Waste Management Phoenix Open
It was a cracking week for us at Pebble Beach as not only did we land the winner with our 60/1 pick Tom Hoge but we also bagged a full place from our 100/1 selection Troy Merritt who finished fourth.
Heading in to Sunday it looked like we may be set for a showdown between the two big names who were lurking one shot off the lead, Jordan Spieth and Patrick Cantlay, however Cantlay struggled for much of the day while Spieth who at one point held a two shot lead down the stretch bogeyed the 17th hole, which opened the door for the fast finishing Hoge to collect his first PGA Tour title with three birdies in his final five holes.
With Merritt having earlier made a charge, which at one point looked like he might post a number hard to beat it was a Sunday full of excitement and it was great to see the chips fall our way.
So we move on in great spirits and after three weeks in California the PGA tour heads back in to the desert to TPC Scottsdale in Arizona located North East of downtown Phoenix. This will be the 35th consecutive year the event has been played at this venue.
The event has become known for its raucous crowds and record attendances. The four-day attendance of the tournament is usually around a half million; the best-attended event in golf. In 2016, it set a PGA Tour single day attendance record with 201,003 fans attending on the Saturday, and set a tournament week attendance record of 618,365 people. Last year due to the covid-19 pandemic crowd numbers were limited but this year normal service is st to resume.
There’s no doubt that a certain type of temperament is normally required to handle the atmosphere here, with the noise reaching a crescendo at the par 3 16th hole, nicknamed the Coliseum. This hole is basically an amphitheatre, which is usually surrounded by 20,000 + fans who will boo you in unison if you hit a bad tee shot.
In addition the fact that the event traditionally falls on Super Bowl weekend adds to the overall party atmosphere.
The field from a betting perspective is headed up by Sun Devil Jon Rahm who is a strong favourite. He is then followed by Justin Thomas, Patrick Cantlay, Viktor Hovland, Hideki Matsuyama and Jordan Spieth.
TPC Scottsdale is a par 71 playing to just over 7250 yards. The course features 3 par 5s and 4 par 3s. Undoubtedly the back 9 is the more scoreable 9 on the course with the real birdie opportunities coming on a 5 hole stretch from 13 through to 17, which features 2 par 5s and the driveable par 4 17th.
The greens are TiffEagle Bermuda.
The original course designers were Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish. The course then underwent a renovation in 2014 under the guidance again of Tom Weiskopf.
TPC Scottsdale is set in the Arizona desert and as such we should be looking this week at players with strong form in in other Desert events such as theBarracuda Championship, The Desert Classic and the Shriners Hospital for Children Open, as well as on the European Tour in Dubai.
In addition it is worth noting the event is played at altitude of approximately 1250ft above sea level.
As well as the Barracuda Championship and the Shriners other events played on the PGA Tour at altitude over recent years include the WGC Mexico and the CJ Cup in Korea.
So let us firstly look at the last ten winners of the event have been as follows;
2021 B Koepka
2020 W Simpson
2019 R Fowler
2018 G Woodland
2017 H Matsuyama
2016 H Matsuyama
2015 B Koepka
2014 K Stadler
2013 P Mickelson
2012 K Stanley
Looking at these winners and the first thing that grabs me is that as a rule previous form in desert events, whether here or elsewhere, is the key to solving the puzzle here.
Last years Champion Brooks Koepka was a previous winner here while the 2020 winner Webb Simpson had posted 4 previous top tens here including a second place finish, the 2019 winner Fowler had been the perennial bridesmaid here prior to his victory with finishes of 11 4 2 in the previous three years while Woodland the 2018 champion had previously won the Reno Tahoe event and finished 5th here and the winner for the previous two years Matsuyama had come 2nd here in 2015 and 4th in 2014.
If we then dig deeper Koepka had finished 3rd in the Dubai Desert Classic the year before winning here the first time, while Stadler, who was born in Nevada, was something of a desert specialist, having previously finished 11th, 5th and 2nd in Reno as well as 11th here the year before winning.
Go back even further and Mickelson was a two time winner here prior to his win in 2013, as well as having previously tasted success in the Desert Classic. In addition of course Phil has strong ties with the area having attended college in Arizona.
2012 winner Kyle Stanley had finished 10th at the Shriners the year before and in addition came here in strong form having memorably lost the previous week’s tournament at Torrey Pines with a meltdown on the 18th hole.
