LA QUINTA, Calif. — One of the most remarkable scoring statistics in the history of the American Express tournament came when the event was a five-day, 90-hole affair. Mark Calcavecchia finished at least 30-under par twice – yet he never won the tournament.
In 1997 Calcavecchia finished one shot behind John Cook’s winning score of 33-under 327. In 2001, Calcavecchia finished 30 under and was just third behind Joe Durant’s record 36 under and Paul Stankowski’s 32 under.
For decades now the American Express tournament has been known as the home of birdies and eagles in January. Perfect greens, warm weather and some short par-5s make the La Quinta tournament ripe for scoring.
But since switching to a four-day, 72-hole format in 2012, the American Express has not seen a player reach 30-under par. The 72-hole scoring mark since the move to four days is 28-under par by Patrick Reed, who opened that tournament with three 63s followed by a 71.
Could this be the year someone in the field reaches 30 under? Here are five reasons it could happen:
The 59 effect
The American Express has not one but two 59s in its history — David Duval in 1999 at the Palmer Course at PGA West and Adam Hadwin in 2017 at La Quinta Country Club. And there have been plenty of 12-under 60s shot in the event as well. A single round of 59 is 13 under and nearly halfway to 30 under with 54 holes wrapped around the stellar round. Sure, 59 is still a tough score to reach, but if it’s going to happen anywhere on the tour, the American Express seems to be the place.
Generally low scoring in the event
In the 2023 tournament, being played on the same three courses as golfers are facing this year, the tournament produced seven rounds of 10-under 62. One of those rounds came on Sunday on the Pete Dye Stadium Course by Xander Schauffele. Erik van Rooyen also shot 62 on the final day on a course considered the toughest in the three-course rotation. The tournament also saw six rounds of 63 last year. Davis Thompson stood at 18 under through 36 holes, more than halfway to 30 under before “only” shooting 8 under over the last 36 holes. So the general trend of scoring at the tournament is low, low and lower.
American Express: Photos
In the opening round of this year’s tournament, both Zach Johnson and Alex Noren matched Thompson’s 62 from last year at La Quinta Country Club. In all, 27 players shot 65 or better Thursday.
Tour scoring is low
At The Sentry in Hawaii to start the season, Justin Rose shot a course-round 61 on the par-73 golf course the final day. At the Sony Open last week, there were three rounds of 62. The old adage is that some players are afraid to try to go low, being happy with a 65 rather than pressing too hard to shoot 62 and potentially mess up a strong round. But today’s pros seem more than happy to put the pedal to the floor and try to go as low as possible.
The Stadium Course scoring
In 1987, a 67 in the final round by Corey Pavin was the best round of the week when the Stadium Course debuted in the event. Players were so disgruntled with the course that it was taken out of the rotation after one year. Now, with players more fit and using better equipment, the Stadium Course yields low scores like the other courses in the rotation. The course record is a 61 by Patrick Cantlay in 2021. If the Stadium Course yields low scores, 30 under is a strong possibility.
Everyone connected with the American Express and PGA West is happy to discuss how the Stadium Course is in perhaps the best shape ever. That hasn’t necessarily been true the last year or two, but changes in conditions and a new superintendent have the golf course looking pristine. That means fewer bad bounces or scruffy lies, which could mean the one or two shots in a round needed to reach 30 under for 72 holes.
Toss in what is expected to be typical desert winter weather for at least the first three rounds, and the possibility of a 30-under winning score could become a reality.