Waste Management Phoenix Open
It was a disappointing end for us to a protracted week at Pebble Beach as having headed in to the delayed Monday finish with 80/1 pick Beau Hossler on the heels of leader Justin Rose the Californian played his final six holes on the final day to not only relinquish any chance of a win but to tumble out of the places.
The event itself was won by a resurgent Justin Rose who having showed some promising signs of late produced a superb performance to close out his first win since his victory at Torrey Pines in 2019.
It’s been a tough year or two for the Englishman and he could easily of slinked off in to the sunset of his career with a huge paycheck from elsewhere. Instead though he deserves huge credit for knuckling down and rediscovering his game and he will now have his eyes set on the upcoming Major season and Rome in September.
So 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.
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.
With the tournament being named as one of the ‘designated events’ for 2023 The field is the strongest we have seen so far the this year as the games two dominant players Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm go head to head for the first time this year. Understandably this pair dominate the betting market with the layers finding it hard to separate the two. This duo are then followed by defending champion Scottie Scheffler, Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay.
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 the Reno Tahoe Open, 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 Reno Tahoe Open 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;
2022 S Scheffler
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
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 Scottie Scheffler had finished seventh here the year before while 2021 champion Brooks Koepka was a previous winner here. 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. Finally 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 thirteen 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. 2021 winner Koepka had missed the cut in his first two outings of the calendar year and finally last years champion Scheffler had been solid but unspectacular in finishing 25th and 20th in his first two outings of the 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 the 2021 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.
Four of the past ten winners here, Scheffler, Koepka in 2015], 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 Scheffler triumphing with a -16 total last year following a play off.
While we are set for the usual week of sunshine in the desert temperatures don’t look set to get much above the mid to high 60s through the week with a distinct early morning chill quite likely.
In addition wind, which can play a part here looks like it could be an issue with gusts of over 20mph a possibility as I write across the week.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with 5 players this week as follows;
COLLIN MORIKAWA 20/1 – 2pts E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
First up this week I am going to side with a player who came so close to delivering the goods for us at the 2023 curtain raiser, Collin Morikawa.
At the sentry ToC Morikawa looked like a man on a mission to put right a winless 2022 and for 63 holes he played flawless bogey free golf to open what seemed an unlosable six shot lead. What happened then though was scarcely believable as the two time Major Champion unravelled over the back nine to open the door for Jon Rahm.
A huge punch in the gut for Morikawa then no doubt but once the dust settled he hopefully would have seen the positives in that for the vast majority of the week he produced some great stuff.
Moving on then and next time out at Torrey Pines Collin produced another clinic from tee to green to lead the field in Driving Accuracy while he ranked second from tee to green and third both off the tee and in approach play for the measured rounds on the South Course, while even the putter, which he talked so positively about at Kapalua behaved to a decent measure ranking 27th.
Basically then it’s the usual story for Collin, the long game is thriving and we just need a ‘go’ week on the greens to see him seriously in the hunt.
So with the long game in such good working order what about Morikawa’s suitability to this test in the desert?
Well firstly it should be said that this is only the second time Colin has made the trip to TPC Scottsdale following his 25th place finish here in 2020 and I admit that this is a slight down side. The flip side to the coin though is that the 25yr old’s maiden PGA Tour title came in the desert at the correlating Barracuda in 2019 so he has the requisite desert form. Furthermore we have a win out in Dubai at the DP World Tour Championship and a runners up finish at the CJ Cup at the Summit Club in the desert to rubber stamp Collin’s desert CV.
Finally as noted earlier TPC Scottsdale has very much become a venue that rewards strong tee to green play over recent years, something backed up by the fact that four of the past seven winners here ranked first or second for the week in approach play and as we know this the area Morikawa excels in.
All in all then with Morikawa having started the year really strongly and with, to my mind, TPC Scottsdale a perfect fit for him, he looks the pick to me pricewise of those at the very top end of the market and I will take him to put things right after the recent disappointment in Hawaii.
SUNGJAE IM – 28/1 – 1.5pts E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED T6th
Next up I’ll stick with a player who gave us a full place return at Torrey Pines a couple of weeks back, Sungjae Im.
The recently married Im started his 2023 campaign with a couple of lower key performances out in Hawaii which included a MC at the Sony. The following week though there were promising signs at the Amex before then coming good for fourth place at the Farmers.
Looking at Sungjae’s effort at the Farmers in more detail and he ranked fifth from tee to green, second in approach play and sixth on the dance floor in the measured rounds, so everything key was working well.
Arriving in Scottsdale then with great momentum and after a week off Im now returns to a track that he has visited three times now, playing solidly on all three occasions and posting a best of seventh to give us that all important previous top ten here we are looking for.
If we then cast the net wider at the young Korean’s resume in the desert we have a win at the Shriners and further top tens there, to go with top ten’s at the CJ Cup at the Summit Club and the Amex.
Im has shown in his time on tour that if he enjoys a track he will return there and repeatedly perform well there again and with his form trending nicely he looks set to produce another big performance here this week.
ALEX NOREN – 66/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Next up is a player who if you join all the obvious dots from course form, to correlating course form, to current form simply can’t be left out this week, Alex Noren.
An 11 time winner on the DP World Tour Noren has chosen to ply his trade in the US on a regular basis over recent years and despite having not yet won Stateside he has been a really solid performer bar one poor year in 18/19.
After another solid season on the PGA Tour last year which saw him finish 70th and a decent start to the new campaign, which saw him post a fourth place in Houston Noren then headed back to the DP World Tour to post a second place at the seasons finale in Dubai before starting 2023 in similar vein with a fifth place in Abu Dhabi. Three top five’s in his last three starts then.