Going back even further 2011 winner Mark Wilson had won two starts previously in Hawaii, in addition he had posted a 9th place and 11th place finish in this event over the previous three years as well as a top 10 in Reno and at the Shriners while finally 2010 winner Hunter Mahan had posted a previous top 10 finish here.
To sum up every one of the past ten winners had posted previous top 10 finishes in Desert events, whilst eight of them had posted one either in this event or in Reno.
Current form coming in to the event can be beneficial as we saw with Simpson in 2020 who triumphed on the back of a third place finish at the Sony, however it is not a requisite.
2019 champion Rickie Fowler had only made one start in the calendar year a ‘loosener’ of a 66th place at Torrey Pines the week before, similarly Hideki Matsuyama had missed the cut on his only previous calendar year start, also at the Farmers, the year he was first victorious, conversely though 2018 winner Gary Woodland had finished 12th and seventh in his previous two starts. Finally last years winner Koepka had missed the cut in his first two outings of the calendar year.
All in all then, bearing in mind the completely different challenges they set, to me the pedigree in the desert is more important than form at Pebble Beach or indeed Torrey Pines over the previous fortnight.
Whilst you still need to go low there is a definite feel that the course has toughened up a bit since the redesign in 2014 and it is unlikely for the foreseeable future we will be seeing a winning score like the -24 Phil Mickelson posted in 2013.
It’s also worth noting that the type of player peppering the leaderboard since the redesign seems to have shifted slightly with solid tee to green players Reavie, Steele, Kuchar, Simpson, Spaun, Weekley and English all producing the goods here in the recent years. If we then look at last years final leaderboard there is even more evidence of this as not only did strong ball striker Matthew NeSmith perform well to finish seventh but finishing one shot ahead of him was 50+ Steve Stricker.
Undoubtedly bombing it off the tee is still an advantage but keeping it in play and finding the greens seems to have become more relevant.
Until his withdrawal with injury in 2018 Hideki had been the dominant player in the event over a four year stretch with two wins, a second place and a fourth place to his name.
Three of the past ten winners here, Koepka, Stadler and Stanley were all notching their first PGA Tour victories.
Over the last 6yrs the winning score has ranged from -14 to -19, with Koepka triumphing with a -19 total last year.
As you would expect for this event it is pretty much sunshine all the way with temperatures set to sit in the high 70s all week.
Wind though, which can play a part here looks like it could be an issue with gusts of over 20mph a possibility as I write across all four days.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with 5 players this week as follows;
JORDAN SPIETH – 20-1 – 2pts E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 60th
The field in Scottsdale is a pretty stacked one this week and you could make a strong case for pretty much any of those near the front of the betting.
Jon Rahm is sure to be in the mix again and you would similarly expect Justin Thomas to be there or thereabouts come Sunday afternoon.
Similarly Patrick Cantlay and Viktor Hovland tend to be in the hunt whenever they tee it up these days, with the Norwegian picking off wins for fun of late, and you would be hard pushed to pick holes in the case for course specialist Hideki Matsuyama.
It would be no surprise of course if any of the above landed another trophy this week however Rahm’s win ratio is enough for me to swerve him at his odds while Thomas will have needed to have ironed out the problems he was having off the tee at the back end of the week at Torrey Pines if he is to win.
Having then weighed all the market leaders up the one who appeals to me the most and who I will start things off with this week is Jordan Spieth.
This time last year Spieth emerged from his long spell in the doldrums with a scintillating Saturday 61 at Phoenix, which heralded a run of five top fifteen finishes in six starts before he finally got a comeback win in Texas.
Since then while Jordan is yet to win again he has regularly made the frame including two top three Major finishes and after a sluggish start to 2022 he kick started his year with a runner up finish at Pebble Beach at the weekend.
The fact that Spieth’s 2022 has started slowly can be explained on two fronts. Firstly when he tee’d it up at the Sentry ToC he was making his first tour start since the birth of his first child and understandably the clubs had played second fiddle over the winter break. Secondly when Jordan reappeared at Torrey Pines only to miss the cut it transpired he was suffering from a bacterial infection, which lead to him heading to hospital.
Not unsurprisingly then he was still fairly slow out of the gates last week however on Saturday at Pebble everything clicked and Jordan gained over five shots in approach with a scintillating long game display on his way to a 63.
Sunday perhaps predictably Spieth regressed slightly however there was still plenty of good stuff in his round of 69 until a combination of a dropped shot on the 17th and a superb burst of scoring from Hoge saw him relinquish a two shot lead.
Stung I’m sure by not closing out the win but heartened no doubt by his upturn in form Spieth now heads to Phoenix and another venue, which has seen him perform well at over the years.
