The American Express DFS picks 2024: Why I'm fading Scottie Scheffler again
The PGA Tour heads to the desert this week for the American Express, the first stop on the West Coast swing. This event has a storied history, as it was previously a five-round celebrity pro-am invitational hosted by Bob Hope, before switching to a more traditional 72-hole format with a 54-hole cut over three courses.
The American Express has been hosted at a number of courses in the Palm Springs area over the years before settling on PGA West’s Stadium Course, the Nicklaus Tournament Course and La Quinta Country Club. Players will rotate across the three courses during their first three rounds, and those who make the 54-hole cut will play their final round at the Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course.
While the star power has waned at this event over the years, 2024 features the strongest American Express field in decades. Scottie Scheffler, Xander Schauffele, Patrick Cantlay, Justin Thomas, Sam Burns, Will Zalatoris, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day, Wyndham Clark and even Daniel Berger, amongst others, will be making the trip to the desert. Most of these players have been given a chance to shake the rust off in Hawaii, but Thomas and Berger will notably be making their 2024 season debut. It’s worth noting that each of the past eight champions (since moving to this current three course rotation) have played in either the Sony Open or Sentry Tournament of Champions. While the Stadium Course in particular provides a great deal of visual intimidation, we should expect another week of extremely low scores in pristine conditions. Let’s dive into the pricing.
La Quinta, CA
Play: Patrick Cantlay, $10,800:
My bullishness on Patrick Cantlay this year has already been well-documented, and while a 12th-place finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions fell short of my expectations, I see no reason to hop off the eight-time PGA Tour winner at another golf course that fits his skill-set to a tee. Just like Scottie Scheffler is a plug and play at hard golf courses, Cantlay always deserves consideration at easy ones. Over the past two years, no player in the world has gained more strokes per round in easy scoring conditions than Cantlay. It should not come as a surprise that Cantlay has already recorded three top-five finishes in five appearances at the AmEx. Desert golf courses clearly fit his eye, as he recorded multiple runner-up finishes at TPC Scottsdale and TPC Summerlin as well. Expect Cantlay to continue to build on his strong résumé this week in the desert.
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Fade: Scottie Scheffler, $11,400:
Scottie Scheffler remains the most perplexing question in DFS golf every time he tees it up. The former Masters champion proved at the Sentry Tournament of Champions that he was still the best ball-striker in the world, and yet also has that his putter was still a lingering issue. On golf courses such as Torrey Pines, Riviera and Bay Hill with a low greens in regulation percentage that emphasize total driving and long iron play, Scheffler possesses such a massive advantage over the field, even with a balky putter. Yet the Scheffler predicament complicates at events like the American Express, where putting is a far more important part of the equation. At this price point, I’m going to stubbornly stick with the better putters, and patiently wait my turn on Scheffler for when we travel to more difficult golf courses.
Play: Tom Kim, $9,900:
I will have a very difficult time choosing this week between Tom Kim and Sungjae Im, but the discounted price on Kim might just be the deal-breaker. The 22-year-old has already recorded multiple victories at TPC Summerlin, a desert golf course that emphasizes wedge play and putting inside 15 feet, and his disappointing finish at the Sentry was largely due to some trouble on the greens. Kim now returns to a golf course with much more benign putting surfaces, where he recorded a sixth-place finish last year.
Fade: Jason Day, $9,600:
While I was tepidly encouraged by what I saw out of Jason Day in his season debut at Kapalua, I need to see a lot more out of his irons before I play him at this price. Of the $9,000 options, Day still remains the shakiest wedge player and overall iron player, and he has not been particularly elite inside 15 feet either. Similar to Scheffler, I’m comfortable waiting on Day until next week at Torrey Pines.
Play: Wyndham Clark, $8,900:
While objectively over-priced in his first start of the 2024 season at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, the pendulum has swung too far on Wyndham Clark. I was certain that the reigning U.S. Open champion would find himself in the $9,000 range amongst the likes of Min Woo Lee, Jason Day, J.T. Poston and Rickie Fowler, but I’ll gladly take advantage of a misprice when I see one. Clark has also ready recorded multiple top-20 finishes at the American Express, as well as high-end performances at comparative courses such as TPC Scottsdale and TPC Twin Cities. The two-time PGA Tour is a great overall driver of the ball, an excellent wedge and long iron player, and one of the most trusted putters inside 15 feet in this field. With already a win under his belt in Southern California, I’m expecting another strong showing.
Fade: Daniel Berger, $8,000:
While this feels a bit like easy pickings, I’ve learned my lesson far too many times that there is absolutely zero need to get cute with players making their return from a pro-longed absence. We haven’t seen Daniel Berger compete since the 2022 U.S. Open, as he has been recovering from a back injury over the past 18 months. Berger first noticed pain toward the end of 2021, and after discovering a bulge in his lower disc, the rehabilitation process has been long and deliberate, to say the least. We advised last week on the prudence of a wait and see approach with Will Zalatoris, and I would recommend viewing Berger, on the heels of an even longer absence, similarly.
Play: Tom Hoge, $7,600:
Tom Hoge is always on my radar on golf courses that emphasize wedge play, and this week is no different. The former AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am winner has already recorded two top-six finishes in his past four appearances at the American Express, including a runner-up in 2022. He’s also experienced considerable success at courses such as TPC Sawgrass and TPC Twin Cities that further emphasize aggressive play while avoiding water hazards. Coming off two solid approach performances to start the year in Hawaii, I expect Hoge to keep it rolling this week in the desert.
Fade: Beau Hossler, $7,800:
While Beau Hossler finished the 2023 season on an extremely high note, he has not yet had the opportunity to shake the rust off this season like many of his similarly priced peers. Since moving to this current three-course rotation, we have not seen a player making their season debut claim victory at the American Express. Even if Hossler had played in Hawaii, he remains one of the least trust-worthy overall approach players in this field, and I’d rather take my chances with an in-form player.
Flier: Alex Smalley, $7,300:
While on the surface, Alex Smalley is coming off a missed cut at the Sony Open, a deeper inspection reveals that the former Duke standout was on the best ball-strikers in the field. Smalley gained over two strokes off the tee and on approach over Thursday and Friday, but a disastrous putter prevented him from making the weekend by a single stroke. Now he travels to an event where he has recorded back-to-back top-25 finishes, gaining over eight strokes ball-striking in his most recent appearance. This is an ideal bounce-back spot for the 27-year-old, who remains one of the better approach players in this entire field.
Play: Ryan Moore, $6,900:
Similar to Alex Smalley, Ryan Moore hit the ball last week far better than his results would indicate, and I always love capitalizing on players who miss the cut on the number with strong ball-striking stats. Moore ended the 2023 season with back-to-back top-eight finishes at the Butterfield Bermuda Championship and RSM Classic, and I was encouraged to see him shake the rust off at Waialae. Now he travels to a golf course that will accentuate his elite wedge play and putting skill from five to 15 feet. This is an easy one.
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Andy Lack is a PGA Tour writer and podcaster from New York City who now resides in Los Angeles. He hosts Inside Golf, a twice weekly podcast focused on the PGA Tour, betting, daily fantasy, golf course architecture, and interviews, as part of the BlueWire podcast network. As well as contributing to Golf Digest, Andy is also a data analyst and writer for Run Pure Sports, where he covers PGA Tour betting and daily fantasy. He came to Golf Digest’s betting panel after previously writing for RickRunGood.com, the Score and GolfWRX. In his free time, Andy can likely be found on a golf course. Follow him on Twitter: @adplacksports