This article is part of our DraftKings PGA series.
THE AMERICAN EXPRESS
Winner's Share: $1.206M
FedEx Cup Points: 500 to the Winner
Location: La Quinta, Calif.
Courses: PGA West (Stadium Course, Nicklaus Tournament Course), La Quinta Country Club
Yardage: 7,113 (Stadium)
2019 champion: Adam Long
The annual Tour stop in the California desert used to be one of the most high-profile events on the golf calendar. It featured the biggest entertainer of his generation, Bob Hope, who attracted A-listers galore, among them Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Kirk Douglas. The then-90-hole event with an extended pro-am also lured Dwight Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, the first sitting president to take part in a PGA Tour event. Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Billy Casper and Johnny Miller were all champions. Alas, times changed, Hope passed on (in 2003 at age 100) and the tournament lost its luster, not to mention its stature on Tour.
Over the past decade or so, its foundered around with different sponsors, or no sponsors at all. After last year being known as simply the Desert Classic – no title sponsor, which meant a tiny purse – global heavyweight American Express has come on board with a multi-year commitment. The purse immediately has jumped almost $1 million. That's the good news.
While the tournament has not been 90 holes for years, it still has a three-day slog of a pro-am, with two pros playing with two amateurs. When the sponsorship agreement was announced in the fall, part of the press release read thusly: "The title sponsor will receive a yet-unspecified number of the 156 amateur berths, and American Express is expected to give those berths to its premier customers and clients." That often is turnoff for many big name golfers, and here comes the bad news: The field is not appreciably stronger than it was last year, when three top-25 golfers were entered. This year, it's four. Hey, even with the increased purse, it's a tough slot sandwiched between the Hawaii Swing on one side and Torrey Pines on the other.
No. 15 Tony Finau "heads" the field, along with No. 17 Paul Casey and No. 20 Francesco Molinari. But No. 22 Rickie Fowler and tournament host Phil Mickelson are the true headliners. There are six more golfers among the top-50, including Kevin Kisner, Sungjae Im and Billy Horschel. Also of note, barely, is that 17-year-old Akshay Bhatia has gotten a sponsor invite, his fifth already this season. He's allowed only two more, and has missed his first four cuts. The important news, DFS-wise, is that the 156-man field won't cut until Saturday night. All the golfers will play three courses over the first three days before the 54-hole cut leaves the remaining 60 and ties at the Stadium course on Sunday. The Saturday cut certainly has huge ramifications for DFS play, allowing gamers to be more aggressive, knowing a missed cut costs only 18 holes and not 36.
In 2016, they introduced two PGA West tracks – the Stadium Course and the Nicklaus Tournament Course (par-72, 7,204 yards) – to go along with venerable La Quinta (par-72, 7,060). We now have four years of this exact course rotation to consider when formulating lineups. Each of the past two years, Nicklaus and La Quinta were the two easiest tracks on Tour, while the Stadium wasn't much tougher. The past three years the winning score has been at least 20-under – birdies will be mandatory, as we'll examine the key stats and Champion's Profile below.
Weather-wise, aside from a slight chance of rain on Thursday, the entire tournament looks the same: Highs around 70 and sunny, with little wind. All four days are pretty much one big green-light special.
Key Stats to Winning at The American Express
Note - The most important indicators every week are current form and course history. "Key stats" follow in importance.
• Ball striking/Strokes gained: off the tee
• Greens in regulation/strokes gained: approach
• Putting average/strokes gained: putting
• Birdie-or-better percentage
There's little mystery this week. Getting on the green in short order will provide plenty of birdie of opportunities on some of the simplest greens the golfers will see all year. Last year, Long made 23 birdies and three eagles. The year before, Rahm made 27 birdies and one eagle. As you may remember, Long came out of nowhere to defeat Phil Mickelson and Adam Hadwin in a playoff. For what it's worth, nine of the past 10 winners played at least one of the two Hawaii stops before coming here – there's something to be said for getting in some tournament rounds after the long winter break. And since the tournament's inception in 1960, there have been only five non-American winners.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS (Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap)
Tier 1 Values
Rickie Fowler - $11,500 (Winning odds at golfodds.com: 12-1)
Fowler closed 2019 at No. 23 in the world, his lowest year-end standing since 2013. But he still made it to the Tour Championship. After taking a long hiatus to get married, he's actually pretty active for this time of year. Fowler played in the Hero World Challenge and Presidents Cup in December, then the Tournament of Champions a couple of weeks ago. He looked good there, tying for fifth.
Sungjae Im - $11,000 (18-1)
Another young guy won last week, 26-year-old Cameron Smith, and Im's time will be coming soon. He tied for 12th in tournament debut a year ago and arrives ranked 13th on Tour in birdie-or-better percentage, having had a successful fall season. Im got back in action with a tie for 21st last week at the Sony.
