Golf expert Ben Coley has selections ranging from 66/1 to 300/1 for The American Express, where several world-class players help shape the betting.
1pt e.w. Kyoung-hoon Lee at 66/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1pt e.w. Harris English at 125/1 (Sky Bet 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1pt e.w. Nick Taylor at 200/1 (William Hill 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1pt e.w. Kevin Yu at 200/1 (BoyleSports, Sky Bet 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1pt e.w. Nate Lashley at 200/1 (William Hill 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1pt e.w. Sam Ryder at 250/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1pt e.w. Charley Hoffman at 300/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
A year is a long time in golf, long enough for Jon Rahm to return to The American Express as a well-backed favourite determined no doubt to underline why he feels he's the real world number one, and not to repeat last year's moody 14th in an event which had been kind to him in the past.
Rahm was captured on camera lamenting the set-up here in La Quinta, for an event played across three resort courses, alongside amateurs, and where the winning score the year he won was 22-under.
Not since 2007 has it been possible to capture this title without reaching at least 20; typically, a player will need to go a few shots lower still.
The obvious response to Rahm, then, is to ask just what he expected and how exactly it differed from the time things went to plan. Then again, better is to remember that these are humans we're watching, and just like the rest of us they say things they either don't mean or simply wish they hadn't said.
As for the substance of his comments, Rahm having lamented that it was 'a putting contest', as ever there's far more to it than that. Yes, it's likely a good putting week is required to reach those scores we're looking for, but the roll-of-honour at the event is littered with bad putters who weren't too bad when it mattered.
Perhaps that's to do with largely straightforward greens and pin placements, perhaps it's nothing, but champions here would be better described as a collection of generally excellent drivers who built a platform that, for four days in the California desert, they were able to build upon.
I wrote in last year's preview that total driving, an antiquated statistic which doesn't usually offer much assistance, has been a curiously reliable pointer in this event. Lo and behold, the player ranked third to Rahm and Scottie Scheffler in the previous season's stats won the event at a huge price for a second time, and driver is the one club of Hudson Swafford's that was reliable throughout his PGA Tour career.
Jason Dufner and his play-off victim David Lingmerth, Si Woo Kim, Andrew Landry, Rahm himself and even shock winner Adam Long, all of these players excel off the tee and since the Stadium Course took over hosting duties, you'll have found far more clues in the driving stats than the putting stats. Runners-up Abraham Ancer and Patrick Cantlay would be others who qualify.
This of course is good news for almost all of the top-class players who pack this curiously strong field, including Rahm, Scheffler, Patrick Cantlay and Tony Finau. That you'll get double last week's price about Tom Kim and can take 20s for a player of Xander Schauffele's calibre tells you all you need to know – that this may not be one of the PGA Tour's 'designated' events on paper, but it almost is in practise.
Such strength at the top of the market demands respect and an acceptance that if, like me, you're going to speculate, you have to do so with your eyes open. However, all the key ingredients are there for another shock in an event which throws up more of them than just about any other, thanks to its perfect storm of calendar placement, multiple courses and straightforward scoring.
My strongest fancy, if such a term is appropriate, is K.H. LEE, who has been unceremoniously shunted out to 66/1 for reasons which escape me.
That's about what he went off for the Tournament of Champions, where he missed the places for us by a single shot and was therefore promoted towards the head of the market for the Sony Open.
A 33/1 chance there, Lee played nicely for 27th, just shy of his previous best in the event, and that's without putting as well as he had on his previous couple of starts. Though some improvement off the tee would be welcome, his approach play and work around the green both remained strong.
Lee is typically a sound driver, his blend of accuracy and a decent amount of power seeing him rank 34th in total driving last year, 18th so far this. Should he get that club dialled in then everything else appears to be at the kind of level required to challenge in elite company again, just as he did in Hawaii earlier this month, at the CJ Cup in October, and in August's BMW Championship.
Lee's record here is very similar to his record in the Sony, flashes of promise not yet extending through four rounds, but an opening 64 last year helped make it three cuts made in three since he missed by a single shot on debut. All bar one of his rounds have been par or better and it's encouraging that he's so far been best at the Pete Dye-designed host course.
His wider record on Dye courses includes contending on three of his four visits to TPC River Highlands but it's the Byron Nelson which catches my eye, played at a TPC course in the Texas desert where he's unbeaten through the last two renewals.
Winning scores of 25- and 26-under have to offer encouragement and again, he's had to see off world-class rivals to win his two PGA Tour titles. He'd hinted that he might be able to do that when a game runner-up at Scottsdale, another desert track.
