Depending on your viewpoint, the Waste Management Phoenix Open is either one of the most entertaining stops on the PGA Tour or one of the most obnoxious. Over 650,000 spectators crammed into the Stadium Course at TPC Scottsdale for the 2017 edition, making it the most attended golf event of all time, and it seemed that on the weekend almost all of them were packed into the famous amphitheatre that surrounds the 16th green.
The ‘Loudest Hole In Golf’ sees players cheered or jeered by the booze-fuelled fans dependent on the outcome of their tee shot, with many a tour pro letting the festival feel get the better of them on what is an otherwise unremarkable par 3.
If you’re channel-hopping before the Superbowl on Sunday, you’d do a lot worse than to spend some time enjoying seeing the players flourish or fail in the raucous party atmosphere.
TPC Scottsdale – a 7,266-yard par 71 played over a 1000ft above sea level – has hosted the event since 1987 and has lately become the plaything of defending champion Hideki Matsuyama, who bids to complete the PGA Tour’s first three-peat since Steve Stricker won the John Deere Classic in consecutive years between 2009-2011. Matsuyama’s total form line at the course reads 1-1-2-4 and he arguably arrives in better form than in any of the previous years, having finished a career-best T12 at Torrey Pines, which featured a closing 69 alongside the big cat Tiger Woods.
Whilst three-peats are as rare as rocking horse poo, it’s tough to argue that that 11.0 available doesn’t represent a shade of value given his previous body of work and he’d definitely be the pick of the three at the head of the market for me.
Given the desert location and the fact the course is situated at altitude, big hitters have consistently enjoyed an advantage here over the years, a fact borne out by a previous winners’ roll call featuring the likes of Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson, Kyle Stanley and JB Holmes.
Whilst bunters like Mark Wilson and Kenny Perry have landed the odds in the past, their wins are very much the exception rather than the rule so I’m confidently placing faith in the bombers this week.
In addition to length off the tee, the afore-mentioned players – like Matsuyama – are all fantastic ball strikers so a nod towards the Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green stat will also be given as we look to find this week’s winner.
Another key stat at TPC Scottsdale is scrambling. The course underwent significant restructuring to make it longer and fairer in 2014, and whilst the greens have settled down, the verbatims from the pros are that the greens are still tricky to navigate so it stands to reason that those that are able to knock it in closest when they miss the greens will stand to lose least ground to the field. The winners since the redesign have ranked 10th in scrambling during the week of their victory so we’ll be looking at this stat to point to the winner this week too.
With the above said, let’s assess some of the key protagonists other than Matsuyama this week:
Jordan Spieth is just shading favouritism but I’d have him a point or two longer than Matsuyama. Whilst you’d never write his chances off, he’s winless since his famous Open Championship victory back in July and his two appearances here have seen finishes of 9th and 7th. He could very well spring in and he’s entitled to be at the front end of the market given the career he’s put together thus far but he looks short enough to me.
Spanish phenom Jon Rahm is right there alongside Hideki in the betting and he is an interesting proposition, given he returns to his college home state and the scene of his 5th place finish as an amateur back in 2015.
He’s just one event removed from a run of results wrapping around the new year reading 1-2-1 but he looked like he might have run out of gas a little over the weekend at Torrey Pines as he played the final 36 holes in 8 over, having been bang in the mix on Friday night. His game and temperament look ideally suited to this challenge but again the price looks about right all things considered.
Rickie Fowler missed the cut last week but arrives here with a sterling record that includes a 2016 playoff loss and two further top 4 finishes. The Californian has become much more consistent in the past three years and is one of the games top scramblers, finishing 8th in that stat last season and currently sitting second this time around. He’s an underrated ball striker, finishing 16th in that category last year and clearly loves the party atmosphere created at the event.
With a 2-1-4 form line prior to the Torrey Pines missed cut, and 6 wins with a further 9 podium finishes over the last 3 years, it’s tough to see why he’s priced longer than Rahm and Spieth. I’ll be looking to add him to my portfolio this week.
It is certainly going to be tough for Justin Thomas to follow a year in which he won his first major and four other PGA Tour events, but for the moment it appears the reigning Player of the Year has gone off the boil a touch. In the limited field Hero World Challenge and Tournament of Champion events, he finished way down the field and he failed to crack the top 10 in the defence of his Sony Open title at the beginning of January. Allied that to a form line here reading MC-MC-17 and you’d have to say that he looks like one to leave at the price. We know he can ping in at any time but this might not be the ideal spot.
Whilst the above names are interesting at the top of the field, there are a few that are worth mentioning further down the list too.
Tony Finau’s history at TPC Scottsdale is pretty ordinary with just two missed cuts and a 22nd place finish but his 6th place last week showed encouraging signs that his mind is in the right place to add to his solitary tour win.
On top of this, his game looks perfectly suited to this test as he’s a beast off the tee and super consistent tee-to-green (ranking 10th in both stats last season). At a workable price, I’m willing to give him a chance around this layout and will be adding him to the portfolio.
JB Holmes was the villain of the piece last week as he dilly-dallied for 5 minutes before ultimately laying up on the 18th when needing an eagle to force his way into a playoff. He may not have got it done on that occasion but as a two time past champion here, his overall performance showed a timely return to form. Whilst I’d be reticent to get involved at 50.0, I think he’s one to keep an eye on if he shows continued good form in the first round here.
Old favourite Phil Mickelson has played this course more than any other pro and has a fantastic record featuring 3 victories, including his last win on US soil back in 2013.
We know he’s nearer 50 than 40 now and he’s always been one to spray it around off the tee but I have an inkling that he might be reinvigorated by Tiger’s return to the sport and his desire to try and show who’s boss.
Again I’ll be keeping a close eye on him over the first 18 holes and may well add him to the portfolio in play.
The final player I’m keen to mention is Byeong Hun An. The 2015 European Tour Rookie of the Year was 6th here on debut last year and enters this week off the back of a (albeit log jammed) tie for 6th last week at the Omega Classic in Dubai. Going from desert course to desert course should help and the mix of both course and present form is enticing. On top of this, he’s long off the tee (clocking in at just over 300 yards per drive last season) and very solid tee-to-green (ranking 18th last year). At a longer price, he looks good value to outrun his odds and I’m keen to have him in the portfolio this week.
Here are the recommended bets:
- Rickie Fowler – 2 points @ 15.0 (lay 2.5 points @ 2.75)
- Tony Finau – 1 point @ 44.0 (lay 3 points @ 7.5)
- Byeong Hun An – 1 point @ 70.0 (lay 4 points @ 10)
- Hideki Matsuyama – 0.5 point @ 11.0 (saver)