THE AMERICAN EXPRESS: The PGA Tour lands in California this week for an event that has long been a fixture on the schedule and was known as the Bob Hope Classic before corporate naming rights got tossed around from dot-com startups to credit card companies. Regardless of what they’re calling it these days, this tournament was instrumental to the growth and popularization of professional golf in the mid-20th century– I recently visited the World Golf Hall of Fame and was taken aback by the fact that nearly the entire first floor is dedicated to Bob Hope and his influence on the game, and includes a trove of memorabilia and personal artifacts. Now I know the way the world works and I have a feeling there’s some “philanthropy” behind this grand tribute, but it definitely underscores the impact that Hope had on pro golf, and this tournament was no small part of that– it was his baby.
Originally conceived as a 5-round celebrity pro-am spread out over four courses in the greater Palm Springs area, the tournament now consists of four rounds and three courses, and while it’s still a pro-am over the first three days and is still held in Palm Springs, the “celebrity” aspect has vanished. It’s definitely different from what the pros are accustomed to, though– the course setup will be a bit friendlier, the rounds will be longer, and patience will be tested by both having to watch a 20-handicapper yip and shank his way around the course and by being forced to make smalltalk with some plastic smile CEO who’s three vodkas deep. Some players adjust to the format better than others, so pay attention to course/tournament history and disregard last year because the pandemic turned it into an ordinary 4-round event with no amateurs. The Bob Hope Classic now returns to its natural state.
The three courses– LaQuinta Country Club, and the PGA West Nicklaus and Stadium courses– will be familiar to nearly everyone in the field. LaQuinta is the easiest of the bunch, a straightforward, shortish par-72 that the players eat alive, but the other two are also pretty friendly, with ample room off the tee and not much trickery around the greens. PGA West Stadium is the toughest only because it severely penalizes offline shots, but if you’re keeping it in front of you it yields plenty of birdies as well. The Stadium will be the site of Sunday’s action after the amateur portion wraps up, so players surviving the three-round cut will play two rounds on the Stadium this week and one on the other two.
One thing we know we’re going to see: birdies, and lots of ’em. It’s taken 20-under or better to win this event in each of the past 15 stagings, including last year, when Si Woo Kim posted 23-under while enjoying four blissful days free of hacker amateur partners. He won’t be so lucky this time around, and defending his title will be further complicated by the handful of big-name players in the field, led by World No. 1 Jon Rahm, who heads BETDAQ’s Win Market at 7.0. Rahm is a threat anytime he tees it up and he won this event back in 2018, but it’s worth mentioning that outsiders and longshots have prospered here for much of the past decade. With that in mind, here are my favorites this week:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Tony Finau (19.5)- The knock on Finau has always been that he doesn’t win enough, but after a victory in the FedExCup Playoffs, a strong Ryder Cup and a T7 in December’s Hero World Challenge, he seems poised for a big start to 2022. A Salt Lake City native, Finau has always thrived on the West Coast and has played well in this event in particular, finishing T14 in 2020 and then T4 last year, when he shot 68 or better in all four rounds. Over the last two years, spanning eight competitive rounds, Finau is 36-under par in this tournament, has broken par in every round, and has a 62 to his credit at the Nicklaus course. We last saw him at Kapalua, where he started slowly but closed with a 65 to post 19-under for the week and earn a cool $123k. I have a feeling he’s in line for an even fatter check this week, maybe even one of the 7-figure variety.
Adam Hadwin (48.0)- Though he’s not long off the tee by Tour standards, Hadwin is a terrific ball-striker who has an exceptional record in this event that includes four finishes of 6th-place or better since 2016, including a pair of runner-ups and a T3 in 2018. Last year’s T32 was the first time he’s finished outside the top-6 in this tournament since 2015, so I’m sure he’ll welcome the return of amateur companionship and the accompanying easier pins. This is his first event of 2022 but he had a solid Fall Series, making five straight cuts and posting a T6 at the Shriners, so there are no concerns about his form. Hadwin has proven time and again that he has what it takes to win this tournament, he just hasn’t quite been able to close that door yet. I’m willing to ride with him this week at nearly 50/1.
John Huh (128.0)- Longshots have thrived in this event in recent years, with names like Andrew Landry and Adam Long hoisting the trophy despite starting the week with deep triple-digit prices. A couple of names stand out among that group this week, one of them being John Huh, a streaky veteran whose lone PGA Tour victory came at the 2012 Mayakoba Classic. Huh has flashed some form recently, finding the top-15 twice in his past five starts, and this event in particular has been a real moneymaker for him over the years, as he’s made the cut in each of his past four appearances and finished 3rd back in 2018. While no one would consider him a favorite this week, Huh is more of a threat than his price would indicate and I’m happy to take a chance on him.