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American Express 2021 picks: Brooks Koepka says he's here to win. Our experts don't believe him

Hector Vivas

Last week was yet another reminder of how difficult it is to predict golf tournaments. Our tour caddie—who sends us his picks from the week's PGA Tour event—and expert Rick Gehman were on Webb Simpson, and another one of our experts were on Marc Leishman. They both tied for fourth, two shots back of winner Kevin Na—who our experts habitually bet on. It can be equally rewarding and frustrating to predict golf tournaments—but mostly, it's hard.

That said, if you backed up either Leishman or Webb did with a top-10 wager like our expert Pat Mayo did with Leish, you still came out OK. For those just getting into betting on golf, it's usually a good idea to supplement your outright bets with a top 5 or top 10, so you still make money when your outright ticket comes close.

We have good vibes entering The American Express, where a number of intriguing names are in the field, also looking to get a win, like our expert betting panel is. Tony Finau, Scottie Scheffler and Abraham Ancer are a few names that jump to mind in that respect. And our betting analysts have opinions on all these names.

The real wild card this week is Brooks Koepka, who is as high as 21-1 in spots. Does major championship Brooksy show up, or does the guy who has trouble getting motivated in non-majors show up? If you believe his Tuesday press conference quotes, the four-time major champ is here to win, but can you trust him to win? The consensus among our experts is no. This event has given us three longshot winners in the past four years (Andrew Landry last year at 175-1, Adam Long at 400-1 and Hudson Swafford at 100-1). Our experts are throwing darts to try to predict the next deep-odds winner in the desert.

Read on to see who we like this week at The American Express.

The American Express 2021 picks: Our Experts’ Outright Predictions (Odds from PointsBet)

Anonymous Caddie Picker of the week: Cameron Champ (40-1) — This multiple-time tour winner is one of the most prolific off the tee, and that gives him an advantage over even prodigious bombers like Matthew Wolff and Scottie Scheffler. Champ is trending toward another victory, and this number feels like decent value in this field.

Pat Mayo, DraftKings/Fantasy National, Mayo Media Network analyst: Abraham Ancer (30-1) — From my fade last week to my winner this week. It’s funny that I could be so encouraged by a missed cut, but here I am. The ball-striking was on point at the Sony Open, he just couldn’t putt. An irregular outcome for last year’s runner-up at The American Express. One of the most accurate drivers in the field, if he can retain the same irons, and get back to putting like normal, he’ll be near the top again.

Brandon Gdula, FanDuel/numberFire managing editor: Patrick Reed (16-1) — You can get Reed elsewhere closer to 19- or 20-1, which is really interesting because although the data says that distance is key this week, Reed isn’t exactly short off the tee by any means. He’s also just, frankly, the best golfer in the field if we look at long-term adjusted strokes gained. Reed’s numbers usually look pretty good, but that’s especially true when he’s being treated like a second-tier golfer in a field without any high-end studs. He’s my model’s favorite to win.

Rick Gehman, data scientist and RickRunGood.com founder: Matthew Wolff (25-1) — We haven’t seen Wolff tee it up competitively since the Masters in November, where he missed the cut. Don’t let that one result overshadow the great 2020 that Wolff had. After the restart, he played 16 events, resulting in five top-15 finishes and two runners-up. His driver is an absolute weapon, and he has the ability to rack up birdies in bunches, which will come in handy around both courses this week.

Stephen Hennessey, Golf Digest dep. managing editor: Abraham Ancer (30-1) — It’s always a bad sign if Powers and I are on the same bet. Fade away. Mayo and Powers both outlined all the reasons to love Ancer. He gained the second-most strokes/tee to green here last year, and that came from just two rounds at the Stadium Course. This year, he'll have three rounds at the big course—which should play even more into Ancer’s hands.

Christopher Powers, Golf Digest assistant editor: Abraham Ancer (30-1) — Yes, Ancer did miss the cut last week, but it was because he couldn’t buy a putt. He actually hit the ball great, much like he has been hitting it over the last few months, which has led to some great results (fourth at Shriners; 13th at Augusta; 12th at Mayakoba). If he can roll it like he did at the TOC, where he gained 6.7 strokes putting, I love his chances at Amex, where he finished runner-up a year ago thanks to a 66-63 weekend on the Stadium Course. This week, he gets to play that course three times as opposed to two, in case you needed more reason to like him. We’re going to hit on this guy eventually, I swear.

