This week, the PGA Tour returns to the mainland for the American Express. (Is that the name now? Hard to keep track of all the changes.)
The Coachella Valley event will look a bit different this year because of Covid-19 restrictions. In the past, the format was a pro-am, and the first three rounds were played at three different courses. This year, there will be no pro-am and only two host venues: the Stadium Course and the Nicklaus Tournament Course, both at PGA West. There will be a cut after 36 holes, and the final two rounds will be contested on the Stadium Course.
Both Stadium and Nicklaus will emphasize par-5 scoring, short irons, and putting. On each course, there are four reachable par 5s, and players will need to rack up a lot of birdies on them in order to contend. Overall, the courses play fairly short, with no par 4s over 461 yards. At the same time, there aren’t many super-short par 4s, either. As a result, players will have a lot of short-iron approaches. The greens at PGA West are some of the purest on tour, so if you want to do well at the American Express, you have to hole a bunch of putts.
Let’s look at a few players who offer strength in those three categories:
Matthew Wolff $9,700
Wolff is a great fit for the PGA West courses: he is fourth in the field in birdies, fourth in approach, 12th in short-iron proximity, 15th off the tee, 20th in par-5 scoring, and 30th in putting. His weakness is around the green, but that won’t be as much of a factor as usual this week. Some of Wolff’s best finishes have come at similar birdie-fests, including his win at the 2019 3M and his runner-ups at the 2020 Shriners and 2020 Rocket Mortgage.
Sam Burns $8,300
Think of Burns as a cheaper Matthew Wolff. He is third off the tee, fifth in par-5 scoring, 10th in birdies, and 14th in putting. On PGA West’s Bermuda greens, Burns will probably be even better than 14th this week, as his Bermuda vs. non-Bermuda splits are insane. On Bermuda, Burns has gained three times as many strokes per round as he has on other surfaces. In his two appearances at the American Express, he has finished sixth and 18th. He was also in good form toward the end of 2020, finishing in the top 40 in nine of his last 12 events.
Reed is the No. 1 overall player in my model—fifth in birdies, seventh in par-5 scoring, ninth in short-iron proximity, 16th off the tee, and 21st in putting. He missed only two cuts on the PGA Tour in 2020, and back in 2014 won at PGA West. There are only a few places this year I would consider using Reed for one-and-done, and this is one of them.
Last year, in his first appearance at the American Express, Scheffler finished third. Now he ranks fourth off the tee, sixth in birdies, and 14th in par-5 scoring. He has also been playing well since the fall, finishing in the top 20 in eight of his past 12 events.