Why break what's not broken?
If you're a loyal reader – first, thank you – I kindly ask that you'll gloss over what will appear to be a repeat of the opener of the Fantasy Insider column for last year's edition of The American Express in selfish favor of the updated data that confirms the strategy on how to play it for fantasy.
The fact that the Coachella Valley knows how to have a good time isn't lost on the tournament organizers, but there's only so much fun to be had at any one time. With three stages, er, courses rotating a field of 156 golfers during the first three rounds, a smart plan is helpful to maximize the experience.
Once again, my advice is to invest in golfers who are not playing the Stadium Course at PGA WEST.
In PGA TOUR Fantasy Golf, only score-related data will apply because ShotLink technology isn't used on La Quinta Country Club and the Nicklaus Tournament Course at PGA WEST. With that in mind, and the fact that there will be an extraordinary amount of low numbers posted, the focus shifts to how the courses surrender the deeply red numbers.
Below are the course rankings in score-related statistics among 49 played during the 2018-19 season (49th = easiest; 1st = hardest). Placements for the Stadium Course at PGA WEST reflect four-round data.
Greens in Regulation
La Quinta CC = 39th
Tournament Course at PGA WEST = 38th
Stadium Course at PGA WEST = 28th
Putting: Birdies-or-Better Percentage
La Quinta CC = 49th
Tournament Course at PGA WEST = 48th
Stadium Course at PGA WEST = T43
La Quinta CC = 49th
Tournament Course at PGA WEST = T47
Stadium Course at PGA WEST = 41st
La Quinta CC (68.72) = 49th
Tournament Course at PGA WEST (69.06) = 48th
Stadium Course at PGA WEST (70.24*) = 40th
* - Its final-round scoring average of 69.88 was its lowest of any round.
While the two co-hosts rank as the easiest and second-easiest courses, the Stadium Course isn't that far behind. However, gamers who refuse to give up the edge will want to consider how I've constructed my lineup in PGA TOUR Fantasy Golf. I've selected two golfers from each of the three rotations. This guarantees that I won't have to play the Stadium Course until none of us can avoid it in the final round when only it will be used.
For the course rotation that includes a link to the tee times, click on my tweet below.
Course rotation → @theamexgolf— Rob Bolton (@RobBoltonGolf) January 14, 2020
R1) Stadium; R2) La Quinta; R3) Tournament
R1) La Quinta; R2) Tournament; R3) Stadium
R1) Tournament; R2) Stadium; R3) La Quinta
• All who survive the 54-hole cut (low 65+ties) play R4 at Stadium.https://t.co/fy5YFXgado
PGA TOUR Fantasy Golf
My roster for The American Express (in alphabetical order):
Byeong Hun An
Charles Howell III
You’ll find my starters in Expert Picks.
Others to consider for each category (in alphabetical order):
Scoring: Dominic Bozzelli; Bronson Burgoon; Peter Malnati; Maverick McNealy; Phil Mickelson; Francesco Molinari; J.T. Poston; Scottie Scheffler
Power Rankings Wild Card
Matthew Wolff … Assuming big shoes because this is where Cameron Smith was slotted last week at Waialae. Of course, the wondrous Wolff never cares about fulfilling anyone else's expectations, only his own. Yet, we can't turn away or stop thinking about the possibilities. Since turning pro, he's missed only one cut – the week before his breakthrough win at the 3M Open – and piled up six top 25s. He also should enjoy the live pro-am experience.
Adam Long … Curb your expectations for the defending champion, but he's still been more impressive than it seemed he might be entering his rookie season of 2018-19. Suffice it to say that there's something about a 32-year-old comfortable in his own skin. While he arrived at the PGA TOUR pretty much at the same time he was entering his prime, it's still rare for any talent to connect with sustained success at his age at this level. The experience will be new this week, but he should embrace it and have a greater appreciation for it than others who return to the sites of their only victories.
