By Tom LaMarre
The American Express, first event of the West Coast Swing, received a setback when second-ranked Jon Rahm of Spain withdrew on Monday, reportedly because of a minor injury, but the tournament at PGA West in La Quinta still has a solid field.
Rahm, who won the tournament in 2018 and was the betting favorite before bowing out, tied for seventh in the Sentry Tournament of Champions two weeks ago to start the new year, but did not play in the Sony Open in Hawaii last week at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu.
Among those who will tee it up on Thursday are 10th ranked Patrick Cantlay (pictured) of Los Alamitos and UCLA, Brooks Koepka, two-time tournament winner Phil Mickelson, Sungjae Im of South Korea, 2014 champion Patrick Reed, Francesco Molinari of Italy, Matthew Wolff of Agoura Hills, Paul Casey of England, Abraham Ancer of Mexico, Cameron Champ of Sacramento, Russell Henley, Rickie Fowler of Murrieta, Tony Finau and Kevin Na of Diamond Bar, who claimed his fifth PGA Tour victory in the Sony Open on Sunday.
Andrew Landry will defend the title he won by two strokes over Ancer last year, trying to become the first player to win the old Bob Hope Desert Classic back-to-back since Johnny Miller in 1975-76.
“I just think the courses suit my game very, very well, just drive it straight,” said Landry, who also won the 2018 Valero Texas Open. “The Stadium Course … you’ve got to be very, very precise. And the Nick course (Nicklaus Tournament Course) is the same way. But they can all jump up and bite you.
“(They are) good golf courses that suit my game really well. The length of them suits me well. The (desert) weather suits me well.”
Other former champions in the field include Jason Dufner, Bill Haas, Pat Perez of San Diego, Hudson Swafford, Charley Hoffman of Poway, Adam Long, Brian Gay, Mark Wilson, Jhonattan Vegas of Venezuela and Steve Jones.
Mickelson, the tournament host, will play alongside Casey, Finau and amateur partners in the The American Express Charity Challenge on PGA West’s Stadium Course for a $1-million purse that will go to charity.
“Thanks to the fantastic support from our title sponsor American Express and our corporate partners, we are happy to announce that more than $1 million will go to local charities from The American Express this year despite all of the challenges this pandemic has thrown our way,” Mickelson said. “I look forward to hosting The American Express Charity Challenge with Tony and Paul to help deliver for the local charities.”
The celebrity pro-am that has always been part of the event since Hope became involved in 1965, will not be played this year because of the Coronavirus pandemic, and spectators will not be allowed on the Stadium and Nicklaus courses during the tournament.
- Patrick Cantlay, United States – Without Jon Rahm in the field, Cantlay becomes the favorite, as he ranks seventh in the FedEx Cup standings with a victory in the Zozo, a tie for eighth in the Shriners, a tie for 13th in the Sentry TOC and a tie for 17th in the Masters. Posted three scores in the 60s and tied for ninth in the desert two years ago.
- Sungjae Im, South Korea – Tied for second in the Masters, tied for fifth in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and finished 22nd in the U.S. Open early this season to sit at No. 19 in the FedEx Cup point standings. Im tied for 10th in the American Express last year after tying for 12th the season before, carding six rounds in the 60s in eight tries.
- Patrick Reed, United States – Ranked No. 11 in the world and trying to climb back into the top 10, Reed has tied for 13th in the U.S. Open, tied for 14th in the Zozo, tied for 10th in the Masters and tied for 21st in the Sentry TOC this season. He started with three 63s en route to winning this event by two strokes in 2014, and also tied for 12th in 2017.
- Brooks Koepka, United States – The former top-ranked player in the world is trying to get back on track after undergoing hip and knee surgery last year, and he showed he’s not that far away after tying for fifth in the Houston Open and tying for seventh in the Masters early this season. Koepka is playing in The American Express for the first time.
- Kevin Na, United States – Won for the fourth straight season and fifth time on the PGA Tour on Sunday at the Sony Open in Hawaii, and rose to 10th in the FedEx Cup standings. Na also tied for 13th in the Masters. Playing in the California desert event for the 16th time, Na tied for third in 2016, tied for fifth in 2011 and tied for eighth in 2010.
- Tony Finau, United States – The No. 20-ranked player in the world surprisingly has won only 2016 Puerto Rico Open on the PGA Tour. He has tied for eighth in the U.S. Open, tied for 11th in the Zozo and tied for eighth at Mayakoba this season. Finau carded a 62 in the second round en route to a tie for 14th last year in The American Express.
- Scottie Scheffler, United States – The PGA Tour’s Rookie of the Year last season almost claimed his first victory on the circuit when he started 65-64-66 to lead The American Express, but finished third after a closing 70, one of his seven top-10 results. Scheffler tied for 17th in Zozo, tied for 19th in Masters and tied for 13th in Sentry TOC.
- Abraham Ancer, Mexico – Still looking for his first PGA Tour victory, Ancer almost got it last season in The American Express when he went 68-67-66-63 and finished second to Andrew Landry. So far this season, he finished fourth in the Shriners, tied for 13th in the Masters, tied for 12th at Mayakoba and tied for 17th in the Sentry TOC.
- Matthew Wolff, United States – After claiming his first PGA Tour victory last year in the 3M Open, the 21-year-old Wolff also tied for fourth in the PGA Championship and was solo second in the U.S. Open. He also tied for second in the Shriners and is 14th in the FedEx Cup standings. Managed only a tie for 61st in his debut in the desert last year.
- Phil Mickelson, United States – The tournament host won this tournament in 2002 and 2004, and posted four other top-10 finishes, almost winning again when he tied for second two years ago at the age of 48. Lefty has claimed 44 victories on the PGA Tour and two more on the PGA Tour Champions last year, playing both tours after turning 50.
OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH: Gary Woodland, United States; Si Woo Kim, South Korea; Chris Kirk, United States; Rickie Fowler, United States; Francesco Molinari, Italy; Russell Henley, United States; Aaron Baddeley, Australia; Daniel Berger, United States; Zach Johnson, United States; Brendan Steele, United States.
- Lanto Griffin, United States – Two-time Korn Ferry Tour winner claimed 2019 Houston Open and has T7 in CJ Cup, T11 in the Zozo and T13 in the TOC this season.
- Kristoffer Ventura, Norway – Won twice on the Korn Ferry Tour two years ago and this season on the PGA Tour has a T-7 in the Safeway and a T-6 at Sanderson Farms.
- Nick Hardy, United States – After recording five top-10 finishes on the 2020 Korn Ferry Tour, finished T-14 last week in Sony Open in Hawaii with four rounds in the 60s.
- Peter Malnati, United States – Winner of 2016 Sanderson Farms comes of a T-14 in Sony Open in Hawaii after a T-5 in Shriners and a solo second again at Sanderson Farms.
- Adam Hadwin, Canada – Hasn’t done much since winning 2017 Valspar, but has finished T-6, solo second, T-3 and T-2 in last four starts in the California desert.
For first-round tee times, visit https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard.html