The American Express has a new look this year as the PGA Tour kicks off the annual West Coast Swing.
Gone is the pro-am portion of the tournament, a pandemic-related cut. We're also down a course, with La Quinta Country Club stepping aside. That means greater emphasis will be placed on the host course, the Stadium Course at PGA West, which players will now face for three of their four rounds.
The DFS salary structure felt a notable wobble when top-priced and top-ranked Jon Rahm, a winner here in 2018, withdrew on Monday because of injury. That leaves some room at the top for players like betting favorite Patrick Cantlay, as well as Brooks Koepka who this week makes his tournament debut.
But I'm looking elsewhere for players to anchor my DraftKings roster in what should be another week of dome-like conditions that yield low scores. From last year's near-miss to a former major champ, here are the players I'm leaning on this week - along with a couple of top names that I'll probably look to avoid:
Sungjae Im ($9,900 on DraftKings): Golf's ironman hasn't skipped a beat in the new year, teeing it up this week for the third event in a row. He was unable to carry over his Sentry momentum to Sony, where he finished T-56, but his trademark ball-striking should move him back toward the top of the leaderboard again this week. Im's consistency has paid dividends at this event, finishing T-12 two years ago in his debut and following last year with a T-10 finish that included four straight rounds in the 60s. Im is 12th this season in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee and should have plenty of birdie chances if he keeps the driver in play to his current standards, and the putter that sometimes holds him back has a history of cooperating in Palm Springs.
Scottie Scheffler ($9,500): As I have written elsewhere this week, I'm not too keen on trying to pinpoint (at short prices) when exactly a talent like Scheffler will get that elusive win. But this event presents a prime opportunity for him to do just that, and the relative discount on the DK salary structure offers a chance to pounce. Scheffler let this one get away a year ago, finishing third after holding the 36- and 54-hole leads but faltering down the stretch. He has improved since, shooting a 59 en route to Rookie of the Year honors, and remains one of the Tour's most consistent rising prospects. The DFS format offers a great vehicle to capitalize on that consistency while being rewarded even if he falls short of a win.
Matthew Wolff ($9,700): Wolff gained understandable traction with his major success last year, but this is still a steep price to pay for a player who has sometimes struggled with consistency. This will mark his first start since a missed cut at the Masters, more than two months ago, and Wolff notably struggled out of the gates last year including a T-61 finish in this event. There is plenty of reliable chalk on the board, including guys like Cantlay, Scheffler and Reed. I would certainly roster any of them ahead of Wolff, despite his desert success last year while losing a playoff at TPC Summerlin.
Russell Henley ($9,000): I was backing Henley last week at the Sony, where he had won previously, and he largely justified that support with a T-11 finish that included three rounds of 66 or better. But I'm not sure I'm ready to go back to the well this time around, given that Henley hasn't experienced the same success at this event. He has actually missed the cut in each of his last three trips to Palm Springs and has never finished better than T-49 in five prior appearances. Perhaps the change in format and course rotation could work to his benefit, but it's a bit of a red flag for me on a player whose streaky tendencies can sometimes work in both directions.
Francesco Molinari ($7,000): I'm taking this as an opportunity to buy low on the former Open champ. Molinari's struggles are well-documented, as he took months away from competition while transitioning his family to life in the States. But he showed some promise with a T-15 finish in Houston in November and now comes to an event where has results of T-10 and T-12 among four prior appearances. If Molinari put his most recent period of off time to use, he'll likely begin a rebound in form in short order - even if he doesn't again reach the historic heights of 2018. You have to walk before you can run, and this could be a great opportunity for Molinari to begin the climb back after an unexpected and rapid regression.
Akshay Bhatia ($6,500): I was an early skeptic of Bhatia's decision to eschew college golf and turn pro as a teenager, but I'll give credit where it's due: he seems to be finding his footing, albeit in small increments. Bhatia closed the year by making the cut in three of his final four starts, highlighted by a T-9 finish at the Safeway Open. Once again teeing it up in California, he represents a players with some upside at a low price point and one who might have an easier time making the cut having to learn only two courses in the rotation instead of the typical three.