Fourth last year to go with two further top tens in four other visits gives us the historical good form in the desert we are looking for while also showing of course that Spieth has what it takes to master TPC Phoenix.
My hunch then is just as Jordan did last year after his strong week here, that last weeks showing will kickstart a good run for him, and I can see him going one better than last week and bagging another trophy this time out.
ANDREW PUTNAM – 90/1 – 1pt e/w 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
A player who has been firmly on my radar for this event for a couple of weeks now is Andrew Putnam, and with this in mind it was in all honesty with trepidation that I watched his ascent to the top of the leaderboard at Pebble Beach last week, fearing he would post the win a week early.
In the end it wasn’t to be at Pebble for Andrew as a scrappy 73 saw him slip back to sixth place on Sunday, however the overall performance, which saw him notch by far his best effort on the Monterey peninsula was another affirmation that he is clearly trending in the right direction.
Results of 27th, 14th and last weeks sixth to start 2022 rubber stamp that Andrew is trending very nicely at the moment and therefore he is a logical pick to be on the radar wherever he next tee’s it up. What makes Putnam particularly interesting this week though is the fact that his record in the desert is hugely impressive and that is what makes him a must for me this week.
With regards to that record and firstly of course Putnam grabbed his lone PGA Tour win to date at the Barracuda in the desert in 2018 while his only subsequent start in the event saw him finish runner up last summer.
Add in then that Andrew finished seventh here last year, 11th at the Shriners last Fall, his only strong effort in the Fall events, and 10th at the American Express in 2020, his best result that year and it is there right in front of you. Basically Andrew loves desert golf.
With this in mind even with the strength of the field this week my concern was that his performance at Pebble would have seen his price for this week shrink considerably however I was pleasantly surprised to see the odds available and I am keen to be on board this week.
TROY MERRITT – 125/1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 38th
Next up for us this week is another chance for a player who gave us a great run for our money at Pebble Beach, Troy Merritt.
Merritt featured in our team last week due to a combination of his solid play over recent months and his strong record at Pebble Beach and he duly rewarded us in spades with his Sunday charge at one point threatening to take the trophy.
While Troy unfortunately stumbled over his closing holes his overall performance on the week was hugely encouraging and his great display with the irons over the two measured rounds at Pebble showed again how well this area of his game is working this season. This is backed up by the fact that he currently ranks sixth in approach play so for this campaign.
The one thing that is different to last week is that unlike at Pebble Beach, where Troy had eye catching form, TPC Scottsdale historically has not been a good hunting ground for him.
With a best here of 24th alongside several missed cuts in his last six visits his poor record here could understandably be enough to put many off, and is also perhaps why the layers are happy to dangle three figure odds again after last week. From my end of things though I am happy to look past his poor history here and instead look at two other correlating links.
Firstly a glance at the Barracuda shows us that Troy posted back to back runner up finishes in this event in 2020 and 2019 so we know that he is comfortable in the desert and playing at altitude.
Secondly with KH Lee having finished runner up here last year before posting his maiden tour title on another TPC track, TPC Craig Ranch, which got used for the first time at the Byron Nelson last year I was keen to explore the final leaderboard from that event, and lo and behold Troy popped up in seventh place.
Merritt followed up that seventh place finish last year with another seventh the following week at the Charles Schwab and having also finished fourth at the Valspar a couple of starts prior to his seventh at the Byron Nelson there is precedent in his recent times of him staying ‘hot’ when he gets ‘hot’.
On that basis and with some eye catching correlating form I am keen to keep Troy on side again this week.
MARTIN LAIRD – 150/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 14th
Having hit the jackpot at huge odds with Martin Laird at the Shriners 18 months or so ago based on the fact that he is always a player I will consider in the desert, I am certainly in no hurry to desert [ if you pardon the pun] that strategy and with three figure odds available again this week and with glimmers of positive signs from him, I am happy to jump on board once more.
With regards firstly to Martin’s recent up tick in form and after a largely underwhelming set of results in the remainder of the 20/21 season in 2021, a run, which saw nothing better than 23rd in a full field event, he picked things up a notch in the Fall events to start the new season.
Firstly there was the obligatory good showing in the desert at the Shriners where he posted a creditable 11th place in defence of his title, however he then backed this up with a solid 22nd place at the Mayakoba.
Moving on to this year and the Scotsman made his first start of 2022 at Torrey Pines a fortnight ago and a solid 46th place saw him rank 23rd for the week in approach play. More encouragement can then be found in that Laird currently ranks 19th for the season in approach play, which is a considerable upturn from his last campaign.
