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The Hawaii swing has been put away, but what should be a thrilling stretch of golf up and down the West Coast in the continental United States as a prelude to the Players Championship in March lies just ahead. That starts this week with The American Express, which boasts its best field in nearly two decades and features two of the top four players in the world, both of whom have been playing some of the best golf on the planet over the last six months.

Let's take a closer look at this week's contest with odds provided via Caesars Sportsbook.

Event information

Event: The American Express | Dates: Jan. 20-23
Location: La Quinta Country Club, PGA West Stadium Course and Nicklaus Course – La Quinta, Calif.
Par: 72 | Purse: $7.6 million

Three things to know

1. Wait, 373 yards? I'm fascinated by the story of James Hard du Preez, a South African player in the field this week. He's longer than Bryson DeChambeau with a grace and an ease that reminds you of another South African legend. He hits 200 MPH ball speed (or more) without even really trying that hard, it seems. This won't win you a golf tournament, but in a golf world obsessed with speed and distance, he'll be an intriguing follow this week at this event. According to Golf Channel, he averaged (AVERAGED) 373 yards off the tee last year on the Sunshine Tour.

2. Can Rahm stay hot? The No. 1 player in the world is going to be difficult to not pick this week. In his last nine PGA Tour starts, he's finished in the top 10 seven times, and one of those in which he didn't was his withdrawal at the Memorial Tournament where he was leading by six after 54 holes. In addition to that, he won this event in 2018 over Andrew Landry and is protecting his No. 1 spot in the world, which Collin Morikawa -- who is playing on the DP World Tour this week in Abu Dhabi -- can swipe from him with a win over there. Every tournament Rahm plays in right now runs through him until further notice, including this one.

3. Scoring assault: One storyline that has been prevalent so far this year that I maybe didn't expect has been some murmuring over how low scores have been. That's not going to change this week with two of the easiest courses on the PGA Tour slate -- La Quinta and the PGA West Nicklaus course -- in the mix. Those two are offset, of course, by the PGA West Stadium Course, which is far more difficult. Still, since the PGA Tour added the Stadium Course back in the mix in 2016, every winning score has been 20 under or better for the four-round event. That murmur will get louder if the leaders approach 30 under this weekend.

4. Debuts for 2022: Among others, Matthew Wolff, Rickie Fowler, Scottie Scheffler and Will Zalatoris will all make their 2022 debuts at this event. Expectations for these players are all over the board, but all are interesting side stories to the tournament as a whole because all have experienced varying levels of success over the last five years. Wolff and Fowler both fell off in 2021 and are trying to reestablish some momentum. Zalatoris and Scheffler are both looking for their first PGA Tour wins. This would be a terrific point in the season to get it.

Rick Gehman is joined by Kyle Porter, Greg DuCharme and Mark Immelman to preview the 2022 American Express. Follow & listen to The First Cut on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Grading the field

In addition to Rahm (No. 1) and Cantlay (No. 4), four other top-25 golfers -- Scheffler, Tony Finau, Abraham Ancer and Sungjae Im -- are in the field. Throw in big names like Wolff, Fowler, Phil Mickelson, Patrick Reed in addition to quality players like Corey Conners, Russell Henley and Talor Gooch, and this field is better than expected ahead of the grueling stretch that comes after it. Grade: B+

2022 American Express picks

Winner (18-1): Scheffler finished third here back in 2020 before missing the cut last year, and of all the players in this field, only Cantlay, Rahm and Im have a better strokes gained number than him over their last 20 rounds. He needs to win at some point in 2022, and he finished 2021 on a nice little run with two top-five finishes at PGA Tour events and a runner-up to Viktor Hovland at the Hero World Challenge. The number here is a little short, but I love him this week.
Top 10 (+110): It's a horrible number but not a bad bet. Rahm and Cantlay are playing at a level so far above everyone else in this field, but you get much better odds here with Cantlay (Rahm was -150), and he's finished in the top 11 in each of his last four PGA Tour starts. It's true that three of those were several months ago at the end of last season, but he got off to a strong start at the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii where he finished fourth and seemingly picked up where last season left off (with a lot of contention). Cantlay shot 61 in the final round at this event last year and just missed out on a playoff. Also, nobody in the field gains more strokes per round at the PGA West Stadium Course than he does.
Sleeper (80-1): The case for List is that he's been the second-best ball striker in this field over his last 20 rounds (next to only Cantlay). Obviously the putter is a concern, but he's coming off three top 10s in his last four starts on the PGA Tour, and generally plays this event better than his average performance on the PGA Tour. That includes a T21 last year and a T6 in 2016.

Who will win The American Express, and which long shots will stun the golfing world? Visit SportsLine now to see the projected leaderboard and best bets, all from the model that's nailed seven golf majors and is up almost $10,000 since the restart.