Welcome to the West Coast swing! 5 tournaments in 5 weeks at some of America's most iconic courses. Torrey Pines, Pebble Beach, TPC Scottsdale, and Riviera CC are all on this stretch of the schedule. But first…. a lotta bit of an appetizer with the American Express. Yes that's the name. No "Open". No "Classic". No "Invitational". It may have been known as the Desert Classic, the Bob Hope Classic, the CareerBuilder Challenge, and a variety of other names but nowaways… it's just the American Express. For the rest of this tournament I'll simply be calling it the AmEx. Deal with it.
We've got a shockingly stacked field for this one. Typically most of the top guys pass on this one with so many top tier events filling out the West Coast swing. This year? Not so much. 5 of the top 7 players in the OWGR are here, them being Scheffler, Rahm, Cantlay, X, and Zalatoris. Right behind them are Finau, Burns, Tom Kim, Cam Young, and Sungjae Im to make it exactly half of the world's Top 20. With Torrey next week and the Waste Management and Riviera rounding out the West Coast swing as elevated events, it's safe to say the field at Pebble is going to be bruuutal.
Speaking of Pebble… this is also a pro-am much like the Clambake. It's just a lot more corporate and a little less celebrity. Ok, a lot less celebrity. You're not gonna see Larry the Cable Guy and Ray Romano hacking it out here. But it does serve as an opportunity for some cool moments like this one in 2020, when one-armed golfer Laurent Hurtubise made an ace on the Stadium Course's 4th:
Anywho, we've got a 54 hole cut after the first 3 rounds are rotated among 3 different courses. All 3 courses are at PGA West - The Stadium Course, The Nicklaus Course, and La Quinta. Top 65 and ties advance to Sunday, which is played at the Stadium Course.
Hudson Swafford won here last year with a final round 64. It was his only Top 10 in the 27 events he played worldwide before joining LIV Golf in June. Although it was his 3rd career win on Tour (and 2nd at PGA West) and he had maintained a card for 9 years, it's safe to wonder whether LIV even picks up the phone if that win hadn't launched him from 166th to 61st in the world at the time. They probably do, but at the very least I'm sure it helped beef up that check for him.
It's also worth noting that for a short period, this was Phil Mickelson's tournament. He was named the host in 2020 and it looked like his name would be stapled to this Southern California classic for years to come, much like Arnie's tournament at Bay Hill, Jack at Memorial, Tiger at Riv, etc etc etc. Needless to say that bridge has been burned.
Alright, enough about two guys who aren't even here this week. Last year's leaderboard and recent winners of the AmEx.
As I said before, we've got 3 different courses in the mix here. All are par 72's and all are right around a mild 7,100ish yards. Since 2 of the 4 rounds including the final round will be played at the Stadium Course, I'll mainly focus on that. What you need to know about La Quinta and Nicklaus is that they're both scoreable and likely won't have shot tracker on the PGA Tour leaderboard, which always sucks. Fingers crossed they've made that change, but that involves triple the volunteers out there and that's a huge undertaking.
The Stadium course presents a little more of a challenge, albeit not much of one. At least not these days anyway. There was a time in 1987 where PGA Tour players actually successfully petitioned to have the course removed from the tournament. It took until 2016 for the tournament to return to the course. From the Jan 22, 1987 New York Times:
More than 100 golfers are expected to petition Deane Beman, the commissioner of the PGA Tour, within the next week to insist that the PGA West course not be used again.
The three-year-old, 7,000-yard course designed by Pete Dye, was used for the first time in the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic last week at La Quinta, Calif., and almost every one of the 128 professionals who played it complained about it. Even Corey Pavin, who won the tournament, said it was too severe.
Roger Maltbie, a member of the 10-man PGA Tour Policy Board, said that he expected a petition to be drawn up and that he would submit it to Beman.
''There's a possibility of a petition going around and if it does I will ask that it be put on the agenda of the membership meeting during the Los Angeles Open,'' Maltbie said. ''I haven't seen a petition yet although the subject of PGA West will undoubtedly come up at that membership meeting.''
Beman said he had not heard of any such petition yet. ''I will react to it when I see it,'' he said. ''Until then I have no comment. But that's very interesting.''
Rarely have so many touring pros been so critical of a course and never before have they reached a point of insisting that a course be dropped from the tour after only one tournament.
''The Policy Board decided that we play there,'' Maltbie said. ''Yes, I voted to play there. We owed it to ourselves and everyone to try it. That we did. We did and we saw and nobody likes it. With that in mind the thing is that not to make a change now that would be stupid.''
Dye also designed and built the Tournament Players Club at Ponte Vedra, Fla., which was the most controversial course on tour before PGA West. Many changes were made to fairways, greens and hazards at the Ponte Vedra T.P.C. after it was first used for the Tournament Players Championship in 1982.
Maltbie, however, said that he did not think changes in PGA West would help and that it should not be used on tour again. #90 Percent of Players Upset ''My reaction at this moment is PGA West shouldn't be played next year,'' he said. ''I just don't think it's good for the tournament.
''I think Deane Beman understands. When the players are that unanimous in their dislike of a golf course he has to listen to them. There are too many good golf minds out here. I haven't seen this much unanimity among players about anything before.''