There must be a chance that he's inspired somewhat by Si Woo Kim's victory last week, Korean golf of course flying but also that Presidents Cup side they featured together on. In 2020, Cameron Smith's Sony Open win was followed by three more for his teammates over the next eight weeks, and something similar wouldn't surprise me.
But above all else, Lee's yo-yoing in the market means he's now back out at what I consider to be a value price. For example he started the Sony Open shorter than Cam Davis, marginally outperformed the Aussie, and is now significantly bigger. Too much stock is being placed in a course record which is actually quite encouraging, and he's the best bet.
Davis is still tempting as he has stacks of potential and a fine record here but this is much tougher than Waialae, while Keith Mitchell is another who, like Lee, finds himself on the drift. In Mitchell's case the move is even more dramatic despite a good second round there, and plenty have come to the AmEx and won after a missed cut to blow away the cobwebs.
The one worry I have is that Mitchell might not be best suited by a shootout so I'll overlook him, as I will the returning Davis Riley and Wyndham Clark, with HARRIS ENGLISH given one final (maybe) chance to prove that he's been too swiftly cast aside.
Having selected him for the CJ Cup, RSM Classic and Sony Open (40-29-73) and seen him fail to capitalise on a strong start last week, patience in English is admittedly wearing a little thin, but having been based out here at La Quinta over Christmas I can't resist going in again.
There's more to the case, too, as he's a winner at Dye's River Highlands who also loves Harbour Town and Sawgrass and once finished sixth at TPC Louisiana, and when 11th here in 2018 he was in fact the third-best scorer at the Stadium Course for the week.
Back in 2012 he shot a 62 at the Nicklaus Tournament Course to launch himself into contention and last time he played La Quinta he shot 64, so he's proven across each of the three layouts hence why he's yet to miss the cut in seven appearances, often lurking close to the top 10 without quite challenging.
It's true that unlike most of my selections he can struggle off the tee but that's not been the case at the Stadium Course, where he's gained strokes throughout his last three visits, and with so much scope to improve on the greens he remains one to keep a very close eye on whether you're happy going in again or not.
English is close friends with Swafford and whether or not that serves as extra motivation, I don't think we should forget that he was a fully-fledged member of the elite before injury struck a year ago. Nor do I believe he's a million miles of that kind of level again.
As you'll have seen from the staking plan, the rest of my selections are even more speculative but I'll start with two who tick the two most straightforward boxes in golf betting: course and current form.
First, NICK TAYLOR arrives on the back of seventh place in the Sony Open, his approach play and putting both excellent as they tend to be when he's firing on all cylinders.
"All in all, game was really, really good, but it was nice to have a really hot round Saturday when I needed it," he said, referring to the 62 that vaulted him inside the top 10 before a solid 67 to finish.
"I've had a good fall portion but still took a bunch of time off, so to come out and play well out of the gates kind of proves I'm still working on the right things and doing that. Yeah, it gives me a lot of confidence."
A former winner of the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, the format won't bother Taylor and while his record in the event isn't spectacular, he opened 67-68 in 2020 and 68-66 a year later, that second round coming at the host Stadium Course.
All told he's made the cut in five of his last six appearances without yet finding that 64 or so that really helps launch a title challenge, but he's well capable now returning with a good start to the season behind him.
Playing in the final year of his winner's exemption, he's already managed two top-10s, 19th and 23rd from seven starts, and it's onwards and upwards after last week's effort.
NATE LASHLEY also finished tied seventh, driving it well, ranking fourth in strokes-gained tee-to-green but failing to light up the greens in the way we know he can.
Lashley's sole win came when shooting 25-under in the Rocket Mortgage Classic and, like Swafford, he's a winner in the Dominican Republic at Korn Ferry Tour level, while he also has loads of desert experience having gone to college in Arizona and now bases himself at Scottsdale.
He's contended there at the Phoenix Open and been fifth at Pebble Beach, his record during this part of the season generally strong, and that also applies to this event having been 29th on debut and then flown through the field to take 12th on his return a year later.
Both those performances came courtesy of quality ball-striking without making a great deal and I feel sure this is a good event for him if he can build on what happened in Hawaii.
On that score, it's notable that when he finished seventh following a poor run in the Puerto Rico Open last year, he played well in five of his next seven starts including in the Texas Open, an event which correlates well with this one.
Back in 2021, he finished 17th in Phoenix and followed that with fifth at Pebble Beach and his 2019 win came after an encouraging US Open display, so in the hope he can take something and run with it he's selected at around the 200/1 mark.
First-timers can sometimes struggle with the demands of this event if it comes early on in their PGA Tour careers but Justin Suh and KEVIN YU both have the games and the mentality to cope, and the latter is just preferred.