Brendan Steele … No doubt that if you'd have asked him before the Sony Open in Hawaii if he'd have accepted a second-place finish, he'd have said please and thank you. But, of course, not all runners-up feel the same after the reality sets in, certainly not with how he lost control of the lead late and succumbed to additional pressure applied by Cameron Smith in the playoff. All that said, I still believe in Steele. Yes, his fade exemplified so much of what's been challenging him for the better part of a year, but he's always been an extremely positive person. No, I can't translate that quantitatively to harness its value, but I love two hard facts that I can about him this week. First, he's a native of Idyllwild, California, just on the other side of the San Bernardino Mountains that separate it from La Quinta. (I think of him every time I drive by on I-10 and see the exit sign for Idyllwild.) Second, that comfort level has translated into several leaderboard appearances in the tournament. After a T2 in the last edition of the previous collaboration of courses, he's 4-for-4 on the current set with a T6 in 2017 and a T20 in 2018. For all intents and purposes, this is precisely the soft landing that he needs.
Brendon Todd … You'll have to excuse my extended disbelief for the corner that he has turned and mountain he has climbed. The grit required to come all the way back and win not once but in two consecutive starts just doesn't make sense. He's exactly the example of the kind of determination and devotion anyone who ever has struggled with anything that has held him or her back to use as motivation to continue to fight. Even more impressive is that he's done it in plain sight, for everyone to witness. As it concerns The American Express, his strength of splitting fairways gets lost in the crowd in a shootout, but I'm done doubting this guy. Respect.
Bo Hoag … His consistently strong form as detailed in Rookie Ranking says it all, and he's coming off a career-best T9.
Dominic Bozzelli … He was a Sleeper for last year's edition and finished fifth. It matched his result in his tournament debut in 2017. Given how much love he gets on social media, you quickly come to the conclusion that the amateurs would line up to play with the guy, and that's before you realize that he's among the best putter in the field. If he goes on to win, he doesn't necessarily tug at the heart strings as much as Nate Lashley in advance of his breakthrough victory at the Rocket Mortgage Classic last summer, but as of midday Tuesday, Bozzelli is the last man in the field at PGA WEST. Lashley was the last man in the field in Detroit … immediately after Bozzelli gained entry.
Harold Varner III … Ended his 0-for-3 slide in the tournament with a T18 last year. And since July, he's perfect in 10 starts, half of which went for a top 30.
Chez Reavie … Because he's 4-for-4 with a pair of top 20s in the event since 2016, he's a tough one, but he's also streaky. Of course he'll snap out of the funk at some point, and it very well might be this week, but wait for the value in eventually riding the wave, not holding your breath thinking that it's upon you.
Ryan Moore … Don't adjust your monitor, he's in the field. Save seasons when he's qualified for the winners-only stop at Kapalua, he usually rests during the first three weeks of January at least. Case in point, this is his first appearance at PGA WEST in five years. He's also slow out of the gates post-holidays on the mainland.
Sebastián Muñoz … He disappointed at Waialae (see Power Rankings Recap below) and he doesn't match up well in the valley. That's supported by an 0-for-2 record in the tournament. It's a small sample size, but there isn't a worse alternative.
Tom Hoge … He's fresh off a T12 at Waialae that ended an 0-for-4 skid, but he's just 1-for-4 with a T57 in 2018 at The American Express. Three of those appearances occurred on the current host courses.
Si Woo Kim … Just 143rd in the FedExCup due to the absence of a top 25 and he finished the fall with a pair of missed cuts. Given that data, we can't trust him to match or improve on last year's T40 at PGA WEST.
Martin Laird … A litany of good showings in the tournament most recently includes a T9 in 2017, but he missed both cuts since and he's back in a months-long slump. This is who we've known him to be throughout his career.
John Huh … Generates a little buzz because he's 3-for-3 on the current trio of courses with a T24 in 2016 and a T3 in 2018, but the 29-year-old has yet to ignite after sitting out four months mid-2019. I wouldn't even nibble fractionally in DFS.
Returning to Competition
Kevin Na … Thought better of it at Waialae and withdrew early with a chronically sore neck. However, if you can set aside any personal dissatisfaction and reduced trust in his health over time, you'll be in a stronger position to capitalize. Consider how many of your opponents won't invest out of spite even though his track record at The American Express and week-to-week when he can play is well above field average. Sure, he'll bite at times, but you have to be bold to win, right? To put it simply, he's a contrarian's delight even as one of the 13 winners this season (Shriners).