Byeong-Hun An - $10,300 (30-1)
An has never played this event and has been idle since November, which gives us some pause. But he played so well in the fall, and this field is so weak, that we envision a good week ahead. The thing we really liked about An in his seven-tournament start to 2019-20 was his putting – it wasn't terrible. He always has been so solid tee to green, only to be foiled on the greens. An is ranked 114th in strokes gained: putting, which is middle of the pack. Last year he wound up 182nd. That difference is enough to win this week.
Billy Horschel - $9,700 (30-1)
Horschel is one of the shorter hitters, but that won't hurt him this week. He used to play this tournament annually, and has a couple of top-10s, but hadn't played since 2016. It could be case of Horschel wanting to fulfill his Tour commitment to play a tournament he hasn't in four years. But regardless, he arrives first on Tour in strokes gained: putting during a solid fall season.
Tier 2 Values
Francesco Molinari - $9,200 (40-1)
It certainly was curious seeing Molinari's name when the field was announced. There's a big European Tour event this week n Abu Dhabi. But the Italian has played here three times before, from 2015-17, with a pair of top-12s. Molinari never really recovered after finding Rae's Creek on Sunday at the Masters, but even still he missed only two cuts the rest of the year.
Jason Kokrak - $9,100 (40-1)
Kokrak is coming off his finest season on Tour, making it all the way to the Tour Championship. He's still a non-winner after 214 starts, but he's had some success her, with a pair of top-10s and a tie for 18th a year ago.
Lucas Glover - $8,200 (60-1)
Glover has made five straight cuts at the Amex (if we can call it that). Three of them have been top-20s, including last year's tie for 12th. He really gave himself a long winter break, finishing up at the WGC event in China the first week in November. But this was his opening tournament last year after a long layoff, and he didn't appear rusty at all.
Russell Knox - $8,100 (60-1)
Knox is another guy hurt in a lot of tournaments by lack of distance off the tee. Again, that won't hurt him this week. He tied for 18th here a year ago and for 29th the year before. The Scotsman is ranked top-25 on Tour in both greens in regulation and strokes gained: approach. Throughout his career, he's been a horrendous putter – but he's been sharply better so far this season in seven events.
Tier 3 Values
Vaughn Taylor - $7,900 (60-1)
Taylor started playing here more than a decade ago, and last year was one of his best showings – a tie for seventh. He's made 16 of his past 17 cuts overall, and opened 2020 with a tie for 12th last week at the Sony.
Harris English - $7,700 (40-1)
English had an unreal fall season, finishing third, fourth, fifth and sixth among his six starts. He's had a different kind of success in this tournament, making the cut seven straight years. English arrives ranked 15th on Tour in birdie-or-better.
Denny McCarthy - $7,600 (80-1)
McCarthy missed the cut in both visits to La Quinta, but he never had a fall season like he did in 2019. McCarthy went 7-for-7 in cuts, with five top-25s, three of which doubled as top-10s. He owes almost all of it to his putter, one of the best on Tour. McCarthy is ranked 23rd on Tour in birdie-or-better.
Daniel Berger - $7,500 (80-1)
Berger has never approached the player he was before a debilitating wrist injury a couple of years back. The former top-20 player now resides in the 150s. But he's been a pretty reliable cut-maker, cashing in 16 of his last 18 starts. He tied for 38th last week at the Sony. And he tied for 12th a year ago at the Amex.
Cameron Tringale - $7,100 (100-1)
Tringale has made the cut in 7-of-9 visits to La Quinta, and he's pretty consistent overall. He made the cut in 14 of his last 15 worldwide starts in 2019, and this will be his 2020 debut. Tringale is ranked 15th on Tour in strokes gained: tee to green and 17th in SG total. Not too shabby.
Harold Varner III - $7,000 (100-1)
Varner is really good at making it to the weekend, with the occasional good finish – such as last year, when he tied for 18th. Varner has missed only one cut since June. He's ranked eighth on Tour in strokes gained: around the green and 37th in birdie-or-better.
Nick Taylor - $7,000 (100-1)
Taylor has made the cut here three years running. He's coming off tie for 32nd last week at Waialae and had a respectable fall season with four finishes in the top-30. Taylor is ranked 15th on Tour in greens in regulation.
Matthew NeSmith - $6,700 (200-1)
The Korn Ferry grad had a rough entry to the PGA Tour, missing his first three cuts. But he's steadied since then, making 4-of-5, two of them top-20s. NeSmith tied for 32nd last week at the Sony heading into his Amex debut.