Best bets for the Waste Management Phoenix Open

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Justin Rose broke a four-year winless drought at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, winning by three strokes over Brendon Todd and Brandon Wu in a Monday morning finish. He is the first European to win in the event’s history dating to 1937.

Rose cashed a 35-1 ticket for this column (to go along with Abraham Ancer’s 30-1 win at the Saudi International) and he rises into the OWGR Top 50 and likely secured a spot on the European Ryder Cup team later this fall. Rounding out the top 10 at Pebble Beach were: Denny McCarthy, Keith Mitchell, Peter Malnati (all T-4), Taylor Pendrith, Kevin Yu, Ryan Moore and Joseph Bramlett (all T-7).

 

This week, Super Bowl LVII is not the only big sporting event in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area as the WM Phoenix Open comes in with one of the best fields of the season. Twenty-two of the top 25 players in the OWGR (and 37 of the top 50) are in the field this week. The top 10 players in the FedExCup standings (and 26 of the top 30) plus all 11 players who have won on the PGA Tour for the 2022-23 season are in as well.

 

 

World No. 1 Rory McIlroy along with World No. 3 and Scottsdale resident Jon Rahm, who has four top-10 finishes and has never finished worse than 16th in six appearances here, are the co-favorites at 8-1. McIlroy has played this event once (2021, when he finished 13th). World No. 2 Scottie Scheffler (14-1) cashed for us last year at 28-1, and he is half that price this year to defend his WM Phoenix Open title, which he earned in a playoff over World No. 5 Patrick Cantlay (20-1).

Xander Schauffele (16-1) was runner-up in 2021 and third last year. Collin Morikawa (20-1) has finished second (Sentry Tournament of Champions) and third (Farmers Insurance Open) in his two starts so far in 2023. Tony Finau (20-1) finished second in 2020, losing in a playoff. Justin Thomas (22-1) finished third here in consecutive years in 2019 and 2020.

Max Homa (22-1) comes to TPC Scottsdale off a victory two weeks ago in San Diego. Team South Korea — Sungjae Im and the debuting Tom Kim — checks in at 30-1. Cameron Young (35-1) finished runner-up to Ancer last week in Saudi Arabia. Hideki Matsuyama (35-1) is a two-time WM Phoenix Open champion (2016 and 2017). Victor Hovland (35-1) and Matt Fitzpatrick (40-1), along with Jordan Spieth (40-1), played at Pebble Beach last weekend, but only Hovland (13th) ended up in the mix on the weekend.

Although he did not make the playoff, Sahith Theegala (50-1) had last year’s WM Phoenix Open title within his grasp, but a wayward drive on the 71st hole sunk his chances.

The Event

The Waste Management Phoenix Open, nicknamed the "Greatest Show on Grass" and more recently hashtagged as #ThePeoplesOpen, began in 1932 as the Arizona Open. The tournament alternated between the Phoenix Country Club and the Arizona Country Club until 1975 when the latter took over as host until 1987 when the event was moved to its present home of the Stadium Course at TPC Scottsdale. This event is historically the best-attended event in golf as the weekly attendance usually exceeds 500,000 spectators. The signature hole is the 16th, nicknamed “The Coliseum,” it’s a par-3 of 162 yards and possesses a party atmosphere as many college students from nearby Arizona State University flock to the course. Poor shots are jeered while good to great shots are met with raucous cheers. It’s almost as if “Happy Gilmore” comes to life here. With even more spectators in town for the Super Bowl, this will be an even livelier scene than normal.

Since 1973, the WMPO has been held on the weekend opposite the Super Bowl. Many big names have won, including three-time winners Arnold Palmer (1961, 1962, 1963), Gene Littler (1955, 1959, 1969), Mark Calcavecchia (1989, 1992, 2001) and Phil Mickelson (1996, 2005, 2013). Other legendary names to win here include Byron Nelson (1939, 1945), Ben Hogan (1946, 1947), Jimmy Demaret (1949, 1950), Billy Casper (1957), Jack Nicklaus (1964), Johnny Miller (1974, 1975) and Vijay Singh (1995, 2003). The tournament scoring record of 256 (-28) is shared by Calcavecchia (2001) and Mickelson (2013). The course record of 60 (-11) shared by Calcavecchia (2001), Grant Waite (1996) and Mickelson (2005, 2013).