On to this week then and Alex makes his 2023 bow in the US at a venue where he finished sixth last year to go with a couple of solid efforts in his previous two visits.
Furthermore Alex’s best result of the 22/23 campaign on the PGA Tour was a runner up finish out in the desert at the correlating Barracuda, an event that he also finished ninth in on his only other previous start.
In addition it is certainly encouraging that the Swede posted a 12th place finish last year at the Byron Nelson on another TPC layout, which links very nicely here through KH Lee.
Clearly Noren is in a rich vein of consistency at the moment and with this coinciding with a return to the desert and an environment he clearly thrives in he is a must for me this week.
ANDREW PUTNAM – 125/1 – 1pt e/w 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
There is no doubt that it was a disappointing week for Andrew Putnam at Pebble Beach last week and to put it bluntly he struggled with pretty much all aspects of his game.
As we know though golf is a strange game at times and having been in such strong form prior to last week I cant help think the layers have over reacted pushing Andrew out to all but five time his odds from seven days ago. Granted of course this is a way stronger field but if the American had posted a 25th or thereabouts at Pebble we’d probably be looking at half the odds he is now.
So then with desert golf in Arizona being about as far removed as you can get from a windswept week at Pebble Beach I will take a risk that last week was just ‘one of those weeks’ and that Andrew will get back on the saddle at a venue and style of golf we know suits.
Focussing on that side of things and what makes Putnam particularly interesting this week is the fact that his record in the desert is hugely impressive.
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 in 2021.
Add in then that Andrew finished seventh here in 2021, 11th and 12th at the Shriners over the last two years, and tenth 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.
I put up Putnam in this last year after he was right in the mix at Pebble the week before only for him to miss the cut, perhaps a hang over from not having go the job done at Pebble.
This week though Andrew will hopefully come in with a different mindset, one of wanting to get back on track after by far his worst performance and first missed cut of 2022/23 and I am happy at the odds to stick with him and chance him to do so.
DANNY LEE – 300/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 10 - FINISHED 57th
Finally in a week where in all likelihood the winner will come from those at the top end of the betting with some layers offering ten places each way I will take one huge price each way flyer on Danny Lee.
Backing Lee is as we know is not for the feint hearted and there is always a chance you find yourselves on board in a horror week with a WD at the end of it. Equally though lets not forget that Lee won the US Amateur at the age of 18, became number one ranked amateur in the world shortly after and then won the Johnnie Walker Classic a professional event, when still an amateur the following year in 2009. There is no doubting then Lee is a hugely talented player who despite having battled plenty of ups and downs since, still at 32 has plenty of time to deliver his best stuff.
So why chance Danny this week? Well despite his undoubted propensity to throw in a horror week with reasonable regularity Danny is also more than capable of mixing it in big events when he finds his game, something which he has proven with top tens at The Players, Bay Hill, The CJ Cup and indeed here over the years along with of course his lone PGA Tour win, which came at The Greenbrier.
Following on from this and what particularly is noticeable about Danny though is when his form does tend to perk up he can produce two or three good results on the spin, something we saw fir example last season when he was second in Bermuda and seventh the following week in Mexico or to a lesser extent when he produced two great days at the Charles Schwab and then came tenth a couple of weeks later in Canada. From that point of view then Danny’s 16th place at the Amex a few weeks back piqued my interest particularly as he ranked 12th in approach play and fifth in putting in the measured rounds. Furthermore while he followed this with a MC at the Farmers the following week he actually played really nicely at the South on day one when shooting 71.
If we then go back further to Lee’s only other start this year where he finished 48th at the Sony he ranked 14th for the week in Approach Play while there were also plenty of positives in his final start of 2022 when he finished 21st at the RSM.
With his approach play firing nicely then for a while, a big key for this week, Danny returns to a venue where he was fourth back in 2016 and as a player who is not afraid to mix it at the highest level when he clicks I’ll chance him at big odds to produce a big performance this week.
UPDATED 7th FEBRUARY
FANTASY DRAFTKINGS PICKS
PICK 1 - MARK HUBBARD - DK VALUE $6300 - FINISHED MC - DK POINTS 18.5
First up in this section this week is Mark Hubbard.
Hubbard enjoyed a solid 21/22 PGA Tour campaign and then began his 22/23 season in simiarly strong fashion with a top five at the Sanderson Farms. Following that though things tailed off to conclude 2022 and 2023 also started quietly with a couple of MC.
Last week though Mark played nicely to finish 20th at Pebble Beach and this uptick in form ties in well with his return to Scottsdale this week where he has a strong record with four made cuts in four with a best finish of ninth.
Add this to the fact that Hubbard has a top five and two further top 20s to his name at the Barracuda and unsurprisingly for a man brought up in Colorado we get a clear picture of a player he is very much at home at altitude and in desert golf , all of which makes him a great play at the price this week.
PICK 2 - RICHY WERENSKI - DK VALUE $6100. - FINISHED MC -- DK POINTS - 24.5
Another player lurking right at the bottom of the pricing who has a good history on the desert is Richy Werenski.
Richy's big moment on tour to date came at the Barracuda in 2020 when he landed the trophy, which immediately flags him up as someone of interest here. This is then rubber stamped by the fact he has made the cut on two of his three visits here with a best of 22nd a couple of years back, when he closed with a 64.
It's been a lean season for Richy to date with only two cuts made however his best showing of the campaign came last week at Pebble Beach where he finished 20th so I'll take a chance that he can build on that effort this week and stick around for all four days again.,