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The Sony Open was another week where it never really felt like we had a guy in contention, but there we were with Ryan Palmer just one shot back on the 18th hole. Palmer would subsequently hit his 3-wood off the scoreboard, however, and was out of the mix.
Palmer did give us a top-five finish, along with Kevin Kisner, so it wasn't a bad week even though the Tournament of Champions trend took a hit with Cam Smith winning. The Sony Open narrative is all about backing players who participated in the TOC the week before, but Smith was playing a lot of competitive golf in December so it made sense that he took down the Sony. Out of the top six, only Brendan Steele hadn't hit a meaningful shot since November.
We've got a similar story this week at the American Express. Since 2010, only Bill Haas (2015) has won this tournament without playing in one of the two Hawaii events. Haas was a past champion here in 2010, so he at least had that previous success to rely on.
Basically, we're looking to back guys who aren't coming off their winter break.
The American Express is basically a poor man's Pebble Beach Pro-Am. The tournament will take place on three courses and have a 54-hole cut after Saturday.
PGA West is the primary course, designed by the late, great Pete Dye. It measures out around 7,200 yards for a par 72, and there's water in play for about half the holes. Overall, it's the most difficult of the three, playing around two strokes harder than the two resorts courses.
Players will also see La Quinta and the Nicklaus Course for one round apiece. Both don't provide much of a test for the players, measuring less than 7,200 yards. Most sportsbooks won't offer first-round leader odds with the multi-course set up, but if yours does. La Quinta is the spot to target with maybe one or two players from the Nicklaus.
Twenty-under par is a requirement here if a player wants to be in contention. So I'm looking at guys who have strong numbers gaining birdies in relation to the field.
It's a pretty weak field for this event. Rickie Fowler is the favorite at +1100, but he's only played twice here in the last decade and never finished inside the top 30. Sungjae Im, who finished 12th last year, is right behind Fowler at +1600. He's probably the best bet of the favorites group given his form, but I'm ignoring this area of the board all together.
Tony Finau and Paul Casey are also hanging around this range at +2000 along with Byeong Hun An, who checks in at +2500. None of those three players interest me, either.
We'll start the card with Rory Sabbatini here at +8000. Sabbatini is coming off a decent week, finishing just outside the top 20 at the Sony. Sabbatini doesn't have great course history, but his game is steady and he usually makes the cut. It's been nearly nine years since he's picked up a win on tour, but if he does grab another, it's likely to be in one of these weaker field events.
I'm also going to back Brendan Steele at +9000 off his playoff loss. His hot putter may not return this week, but his iron game was too dialed in to ignore him at this price. Steele had a rough 2019, but if the game is back in form on with some easy California courses then he's got value here. The results have been hit and miss for him, but he does own a second and a sixth-place finish here.
Adam Long was the king of all longshots, cashing here at 500-1 last year. Because of the weak field and easy courses, a wide range of players have an opportunity to contend, so this is one of the better spots to target players further down the board.
My favorite play in this range is Brian Gay at 160-1. Gay is coming off a missed cut at the Sony, where he lost strokes putting. I'm expecting Gay's short game to bounce back this week at a tournament he's won before. He was coming off a solid fall swing where he had three top-15 finishes in a four-event stretch. I'll take a chance. Here's to hoping he was just rusty in Hawaii and will play well this week.
I'll also back Carlos Ortiz at 125-1. Ortiz had a great ball-striking week at the Sony but his short game didn't ever cooperate. He's another guy coming off a strong fall where he had three top-5 finishes.
2020 American Express Live Betting Strategy
It's a really light card for me pre-tournament. I'll tack on top 5s when they become available, but overall, this is one of the most difficult tournaments to project for me. I'll keep an eye on a few live options though.
The spot I like to target is players who open with the difficult PGA West Course. They'll likely be a few strokes off the pace playing and their odds could dip because of it.
The Amex Card
Rory Sabbatini +8000 (.42 units) Brendan Steele +9000 (.37 units) Carlos Ortiz +12500 (.27 units) Brian Gay +16000 (.21 units)
Total Stake: 1.27 units