This year, the WM Phoenix Open is a "designated" event with a $20 million purse and $3.6 million going to the winner.

The Course

The Stadium Course at TPC Scottsdale was designed in 1986 by Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish. It was redesigned in 2014 with the course being lengthened and the greens being resurfaced, which makes the low scoring of the records listed above obsolete. The track plays as a par-71 of 7,261 yards, which is average length by PGA Tour standards and comprised of 11 par-4s, four par-3s and three par-5s. TPC Scottsdale is about 1,530 feet above sea level (second highest on the PGA Tour), so the ball will travel a bit longer at altitude, but only around 2%.

In terms of scoring, TPC Scottsdale rated the 21st easiest on the PGA Tour last year, so it is middle of the pack.

The fairways are a Rye and Fescue overseed with an average width of 30.8 feet (12th narrowest on tour). The rough is relatively short at just 2 inches. The Poa trivialis/rye overseeded greens are firm and average in terms of speed (12 on the stimpmeter) and are the seventh largest (7,069 square feet) on tour. The back nine, particularly the last four holes, is the showcase of this course.

It starts on the 15th hole with a 553-yard par-5 that features an island green. Players typically have no issue reaching in two shots, and as the 15th-easiest hole on the course, making a birdie should be the worst-case scenario.

The par-3 16th hole, known as “The Coliseum,” is one of the most intimidating and raucous shots in golf. The chaos reverberating from the grandstands can be an issue for some, but it should actually be a simple hole that plays anywhere from 120 to 160 yards into a two-tiered green.

As mentioned, the par-4 17th is the most stressful and exciting hole on the course. Tournaments are won and lost here (as Sahith Theegala found out last year). It is because of holes like the 17th that since 2009, only two 54-hole leaders have managed to close out and win the tournament on Sunday.

The closing hole is a 442-yard par-4 that doglegs to the left with water down the entire left side. This water hazard has ended many chances for victory as it has the third-highest double-bogey or worse rate on the course at 2.7% and plays over par.

There are four par-3s on the layout and three of them measure over 180 yards.

Holes 7 and 12 were two of the four toughest holes on the course last year with No. 7 having just a 9.5% birdie rate last season (only hole sub-11%).

The majority of the 11 par-4s measure between 440-475 yards.

Hole 11 had the highest bogey rate on the course (19.6%).

Holes 11, 12 and 14 begin a tough stretch and were three of the four toughest holes last season.

All three of the par-5s measure just over 550 yards. All three had an eagle rate north of 2% of last season and Hole 13 had a higher birdie rate (45.2%) than par rate (43.6%) last season. Twelve of the top-13 finishers last season gained strokes on par-5s.

Correlated courses to TPC Scottsdale include TPC Summerlin, PGA West Stadium Course, TPC Sawgrass, Summit Club, Silverado, Concession and PGA West Nicklaus Tournament Course.

Recent History/Winners

2022: Scottie Scheffler (-16/268); 25-1*

2021: Brooks Koepka (-19/265); 50-1

2020: Webb Simpson (-17/267); 14-1**

2019: Rickie Fowler (-17/267); 22-1

2018: Gary Woodland (-18/266); 50-1***

2017: Hideki Matsuyama (-17/267); 11-1****

2016: Hideki Matsuyama (-14/270); 25-1 *****

2015: Brooks Koepka (-15/269); 40-1

2014: Kevin Stadler (-16/268); 125-1

2013: Phil Mickelson (-28/256); 25-1

2012: Kyle Stanley (-15/269); 66-1

2011: Mark Wilson (-18/266); 80-1******

2010: Hunter Mahan (-16/268); 66-1

Playoff win over Patrick Cantlay – *

Playoff win over Tony Finau – **

Playoff win over Chez Reavie – ***

Playoff win over Webb Simpson – ****

Playoff win over Rickie Fowler – *****

Playoff win over Jason Dufner – ******

Tournament Trends

Here are winner trends for the Waste Management Phoenix Open:

  • 14 of the last 16 winners had played in at least two previous WM Phoenix Open events.
  • 14 of the last 16 winners had at least one previous career victory on the PGA Tour.
  • 11 of the last 12 winners had a finish of seventh or better in one of their last five starts before their win at the WM Phoenix Open.
  • 13 of the last 15 winners had finished 11th or better in a previous WM Phoenix Open.
  • 13 of the last 15 winners had at least one previous top-10 that season.
  • 17 of the last 20 winners were age 34 or younger.
  • 11 of the last 14 winners were ranked No. 55 or better in the OWGR.
  • 11 of the last 14 winners had at least three career wins.

Statistical Analysis

Some past winners have gone on to victory gaining off the tee (2022: Scheffler — 4th SG OTT, 2019: Fowler — 3rd SG OTT), and some have gained more on approach (2017: Matsuyama — 1st SG APP, 2020: Simpson — 1st SG APP, 2018: Woodland —2nd SG APP, 2021: Koepka — 2nd SG APP). Strokes Gained: Ball Striking combines Strokes Gained: Off The Tee and Strokes Gained: Approach.

Strokes Gained: Ball Striking (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Rory McIlroy 59.6
  2. Brendan Steele 55.3
  3. Tony Finau 54.4
  4. Tom Kim 49.1
  5. Corey Conners 47.2
  6. Scottie Scheffler 46.2
  7. Collin Morikawa 45.7
  8. Xander Schauffele 45.1
  9. Tom Hoge 43.9
  10. Hayden Buckley 39.9
  11. Cameron Young 38.8
  12. Sungjae Im 38.6
  13. Shane Lowry 36.4

Total Driving combines Driving Distance plus Driving Accuracy.

Total Driving (2022-2023 PGA Tour season)

  1. Keith Mitchell 29 (24 + 5)
  2. Jon Rahm 45 (7 +38)
  3. Patrick Cantlay 48 (16 + 32)
  4. Scottie Scheffler 65 (41 + 24)
  5. Viktor Hovland 74 (54 + 20)
  6. Tyrrell Hatton 79 (37 + 42)
  7. Jason Day 82 (59 + 23)
  8. Max Homa 83 (57 + 26)
  9. Brendan Steele 83 (40 + 43)
  10. Hayden Buckley 85 (57 + 28)
  11. Rickie Fowler 98 (32 + 66)
  12. Matt Fitzpatrick 103 (84 + 19)
  13. Sam Burns 106 (21 + 85)
  14. K.H. Lee 108 (69 + 39)
  15. Davis Thompson 110 (14 + 96)
  16. Tony Finau 113 (77 + 36)

Note: Driving Distance Ranking + Driving Accuracy Ranking

Approach play should be examined every week and this week is no exception.

Strokes Gained: Approach (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Tom Hoge 43.5
  2. Tom Kim 41.7
  3. Collin Morikawa 32.5
  4. Xander Schauffele 31.7
  5. Brendan Steele 31.3
  6. Tony Finau 31.1
  7. Rory McIlroy 30.3
  8. Shane Lowry 28.9
  9. Mark Hubbard 27.3
  10. Corey Conners 27.2
  11. Russell Knox 26.7
  12. Russell Henley 23.4
  13. Si Woo Kim 22.9
  14. Chesson Hadley 21.4

TPC Scottsdale holds the title of the longest average distance course on tour. With the dry desert air and firm conditions, it averages over 304 yards off the tee. Being a bomber is not required to win here as Webb Simpson and Mark Wilson have proved. However, distance allows the players to avoid water hazards and bunkers.

Strokes Gained: Off The Tee (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Cameron Young 30.2
  2. Rory McIlroy 29.3
  3. Cameron Champ 28.4
  4. Scottie Scheffer 27.7
  5. Keith Mitchell 27.2
  6. Jon Rahm 26.5
  7. Hayden Buckley 25.7
  8. Brendan Steele 24
  9. Taylor Pendrith 23.9
  10. Tony Finau 23.3
  11. Sungjae Im 22.8
  12. Taylor Montgomery 21.5
  13. Matt Fitzpatrick 21.4
  14. Luke List 21.4

With the Poa trivialis greens being overseeded and baked by the desert sun, they roll fast and pure. This event is usually not a putting contest as evidenced by Kyle Stanley, Hideki Matsuyama and Kevin Stadler, all shaky putters, having won here. So, proven birdie makers, whether through short game or ball striking, can win here.