Richy Werenski … Suffered a broken wrist in a car accident on Oct. 24, but he's 60th in the FedExCup thanks to a strong start. Give him at least this week to give the joint a test drive. The benefit is that he goes into it with the guarantee of 54 holes. The 28-year-old is fully exempt as a Korn Ferry Tour graduate.
Matt Every … Didn't finish his second round of the Sony Open in Hawaii due to a sore back. It was his first start since the completion of a three-month suspension. Ignoring the rotation of the courses for The American Express, he's just 2-for-5 with one top-65 finish, and that predated the current grouping.
Greg Chalmers … Back as promised for The American Express. The lefty hasn't appeared in a PGA TOUR event since June of 2018. He missed all but two starts during an 18-month period of time extending into early December of 2019 due to multiple back injuries. He then returned in style with a T5 and a T15 in his native Australia last month. The 46-year-old has seven starts on a Major Medical Extension, so he presents as an aggressive short-term own in deeper leagues.
Grayson Murray … Hasn't competed since withdrawing from the Houston Open after one round. An explanation wasn't released. That was in the second week of October. He's battled back issues for some time, and it's the reason he was extended a Major Medical Extension via which he has seven starts remaining (including The American Express). However, even if he doesn't fulfill its terms, he's set for fully exempt status as a Korn Ferry Tour graduate. Of course, connecting solid outings is all that concerns us, and those are too far and too few between.
Sean O'Hair … Positioned T6 through three rounds of The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay, the season opener on the Korn Ferry Tour. He can only rehab on the KFT because he has 16 starts on a Major Medical Extension on the PGA TOUR. He sat out 10 months in 2019 due to a torn oblique muscle on his left side, and then tested the public waters at the QBE Shootout in December, finishing in a tie for last place with Lexi Thompson.
Camilo Villegas … Also back for sanctioned action in the Bahamas. The Colombian, who just turned 38, missed the cut by five. He had been sidelined since April of 2018 with an injured right shoulder. When he resumes his career on the PGA TOUR, he'll have 13 starts on a Major Medical Extension.
Brooks Koepka … Committed to the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship on the European Tour. He hasn't pegged it since reinjuring his left knee before the third round of THE CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES in mid-October. Not only golf fans everywhere are interested in how he performs this week, but PGA TOUR-specific gamers especially are keen on his progress. The timing of the matter was terrible for everyone who got on board before the season started.
Pat Perez … Anytime he doesn't appear anywhere on the West Coast, it feels odd, especially considering that he broke through for his first PGA TOUR victory in The American Express in 2009. However, in his only appearance in the last four years, he withdrew before the third round last year due to an injured thumb, and he didn't have much recent success prior to that. Keep him on your short list for next week's Farmers Insurance Open.
Joel Dahmen … It's the second consecutive year during which he's withdrawn early from this tournament. The week after last year's early WD, he finished T9 in the Farmers. Noted.
Power Rankings Recap – Sony Open in Hawaii
Power Ranking Golfer Result
1 Justin Thomas MC
2 Webb Simpson 3rd
3 Patrick Reed MC
4 Charles Howell III T12
5 Marc Leishman T28
6 Matt Kuchar MC
7 Sungjae Im T21
8 Collin Morikawa T21
9 Corey Conners T12
10 Brandt Snedeker T12
11 Joaquin Niemann T57
12 Brian Stuard T53
13 Hideki Matsuyama T12
14 Russell Knox T32
15 Sebastián Muñoz MC
Wild Card Cameron Smith Win
Sleepers Recap – Sony Open in Hawaii
Daniel Berger T38
Zac Blair T63
Brian Gay MC
Talor Gooch T63
Hudson Swafford T57
Birthdays among active golfers on the PGA TOUR
January 14 … David Berganio, Jr. (51); Luke List (35); Hank Lebioda (26)
January 15 … Y.E. Yang (48)
January 16 … Jimmy Walker (41)
January 17 … none
January 18 … none
January 19 … Brian Harman (33); Tommy Fleetwood (29)
January 20 … none