Suh was the best player on the Korn Ferry Tour last year and drives the ball superbly, but Yu has adjusted better to the step up in grade having managed four top-20 finishes from seven starts, including on his Sony Open debut last week.
Also third in Bermuda and 19th in the Sanderson Farms Championship, he's produced his best putting displays on bermuda greens and that was certainly true last week, where his customarily strong driving was complemented by three good rounds with the putter.
Third in strokes-gained off-the-tee so far and averaging almost a stroke per round on the field, he boasts a fabulous blend of accuracy and power and is stacking up the scoring opportunities, ranking 38th in birdie average and 15th in eagles at this still-early stage of the campaign.
In terms of coping with this test, desert golf should at least be a plus given not only his skill set but the fact he went to Arizona State, just like Rahm who referenced that as a benefit when winning here. Yu wasn't far behind the Spaniard in scoring records at one of the best golf colleges in the US, and he's still based there at Scottsdale.
Given his undoubted potential – Yu was a world-class amateur who finished fifth in the 2019 Australian Open and qualified for the US Open three times before turning professional – he looks one to stick with after a rock-solid performance at a theoretically less suitable course in Hawaii.
Ben Martin has three rounds of 62 to his name since August, boasts a fine record on Dye-designed courses, won in the desert in Las Vegas and has several low rounds to his name here, so he was on the initial shortlist having ranked second in strokes-gained approach at the Sony Open.
A continuation of that would make him a live runner but I'm more drawn towards SAM RYDER, a quiet improver who remains in good form despite back-to-back missed cuts.
Ryder narrowly missed out on the weekend at the RSM Classic and again last week, but before this he'd been eighth in the World Wide Technology Championship and right in the mix at both the Shriners and the ZOZO in October.
That's not the only time he's played well in Las Vegas, once shooting a final-round 62 for third place there, and most of his good play has been at low-scoring tournaments such as when second in the John Deere Classic.
A winner by eight on the Korn Ferry Tour once upon a time, he's done really well to keep his head above water on the PGA Tour, keeping his card every year since, and I like the way he goes about things in an understated way.
Ryder's main strength is quality approach play and it's helped him to some encouraging displays here, sitting inside the top six after the first round of the last two renewals and still in the mix at halfway.
The Stadium Course in particular seems to suit his eye (19th in scoring last year and 13th in 2020) but he's shot 66 at each of the other two, and with bermuda greens tending to bring out the best in the Floridian, this is his best chance before the PGA Tour moves east in the spring.
There are various other players who make some degree of appeal, with Carl Yuan an eye-catching price, Lee Hodges a player I like and one who contended here last year, and SH Kim another of the Korean contingent who could be spurred on by Si Woo's win.
However, I'll allow myself to fall into the CHARLEY HOFFMAN trap for the final selection.
One of those excellent drivers to have won this event, Hoffman has five top-10s down the years and while he's not managed one since the Stadium Course took over hosting duties, I wouldn't read too much into that.
For starters, it was La Quinta that cost him in 2020 when he shot a second-round 63 at the Tournament Course to climb more than a hundred places on the leaderboard, but the easiest layout is one he's typically thrived upon including when opening with a 64 a couple of years earlier.
And when last he played this, in 2021, Hoffman was right in the mix after two rounds only to be forced to withdraw with a back injury, but for which perhaps that record of top-10 finishes in a tournament he won in 2007 might've been extended further.
Born in San Diego and residing now in Las Vegas, where he went to college, this is home-game territory for Hoffman and from a limited category, it's a tournament he'll know he needs to take advantage of on what's his first start of the year.
When last we saw him, Hoffman finished second alongside Ryan Palmer in the QBE Shootout, where he was really pleased with a new driver he'd put in play, and I like some of the things he said afterwards.
"I know I'm going to take that into the new season or new year and hopefully build some momentum off that and keep going. Hopefully we see each other in the TOUR Championship," was his response to coming up a shot short after Sahith Theegala birdied the 18th from distance, and earlier in the week he'd explained why the format brought out the best in him.
"Pro-ams and all the social interaction, I think, to be honest with you, Kevin and I excel in that format and it's not draining for us to do everything.
"I think some of these young guys might (think), oh, I've got to play two pro-ams, I've got to do a dinner, I've got to do this. I know I enjoy it, I know Ryan enjoys it, hanging out with these guys and doing that.
"It's actually pretty easy. For a lot of the guys it might be draining, so that's where I think we might have a little bit of an advantage."
Hoffman was hitting the ball well when last we saw him and with his putting also on an upwards trajectory from an admittedly low base, that's all I need for a final small-stakes play in an event which demands speculation over confidence.
Posted at 1310 GMT on 17/01/23
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