2020 American Express golf picks: Sorry, Tony: Here’s why our experts say Finau is a bad pick this week
(Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
This week is a collision of the familiar and the unfamiliar in Palm Springs. This is the old Bob Hope classic, one of the most familiar tournaments on the PGA Tour schedule, with scenes of Arnold Palmer and a great host of celebrities such as Hope, Frank Sinatra, Clint Eastwood and others joining pros at this event since the 1960s. There's now a new sponsor, American Express, securing the future longevity of this event. But the famous celebrities of yesteryear aren't in this pro-am field, so instead fantasy players and gamblers are left to predict what the slog of a five-and-a-half hour round in the desert will net for a golf tournament. It's that blend of familiar and unfamiliar that makes this a tough week to predict in the desert.
Thankfully, we have the best panel of experts in the industry to help us decipher all the information. Just like every week, we have a caddie offering his insight from the range and putting green at the 2020 American Express; picks from Jason Sobel, a senior writer at The Action Network, which is becoming the leader in sports betting and handicapping analysis, and it's growing its presence in golf; two of the most respected experts in the daily-fantasy community, Pat Mayo of DraftKings and Brandon Gdula of FanDuel; Lee Alldrick of FanShare Sports, which tracks DFS ownership and sentiment; and Columbia University senior lecturer and Ph.D. Lou Riccio, who uses predictive analysis and modeling to forecast winners in golf.
Though Tony Finau is one of the marquee names in this field, and one of the favorites, three of our experts explain why we shouldn't expect this to be the week Finau earns his illusive second PGA Tour win. Read on for our complete betting analysis for the 2020 American Express.
(Check out the 51:34 mark to hear Alex Myers, Christopher Powers and Stephen Hennessey discuss their best bets for this week's American Express)
2020 American Express Golf Picks To Win (Odds from MGM Sportsbook)
Anonymous Caddie Picker of the Week: Sungjae Im (18-1) — I like Sungjae. His game is so solid and that fairs well around a course where you need to give yourself plenty of opportunities. At this point, he's essentially a star player without a win, so it's only a matter of time.
Pat Mayo, DraftKings/Fantasy National analyst: Francesco Molinari (40-1) — The Italian hasn’t played a competitive round since the close of the season in Europe. And, we know he loves time off, so that may actually have been the last time he held a club for all I know. Still, you have the best golfer in this field over the past two years at inflated odds because he didn't win much at the end of last year, with a bunch of guys who rarely win above him. There’s substantial downside to the pick because he may be rusty, but this is basically his number at the Masters a year ago. And this, I’ve heard, is not the Masters.
Brandon Gdula, FanDuel/numberFire editor: Paul Casey (22-1) — Casey leads the field in strokes gained: tee to green over the past 50 rounds on the PGA Tour, according to FantasyNational, and he is third in opportunities gained — basically birdie chances. Golfers need to go low this week to win, and Casey has that ability, given his elite ball-striking.
Dr. Lou Riccio, Columbia University: Rickie Fowler (12-1) — My model's been all around the lead the past two weeks. It was a toss-up for me between DJ and Thomas at Kapalua; I went DJ and JT won. Then I went with JT at the Sony Open, and Webb was a close second on my model. Webb was the one who almost won; JT missed the cut. This week, Rickie jumps out far and above everyone else on the model. In the past 100 rounds, Rickie is ranked first in strokes gained: overall and fifth in strokes gained: putting. You're not overpaying for him at 12-1, and I do think he probably has the best chance of winning.
Jason Sobel, Action Network senior golf writer: Scottie Scheffler (28-1) — I was banging the drum for this rookie throughout the fall part of the schedule, and there’s no reason to jump off the bandwagon now. I’ll admit there are a few things going against him this week, though: I would’ve preferred a player who competed last week and had those juices flowing already, especially since playing under muted winds is going to feel like taking the donut off the bat. And it might be foolish to take a player who’s never competed in this tourney before, since it’ll be near-impossible to get a firm grasp on all three courses before the opening round. I do, however, still believe that Scheffler will win a PGA Tour title sooner rather than later, and with a handful of big-name studs playing here, his odds are a bit higher than they might be in a less competitive field. For those who believe this is too much of a shot in the dark, I present this fact: Just seven starts into his freshman season, Scheffler is already ranked 13 spots higher than Mickelson in the world ranking. He’s made the cut in each of those starts, including three results of seventh or better. The talent is there and he’s ready to take the next step.