Lee Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Sungjae Im (22-1) — Im’s excellent off-the-tee game and great putting on Bermuda means he comes in ranked ninth in FanShare's course-suitability ranking for the courses he’ll face this week. He also ranks 14th for strokes-gained/tee to green and Opportunities Gained over the last three months.

Results from last season: Golf Digest's betting panel predicted 14 winners correctly last season, and collectively on outright winners, top-10 bets and matchups won and lost, our panel went up 225.30 units (the equivalent of being up $2,253 if you wagered $10 on all of our bets) last season. Our anonymous tour caddie nailed Viktor Hovland (25-1) to finish 2020 strong. Also at the end of last year, Brandon Gdula of numberFire/FanDuel correctly picked Patrick Cantlay last week at the Zozo Championship (30-1) and giving Christopher Powers predicted Bryson DeChambeau (28-1 at the U.S. Open)—picking up the momentum we had in the 2019-’20 season. Be sure to check this column every week for picks from the hottest betting panel in golf!

The American Express 2021 picks: Sleepers/Dark Horses Who Could Win (odds from PointsBet)

Caddie: Cameron Tringale (100-1) — You might not think of Tringale as an elite birdie-maker, but he really is. With a wedge in his hand, he's one of the best out of what you might call this lower tier of players (he's 15th in this field in proximity in the 125-150 yard range in the past 50 rounds, per FantasyNational.com. And Tringale is 10th in this field in birdies-or-better gained. It's just a matter of making putts for Tringale. The number is right here, but his game seems like it could be peaking for a victory.  

Mayo: Keegan Bradley (100-1) — Keegan basically had the same week as Ancer except more extreme. Keegan lost seven strokes putting in two rounds. That’s bad, even for Keegan Bradley. But, he was 14th in approach for the week among all players. And that was only in two rounds. He’s 4-for-4 in cuts-made at PGA West since 2011, and third in driving accuracy over the past 24 rounds.

Gdula: Lanto Griffin (66-1) — Griffin’s number at FanDuel Sportsbook is much longer than it is elsewhere, and that makes him a good value. Griffin’s balanced profile can keep him afloat in any type of field, but he does benefit from a Bermuda setup that favors distance to accuracy.

Gehman: Sam Burns (50-1) — Burns has been dynamite off-the-tee over his last eight measured events. He’s gained in every single one of them and ranks third in the stat category this season, behind only Bryson DeChambeau and Rory McIlroy. Burns has parlayed that good positioning off-the-tee into two top-10 finishes this season (Safeway Open and Houston Open). He now returns to the California desert with plenty of good vibes. He’s finished T-18 and T-6 in his only two starts at the American Express.

Hennessey, Golf Digest: Charley Hoffman (80-1) — The four-time PGA Tour winner is trending up. His ball-striking numbers last week were among the best in the field—gaining 4.9 strokes on approach and 4.2 strokes/off the tee. That’s the third consecutive measured-event in which he was positive in those categories. Hoffman is a previous winner here, back when it was actually called the Bob Hope, in 2007. If the putter catches fire, like it did when he finished runner-up here as recently as 2015, Hoff-Daddy could contend.

Powers, Golf Digest: Peter Malnati (125-1) — Malnati’s record at Amex is not great, with just one top 20 and four missed cuts in six starts. But it’s hard for me to pass on a guy at 110-1 who has been on a heater as of late, having finished second, fifth and 14th in three of his last six starts. You have to make a ton of putts this week, and Malnati does that with the best of ‘em, having finished inside the top 20 on tour in strokes-gained/putting in four of the last five seasons. Currently, he’s second in that same category. As long as he gives himself enough chances, he’ll pour in a ton of them for birdies.

Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Sam Burns (50-1) — Bermuda Burns not only ranks 10th in the field this week for SG/putting on bermuda but he also ranks fourth for opportunities gained over the last three months and fourth for SG/tee-to-green over the same period. With his solid off the tee game and elite putting on bermuda it’s no surprise to see him ranked third in the FanShare’s course-suitability ranking for this week.

