years, and I think we may add another this week.
Russell Henley was solid throughout the week at the Sony Open, but lost his putter on the weekend on his way to a T11 finish at Waialae. Historically, the winners of The American Express have played in one of the Hawaii events leading in, and had a Top-20 during those events, both of which are checked boxes for Henley.
He also fits the course profile at PGA West as he is an elite wedge player, and despite the putting results last week, he does have a preference for the bermudagrass greens he will see this week. The only qualm is that the number is discounted from the +4500 open, but many took a hit with Rahm’s withdrawal.
Cameron Champ (+4200)
I am expecting Cameron Champ to have an excellent showing this week in his home state of California. Champ’s most recent win also came in The Golden State at the 2019 Safeway Open (Silverado) and PGA West feels like a great spot for the 25 year old to get his third PGA TOUR victory. Both of his wins have been relatively low scoring (-17 and -21) and a birdie-fest out West should be right in his wheelhouse.
Historically, despite his power off of the tee, Champ has found most success on short Par 72 courses. He is a TOUR average putter on Bermuda, compared to a negative putter on all other surfaces. With his tee-to-green prowess, a slightly positive putting week should be all he needs to get into contention at PGA West.
Maverick McNealy (+11000)
McNealy has been gradually rounding into the player we’d expected when he was crushing it in college. In fact, it’s been a half-dozen years, but he won The Prestige at PGA West when he was at Stanford, which should bode well for his chances this week. He was T-37 at this one last year and finished 21st-or-better in four of his final six starts of last year.
He’s never going to be the longest driver of the ball or the most accurate ball-striker, but he does own one of the game’s more solid putting strokes, ranking ninth in strokes gained putting last season. If his flatstick catches fire this week, don’t be surprised if he’s in the mix come Sunday.
Sepp Straka (+8500)
It’s tough to pick just one longshot this week, but I’ll highlight Straka for this week. He finished fourth here in 2020 and had a solid week in Hawaii to begin his 2021 campaign.
Straka has been on a great run of form with his irons, gaining at least three strokes with his approach in his last four events. That’s noteworthy since the Austrian’s biggest strength, his driver, has actually been holding his game back lately. That seemed to turn around a bit at Waialae as he returned to field average off the tee.
Straka has made a habit of popping up at lower-tier events, so this is the type of tournament where he could pull out his first win.
Charley Hoffman (+9000)
Players that played well in Hawaii have typically carried that good form into The American Express. Charley Hoffman ranked fifth in Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green at the Sony Open and gained more than two strokes on the field with his ball-striking.
I love what I am seeing out of Hoffman coming into the new year, and while his last five trips to PGA West have been a struggle, he does have a win (2007) and a runner-up finish (2015) at this event.
Brendan Steele (+8000)
While there is always a risk of a letdown just a week after blowing a 54-hole lead, I am going back to Steele here. In terms of course fit, I see PGA West as a superior track for the TOUR veteran to compete at.
A California native, Steele has two PGA TOUR victories in the state of California (Safeway Open x2). Silverado is similar to PGA West in that they are both shorter Par 72’s, which is a style of course that is a good fit for Steele. He also has some very good course history at PGA West with a 6th (2017), and a 2nd (2015). His appearances at the event account for two of the top eight strokes gained performances of his career.
Historically, ball-strikers have fared very well at PGA West and winners haven’t had to putt lights out to win. A strong player tee-to-green, the 37-year-old is capable of putting on a ball-striking clinic this week in La Quinta.
Doc Redman top-5 finish (+2800)
Oh, come on: Did you really think you’d get through this preview without a(nother) Doc mention? We’ve all seen those football lines where we think to ourselves: That seems fishy; the wrong team is favored and I want to smash the underdog money-line, but maybe the books know something I don’t. (Hint: They definitely do.) Well, that’s how I feel about this. One of my favorite up-and-comers is listed at 140/1 outright as I’m writing, which feels like the books are just taunting us, but I’ll gladly take that bait.
More than the outright play, though, I love him here at top-five, considering he’s cashed three of these tickets in his last eight starts.
Keegan Bradley to make the cut (-159)
Nothing too flashy for me this week.