Stephen Hennessey, Golf Digest associate editor: Brendon Todd (40-1) — Like we said last week, oddsmakers haven't given the Toddfather the respect he deserves. And I'm going to keep backing him until they adjust. The stats like him, of course: He's ranked second in strokes gained/putting on Bermuda greens in his past 50 rounds, per FantasyNational.com. And how about this for a deep narrative: He was medalist here at PGA Tour Q-school (back when that existed) in 2011. That was before Todd's elite run in the fall. This place suits Todd's game, and so it's tough to turn down these juicy odds while they still exist.
Christopher Powers, Golf Digest assistant editor: Byeong Hun An (28-1) — Does course experience matter at the AMEX? Hopefully not, because An is making his debut in the event. But I’m not too worried about it. He’s simply playing too well right now to be ignored at 28-1. Three top 8s in his last six starts, including a solo third at the Sanderson. Over his last 50 rounds per Fantasy National, An ranks second in strokes-gained: overall, second in strokes-gained: tee-to-green and second in strokes-gained: around the green. He’s in full control of his ball, and, surprisingly, is still looking for his first PGA Tour win. He's hungry.
Lee Alldrick, FanShare Sports golf expert: Sungjae Im (18-1) — Sungjae ticks every box this week. His game is suited to these courses, is playing great golf at the minute and putts very well on Bermuda greens.
Results from this season: We correctly predicted seven of the first 12 winners to start the season. FanDuel's Brandon Gdula has predicted four victories on his own, netting +130 units this season alone (the equivalent of being up $1,300 on $10 bets), after predicting Justin Thomas' win at Kapalua. Our tour caddie, and DraftKings' Pat Mayo, also had JT as their pick to win. FanShare Sports' Lee Alldrick picked Rory McIlroy at the WGC-HSBC Champions, giving him three winning predictions early in the season. Three members of our expert panel correctly picked the favorite in the fall at the CJ Cup, Justin Thomas (8-1), so we have a lot of positive momentum. Check out everyone's records in the betting card above.
Sleepers/Dark Horses That Could Win at the 2020 The American Express (odds from MGM Sportsbook)
Caddie: Phil Mickelson (40-1) — he's surprisingly a sleeper coming in. He's coming off a fairly bumpy season by his standards, but he thrives at courses like these. He can bomb it around here and make plenty of birdies which suits his game. Good vibes here with a close call last year.
Mayo: Russell Knox (50-1) — Knox's iron stats were great at the Sony (as usual), but over the last six months, the Scot has started to develop a shocking lack of consistency off the tee. He was never going to lap the field in distance, but he always gained strokes with his driver with accuracy. But that just hasn’t been the case lately. Over his past 10 events, he’s losing almost a stroke off the tee per event; way behind his three year average of +0.5. As mentioned, the irons are sharp, the chipping is the same, and he’s actually putting better recently than at most times in his career. If he can find a way to smooth out the accuracy for a week, he’ll contend.
Gdula: Vaughn Taylor (45-1) — Taylor has three straight top-12 finishes and rates out as a good putter on Bermuda greens. He also sits top-seven in both birdie rate and opportunities gained over the past 50 rounds. He can go low enough to contend.
Riccio: Sam Ryder (150-1) — My model loves Sam Ryder. Even during the middle of a big slump in the heart of 2019, his long-term stats had him pop up on my modeling. Now that his stats are kind of back a little bit, Ryder is jumping up into the top 10 again per my data. Last week, he gained strokes in all parts of the game at the Sony Open. He seems to be figuring it out, and at this large number, it's worth backing him. Especially for a first-round leader bet, as he has a penchant for jumping out of the gates strong.
Sobel, Action Network: Andrew Putnam (66-1) — Originally, I was considering Putnam for my pick to win – he’s finished 34th-17th at this event over the last two years – but his ball-striking numbers on Sunday at Waialae were pretty gross, to be frank. I still think he’s a solid play this week, just not with the same confidence that I would’ve had beforehand.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Rory Sabbatini (60-1) — I also love Putnam. But the mean Slovakian is worth sprinkling some units on. His stats are really strong over the past 50 rounds: Ranking seventh in this field in strokes gained/off-the-tee and 15th in Opportunities Gained (per Fantasy National) over the past 50 rounds. This is a birdie-fest and Sabbs has proven he can still make them with all these young kids. This is a great chance for him to earn another PGA Tour win.
Powers, Golf Digest: D.J. Trahan (125-1) — I liked Brendan Steele at first, because I do think he'll bounce back after last week's close call, but I decided to go with the mega longshot instead in Trahan. He fought extremely hard to get his card back and I love him as a candidate for a huge comeback story this season. He's playing well enough to get himself in the mix. Why not this week, where he last won on tour back when it was still the Bob Hope in 2008.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Jimmy Walker (225-1) — Per FantasyNational.com, Walker ranks fourth in the field this week for Opportunities Gained over the past three months. He also ranks top 20 for courses suitability and strokes gained/putting on Bermuda greens.