The American Express 2021: Players to Fade This Week (who will disappoint)

Caddie: Abraham Ancer (30-1) — Ancer will be a popular pick this week based on his finish here last year. I could just make a case for everyone around Ancer more so than Ancer. He'll need another really elite week off the tee, and that's just not his typical game.

Mayo: Brooks Koepka (18-1) — It’s probably a big ask for Brooks to show up and win in his first real start since Mayakoba, where he did not look good whatsoever. He can contend, certainly, but this is a steep price for him to win without having any sample of his current game.

Gdula: Brooks Koepka (18-1) — To me, the case to be made for Brooks at any non-major is just that he can be the best golfer in the field, which doesn’t fit my process. Statistically, he isn’t at the right price, and we can’t bet based on fear. My model says he should be closer to +2700 than +1700.

Gehman: Rickie Fowler (40-1) — The American Express is a significant event for Fowler as it marks the last time he earned a top 10 on tour. That T-10 last year was even a bit disappointing as he held the 36-hole lead before fading on the weekend. His 2020 was defined by swing changes and below average finishes. I’m taking a very cautious “wait-and-see” approach with Fowler in 2021.

Hennessey, Golf Digest: Tony Finau (18-1) — You assume Finau does some things better than he actually does. Par-5 scoring, for instance: He’s 120th in strokes gained/par-5 scoring in this weak field in the past 50 rounds, per FantasyNational.com. He’s a poor Bermuda putter. And his proximity stats from 125-150 yards are also poor. For that, he’s all the way down at 73rd on my model this week. I’ll look to play against him in matchups.

Powers, Golf Digest: Rickie Fowler (40-1) — This doesn’t seem very bold given how bad he’s been, but this is the site of his last top 10 on tour, and he’s obviously a candidate for a big bounce back year. I’m just not ready to hop back on the bandwagon … yet.

Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Tony Finau (18-1) — For one of the favorites this week, Finau’s stats are not too sharp. His putting on Bermuda is particularly poor, ranking just 131st for strokes gained/putting on bermuda greens. He also ranks just 73rd in our course-suitability ranking.

The American Express 2021 picks: Matchups

Caddie: Ryan Moore (+116) over Brian Harman (PointsBet) — Moore ranks nearly 50 spots ahead of Harman in the Fantasy National Opportunities Gained stat over the past 50 rounds, showing that Moore gives himself more chances from 15 feet and in than Harman. And Moore has better proximity stats in the key yardages, and plays Pete Dye courses better than Harman in the past 100 rounds.

Mayo: Charley Hoffman (-120) over Alex Noren (DraftKings) — Hoffman went scorched earth until he got to the green last week, finishing second the field ball-striking, only behind Hideki Matsuyama. We just haven’t seen Noren in a while. And when we did, he was wild off the tee and missed two of three cuts.

Gdula: Cameron Tringale (-110) over Chris Kirk (FanDuel) — Kirk flashed last week at Waialae, where accuracy mattered more than distance. This week, it’s the opposite, so Kirk should get bumped down a notch. Tringale holds a big edge in both approach play and putting over Kirk long-term, so that should win out in this matchup.

Gehman: Brendan Steele (-110) over Matt Jones (DraftKings) — Both golfers played well last week at the Sony Open, but it’s Steele who will feel like it was an event he should have won. Despite that, he played well enough over four days to be in contention. Jones was also near the first page of the leaderboard but relied on a scorching putter, gaining 6.40 strokes on the putting surfaces. Performances like that are hardly sustainable so I’ll give the nod to Steele.

Hennessey: Abraham Ancer (+100) over Tony Finau (William Hill) — I detailed above why I’m fading Finau, and why I’m betting Ancer to win. To be fair, I feel like this line should be more like +120 for Ancer, but despite the lack of value, I think it’s a winning bet.

Powers: Cameron Davis (-125) over Tom Hoge (DraftKings) —While Tom Hoge did finish third at Mayakoba, he missed the cut in all three other of his most recent starts. Cameron Davis, meanwhile, has been much more consistent, making nine of his last 10 cuts and finishing in the top 15 three times. The long-hitting Aussie should feast off the tee this week, setting himself up with plenty of short iron shots to attack the pin with.

Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Sungjae Im (+100) over Scottie Scheffler (Betway) — Im is my pick to win this week so to see him as an underdog in any matchup is a must bet. The fact that it is against Scheffler is even more of a bonus. Scheffler really struggles putting on bermuda greens, ranking 124th in the field this week for SG/putting on bermuda. He also ranks just 87th for opportunities gained over the last three months.

Matchup Results from the Sony Open: Gdula: 1 for 1 (Russell Henley (-115) over Cam Smith); Powers, Gehman: 1 for 1 (Webb Simpson (-118) over Harris English); Alldrick: 1 for 1 (Webb Simpson (-120) over Collin Morikawa); Caddie, Mayo, Hennessey: 0 for 1.

Matchup Results this season: Alldrick: 11 for 14 (up 6.87 units); Hennessey: 8-1-4 (up 3.20 units); Gdula: 8 for 14 (up 1.4 units); Powers: 5-3-6 (down 1.28 units); Gehman: 5 for 14 (down 3.28 units); Caddie: 4-1-10 (down 3.82 units); Mayo: 5 for 14 (down 4.23 units).

The American Express 2021 picks: Top 10 (odds from FanDuel Sportsbook)

Caddie: Phil Mickelson (+450) — This is a tournament Phil will expect to win. He has a great history in the desert, and he came so close to winning just two years ago when he dueled Adam Long down the stretch. Lefty could just as easily miss the cut as finish in the top 10, so place this bet knowing there's some serious volatility potential.

Mayo: Matthew NeSmith (+1200) — The stat-model darling let everyone down at the Sony, and odds have bottomed out. Fortunately, his putting coach has joined him at PGA West, and if he can solve those woes, the ball-striking remains solid enough to make a run. He’s gained on the field in driving and irons in every event this season despite a few missed cuts. It just takes one week to get everything on the same page.

Gdula: Talor Gooch (+700) — Sure, Gooch is coming off two missed cuts, but dig deeper than that. He missed one cut on the number (a 70-67 showing at the Sony Open) and the other by a shot (a 71-70 at the RSM Classic). Gooch has a pair of top-20 finishes at this event and fits the event well.

Gehman: Abraham Ancer (+320) — I’m willing to forgive Ancer for his missed cut at the Sony Open last week, his first missed cut in 10 events and only his second missed cut in his last 28 starts worldwide. Now he gets to return to the AMEX, an event that he finished second to Andrew Landry last season. In that edition, Ancer gained 6.65 strokes from tee-to-green in his two rounds on the Stadium Course. That’s the only course with ShotLink data and it was good for the second best mark in the field.

Hennessey, Golf Digest: Adam Hadwin (+550) — This is Hadwin’s tournament—shooting 59 here in 2017. His finishes at this event are ridiculously good: sixth, second, third, second in his past four appearances (he didn’t play in 2020). Ignore the short-term results; this is a course fit for the Canadian.

Powers, Golf Digest: Matthew Wolff (+210) — One of our “Be Right” guests this week, Fried Egg Paulie, likes Wolff to win, citing his affinity for often contending on birdie-fest weeks. This is always a birdie fest, and Wolff’s length off the tee should lead to a ton of birdies. He’s definitely a great pick to win this week, but I’ll play it safe with the top 10. You can find this up to +300 at DraftKings.

Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Russell Henley (+360) — Henley is on a heater right now. He enters this week ranked second for SG/tee to green over the past three months and fourth for Opportunities Gained.

Top-10 results from Sony Open: Mayo: 1 for 1 (Marc Leishman, +450)

Top 10 results from this season: Gehman: 4 for 14 (up 14 units); Powers: 1 for 14 (even units); Tour caddie: 2 for 14 (down 8.95 units); Mayo: 1 for 1 (down 9.5 units); Hennessey: 1 for 14 (down 10 units); Alldrick: 0 for 13 (down 13 units); Gdula: 0 for 14 (down 14 units).

