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Monday, February 26, 2024

Best bets for the PGA WM Phoenix Open

WM Phoenix Open

Weather along the Monterrey Peninsula shortened the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am to a 54-hole event. We did the rain dance along with Wyndham Clark, who cashed for this column at 80-1 courtesy of a 12-under round of 60 on Saturday at Pebble Beach. The reigning U.S. Open champion carded a 28 on the front nine with eagles on both par-5s.

In all, Clark had two eagles, nine birdies and one bogey for his round of 60, which would have smashed the course record by two strokes but is unofficial because of preferred lies being in place on the water-logged course. Clark (-17) gained +5.3 strokes putting during Saturday’s round to win by one stroke over Ludvig Åberg and by two over the previous week’s Farmers Insurance Open winner, Matthieu Pavon. Mark Hubbard and Thomas Detry tied for fourth while Jason Day, Tom Hoge, Justin Thomas, Scottie Scheffler and Sam Burns rounded out the top 10. 

 

This week, the PGA Tour makes its annual stop coinciding with Super Bowl weekend at the WM (Waste Management) Phoenix Open. Although the WMPO is not designated as a “signature event,” it was scheduled to have seven of the OWGR Top 10 players in the field before Viktor Hovland and Xander Schauffele withdrew on Monday morning. 

The tournament favorite remains unchanged though as back-to-back WM Phoenix Open champion Scheffler (5-1) returns for a three-peat (it would be the first on the PGA Tour since Steve Stricker at the John Deere Classic 2009-2011) in Scottsdale. 

Thomas (10-1), who already has two top-6 finishes in 2024 and has seemingly rediscovered good form after a disastrous 2023 campaign, moves up to second choice on the odds board. He has three top-4 finishes at TPC Scottsdale in the last five years. 

Max Homa (16-1) is off to disappointing start in 2024 but won in South Africa a little less than three months ago, so he is not far removed from winning form. 

Jordan Spieth (20-1) started 2024 by finishing third in The Sentry at Kapalua and has four top-10s here in seven appearances. Burns (20-1) tied for sixth along with Spieth here last year and has started 2024 with two top-10 finishes, although he probably should have won three weeks ago at The American Express before he found the water on the 71st hole. 

Clark (33-1) heads the mid-range of the market along with Byeong-Hun An (33-1), Min Woo Lee (33-1), Sungjae Im (33-1), J.T. Poston (35-1), Matt Fitzpatrick (35-1), Cameron Young (40-1), Tom Kim (40-1) and Sahith Theegala (40-1).

Aside from defending champion Scheffler, other recent WMPO champions in the field include 2019 winner Rickie Fowler (55-1), 2018 winner Gary Woodlad (150-1) and  2016 and 2017 winner Hideki Matsuyama (60-1). 

The Event 

The Waste Management Phoenix Open, nicknamed the “Greatest Show on Grass” and more recently hashtagged as #ThePeoplesOpen, began all the way back 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 16th hole, nicknamed “The Coliseum,” is a par-3 of 162 yards and features 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. 

Since 1973, the WMPO, organized by local Phoenix charity The Thunderbirds, has been held on Super Bowl weekend. Many big names have won here, 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), Vijay Singh (1995, 2003) and Scottie Scheffler (2022, 2023). The tournament scoring record of 256 (-28) is shared by Mark Calcavecchia (2001) and Phil Mickelson (2013). The course record of 60 (-11) is shared by Calcavecchia (2001), Grant Waite (1996) and Phil Mickelson (2005, 2013).

Fourteen of the past 17 years had a scoring margin of one stroke, including seven playoffs.

The Field

This week we have a 136-player field with a 36-hole cut to 65 players and ties. 

The purse is back to $8.8 million, but five of the OWGR Top 10 and 21 of the OWGR Top 40 players are here this week. 

  • Brian Harman was a late entry into the field on Friday.
  • Davis Riley withdrew on Sunday.
  • Viktor Hovland withdrew on Monday; Kevin Chappell replaces on a sponsor exemption and Victor Perez is in as first alternate.
  • Xander Schauffele withdrew on Monday; Alexander Björk is in from the alternate list (Thorbjørn Olesen withdrew from alternate list).
  • Patrick Rodgers withdrew on Monday; Sami Välimäki is in from the alternate list. 
  • Nicolo Galletti, Patton Kizzire and Jim Knous earned spots in the field through Monday Qualifying.  
  • Kevin Streelman withdrew on Tuesday; Robert MacIntyre is in from the alternate list. 

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 mid-pack on the PGA Tour last year.

The fairways are a Rye and Fescue overseed with an average width of 31.5 yards (15th narrowest on tour). The rough is relatively short at just two inches. The Poa trivialis/rye overseeded greens are firm and average in terms of speed (12 on the stimpmeter) and are the ninth largest (7,069 square feet) on tour. Greens are a majority Poa trivialis with some ryegrass mixed in and are very similar to the greens at PGA West Stadium, TPC Sawgrass, Innisbrook, TPC San Antonio and Harbour Town.

The course should play firmer and faster as the week progresses, which can cause drives to roll through the fairways and approaches to roll off the greens into the short grasses. 

There are also five water holes and other holes with scattered waste areas. 

The back nine, particularly the last four holes, is the showcase of this course.

It all 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 be a simple hole that plays anywhere from 120 to 160 yards into a two-tiered green.