All of this is small acorns of course and would not normally have me racing to back a player, however when combined with Laird’s record in the desert it is enough to have me jumping on board.
Looking at this record in more detail and focusing first on Laird’s history at the WMPO and he has only missed the cut on three occasions in his past 12 starts here notching four top tens along the way.
A cursory glance then at his record on the Barracuda shows a bunch of high finishes including top tens while we then of course have his record at the Shriners where he is a two time champion.
Quite simply then whenever Laird tee’s it up in the desert at three figure odds and with a glimmer of encouragement in his form I will be happy back him, and will do so once again this week.
BRANDON HAGY – 300/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 10 - FINISHED MC
For my final pick this week I am going to roll the dice at big odds on Brandon Hagy
Since returning from a lengthy absence in 2018 following a major back problem Hagy has gradually pieced his career back together and last season saw him knock on the door of a maiden PGA title on a couple of occasions, particularly at the Honda Classic where he finished second.
Having on the back of this posted his best ever finish in the Fedex Cup last season, 84th place, Brandon will be hoping to push on this campaign and land his first tour title, however so far the season has offered very little with a best place finish of 51st in Bermuda all he has managed.
What we did see from Hagy before Christmas was a bunch of low rounds mixed in with a bunch of lack lustre ones. This can be seen from the fact that he notched 66, 65, 65 and 64 in four separate events across six starts at the end of the year, so there was some good golf in there but he couldn’t piece it all together.
2022 has again started frustratingly for Brandon as two missed cuts were followed by a 65th place MDF at Pebble Beach last week.
Looking more closely though and that effort at last week does offer some encouragement as after opening up with poor 74 at Monterey he shot 66 on day two at Spyglass before then posting a 71 at Pebble, which at one stage saw him 5- under for the tougher back nine before a triple bogey on the par three fifth, his 14th, undid much of the good work. Looking at his stats on that day though Brandon gained just over 1.7 shots in approach play.
All this is fairly speculative of course as is fitting for a player at the odds we can get on Hagy in Phoenix so the question is why this week? Well, the answer of course as is the case with the bulk of our team this week is his form in the desert.
Eighteenth, 12th and fifth in his last three starts at the Barracuda, which we know correlates well here, show a player who has got more and more comfortable in desert surroundings while a 16th place in this event on his last visit here a couple of years ago shows again that he can handle this type of challenge. Furthermore let’s not forget that the 19/20 season was a pretty bleak one for Hagy and he only bettered that effort of 16th once that whole campaign, with his 12th place at the Barracuda.
We have seen with Hagy that he is the type of player who can pop up out of nowhere if the course suits him, something best demonstrated by his second at the Honda last year, which came completely out of the blue, when he arrived at PGA National in no form at all, or indeed his sixth place at the Rocket Mortgage last summer, which again came out of nowhere.
To sum up then Hagy hit the frame three times last season, twice out of nowhere, and there were enough small glimmers in his showing at Pebble last week, which when coupled with his affinity for desert golf, lead me to believe he could do so again this week.
UPDATED 8th FEBRUARY
FANTASY DRAFKINGS PICKS
PICK 1 - RYAN MOORE - DK VALUE $6300 - FINISHED 49th - DK POINTS 65
I put up Ryan Moore in my main team a couple of starts ago at the Amex as I felt his need for Fedex Cup points to satisfy his Medical Extension might propel him to the one big result he needed.
Sadly it wasn't to be that week as he missed the three round cut, however last week at Pebble Beach saw a considerable improvement as he posted a 42nd place.
This week Moore arrives in Phoenix with two starts left on his medical and still needing one big result. My hunch then is that at an event he has performed well at before and which should reward his accurate long game he can push on again and build on last week and post a strong result.
PICK 2 - SCOTT PIERCY - DK VALUE £6300 - FINISHED MC - DK POINTS - 28.5
My second pick this week who is also priced at $6300 is Scott Piercy.
The reason for Scott's lowly value this week is simply his recent poor form, however in an event, which tends to favour desert specialists more than current form I am willing to take a gamble that the Vegas mans love for this type of golf will spark him back to life.
Piercy has made six of his past eight cuts in this event posting two top tens along the way while his first tour title came at the old stroke play version of the Barracuda in Reno, an event that he again made the frame in last summer in its current guise.
Basically whenever Piercy tee's it up in desert conditions he is a man to consider and I can't resist him at this price this week.