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2024 PGA Tour Preview: The American Express

The third tournament of the PGA Tour season is here, and it's The American Express, formerly known as the Desert Classic. The cut will be after 54 holes, and the first three rounds will be held at three different courses, specifically the PGA West Stadium Course (which will host the final round, as well), the PGA West Nicklaus Tournament Course, and La Quinta Country Club. Defending champion Jon Rahm will not be in attendance, as he switched to the LIV Tour in December. Still, several former champions, including current World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, will be in attendance, and several players ranked in the top 10 of the Official World Golf Ranking.


The Course

The players who make the 54-hole cut will play the Stadium Course, so we'll start there.  The course will play at roughly 7,300 yards and a par-72, and scoring will be low. Several short par-4s and two par-5s that will be reachable in two shots for most of the field, along with the fairly wide fair-ways, will make for easy scoring. Still, water looms on most holes, so players will have to make a decision: play it aggressively and deal with the consequences, or play conservatively and take a chance on the reasonably flat greens, taking birdies when the course gives them to you.


The PGA West Nicklaus Tournament Course will provide a different challenge, but scoring should still be somewhat low on the 7,200-yard, par-71 course. Flat greens and wide fairways will help long drivers, and the water that seems ever-present at the Stadium Course only comes into play on five of the 18 holes (technically seven, but two of those holes tee off over water that will be easily carried by everyone in the tournament.


Finally, La Quinta Country Club will be the third course used this week, and the 7,000-yard, par 72 courses will likely be the most challenging course the players face. The course is by far the tightest of the three, and while there aren't many hazards, they are strategically placed to punish any shot that travels offline. Accurate iron and driver play will be required, which is somewhat the opposite of the Nicklaus Tournament Course.


The Field

With no shortage of big names in the 156-man field, 20 of the top 50 Official World Golf Rankings players are set to tee it up. Scottie Scheffler highlights a star-studded group at the American Express. The reigning PGA Tour player of the year, the 27-year-old tied for fifth at the Sentry Tournament of Champions after stalking the top of the leaderboard for much of the weekend. Along with this, Justin Thomas is set to make his season debut.


Looking to rebound after a disappointing 2023 campaign, the two-time PGA Championship winner finished 78th in the FedEx Cup standings while missing the cut at six events. Furthermore, Daniel Berger will make his return to professional golf after an 18-month absence. The Florida native hasn’t played a tournament since missing the cut at the 2022 U.S. Open at The Country Club after suffering a back injury.


Chris Gallagher and Everett Davidson contributed to this article.


Chris’ American Express Picks

Favorite: Scottie Scheffler

The number one player in the world, Scheffler, once again heads into the tournament as a heavy favorite. Coming off a victory at the Hero World Challenge in December, the Texan looked sharp at the Sentry two weeks ago. Still the best ball striker on the planet, he leads the Tour in strokes, gained tee to green (2.265), and greens in regulation (91.67). Meanwhile, the 2022 Masters Champion has also put better after struggling with the flat stick a year ago. With a strong track record at the American Express throughout his career, Scheffler finished T-11 and T-25 at the event in each of the last two years. Moreover, he grabbed a third-place finish in 2020. A threat to win each time he plays in an event, Scheffler is all but a lock to be among the final groups on Sunday.


Favorite: Sungjae Im

Searching for his first victory on Tour since the 2021 Shriners Children's Open, Im tied for fifth at the Sentry. One of the most well-rounded players in the world, he leads the Tour in birdie average (8.50) and is 21st in strokes gained putting (0.85). Along with this, the eight-year veteran has had success in similar courses. He was victorious at TPC Summerlin while grabbing two Top 10 finishes at TPC Scottsdale and a Top 10 last year at TPC Louisiana. Paired with his strong play at the American Express over the last few years, Im has placed inside the top 20 in each of his last five starts at the tournament. Currently, the 26th-ranked player in the world, the former PGA Tour Rookie of the Year is poised to enter the winner's circle again.


Sleeper: Wyndham Clark

The reigning U.S. Open Champion, Clark carded a final round 63 to finish in a tie for 29th at the Sentry. Fresh off his best season on Tour, the 30-year-old posted five top-six finishes in the span of nine events, including victories at The Country Club and The Wells Fargo Championship. Continuing to excel off the tee, he ranks 21st in driving distance (303.3), hitting more than 46 percent of his fairways in regulation. The Denver, Colorado native remains an excellent short and mid-iron player. One of the best birdie makers in the field, Clark is hitting over 87 percent of his greens in regulation and can get hot and go low if the tournament turns into a scoring fest. Currently listed at 40/1 odds, Clark offers excellent value.


Everett's American Express Picks

Favorite: Xander Schauffele

Schauffele finished tied for 10th at The Sentry two weeks ago, five shots off of the winning score from Chris Kirk (more on him later). The current World No. 5 seems to have not lost a step from the end of last season, in which he finished with no missed cuts and only four finishes outside of the top 25. Even if he doesn't win, Schauffele should be in the mix come Sunday, and he finished tied for third and two shots off of Jon Rahm's winning score of 27-under in this event last year.


Favorite: Justin Thomas

Last summer, Thomas went through a rough stretch, missing five cuts in seven starts, but ever since, he's played well, with top fives in his last two starts on the Tour and a solo fourth on the European Tour between those two tournaments. It's Thomas's first event of the season, and he's looking to rebound after falling to World No. 28. The courses suit Thomas well, and he finished tied for seventh in his last start here, albeit back in 2015. Keep an eye for Thomas to be on the leaderboard going into Sunday, and if he is, the winner of fifteen career Tour events (and two PGA Championships) knows how to find the winner's circle.


Sleeper: Chris Kirk

The 38-year-old from Atlanta won two weeks ago at The Sentry for his first win since last February and his second on the Tour since 2015. He finished tied for third here last year, a week after a solo third-place finish in the Sony Open and just a month before he broke through for his first win on the Tour in eight years. The courses suit him well, and even though he didn't get a top 10 last week to back up his win, he only finished six shots off the lead on a condensed leaderboard that saw him finish tied for 18th. Kirk is playing well, potentially the best golf of his career, and don't be surprised to see him win at a tournament where he has had success before.


(Photo by Keyur Khamar/PGA TOUR via Getty Images)


 







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