Birdie Or Better Gained (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Rory McIlroy 55.5
  2. Tony Finau 45.6
  3. Jon Rahm 41.3
  4. Cameron Young 39.5
  5. Taylor Montgomery 35.5
  6. Tom Kim 32.3
  7. Xander Schauffele 27.9
  8. Patrick Cantlay 27.4
  9. Viktor Hovland 27.1
  10. Max Homa 27.1
  11. Collin Morikawa 23.4
  12. Justin Thomas 21.9
  13. Tom Hoge 20.6
  14. Sungjae Im 18.6
  15. Tommy Fleetwood 18.3
  16. Jason Day 18

While the greens are pure, they are also large and the three-putts are a tad higher here, so avoiding bogeys on these big greens can be challenging.

Bogey Avoidance (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Rory McIlroy 30.6
  2. Tony Finau 27.7
  3. Xander Schauffele 27.3
  4. Matt Fitzpatrick 26.5
  5. Andrew Putnam 25.5
  6. Patrick Cantlay 25
  7. Shane Lowry 23.6
  8. Lanto Griffin 22.6
  9. Aaron Wise 22.3
  10. Jason Day 21.2
  11. Tom Kim 20.4
  12. Maverick McNealy 20.2
  13. Brian Harman 20.2
  14. Sungjae Im 19.6
  15. Scottie Scheffler 19.6
  16. Joel Dahmen 19.3

Over the last seven years, the winners have averaged a rank of 18th for Strokes Gained: Putting on these large and flat greens. However, there lies some tricky, short grass around these greens. Most greens feature collection areas that funnel errant approaches leading to the 10th-toughest conditions to scramble for par on tour.

Scrambling Gained (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Andrew Putnam 20.8
  2. Hideki Matsuyama 18.1
  3. Mackenzie Hughes 17.2
  4. Patrick Cantlay 16
  5. Maverick McNealy 15.6
  6. Aaron Wise 14.6
  7. Matt Fitzpatrick 14.3
  8. Tyrrell Hatton 14.2
  9. Shane Lowry 13.2
  10. Denny McCarthy 11.8
  11. Ricky Barnes 11.3
  12. Max Homa 10.8
  13. Tommy Fleetwood 10.7
  14. Taylor Montgomery 10

Five of the 11 par-4s measure between 450-500 Yards.

Strokes Gained Par-4s 450-500 Yards (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Maverick McNealy 30
  2. Rory McIlroy 26.3
  3. Tony Finau 21.8
  4. Tommy Fleetwood 21.1
  5. Cameron Young 18.8
  6. Max Homa 18.1
  7. Tyrrell Hatton 17.9
  8. Sam Ryder 17.5
  9. Sungjae Im 16.3
  10. Hayden Buckley 15.8
  11. Trey Mullinax 15.5
  12. Jon Rahm 15.4
  13. Shane Lowry 14.9
  14. Patrick Cantlay 13.7
  15. Keegan Bradley 13.2
  16. Tom Hoge 13

With potential bogeys lurking on some of these long par-4s, players have to birdie the three mid-range par-5s.

Strokes Gained Par-5 550-600 Yards (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Matt Fitzpatrick 17.1
  2. Stephan Jaeger 15.8
  3. Keegan Bradley 14
  4. Aaron Wise 13
  5. Taylor Pendrith 13
  6. Tony Finau 12.8
  7. Wyndham Clark 12.7
  8. Rory McIlroy 12.5
  9. Cameron Champ 11.6
  10. Charley Hoffman 11.2
  11. Taylor Montgomery 10.5
  12. Patrick Cantlay 10.3
  13. Sungjae Im 10.1
  14. Kevin Tway 10
  15. Jhonattan Vegas 10

Selections

Collin Morikawa (18-1, Circa Sports)

Morikawa started 2023 with a second (Sentry ToC) and a third (Farmers), which is why the opening prices of 25-1 have disappeared.

