Back to mainland as season picks up

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Well, we’re back from our two-week Hawaiian vacation, err, work trip, and not too happy about it.

OK, we are a little happy to be in SoCal for the PGA Tour’s next event, The American Express at PGA West in La Quinta, CA. But we do miss the breezes, waves, birds and birdies of Hawaii.

But fear not, there will be plenty of birdies this week at The American Express, won last year by Andrew Landry. This is another chance for those looking to jump-start their year and career. Just like last week — as well as in this tournament last year — a good number of the top-ranked players are taking the week off.

That explains why Landry, Abraham Ancer and Scottie Scheffler finished 1-2-3 last year. For Landry, it was his second PGA Tour win with the other one coming in 2018 at the Valero Texas Open. We figure he may be good for a win every two years so he’s not on our list this week to repeat.

Great. That only leaves 155 other players to sift through as there is an overflow field of 156 this week. The reasoning is the tournament uses two courses, the PGA West’s Stadium Course (the host course) along with the Nicklaus Tournament Course.

So, where do we start in looking for that elusive winner? Actually, it seems that it’s not going to be that difficult. We’ll look at the big names who are taking part. Some of those include Brooks Koepka, Rickie Fowler and Tony Finau. In fact, the fields are starting to heat up when it comes to the Top 50 players taking part. This week, 12 of them are in the field after Jon Rahm withdrew on Monday.

The key this week, obviously, is to go low. Last year Landry went 66, 64, 65 and 67 and wound up with a 26-under-par score and a two-stroke victory.

But he didn’t make it easy on himself. Through the first three rounds, Landry had just three bogeys. The final round he had three in a row, on 13, 14 and 15 to make the finale interesting for the TV audience. He finished with birdies on 17 and 18 to hold on for the win.

Needless to say, there are birdies in bunches out here. We just have to figure out who is playing well and can handle the two California courses. All of a sudden, after going through a list of facts and figures of a few players, the choice narrows quickly.

Scheffler is our man this week at 16-1. His third-place finish here last year should have been better. He had a three-bogey (including one on a par-5), three-birdie and three-par front nine in the final round and then went into neutral before an eagle on the 16th vaulted him back into contention. It was his only non-par on the back.

Coming back from Hawaii and the Tournament of Champions (a T13) he’s in solid shape. Add in the fact he ended 2020 with a T-19 at the Masters and a T17 at the ZOZO Championship and he’s trending in the right direction. He did skip the Sony Open so he should be well-rested come his tee time Thursday.

We’re also keeping an eye on Sungjae Im (yes, surprise, he is playing this week, just like nearly every other week the PGA Tour is in action).

Im does well in this event, with a T-10 and a T-12 over the last two years. This year he’s coming in with form on his side. He was T-2 at the Masters and followed that up with a T-5 at the Tournament of Champions. He played decent last week in the Sony Open but never found that low round to spark him.

One more nugget: Don’t count out Vegas’ Kevin Na. When his putter heats up, his scores go way down. And he’s making an awful lot of putts right now. He’s on a roll after winning the Sony Open last week. That followed a T-13 at the Masters, a second at the QBE team shootout and a T-38 at the Tournament of Champions (after a final round 79 took him down the leaderboard).

Always consider a golfer when he’s hot. Always back a golfer when he’s red-hot.

About the Author
Bill Bowman

Bill Bowman

Bill Bowman is a Las Vegas-based writer who has more than 40 years in the sports-writing business. He's spent the past 18-plus years covering the golf scene in Vegas including 10 years as a writer/editor with VegasGolfer Magazine. He also contributes to the GolfNow Network of websites and Las Vegas Golf Insider.

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