BlogPrelude for The American Express

by Sal Johnson

For once, a great field at the American Express

The Amex has always had problems getting a great field, but this year things are different. Ten top-20 in the world rankings will play with five of the top seven. Led by the hottest player in the world, Jon Rahm, it will be interesting to see how he plays. Rahm won the event in 2018 and was 6th the following year. But he didn’t play again till last year and was T-14th. One of the keys to Rahm’s good play is his playing on the Stadium course. In eight rounds, he hasn’t been worst than shooting 72 and has a 69.0 scoring average in his 8 Stadium rounds. But every phase of Rahm’s game is perfect right now, so you know he will be in contention. Scottie Scheffler, the reigning Masters champion, is the highest-ranked player in The American Express at #2. Scheffler is joined by #4 Patrick Cantlay, #5 Jon Rahm, #6 Xander Schauffele, and #7 Will Zalatoris. Be interesting to find out how Schauffele’s back is. We haven’t seen anything on the internet. Schauffele’s website and Twitter site have nothing. He is supposed to have an interview on Tuesday or Wednesday. Right now, it’s to be determined. Also, looking to see how Will Zalatoris is. He made his first start in four months at the Sentry TofC and was T-11th, finishing with rounds of 69-65 over the weekend. Last year in Zalatoris’s debut at the American Express, he finished T-6th and shot 61 in the second round at the Nicklaus Tournament course, so he will be one of the favorites. After poor weather in the area for the last two weeks, the weather is supposed to be perfect this week.


Si Woo Kim is back in the winner’s circle at Sony Hawaii

It was a very tight leaderboard during the final round of the Sony Open in Hawaii. Four of the 14 players within five shots of leader Hayden Buckley were past winners on the PGA Tour. So with a lot of inexperience at the top of the leaderboard, you have to feel that those past winners, Chris Kirk, Si Woo Kim, Nate Lashley, and J.T. Poston, had an advantage. Three of the four, Kirk (68) and Lashley (68), played well, but Kim shot the low round of the round, a 64 to beat Buckley by a shot. At the end of the day, the last two holes determine the winner as Kim birdied both the 17 and 18 holes. Buckley made par on both while Kirk bogeyed 17 and birdied 18.
Have to say, in hindsight, not surprised to see Kim win. He is one of the most unheard players on the PGA Tour. Kim grew up in South Korea at 14 and played on the Korean and One Asian Tour. He came to America in 2012 and, at the age of just 17 years and five months, finished T-20th at PGA Tour Qualifying School. At the time, he was the youngest player to earn his PGA Tour card, but the problem for Kim could not become a PGA Tour member until he turned 18, which would come mid-way through the 2013 season. Kim turned professional and played in seven Korn Ferry events and eight PGA Tour events. In those eight PGA Tour starts in 2013, Kim missed the cut in seven tournaments and withdrew from the eighth.
After that, Kim played on the Korn Ferry Tour and in 2015, finished 23rd on the Korn Ferry Tour priority list, getting his PGA Tour card for 2016. Since then, Kim has been one of the stalwarts of the PGA Tour. In the seven years of play, he was never higher than 81st on the FedExCup points list, and in that time won three times, including a victory at the 2017 Players Championship. At the age of just 21, he became only the youngest winner of the championship but the first player from Asia to win twice on the PGA Tour before the age of 22 (he won the 2016 Wyndham Championship).
The big question for us is how realistic is Kim as a player to pick in DraftKings? In 220 PGA Tour starts, Kim has made 139 cuts which is a 63.2% success rating which is a problem because he misses too many cuts. Looking back to the start of the 2022 season, he has made 28 of 34 cuts, raising his success rating to 82.4%, so he is a person to consider. Especially when you see that in 121 rounds, he averages 18.48 points or 73.9 points per event. What makes him a person to consider, his average cost is just $7,965. At the Sony Open, Kim cost just $8,200, which is a great price for someone that averages just under 80 points per event. This week is the American Express Championship, which Kim won in 2021 and will cost you $9,200. But you need to know a critical element before you pick Kim. After his three wins, Kim has missed the cut, which means that a victory takes a lot out of him, so yes, he is best to pass this week in Palm Springs. But in the future, Kim is a person to consider; frankly, he is excellent on easy courses. Disregard him for majors. In 23 starts, he has only made 11 cuts, and his best finish was T-12th at the 2021 Masters.
In looking at some of the others that finished high up, many will wonder about runner-up Hayden Buckley. Last year was his first year on the PGA Tour, and he held his own, finishing 104th in the FedExCup. For his PGA Tour career, he has a 62.5 cut success rating which is low, but he is cheap, costing an average of $6,732 in 38 starts. At Sony, you could buy Buckles for $7,600, and 7% of the people made Buckley one of his six starts.
One person to watch in the future is Chris Kirk. He has been on the PGA Tour since 2011 and was very successful in his first eight years. His best season came in 2014 when he won twice and finished the year T-4th at the Tour Championship, helping him finish 2nd in the FedExCup standings. He continued his excellent play for another two years but struggled in 2018 and then in ’19. In April 2019, Kirk decided to tackle his problems with depression and drinking. The issue had been around for years, he had tried twice before to quit, but after six to eight weeks, he was back to drinking. But this time was different. He had found a support group and decided to take a leave of absence from the PGA Tour. He spent the summer with his family at his home in Athens, Georgia. He didn’t touch a golf club for three and a half months. He returned at the Mayakoba Classic seven months after his last start in 2018. His game wasn’t as sharp as he would have liked, and he missed his next five cuts. He took it slowly, going from event to event in a mobile home with his family. He only played in 11 events, and in the five cuts, his best finish was T-21st at the Rocket Morgage.
Things got better in 2021. He was T-2nd at the Sony Open in Hawaii, ended the year with four top-ten finishes, and was 62nd on the FedExCup standings. He has improved since the start of the 2022 season. Kirk made 32 starts, making 23 cuts for a 71.2% success rating. Kirk averages 62.38 Draftkings points per event, which is a tad low, but his average cost is just $7,628, and at the Sony, you could have gotten him for just $7,400, so in the future, he is a person to watch. This week at the American Express, you can buy him for $7,500