His work with new putting coach Stephen Sweeney has paid immediate dividends as he has gained 7.1 strokes combined with the putter in his first two events.

Morikawa, winless in 2022, has a bigger price here at TPC Scottsdale, a course that better suits him, than he hid at the 7,700-yard Torrey Pines.

Based in Las Vegas, Morikawa is adept at desert golf.

Tony Finau (20-1, BetMGM)

Finau lives just up the road from Scottsdale. He has some unfinished business here, having lost out to Webb Simpson in the 2020 WMPO playoff.

He has three victories in his last 11 stroke-play events with none of them coming on the West Coast, where he has always seemingly been at his best. He has finished fourth at PGA West in 2021; fourth (2017), sixth (2018), sixth (2020) and second (2021) at Torrey Pines; second (2018) and second (2021) at Riviera Country Club, plus second (2018) at Silverado Country Club.

Finau has two top-10s this season, including a ninth two weeks ago in San Diego, where a Saturday 64 on the South Course at Torrey Pines put him in contention.

Granted, Finau has missed the cut in five of seven appearances here, but he is a different player now and is playing the best and most consistent golf of his career.

Cameron Young (29-1, Circa Sports)

Young finished runner-up last weekend in Saudi Arabia, giving this column a 1-2 finish in the event as Abraham Ancer got home for us at 30-1.

The travel could be a factor in the opening round, but he should be motivated to get his first PGA Tour win. He was also placed into a non-featured pairing (with Martin Laird and Richy Werenski) as the No. 16 player in the OWGR. Is that punishment for going over and playing the Saudi event last week? Who knows?

Young leads this elite field for Strokes Gained: Off The Tee and is fourth for Birdie Or Better Gained.

I bet him in the high 30s (he opened 45-1 at DraftKings), but those prices are long gone. Anything around 30, though, is worth it.

Sungjae Im (29-1, Circa Sports)

Im finished fourth last time out at the Farmers in San Diego two weeks ago. He gained seven shots on approach which was second behind eventual winner Max Homa.

He ranks 12th in the field in Strokes Gained: Total at TPC Scottsdale. Im has also won at TPC Summerlin, which is another West Coast desert track that has some similarities to TPC Scottsdale.

Im was seventh here on debut in 2019.

Tom Kim (30-1, SuperBook Sports)

Kim makes his debut here and oftentimes it takes players time to get used to the raucous atmosphere in this event, but the charismatic and personable South Korean should thrive on it like he did at the Presidents Cup last fall.

He has seemingly taken to desert golf as well with a win at the Shriners in Las Vegas last fall and sixth three weeks ago at the AMEX in Palm Springs.

Kim ranked first for Strokes Gained: Tee To Green when fifth at the Sentry Tournament of Champions last month and was third in that category in his Vegas win.

Taylor Montgomery (66-1, BetRivers)

Montgomery finished only 31st last time out at the Farmers but may have had some scars from the week prior at the AMEX, where he was in the mix for his first PGA Tour victory but finished a disappointing fifth.

In his rookie season on the PGA Tour, Montgomery has eight finishes of 15th or better in 10 events, including two top-5s and four top-10s.

Also based in Las Vegas, Montgomery is adept at desert golf.

Keith Mitchell (75-1, Bet365)

Mitchell finished top-10 here last year and was in the mix for a victory last week at Pebble Beach before finishing T-4.

He rates No. 1 in this field for Total Driving.

Alex Noren (78-1, Circa Sports)

Noren makes his stateside debut this week in Phoenix, where he finished sixth last year.

He has three top-5 finishes in his last three worldwide events. The Swede was T-4 in Houston, T-2 at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai and was T-5 to open 2023 in Abu Dhabi.

Noren, like Justin Rose last week, is another European north of age 40 who spurned LIV Golf to stay and grind it out in order to make perhaps one last European Ryder Cup team.

Matchups (10-2 YTD; 3-0 last week)

Alex Noren -135 over Seamus Power

Adam Hadwin -125 over Taylor Pendrith

Keith Mitchell -135 over Tom Hoge