2020 American Express golf DFS picks: How to handicap one of the most unpredictable weeks of the year

January 15, 2020
Hero World Challenge - Round Three

(Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

This is definitely a bizarre week to predict. First, the American Express is historically one of the biggest birdie fests on tour. Odds are, whoever gets the hottest putter will win, and as any golf-stat analyst will tell you, that's the toughest thing to predict in golf. The variance in putting week to week makes it tough to predict, as much as you analyze types of grass that players putt best on, etc.

Then you throw in the variable of players competing on three courses over the first three rounds, with a cut not coming until 54 holes, and you have a lot to consider compared to your normal week for golf DFS.

Some general things to consider: Not getting six out of your six players in your lineup to make the cut isn't a deal-breaker this week. If one of your players puts up a ton of birdies streaks and some eagles over the first three rounds, but fails to make the cut, those points are still very valuable. And maybe one low round for one of the days, along with two weaker days, could accumulate a ton of DFS points for your lineup. There's no right or wrong answer, but we do recommend checking the predictions from our panel of experts below.

Here's who our panel likes for this week:

2020 American Express Under the Radar Picks of the Week

Pat Mayo, DraftKings: Kevin Kisner (DraftKings: $9,900) — Who led the field in strokes gained/tee-To-Green at the Sony Open? It wasn’t the guys in the playoff, or even bronze medalist Webb Simpson. It was Kevin Kisner. The man erratic round-by-round putting strokes. In rounds one and three, Kisner gained over two strokes each day with the flat stick; rounds two and four, lost a combined 5.3 strokes on the greens. And he still came fourth. Smooth out the valleys with he putter, and Kisner can win, because he’ll definitely generate enough birdie looks.

Lee Alldrick, FanShare: Alex Noren (DraftKings: $8,400) — Noren was extremely low owned last week. I doubt his 32nd place finish last week will have turned any heads. However, his underlying stats tell a different story. He enters this week having made his last 9 cuts in a row. He ranks 1st in the field for Shots Gained Tee 2 Green over the last 2 months and putts very well on Bermuda Greens. The courses will suit the strengths of his game too, ranking very high in our courses suitability metric this week. This may go unnoticed on a lot of models this week as he has not played in this event before.

Brandon Gdula, FanDuel Sebastian Munoz (FanDuel: $9,300)__ — Munoz missed last week’s cut, and that — plus a salary that puts him in a range with a lot of strong value plays — is dampening his ownership projection across the industry. Munoz missed the cut on the number, however, and he grades out as a really balanced golfer statistically. Further, he ranks 14th in birdie or better rate gained over the past 50 rounds, and that’s vital with a 54-hole cut at a trio of courses that require golfers to go low in order to contend for finishing position bonuses.


2020 American Express, Value Plays of the Week

Mayo: Sam Ryder (DraftKings: $6,500): From way down the list, it was encoring to see Ryder open his year without a waiting period on his ball striking. Gaining over four strokes Tee-to-Green at the Sony, Ryder’s strengths should emerge again at the American Express. The top player in the field from 75-100 yards over the past 24 rounds (per, a stat he’s gained versus the field in 12 of his past 14 rounds, he should create plenty of easy birdie looks. That seems like an odd proximity range to exploit, but looking back oat the Stadium course over the past few years, a passel of players who finish inside the Top 10, finish amongst the best in the field from this range. Likely due to the overwhelming amount of short Par 4s, and a slew of Par 5s, which are easy, yet aren’t especially gettable in two shots.

Gdula, FanDuel — Bud Cauley (FanDuel: $8,700)__ — Cauley ranks 27th in strokes gained/approach and 4th in strokes gained/around the green over his past 50 PGA Tour rounds — among this field — and is coming off a missed cut. However, his stats were pretty much all in line with the field average, so he wasn’t reeling. He’s a bounce-back option for the American Express.

Alldrick, FanShare: Martin Laird (DraftKings: $6,400) — This is a mouth watering price for Laird this week. The Scotsman ranks 10th in the field this week for Opportunities Gained over the last 3 months. A return to Bermuda should help him covert these opportunities into birdies. We have him ranked very high in our courses suitability metric this week. His 5 top 25 finishes here show just how much he likes it here in La Quinta.

