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Odds and Ends

Burns headlines potential first-timers at AmEx

by Will Gray
Updated On: January 20, 2021, 11:25 am ET

The PGA Tour returns to the mainland this week, and it might be time to look at some longshots.

The American Express has a notable recent history of triple digit-priced winners in dome-like conditions in Palm Springs. Yes, Jon Rahm won here three years ago as one of the top favorites. But more recent winners like Adam Long (+50000) and defending champ Andrew Landry (+20000) illustrate the fact that a winner here can come from any nook and cranny.

Now, some of that may be mitigated this week by pandemic-driven format changes. Gone is the pro-am format used throughout the tournament, and the three-course rotation is down to two with the removal of La Quinta Country Club. Players will now face three rounds on the Stadium Course at PGA West, with the other on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. The lack of amateur participants should also free up tournament officials to utilize faster greens, thicker rough and potentially more difficult pins. Those factors should combine to lift the best players in the field, but I'm still not prepared to take a favorite like Patrick Cantlay to win what could amount to a crapshoot.

Instead, I've got my eye on a couple of players who could follow in the footsteps of Long and others by notching their maiden win in the California desert:

To Win (odds via PointsBet Sportsbook)

Sam Burns (+5000): Burns is on the short list of players who seem to be most equipped for a maiden win. The former LSU product closed out last year with top-35 finishes in nine of his last 12 starts, including a pair of top-10 finishes, and hasn't teed it up since a T-7 finish at the Houston Open in November. Burns is one of the strongest drivers on Tour and has recently been making strides on the greens, which will be a requirement this week regardless of the difficulty of pin positions. He has played well here in each of his last two appearances, following a T-18 debut with a T-6 result last year that featured a sizzling 63 on the Stadium Course in the final round.

Talor Gooch (+6000): Gooch's player profile is largely the inverse of Burns: a solid player on and around the greens who, since about this time last year, has begun to make steady progress off the tee. Those gains turned into results at the end of the year, as Gooch finished fourth in Houston and fifth at the CJ Cup. But the two are similar in their AmEx success, as Gooch was T-4 at this event in 2019 (including a final-round 64) and chased with a T-17 result last year. Last week's missed cut at Sony is somewhat misleading, given that he shot 3 under including a second-round 67. He's been steadily piling up top-25 finishes, getting closer to contending down the stretch on Sunday, and could get over the line this weekend.

Top-10 Finish (odds via PointsBet)

Scottie Scheffler (+200): This was the one that got away last year for Scheffler, who was the 36- and 54-hole leader before finishing third. He has seemingly done everything but win on Tour, as he won the Rookie of the Year award during a season that included a 59 at The Northern Trust. Scheffler is among the more reliable players in any field, but this week he's deservedly listed among the favorites. I'm taking a cautious approach with players like Scheffler and Abraham Ancer, not wanting to wager at short odds when exactly they'll bag a first trophy. While both contended last year, I like Scheffler to repeat - even if he comes up short of the win.

Keegan Bradley (+800): It was a rough 2020 for the former PGA champ, but there were glimmers of hope down the stretch. Bradley finished T-4 at the Sanderson Farms and T-15 at Sea Island, continuing to build upon solid ball-striking figures. The putter is always the question with Bradley, but he has historically putted pretty well at this event with three top-25 finishes in four prior trips. If he evens out his performance on the greens, his iron play should be strong enough to give him a shot at contending.

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Will Gray

Will Gray is the Manager of College Sports & Golf Content for NBC Sports EDGE. He has covered the PGA Tour since 2013 and regularly contributes golf betting insight and analysis across multiple digital platforms. Gray has been with NBC Sports since 2007 and recently served as a writer, video analyst and podcast host for Golf Channel. You can follow him on Twitter @WillGrayGC