Players to Fade This Week (who will disappoint)
Caddie: Russell Knox (50-1) — This is a birdie fest. And when I think of Russell Knox, I think of him being best at thriving in grinding conditions, and tougher, shorter tracks. Not the best week to put the house on him.
Mayo: Scottie Scheffler (28-1) — Maybe the books know a lot more than me (likely), but Scheffler’s price is just too short against some the players behind him. Pass.
Gdula: Rickie Fowler (12-1) — Fowler rates out as the most likely winner in my simulations, but his win odds just aren’t where they need to be for me to want to back him at 12-1. The demand for — and ease of — scoring also narrows the gap between Fowler and the field. I’d rather back Sungjae Im (16-1), Paul Casey (22-1), or Billy Horschel (33-1) to start my card.
Riccio: Francesco Molinari (40-1) — I understand the temptation with a player of his caliber. But my stats reveal that birdie-fests are not his strength. In his past 50 rounds on courses that are labeled 'easy' scoring-wise relative to par, per FantasyNational.com, Molinari ranks 53rd strokes gained/off the tee and 32nd in SG/approach relative to this field. You need to be more elite in those stats to back a favorite like Molinari here.
Sobel, Action Network: Tony Finau (22-1) — Finau doesn't tick many boxes this week. He didn't finish 2019 in good form. He doesn't have great history in this event. His putter has been cold. And he's traveling a long distance after finishing fifth at the Hong Kong Open last weekend. Finau's name recognition has landed him atop the odds, but that's about all he's got going for him this week.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Tony Finau (22-1) — I discussed why I liked Finau earlier in the week on the Golf Digest podcast. But now, with a little more time to crunch the data and listen to others in the industry, I've been convinced this isn't the week Finau gets his win. His Bermuda putting stats are brutal (ranked 67th in this field over the past 50 rounds), and he hasn't had any strong results in the past couple of months. There's just too many other players to make a case for.
Powers, Golf Digest: Rickie Fowler (12-1) — Fowler is too prone to the big number to be a factor this week. A double or a triple, hell, even one bogey could be a killer. Can't back Fowler as the favorite when that's the case.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Tony Finau (22-1) — This is an easy fade for me. He's played just one event since the 8th Dec, courses do not suit the strengths of his game and he puts terribly on Bermuda greens.
2020 American Express Golf Picks: Matchups
Caddie: Sungjae Im (-140) over Tony Finau (Sportsbook) — Coming off a solid start in Hawaii Sungjae is primed to play well this week and his putting is just so good. At a course where you have to roll it well (Tony's weakness) to stay in touch with the leaders I give the edge to Sungjae.
Mayo: Kevin Na (+105) over Andrew Putnam (Sportsbook) — As long as Na doesn’t withdraw he should body poor Putnam who was wildly out of sync with his irons last week.
Gdula: Kevin Kisner (-110) over Francesco Molinari (FanDuel) — Kisner has finished top-14 in three straight events — though two were small fields — and he led the Sony Open in strokes gained: tee to green. Kisner also rates out as a better par-breaker than Molinari.
Riccio: Byeong Hun An (-125) over Kevin Kisner (MGM Sportsbook) — Ben An rates out as the fifth best player in this field for this tournament, per my modeling. Kisner is all the way down below 30th. The only concerning thing is Ben An's lack of experience at this tournament. That should be outweighed by Kisner's terrible track record here: He's finished better once only one time in seven tries (T-25, 2017).
Sobel, Action Network: Talor Gooch (-125) over Matt Every (FanDuel) — Of all the good young ball-strikers on the PGA Tour, Gooch might get less pub than anyone else. I’ve barely ever heard anyone mention his name, despite the fact that last season he ranked 15th in strokes gained/tee-to-green. This is also where his season took off last year, finishing solo fourth and T-3 at Torrey Pines before getting derailed for a bit by an injury. Gooch still makes for a nice plus-money top-20 bet or low-owned DFS play, but against most others he’ll be matched up against, Gooch’s best value comes in matchups, as he should beat most others the books put him against.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Rory Sabbatini (-106) over Russell Knox (DraftKings) — Consider me ride or die Sabbatini this week. Like our anonymous tour caddie said above, Russell Knox excels best when there's some wind and pars are tough to come by. Knox is 83rd in this field in birdies gained over the past 50 rounds, and Sabbatini is 15th in that stat, specifically on Bermuda greens, in his past 50.