Big disappointments at the Sony

The two biggest disappointments coming out of the Sony were the missed cuts by Tom Kim and Jordan Spieth. Kim has been a rising star since April last year when he got an invite to play in the AT&T Byron Nelson. He finished T-17th but missed the cut at the PGA Championship the following week. Since then, Kim has gone on a tear. He was 23rd at the U.S. Open and 3rd the next month at the Genesis Scottish Open. Just like that, Kim became the player to watch as he got temporary membership on the PGA Tour. He was T-47th at the British Open, then T-26th at the 3M Open. The following week at the Rocket Mortgage, he shot a final round 63 to finish 7th. That got him going the next week. He was 20 under and won the Wyndham Championship. Since then, Kim has been the darling of DraftKings. His price was cheap at Wyndham, just $8,600 in a terrible field. In his next couple of starts, his cost rose. At the Shriners Hospitals, the price was $9,700, so he was worth the cost when he won. Kim continued to play well as he finished in the top 25 in his next four starts, his best being a T-5th at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. At Kapalua, he earned 129.5 Draftkings points, so it was no surprise to see Kim top-dog at the Sony; he cost $10,500. Kim discovered the struggle for the first time since becoming a PGA Tour member. He had late first-round tee times, and he labored in the winds making three bogeys and a double on the way to shooting 72. A second-round 69 didn’t help, as he missed his first cut as a PGA Tour member. The 30% of those who made Kim one of their six picks were disappointed when he only made 26.5 points. This week at the American Express, Kim is $9,500, and I have to bet that many will not pick him at such a price.

It was a big surprise for many when Jordan Spieth missed the cut. People were shocked when Spieth shot a first-round 64 to be one of the co-leaders, many thought that Spieth would contend. Until Spieth went from a first-round 64 to a 75 on Friday to miss the cut by a shot. In his Friday round, Spieth played his first seven holes in even par before things went off the rails. On the 8th hole, Spieth three-putted for a bogey. Spieth drove it into the water at the next hole, the easiest hole on the course, making a bogey. At the tenth, Spieth drove into a greenside bunker but took two to get out, leading to his third bogey in a row. At 11, he missed the green on the par 3 and couldn’t get up and down for his fourth bogey in a row. At the 15th, he made his sixth bogey of the day and, with only one early birdie, shot 75 to miss the cut. To show you how hard it is going from leader to missing the cut, since 1970, 3,979 players have held the first-round lead. Of those, only 31 have missed the cut, and with Spieth joining the list, he joins the ranks of Matt Every, Vaughn Taylor, Andrew Loupe, Keegan Bradley, Danny Lee, Camilo Villegas, Jim Renner, and Ben Martin, who have accomplished this feat since 2010. “Yeah, this sucks,” Spieth told the media after the round. “I’ve never led a tournament and missed the cut before. It’s not like I would have replayed anything that I (did). I made a bad swing but didn’t really make any bad decisions. Just got the ball in the wrong spots at the wrong places.”
For Spieth, it continues a bad run since winning the RBC Heritage and finishing 2nd in his next start at the Byron Nelson. In his next 13 starts, he has made ten cuts with just two top-ten finishes, the last being a T-8th at the British Open. In 2023 along with the missed cut at the Sony, he was T-52nd at the C.J. Cup and T-13th at the Sentry T of C.
It’s not hard to pinpoint Spieth’s problems. His putting, the mainstay of his outstanding play, helped him win three majors. In his three starts of 2023, he is 112th in putts inside ten feet, making 160 putts in 182 tries. Just in 2022, Spieth was 155th in Strokes Gained Putting as he was 137th in putting inside ten feet. So we can see his problem. As for the future, we won’t see Spieth until Phoenix. At that time, Spieth will be in his new toy, which he debut at the CJ Cup. Spieth plans to travel in style in his new motor home. He has thought about it for a while and is doing it with a newborn. He likes the thought of having the family with him and a home on the road, even down to his mattress at his home in Dallas. Spieth isn’t driving the RV. He hired a driver who would do all the driving. Who knows if that will help his game since his life is so different from when he won his majors. So will this help his game? We should know by the end of the west coast swing.

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