Speaking of PGA West and the designer, Maltbie said, ''I don't like his targets, those specific places you have to play the ball. There are far too many undulations in fairways. I think bunkers on many holes are far too penalizing, certainly for the length of the holes. The sheer walls of bunkers are too steep and water running adjacent to fairways hole after hole is bad. You might as well have out of bounds one foot off every one of those fairways.''
The PGA Tour shifted this week to another new course, the Tournament Players Club of Scottsdale, for the 52d Phoenix Open, which begins tomorrow. Most of the players, however, seem to like the course, which was designed by Tom Weiskopf, a 15-time winner on tour, along with Howard Twitty and Jay Morrish.
Pretty wild that Pete Dye (god rest his beautiful soul) created a course that was so challenging that the world's best literally resorted to taking their balls and going home. Nowadays with advancements in equipment, a higher standard of fitness, etc etc… these guys aren't so afraid anymore. If you didn't read the excerpt above, the course is riddled with hazards. There are over 90 bunkers, many of them incredibly steep. I mean look at this monstrosity.
You'll also find water hazards lining 7 holes. Including quite a bit on my featured hole…
Best Hole - 17th Hole, Par 3 165 yards
Ah yes, the one they call "Alcatraz". Pete Dye loves his island greens. Obviously his design at Sawgrass is the more notable one, but any time you put a green in the middle of a lake and take out virtually all margin for error, you're going to get great drama. This is considered a sister course of Sawgrass, so having this as the penultimate hole makes a lot of sense.
Duf Daddy's par save here in 2016 was a big part of his win that year.
Lee Trevino also aced it for a walk-off in a 1987 Skins Game against Nicklaus and Palmer
The Weather & TV Coverage
In case you don't know, La Quinta is about an hour west of LA and San Diego. So yeah… weather checks out, although it is about 10 degrees cooler than last year's weather. Boo hoo.
We're also getting a full blast of ESPN+ this week now that we're on the mainland again. There was a ton of ESPN+ coverage in Hawaii despite the logistical nightmare of getting all that media equipment out to the middle of the Pacific, but now we're cooking with gas. I'll try to update featured groups here when those are released.
Verrry middle of the road trophy here as presented by 2021 champ (and last week's champ at the Sony) Si Woo Kim. Which is probably about what this tournament's trophy should be. Not too flashy, but the glass (crystal? is it crystal?) makes for a nice piece on the mantle. It's whatever. What do you want me to say, I'm trying here. It's a 5/10.
Clear cut favorite here this week is Jon Rahm at +550 at the Barstool Sportsbook. This event is a staple on his schedule every year and so is his position at the top of the betting board. He entered the tournament as a +500 favorite last year and finished T-14, which is a pretty poor result if we're grading on a Rahm curve. He was -150 to finish Top 10 and stalled out with a Sunday 71 when everyone around him was going low. Rahm has finished T-6, W, T-34 in his other 3 starts in the AmEx.
As an LA area native, Patrick Cantlay also plays this event every year and he's my pick at +1000. He's finished T-9, solo 2nd, and T-9 in his 3 starts here. In particular, the run he made in 2021 with an -11 round on Sunday was one of the great Sunday charges I can remember in recent memory. Cannot shake that round from my brain, and the 62 he opened with last year to earn a share of 1st round leader has only furthered the notion that I think he's due to win here multiple times in his career. Might as well start now.
Patrick Cantlay Top American +750 - In a tournament like this, Rahm is the boogeyman so I look for ways to carve him out of the picture and still get a good payout. If Cantlay wins outright, it's a beautiful doubledip. Last time I took this approach I went with a Straight Forecast for a Cantlay/Tom Kim 1-2 finish at the Shriners and damn near hit on it at 150/1. Should've bet it backwards too, but had to settle for Tom Kim +2200 outright. What a shame.
Taylor Montgomery To Win +4500/Top 10 +400 - Montgomery has been one of the steadiest players on Tour throughout the fall while you've been watching football. Early frontrunner for rookie of the year. 7 Top 15's in 8 starts.
Rickie Fowler Top 10 +600/Top 20 +270 - I think 2023 is going to be the bounce back year for Rick. He Top 10'd 2 of his 4 fall events including a T-2 at the Zozo and has won on a Dye track (Sawgrass) and a desert track (Scottsdale). Good value now.
Cameron Young To Win +2200 - We're in full on FOMO mode on Cam Young here. I rode it out with Finau until he cashed and then picked Scheffler as my new FOMO guy starting with this tournament last year. Took virtually no time for that one to cash and I haven't really gone back to the well on the FOMO game. Now's the time to ride or die with Cam Young. This might not be the best course fit for Cam's bomb and gouge game (I LOVE him next week at Torrey for that) but that's the nature of the FOMO beast. Just gotta close your eyes and smash that bet button (responsibly).
Winner To Play In Final 1st Tee Grouping In Round 4 - No +163 - As an FYI, this tournament is played as threesomes (and not pairs) on Sunday. Swafford made a run from the 2nd to last grouping last year and we're manifesting that again for a lil Sunday fun.
That's what I got this week. Enjoy the AmEx.