Bradley is coming off a missed cut at the Sony where he lost seven strokes with the putter over two days. That’s just who he is some weeks. The putter can completely derail otherwise great play.
The good news is that he is usually pretty solid at this event. He’s made the cut in all four appearances and finished inside the top-25 on three occasions.
Bradley’s ball-striking was on point at the Sony, so as long as he doesn’t lose more than two or three strokes on the green he should make the weekend. Bradly has only lost over three strokes per round with his putter on one other occasion in his career. That was at the 2020 Houston Open. He backed that up with a 13th at the Zozo.
Erik van Rooyen Top-10 Finish (+700)
I nearly wrote up EVR as my longshot, but reality set in overnight that the better play was around his finishing position. He’s ranks just outside of the Top-50 in the World Golf Rankings and his odds don’t reflect that. I understand that he hasn’t shown himself to be a winner in Europe or the States, but the talent is there and he deserves the consideration all the way up the betting board.
The result at the Sony Open will show a missed cut, but if you look closer he had 11 birdies and 2 bogeys in 34 holes. His issue was two triples in his Friday round that caused him to miss the cut by one. He couldn’t get out of a bunker on his second hole in Round 2, then had a bad cart path bounce out of bounds on the back nine, otherwise he was playing the weekend with a chance to make a run.
All of the strokes gained numbers were there for EVR last week, and if he avoids the big numbers, PGA West sets up well for him to have a solid finish.
Kramer Hickok Top-10 Finish (+1600)
I am going with a flier on Hickok here to cash a top-10 at long odds. This event notoriously provides some unexpected winners and Hickok has the type of talent to get involved this week. I am a believer in Hickok’s long-term prospects at becoming a competitive PGA TOUR player, and PGA West seems like the right spot to begin his ascent.
At Waialae, Kramer gained 6.3 strokes tee to green on his way to a 19th-place finish. While not a good putter, Bermudagrass is his best surface as evidenced by his average performance last week.
I like his chances at a T10 and will be sprinkling a bit on an outright win at 175-1 as well.
Sam Burns (+100) over Lanto Griffin
Following a T-6 finish in this event last year and a T-7 finish in his most recent start in Houston, I expect Burns to be a popular play this week in all formats. I’m a big fan of his game and – as I wrote in my preview piece “The Leap” – I think the best thing he has going for him is that he tends to perform well on all types of courses in all parts of the country.
I have no problem with the LSU product for top-10 props and DFS plays, but he might hold the most value in matchups against some similarly priced players this week. For this one in particular, I think the market is weighing Griffin too heavily based solely on having two starts under his belt. He’s played decently, but I’ll still take a hungry Burns in this one.
Scottie Scheffler (+100) over Tony Finau
Scheffler and Finau have pretty similar games and both have the ability to play well at PGA West.
It’s been pretty much even between the two for their careers, Scheffler holds an 11-10-4 record over Finau in the 25 events they’ve played together, most recently at the TOC where Scheffler finished well ahead of Finau.
They’re even with their outright odds, so this feels like a match up where both guys should be -110. I’ll take the small dog here, who I think should probably be the small favorite.
Joel Dahmen (+110) over Rickie Fowler
I’d take nearly anyone over Rickie Fowler at this stage. The guy simply just hasn’t had it, in fact the last time he had a Top-10 was one year ago at this event. Yet, books continue to price him as though he is still one of the upper-tier golfers in the world. I’m fading Rickie in nearly every aspect until I see him put it together.
Joel Dahmen is no slouch in his own right, and I believe he is due for a victory this year. He’s a good fit for PGA West, and I’ll be happy to jump on board with Dahmen at plus money when one could argue he’s the better player in this matchup.
Ryan Moore (+100) over John Huh
I love Ryan Moore’s skill set as a fit at PGA West. Looking at previous winners, Moore fits the bill as a great iron player who won’t necessarily have to putt lights out to win. While not long off of the tee, he is extremely accurate which will be more important than distance this week.
An excellent Pete Dye player, Moore seems to be going overlooked this week. The 38-year-old finished sixth here last year and despite not playing recently, I think he has a real chance to compete this week.
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