One and Done pick

Gehman: Patrick Cantlay — For the majority of 2020, Cantlay was quiet but he changed that in the final few weeks of the year. He contended at the Shriners (as usual) and was victorious at the Zozo Championship. He followed those up with a T-17 at the Masters and T-13 at the Tournament of Champions just two weeks ago. With the withdraw of Jon Rahm, Cantlay becomes an appealing big dog who finished T-9 at this event in his last trip.

Previous weeks: Safeway Open: Joel Dahmen; U.S. Open: Jon Rahm; Corales: Denny McCarthy. Sanderson: Sebastian Munoz. Shriners: Matthew Wolff. CJ Cup: Xander Schauffele. Zozo: Bubba Watson. Bermuda: Rasmus Hojgaard. Houston: Lanto Griffin. Masters: Rory McIlroy. RSM: Webb Simpson. Sentry TOC: Patrick Reed. Sony: Abraham Ancer

Hennessey: Scottie Scheffler — Scheffler’s odds (19-1 or lower in some spots) are tough to get behind, but I do really like his chances of winning. He came so close here last year, and he returns hungry still for that first PGA Tour win. His superb driving is such a separator, and we know he can go low (carding that 12-under 59 at TPC Boston just a few months ago).

Previous weeks: Safeway Open: Phil Mickelson; U.S. Open: Hideki Matsuyama; Corales: Adam Long. Sanderson: Sam Burns. Shriners: Harris English. CJ Cup: Kevin Na. Zozo: Joaquin Niemann. Bermuda: Doc Redman. Houston: Russell Henley. Masters: Tyrrell Hatton. RSM: Brian Harman. Sentry TOC: Justin Thomas. Sony: Ryan Palmer

Powers: Matthew Wolff — Pat Mayo told us something last week that I didn’t really listen to at the Sony—there are only 31 tournaments in One and Dones going from the beginning of 2021 through the Tour Championship (like Mayo’s contest), so you might as well pick good players every week. Last week, I got a little cute with Zach Johnson, who is a great player who has had a great career, but there were way better options. Keeping it simple this week with Wolff, who is one of the best players in this field.

Previous weeks: Safeway Open: Brendan Steele; U.S. Open: Louis Oosthuizen; Corales: Adam Long. Sanderson: Sam Burns. Shriners: Jason Kokrak. CJ Cup: Daniel Berger. Zozo: Joaquin Niemann. Bermuda: Denny McCarthy. Houston: Russell Henley. Masters: Bubba Watson. RSM: Brian Harman. Mayakoba: Corey Conners. Sentry TOC: Harris English. Sony: Zach Johnson

By The Numbers:

Courtesy of Rick Gehman of RickRunGood.com:

23.8 The average number of strokes, under par, for the winner in the past five years. This has historically been one of the lowest scoring events on the schedule.

1.86 — The average number of strokes gained on approach for Adam Hadwin in his last 16 measured rounds at this event. That’s the most of any golfer in this field with at least eight measured rounds.

3.81 — The total number of strokes gained on approach for Keegan Bradley last week. That’s the most for any golfer who went on to miss the cut since the start of the 2018 season.

0.99 — The average number of strokes gained putting by Beau Hossler on Pete Dye-designed courses. That’s the best number for anyone in this field on courses by the late architect.

About our experts

Pat Mayo is an award-winning video host and producer of long and short-form content, owner of the Mayo Media Network and host of The Pat Mayo Experience. (Subscribe for video or audio. Mayo (@ThePME) won the 2020 Fantasy Sports Writing Association Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year and Golf Writer of the Year awards, along with the Fantasy Sports Trade Association Best Sports Betting Analyst award, and was finalist for four FSWA Awards in 2020 (Best Podcast, Best Video, Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year, Golf Writer of the Year). His 21 FSWA nominations lead all writers this decade and are third-most all-time. Mayo is on the board of governors at www.fantasynational.com.

Brandon Gdula, managing 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.

Rick Gehman is the founder of RickRunGood.com and the RickRunGood YouTube Channel, is one of the industry’s leading experts on golf DFS and gambling. Gehman is co-host of the First Cut Podcast and appears regularly on the Pat Mayo Experience golf podcasts. Follow him on Twitter: @RickRunGood.

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.