FANTASY GOLF AMERICAN EXPRESS PGA DESERT PREVIEW
THE FINAU COUNTDOWN
By James Dalthorp
BEAST DOME NATION.
Now that we’re in Southern California, my antenna is getting a full signal – and you’ll need it this week in the desert!!
Growing up representing Southern California’s PGA Junior section, I have played on both the Nicklaus Tournament and Stadium Courses at PGA West that will host this week. The third leg of the event, the La Quinta C.C. course – is a great scoring opportunity much like the Nicklaus course. It’s actually one of the easier Nicklaus tracks you can find. I have some fond memories of playing here – and I’m also a big fan of the risk/reward par fives. Pete Dye (rest in peace from last week) built a gem in the Stadium and it can be just as sweet as it is sour. This is one of the few times all year where we play 3 different courses in the rotation.
Since the weather here will be consistent, there will not be an advantage to being in any certain order. Even though we’re back in California, there won’t be any big adjustment on the greens. These desert greens can firm up a little but they are rare California bermuda – and we won’t see a big change until we move to Poa Annua in the coming weeks.
In the past, I’ve heavily favored par five scoring here just because this is one of those events where 25 under par is a realistic winning score. This event, the former “Bob Hope,” is a type of California desert golf that just has a complete off-the-grid vibe unto it’s own. Typically each player will be paired with a celebrity like at Pebble Beach, and that adds some casual flavor we don’t usually see, either. The result: breakout performances from rookies with a healthy fear of hitting it in the many water hazards – and a home cooked attitude that brings the best out of what might be a cold player. I have a ton of dark horses this week. You can email us when you sign up below and get my full picks.
I’ve enjoyed picking bombers at this track and done okay – but this time, I’m going to make sure we have some real valuable assets to make it through the cut. Last week’s crazy weather was certainly a wake up call if you spent all your salary on Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed, or Matt Kuchar! That new 65 and ties cut rule left at least Kuchar out – and it was a very interesting finish. Congrats to Cam Smith – and for his efforts to fund fire relief.
The field this week is FULL, so we’ll see a lot of fresh faces and there will be no shortage of birdies. Here are my thoughts on the top 6:
TOP 6 GOLFERS
- Tony Finau – Tony played some really fantastic shots at the Presidents Cup that in my mind, saved the cup and gave America the best chance to comeback. I really like how he’s mixing up his schedule lately. Last week, he played in Hong Kong and finished top five. He didn’t finish strong, but his game is fairly sharp. I think if he cleans up a few blocks off the tee with his long game, he’ll be in great shape. Plus, at the Stadium course at PGA West, the only place you don’t want to miss is left.
- Brendan Steele – It baffles me that nobody else is talking about Steele as a top pick this week. Trust me, coming off a runner-up finish when you thought you had a win is going to leave you with a sick feeling in your stomach. Typically, a guy like Brendan Steele will only come back stronger from the experience. Look, he played great – and he has solid experience here. Two top 10’s since 2014 and two other solid checks just outside the top 15.
- Brian Harman – I just truly believe that this golf tournament has the imprint of Harman’s game all over it. He’s a shorter hitter but a scrappy player with a great short game. He’s a wizard with his wedges – and around here, there’s plenty of uneven lies and mid-length scoring clubs in your hand. He’ll play smart and have a chance on Sunday if he keeps playing within himself. 11th, 3rd, and 20th since 2016 here. I see his name on this trophy. It might not be this year, but I’m counting on a close call.
- Cameron Champ – There’s always a bomber in the field here who makes a huge impact. Jason Kokrak comes to mind. Jon Rahm recently won here. I think Champ will bring to the table what Adam Long brought last year. This is Champ’s first time at this event. I think his FedEx Cup season has gotten off to the ideal start with a win and some very consistent play of late. He won the Safeway, the last California event on Tour, in September. Since mid October, he’s gone T23, T33, T14 at the Sentry in Hawaii. I’ve seen a lot of inconsistency from Cam but I think he’s starting to peak again and I think he’s comfortable in the spotlight now.
- Matt Jones – There’s a few Aussies that could have huge years in 2020- Cameron Smith I believe is well on his way. Matt Jones just won one of his home country’s big events in December and he’s started the 2020 season with a top 10 and some other consistent finishes. I think this week is a defining event for Jones – with a solid finish, he can position himself in a place he’s never been in the FedEx Cup standings. With a win under his belt recently, I think Jones – who turned pro in 2001, is well overdue for a breakout season.
- Scottie Scheffler – If you’ve been watching the late 2019 PGA events, you’ll know Scheffler’s name. He makes a ton of birdies and for that reason, you have to consider him in the lineup. Much like Morikawa last week, he’s going to be a fantasy favorite. That doesn’t mean he’ll be a sure thing, especially with his lack of experience here – but if he gets hot, there’s definitely potential for a scorching final score.