2020 Sentry Tournament of Champions, Recommended Lineup Builds

Mayo: — Here's who I'd build around this week: Kevin Kisner (DraftKings: $9,900; FanDuel: $10,800); Russell Knox (DraftKings: $8,100; FanDuel: $9,500); Cameron Tringale (DraftKings: $7,100; FanDuel: $9,000); Sam Ryder (DraftKings: $6,500; FanDuel: $8,200).

Gdula: — While I think Rickie Fowler ($12,000) is a betting fade, the idea of getting him for 54 holes is enticing enough to keep him near the top of the list. There are certainly nice pivots near the top, as history suggests the priciest golfer on FanDuel and the odds-on favorite to win is almost always the most popular golfer by a good margin. We can gain some leverage in case Fowler doesn’t live up to the hype.

There’s some value to help balance rosters, namely Vaughn Taylor ($9,500) and Bud Cauley ($8,700). And this week, we can take on some extra risk due to the cut rules, so a bottom-of-the-barrel dive on golfers is more viable this week than most others.

Riccio: My pick to win, Rickie Fowler, and my No. 2., Phil Mickelson, can be included in both builds below:


Rickie Fowler: $11,500 Phil Mickelson: $8,700 Chez Reavie: $8,000 Bud Cauley: $7,300 Carlos Ortiz: $7,200 Sam Ryder: $6,500


Rickie Fowler: $12,000 Tony Finau: $11,300 Phil Mickelson: $10,100 Joel Dahmen: $8,900 Bud Cauley: $8,700 Sam Ryder: $8,200

GD Editors: — You could easily make the case for fading the entire tier above $10,000 and building a really balanced lineup. But you can also make the case that Paul Casey gives you strong win equity and is one of the best iron players in this field. For that reason, I'd build around Casey, with what we think is a very high upside lineup with a bunch of birdies:

Paul Casey: $10,700
Matthew Wolff: $9,000
Harris English: $7,700 Rory Sabbatini: $7,600
Daniel Berger: $7,500 Carlos Ortiz: $7,200

Alldrick: — As you’ve seen above, I’m big on Noren, Walker and Im this week so they are the first names on my team sheet this week. Knox is another play I like but is likely to be very chalky. Therefore I will balance out his high ownership with 2 steady veterans in Zach Johnson and Vaughn Taylor who I feel both offer safe floors with good upside at lower ownership.

Sungjae Im: $11,000 Alex Noren - $8,400
Russell Knox - $8,100 Vaughn Taylor - $7,900 Zach Johnson - $7,700 Jimmy Walker - $6,600

Fanduel Lineup – Again, IM, Mickelson and Walker will be stalwarts in a lot of lineups this week. The pricing on Fanduel allows me to add course specialists Mickelson and Howell plus the very in form Brendan Todd who should thrive on these courses.

Sungjae Im - 11,600 Charles Howell III - $10,500 Phil Mickelson - 10,100 Brendon Todd - 10,000 Alex Noren - 9,800 Jimmy Walker - 8,000

About our experts

Pat Mayo is known as one of the pre-eminent experts in daily-fantasy sports and golf handicapping specifically. Mayo is a 17-time fantasy sports-writers association finalist, the most of any writer this decade, and Mayo won the 2019 Fantasy Sports Writing Association Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year and Podcast of the Year awards, along with the Fantasy Sports Trade Association Best Video award. Mayo is on the board of governors at Here’s a link to watch his complete DraftKings preview of the 2019 Wyndham Championship.

Brandon Gdula, a senior editor and analyst for NumberFire, a FanDuel daily-fantasy analysis company, recently won the 2018 fantasy sports-writers association Golf Writer of the Year (congrats, Brandon!). Gdula also co-hosts the DFS Heat Check podcast.

Dr. Lou Riccio, a PhD senior lecturer, teaches rational decision making at Columbia's Graduate School of Business and has served on the USGA's handicap research team for three decades. His predictive analysis and modeling helps him make expert picks for our column.

Stephen Hennessey and Christopher Powers are Golf Digest's main gambling writers. Listen to this week's Golf Digest podcast, where they break down their favorite bets for the Sony Open, as well as major winners and season-long predictions.

Lee Alldrick of FanShare Sports started out writing an article highlighting the best bargain plays for fantasy golf under his twitter handle @DKGolfBargains. His success at this prompted FanShare Sports to enlist him as a guest writer, which evolved into him writing the weekly Under The Radar article. As a U.K.-based expert, Alldrick’s insight into European Tour regulars and low priced, low owned plays has provided an invaluable edge for readers when it comes to DFS GPPs.