So far, 2023 has been the year of the Sunday comeback on the PGA Tour. First, Jon Rahm erased a nine-stroke deficit at one point to catch Collin Morikawa and win the Sentry Tournament of Champions. And last week, Si Woo Kim shot a final-round 64 to win the Sony Open after entering the day three shots back of the leader.
The PGA Tour travels back to the mainland this week for the American Express in La Quinta, Calif. Considering this is a unique tournament that’s played on three different golf courses — PGA West Stadium Course, La Quinta Country Club, and PGA West Nicklaus Tournament Course — there’s plenty of room for drama throughout the weekend. Let’s hope for a third straight thrilling Sunday finish.
So, what are Sportscasting’s golf experts expecting to see at the 2023 American Express?
2023 American Express predictions
Luke Norris: Will Zalatoris
Will Zalatoris had to shake off some rust at Kapalua two weeks ago after missing months of action due to injury following his disheartening withdrawal from the FedEx Cup Playoffs. And yet, in a solid albeit limited field, he still tied for 11th. After taking last week off, he should be even stronger coming into this tournament. Willy Z tied for sixth a year ago and shot a course-record 61 on the Nicklaus track, so he’s certainly comfortable in the desert setting. I predict multiple wins for the 26-year-old this year, and the first one comes on Sunday.
Jack Dougherty: Patrick Cantlay
I love Patrick Cantlay this week. Like, maybe even too much.
In the last two runnings of the American Express, the Californian has shot 40 under par in eight rounds to finish ninth and second. According to a tweet from Justin Ray of the PGA Tour and The Athletic, no one has recorded more birdies or better per round at this event since 2016 (6.42). Cantlay is also coming off a T16 at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and a T2 at the Shriners Children’s Open, so he’s got some momentum heading into this week, too.
Luke Norris: Sahith Theegala
This was a tough call for me as I really wanted to go with Cameron Davis in this spot, who finished third here two years ago but comes into this tourney with 48-1 odds. Instead, however, I’m rolling with Sahith Theegala, who isn’t far below Davis at 50-1. The 25-year-old has yet to win a PGA Tour event but has gotten off to a solid start this season, finishing sixth or better in three of his seven starts. His tendency to spray the ball off the tee a bit won’t be as much of a factor with the wide-open layouts of these courses, so if he can get his putter going, he just might notch that first win in his home state.
Jack Dougherty: Adam Hadwin
Remember that stat Justin Ray pointed out this week? Well, Adam Hadwin actually ranks fourth on that list with 5.79 birdies or better per round at the American Express. The Canadian has finished sixth or better in four of his last five starts here, and he finished T7 in his last start at the Cadence Bank Houston Open. Another top-10 finish could be in the cards for the 65-1 longshot.
Most likely bust
Luke Norris: Xander Schauffele
While Xander Schauffele is one of the top five or six favorites heading into the American Express, I’m not convinced that the Olympic gold medalist is fully healed from the back issues that forced him out of the Tournament of Champions. He’s also struggled a touch with his irons. Of the 156 players in the field this week, Schauffele is barely in the top half in proximity to the hole on approach shots from 100 to 125 yards and is even worse on shots from 150 to 175 yards, ranking outside the top 125.
Jack Dougherty: Jon Rahm
Jon Rahm returns to the American Express one year after cursing out the course setup in the middle of a round. “Piece of s*** f***ing setup. Putting contest week,” he was caught muttering in a viral video. Rahm doubled down on his comments a few days later, but he’s back for another go and will enter the week as the betting favorite to win at +550. The Spaniard could easily lap this field, but I think it’s more likely he gets aggravated again and struggles as a result.
Luke Norris: No. 18
The finishing hole at PGA West’s Stadium Course certainly doesn’t yield as many birdies as most of the other holes on Pete Dye’s layout. In fact, of every player who finished in the top 10 at the American Express a year ago, not a single one of them made birdie at the 18th in the final round. While not a terribly long par-4 at 439 yards, there’s trouble on both sides off the tee with bunkers on the right and water on the left. There’s also plenty of trouble on the approach as the green is guarded with that same water on the left and bunkers short and right. Contenders should be happy with a par to close out their round.
Jack Dougherty: No. 17
The signature hole at PGA West, the par-3 17th is a twin brother to the iconic 17th at TPC Sawgrass. The only real difference is the hundreds of rocks that surround the island green. It’s not a huge tee shot at just 168 yards, but the leaders must find grass and avoid the water on Sunday afternoon to avoid a big number. Sometimes, balls even end up in the rocky sand area around the green, which makes for some entertaining chip shots. Pete Dye sure does love his island greens, and they can create riveting finishes on the PGA Tour.