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And so we begin the most challenging time of year from a betting perspective. In the next three weeks, the PGA Tour will compete on eight different golf courses. Starting this week at The American Express, the men will play the following:
PGA West - Stadium Course
- Par 72 stretching 7,187 yards
- Average Par 4 is 415 yards, Par 3 188 yards, Par 5 571 yards
- Five Par 4's play under 425 yards, one Par 5 under 550 yards
- Water comes into play on seven holes, over ninety bunkers and wall to wall Bermudagrass.
La Quinta Country Club
- Par 72 layout of 7,060 yards
- Average Par 4 415yards, Par 3 195 yards, Par 5 533 yards
- Seven Par 4's play under 425 yards, all four Par 5's under 550 yards
- Water comes into play on seven holes, eighty-two bunkers and Poa Trivialis on the putting surfaces with Bermudagrass everywhere else.
Nicklaus Tournament Course
- Par 72 measuring 7,147 yards
- Average Par 4 423 yards, Par 3 185 yards, Par 5 544 yards
- Four Par 4's play under 425 yards, three Par 5's under 550 yards
- Water comes into play on 5 holes and another ninety plus bunkers decorate the landscape. Bermudagrass wall to wall on this course as well.
The 156 competitors will play one round on each course with their Pro-Am partner. After 54 holes, there will be a cut to the Top 70 and ties. Those seventy will play on Sunday at Pete Dye's Stadium Course. The Amex has an elite field this year.
- Five of the Top 10 in the world ranking are playing, eleven of the Top 25 and thirty-eight of the Top 100.
- They are playing for $8 million and a first place check of $1.44 million dollars.
Those elite five in the Top 10 will need birdies to keep pace with the contenders. Known as a "putting contest," the average winning score over the past ten years is 24 under par. Interestingly enough, the average winner's odds over that same time period is +14300 (143-1). Three of the last four winners have had pre-tournament odds greater than +20000 (200-1)!
La Quinta, Nicklaus and Stadium Course play as three of the easiest courses on tour. The rough is pretty much dormant and the greens average 5,600 square feet across all three. This leaves plenty of target space for these guys to take dead aim. Check out these scoring statistics:
- Forty-two of the 54-holes this week have a birdie rate over 15%. That's 78% of the holes!
- Nineteen of the 54 have a birdie rate over 25%.
- The Nicklaus Tournament course leads the way with 17-holes over 15% and 7-holes over 25%.
The only challenge they may face this week will be a little unseasonal weather. Each night the temperatures are predicted to fall into the 30's. The highs each afternoon will only reach the high 60's. Maybe if you have cold hands it may hurt your chances of making seven or eight birdies a round? It's the desert, so no rain is in the forecast and thankfully with these temperatures, little wind as well. Most days the breeze will only top out at 7-8 mph.
Tournaments on tour like the AMEX are flagged by many players. They routinely have six hour Pro-Am rounds and marginal play by the amateurs. Certain players thrive in this environment versus others. I use historic play at this event and Pebble Beach as a final barometer for selecting outrights. Enjoy the entertainment, getting five of the Top 10 together without an elevated purse is impressive. Hopefully the drama come Sunday is equal to the lead up.
AMEX on TV:
The AMEX starts in...
Unlimited spending on birdies
The best way to tackle an event with three different courses, unlimited birdie opportunities and mild conditions is to take the player-coach mentality. If we were competing this week, how do we get to twenty-five under par against Jon Rahm? As I looked through the courses and started to put together a game plan as an actual coach, it started to come into focus.
There's a direct correlation to SG:APP and SG:Putt when it comes to contending here. Nine of the last ten winners gained strokes on approach and all ten gained in putting. In fact, when you take it a little deeper...
- The winner has gained 4 strokes (average) on approach over the last five years. Over the last ten years they average 2.8 strokes against the field.
- Approach is even more impactful when you consider the Top 13 finishers (average) gained SG:APP. Take into account ten years and the average is still positive for the Top 9 places.
How do we build a great approach plan for the AMEX? Most of the target yardages into the greens will be in the short iron to wedge category. Second shots on Par 5's will require a mid to long iron, but more than 45% of the irons in will be under 150 yards. Proximity to the hole and creating birdie opportunities come from great iron play. Scrambling is another category depicting wedge play from inside 75 yards. With a dozen or so Par 4's under 400 yards these players better be good at pitching the ball close.
Once they get to the green, putting becomes the second biggest differentiator.
- The winner has gained 3.6 strokes (average) putting over that same five year period. Three strokes on average over the last ten years.
- Putting is equally impactful when you consider the Top 5 finishers gain strokes on the greens over the last ten years.
The best proximity players are going to pepper the ten to fifteen foot range from the hole. Anyone who can excel this week making the most putts in that "opportunity" range will separate themselves. History has clearly shown us players get streaky and win. Hudson Swafford gained over four strokes on approach and over six on the greens en route to winning. Our game plan this week is to attack. Par 5 scoring will be low for every contender. Par 3 scoring seems to quietly be a key for recent winners. Most of these shots are a little longer and have danger lurking. The best finishers have played the Par 3's well.
The basics of great Par 4 scoring have already been described. Our winner will have leading iron play and a hot putter. They will destroy the Par 5's and most of all create easy scoring chances from the short yardage pitching situations. Here's my list of awesome iron players and prolific putters for The American Express.
