Stan Utley, ahead of this week’s American Century Championship, was asked who he thought was going to win the annual celebrity golf tournament. There are baseball, basketball and football players in the event. Actors, announcers and a Miss America, too. Curing Charles Barkley’s hitch may have been difficult for Utley, a longtime swing coach. But his answer here was easy.
“I want to know why they let a professional Hall of Fame golfer play,” Utley said. “I’m talking about Annika. But if they let her play up three, 400 yards, they better bring their games.”
Yes, among the 90 players at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course in Nevada will be three MVPs, 15 Cy Young winners, multiple Grammy and Emmy Award winners — and Annika Sorenstam, the owner of 72 career victories, including 10 majors, the only 59 in LPGA Tour history, and, as Utley mentioned, Hall of Fame status. It will be Sorenstam’s second appearance in the event, following a tie for second in 2014.
As for Utley’s famous pupil, another bet making the rounds is not whether Barkley can win — but whether he can finish in the top 70. Barkley says he can. “Listen, man, I’m going to finish in the top 70,” Barkley said on a call for the event. “You need to put more than $100 on me.”
What say you, Stan?
“To answer the question of how he’s going to do on day two and three, I predict he plays really good on day one and I don’t know how much he’s going to celebrate,” Utley said, laughing. “I don’t hang with him at night. And I have an idea that I wouldn’t want to anyway because I couldn’t keep up. I’m not going to predict that. But I do think he’s having enough fun playing golf now that he may take this very serious.”
To help you further, whether it’s for a low-stakes office fantasy league, or (legal!) big-bucks bets with a sportsbook, our staff has also made a to-win pick. The three-day event begins Friday, and it will be broadcast on NBCSN at 5 p.m. ET on Friday; and on NBC at 2:30 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday.
On to the picks:
Picks to-win for the American Century Championship
To-win: If this thing gets tight down the stretch, I want my clams on who I’m fairly certain is the only player in the field who has won 10 major titles. Actually, I’m very certain of that. Gimme Annika!
To-win: Tony Romo at 3-2 seems like a solid option! He won in 2018 and 2019, and I’m sure wants to wrestle away that trophy (do they have a trophy?) from 2020 winner Mardy Fish.
To-win: John Smoltz competed at a U.S. Senior Open, which is in no way informative at all of how this weekend will turn out. I DO, however, feel confident that he’ll beat his former ’90s sparring partner — and noted Braves-hater — David Wells, so I’ll roll with Smoltzy.
To-win: Gimme Mardy Fish. 2-1 isn’t exactly mega-value, but considering only 3-4 competitors have a chance to win, there’s more juice here than you think. Besides Annika, Fish is the best golfer in the field, and I like his chances to outduel Romo down the stretch.
To-win: It’s all about Annika! Sorenstam is getting her competitive juices flowing more regularly these days, and with the U.S. Senior Women’s Open on the horizon, she’s no doubt practicing around the clock. 8-1 odds feel like a bargain!
To-win: Mark Mulder. Mulder won three straight times, from 2015-17, then finished second the next two years and sixth in 2020. The difference? He said on a conference call that he bet on himself the past three years. This year, he says he’s not — so I am.
To-win: Give me John Smoltz at 8-1 odds. Romo is the favorite and for good reason, but a lot of attention will be placed on him from a rowdy crowd. Smoltz is far enough removed from his playing days that he’s likely to fly under the radar and just focus on his game.
To-win: Tempted as I am to go with Larry the Cable Guy, I think I’ll throw down on Smoltz, who has a few Champions Tour events under his belt this year and should have his game in decent fighting shape.
To-win: I’m from Dallas … gimme Romo.