Powers, Golf Digest: Sungaje Im (+120) over Rickie Fowler (DraftKings) — Sungjae at plus odds over anyone, including the tournament favorite, is not something I'm going to pass up, given Sungjae's recent form.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Sungjae Im (-140) over Tony Finau (Sportsbook) — This week sets up perfectly for Im, whereas Finau will struggle with the course and greens here at La Quinta.
Matchup results last week: Mayo: 1 for 1 (Corey Conners (-110) over Abraham Ancer); Riccio and Alldrick: 1 for 1 (Webb Simpson (-112) over Patrick Reed); Gdula pushed (Snedeker over Howell); Tour caddie: 0 for 1; Sobel: 0 for 1; Hennessey: 0 for 1; Powers: 0 for 1.
Matchup results this season (assuming each matchup is a one-unit wager): Alldrick, FanShare Sports: 8 wins, 2 losses, 1 push (up 4.67 units); Riccio: 7 wins, 4 losses, 1 push (up 2.6 units); Mayo: 7 for 12 (up 1.65 units); Tour Caddie: 5 wins, 3 losses, 1 push (up 1.82 units); Action Network: 5 for 11 (down 1.3 units); Gdula: 4 for 10 and a push (down 1.52 units); Hennessey: 0 for 1 (down 1 unit); Powers: 0 for 1 (down 1 unit).
Top 10 (odds from FanDuel Sportsbook)
Caddie: Charles Howell III (+380) — Coming off a solid start to the season in Hawaii, I think he keeps it rolling here this week. Charles thrives at scoreable courses and this is definitely one of those.
Mayo: Cameron Tringale (+750) — The good? Tringale has plenty of experience at PGA West. The bad? He’s never really produced a fantastic result. This year would be a good time. He’s sharp from 100 yards and in and makes birdies in bunches. That’s a winning skill set for this course. Hopefully his extended layoff doesn’t include any time to knock off the rust.
Gdula: Brian Harman (+550) — Harman sits top-35 in all three tee-to-green strokes gained stats (24th off the tee, 15th approach, and 34th around the green) over the past 50 rounds and is 11th in birdie or better rate gained. He looks like a good top-10 value.
Riccio: Bronson Burgoon (+1200) — These are extremely nice odds to get for a bomber to makes a ton of birdies. It's a bit of a longshot, but if he gets a hot putter, he could light it up with anyone else in this field.
Sobel, Action Network: Harris English (+650) — Hey, if his good buddy and pseudo-doppelganger Hudson Swafford can win this one, then English can make some noise here, too. He owns a couple of top-20s here in the past and was on absolute fire during the fall part of the schedule, posting three top-fives and one other six-place finish. As always in the preview, a pick here also correlates to other categories; I specifically like him as a strong DFS play this week, too.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Bo Hoag (+1800) — The PGA Tour rookie has quietly been off to a great start to begin this season. He had a ninth-place finish last week at the Sony, and owns top-20 finishes in three of his past four starts. This is a huge number for someone who has shown he can go low: He won last year on the Korn Ferry Tour with a 22-under winning score in Portland. This is too inticing of a number to pass up.
Powers, Golf Digest: Denny McCarthy (+550) — This week is a total birdie fest, and Denny McCarthy can pour it in with the best of ‘em. The 2018 Web.com Tour Championship winner is fifth on tour in total birdies and eighth in birdie or better percentage. He also quietly ranked first on tour in strokes-gained: putting in 2019 and currently ranks second in 2020. If he could just have a semi decent week tee-to-green one of these days, he’s going to get a win. I'll take a top 10 for now.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Alex Noren (+600) — This might surprise you, but Noren actually ranks first in this field for strokes gained/tee-to-green over the past three months. He ranks very high in our courses-suitability metric too.
Top 10 results last week: Sobel: 1 for 1 (Kevin Kisner, +340); Powers: 1 for 1 (Webb Simpson, +165)
Top-10 results for the year (assuming a one-unit wager): Mayo: 2 for 11 (up 7.1 units); Alldrick: 2 for 12 (up 2.5 units); Gdula 2 for 12 (down 1.7 units); Powers: 1 for 1 (up 1.65 units); Action Network: 5 for 11 (down 1.3 units); Riccio: 1 for 12 (down 8.5 units); Hennessey: 0 for 1 (down 1 unit); Tour Caddie: 0 for 11 (down 11 units)
About our experts
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.
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 www.fantasynational.com. 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.
Jason Sobel is a senior writer for The Action Network. For more analysis from The Action Network, click here.
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.
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