Outright winners - The American Express
Tony Finau (+1500)
- He's ranked 5th in the field in putting and 4th for BoB%. With two Top 15 finishes in his last three starts at the AMEX, Tony Finau stands out for me at the top of the odds board. Each skill we have carefully considered Finau ranks Top 10 in the field. Par 4 scoring, Opportunities Gained, Good Drives Gained, Putting, Short Game, Ball striking, etc. It just doesn't stop and neither has his win streak over the past six months. Chalk up one more for Finau in the desert.
Pick 2* (+6000)
Pick 3* (+6600)
Ben Griffin (+15000)
- Who is Ben Griffin? This PGA Tour rookie has really impressed me this season. He is a leading approach player on tour. He's a terrific Par 4 player and has three Top 16 finishes in his last five starts. In those last five tournaments, he has gained nearly three shots against the field on approach. Griffin can go low as he is ranked 13th in the field for BoB%. Proximity, opportunities and scrambling he's ranked Top 30 in the field for all three. The blueprint is there and in this event long shots can cover. After the disappointment in Bermuda, I love his chances to close this Par 4 birdie fest.
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First class Fazio
The Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions will be played again this year at Lake Nona Golf and Country Club. The course opened in 1987. From hosting the Solheim Cup in 1990 to the season opening tournament of champions now, this 600 acre super facility has always supported women's golf. Home to many touring professionals this unique Tom Fazio design is a wonderful test of shaping the ball off the tee and precise iron play.
- The course measures 6,608 yards this week and plays to a Par 72.
- Eleven holes feature water in play including the final six.
- The scorecard is made up of four difficult Par 3's, four birdie friendly Par 5's and ten great Par 4's.
Twenty-nine ladies are assembled to play. To qualify, you must have won a tournament once in the last two seasons. To add some style to the competition, professional athletes and celebrities are paired with the ladies in a Pro-Am format. Orlando has plenty of stars and this player addition really draws attention to the season opener. Last year MLB pitcher Derek Lowe defeated Nona resident Annika Sörenstam in a playoff!
- Three of the Top 10 players in Rolex Rankings are here, fourteen of the Top 35.
- Number two ranked Nelly Korda is the favorite at +400!
Last year the weather was pretty awful for the event. Predictions for this edition look much more favorable with temperatures in the high 70's and low 80's most of the week. There's a small chance of rain on Sunday and the wind is mild. That's good news as "Lake" Nona is surrounded by water. That open territory can build some serious wind when it blows and really challenge you. The calm weather and player familiarity with the course in year two will push the winning score to twenty under par.
- We have a $1.5 million dollar purse this week for less than thirty players.
- First place takes home a check for $225,000.
Danielle Kang is back to defend her title. She's a strong iron player and consistent performer in Florida. By analyzing her 2022 victory, I have found a couple of very specific keys this year's field will need to contend again. Keep reading past the timer and see our outrights for the LPGA season opener.
HGV TOC on TV:
The Hilton Grand Vacations starts in...
I cannot count the number of times I have played Lake Nona. One of Fazio's first solo designs, this central Florida course community breaks many of the Sunshine State stereotypes. Although houses surround most of the course, in many cases, the best lake front property belongs to the links. As such, the elements can play a role as you navigate the course. Last year's leaderboard tells a story of power and accuracy. The weather was brutal in 2022. Fifty degree temperatures and sustained winds were a definite challenge.
Power helped in those challenging conditions, and I believe will be an even bigger asset in this edition. I create my own LPGA research charts and this week's table started with off the tee play. The second attribute needed to contend on Annika's home course is great approach skill. Fazio does an exquisite job of making each player uses their entire bag. From pitching to hybrids, these ladies will need some serious iron accuracy.
- 55% of the approach shots will fall in the 125-175 range.
Here's why I love the longer hitters. They will consistently be playing from the front half of that range. That's a huge advantage, because Lake Nona has smaller size greens by Florida standards. It reminds me of a northern layout. This is why it sticks out as a must play place in Orlando. Speaking of those greens, Fazio gave them plenty of movement. So putting becomes a requirement as well. The course is in epic shape. I walked all eighteen holes on Tuesday and the LPGA has a fantastic event set up for the women.
The Par 5's are very score-able and the Par 3's are severe. So the Par 4's become the biggest differentiator toward total score. The careful combination of driving ability and approach savvy allow for a perfect opportunity to distance yourself. The average Par 4 is well under 400 yards (387). Seven of the ten Par 4's have a significant turn off the tee. Six of the seven move left to right so it favors a right-handed fader.
- Average Par 3 length: 171 yards
- Average Par 5 length: 514 yards
The LPGA played five events in Florida last season. I looked at the results of each one. My personal chart breaks down the best on Bermudagrass. The ladies seem to be even more territorial than the men when it comes to favorite grasses. That's the final edge I took into consideration to give you these three great outright bets for the kickoff event.
Outright winners - HGV Tournament of Champions
Celine Boutier (+1600)
- She finished fourth last year at Lake Nona. Eleventh the year before across town in Orlando. Celine Boutier lacks the total power I'm looking for, but her combination of approach play and putting are lethal. in 2022, she was ranked 5th in SG:APP. Throw in 14th for SG:Putt and 18th in Par 4 scoring and she has the game to win this week. She played very well in Florida all last year. France may have lost the World Cup, but Celine can take down this title very easily.
Pick 2* (+2500)
Pick 3* (+2800)
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