The par-4 332-yard 17th is the most stressful and exciting hole on the course. Tournaments are won and lost here (as Sahith Theegala found out two years ago). 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 been what ends 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.

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 

2023: Scottie Scheffler (-19/265); 13-1

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 – ******

Here are winner trends for the Waste Management Phoenix Open:

  • 15 of the last 17 winners had played in at least two previous WM Phoenix Open events.
  • 15 of the last 17 winners had at least one previous career victory on the PGA Tour.
  • 12 of the last 13 winners had a finish of seventh or better in one of their last five starts before their win at the WM Phoenix Open.
  • 14 of the last 16 winners had finished 11th or better in a previous WM Phoenix Open.
  • 14 of the last 16 winners had at least one previous top-10 that season.
  • 18 of the last 21 winners were age 34 or younger.
  • 12 of the last 15 winners were ranked No. 55 or better in the OWGR.
  • 12 of the last 15 winners had at least three career wins. 

Statistical Analysis

In five of the last seven years, the WMPO ranked either first or second in the field for Strokes Gained: Approach during their winning weeks. Scottie Scheffler gained 9.5 strikes on approach and led the field en route to victory. 

Strokes Gained Approach (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Scottie Scheffler 49.8
  2. Lucas Glover 43.6
  3. Sam Ryder 33.9
  4. Gary Woodland 28.6
  5. Eric Cole 26.5
  6. Chez Reavie 24.8
  7. J.T. Poston 24.6
  8. Shane Lowry 24
  9. Hideki Matsuyama 22.1
  10. Mark Hubbard 21.9
  11. Tom Hoge 21.5
  12. Corey Conners 21.2
  13. Rickie Fowler 20.9
  14. Adam Svensson 20.6
  15. Daniel Berger 20.3
  16. Justin Lower 20.2
  17. Kevin Streelman 19

Total Driving will be one of the key stats this week as 14 of the last 15 winners here ranked inside the top 55 in Total Driving on the PGA Tour in the season of their victory (with an average rank of 35th out of 188). Although TPC Scottsdale holds the title of the longest average driving distance course on tour (304 yards), accuracy is also important here to avoid the various hazards on the golf course. Total Driving Rank = Driving Distance Rank + Driving Accuracy Rank. 

Total Driving (2024 PGA Tour Season)

  1. Patton Kizzire 17
  2. Grayson Murray 47
  3. Austin Eckroat 66
  4. Sami Välimäki 67
  5. Carl Yuan 70
  6. Kevin Yu 74
  7. Billy Horschel 83
  8. Justin Thomas 90
  9. Nicolai Højgaard 91
  10. Shane Lowry 93
  11. Aaron Rai 98
  12. Jhonattan Vegas 101
  13. Will Gordon 106
  14. Brandon Wu 112
  15. Corey Conners 118
  16. Thomas Detry 122
  17. Eric Cole 127
  18. Justin Suh 130
  19. Nate Lashley 131
  20. K.H. Lee 133

The winning score will more than likely approach close to 20 under par. 

Birdie Or Better Gained (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Eric Cole 48.7
  2. Scottie Scheffler 34
  3. J.T. Poston 33.7
  4. Adam Scott 32
  5. Byeong Hun An 26.4
  6. Taylor Montgomery 25.1
  7. Max Homa 24.5
  8. Justin Suh 24
  9. Wyndham Clark 23
  10. Sungjae Im 21.7
  11. Garrick Higgo 21.4
  12. Erik Van Rooyen 21.2
  13. Akshay Bhatia 21.1
  14. Luke List 20.6
  15. Sam Ryder 20.5
  16. Sahith Theegala 19.8
  17. Thomas Detry 19.2
  18. Tom Hoge 18.3

There are plenty of hazards (especially water and waste areas) that can lead to big numbers at TPC Scottsdale. 

Bogey Avoidance (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Scottie Scheffler 25.4
  2. Alex Noren 24.8
  3. Brian Harman 24.5
  4. Chesson Hadley 22.9
  5. Min Woo Lee 22.2
  6. Sam Burns 22.1
  7. Ryan Moore 22
  8. Andrew Putnam 20.7
  9. Max Homa 20.2
  10. Greyson Sigg 17.2
  11. Bud Cauley 16.6
  12. Beau Hossler 15.7
  13. Brendon Todd 15.7
  14. Denny McCarthy 15.5
  15. Stewart Cink 15.4
  16. Byeong Hun An 15.2
  17. J.T. Poston 14.4
  18. Vince Whaley 14.4

All three par-5s measure just over 550 yards.

Par-5 Scoring 550-600 Yards (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Jordan Spieth 16.7
  2. Aaron Rai 16.2
  3. Rickie Fowler 14.4
  4. Aaron Rai 14.1
  5. Wyndham Clark 13.4
  6. Davis Thompson 12.8
  7. Thomas Detry 12.6
  8. Daniel Berger 12.4
  9. Harris English 12.2
  10. Lee Hodges 12.2
  11. Doug Ghim 12
  12. Ben Griffin 11.4
  13. Erik Van Rooyen 10.4
  14. Scottie Scheffler 9.5
  15. Sam Burns 8.3
  16. Nate Lashley 8
  17. Sahith Theegala 8

Chipping from the short grass areas is the main difficulty for scrambling at TPC Scottsdale. 

Scrambling Gained (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Brendon Todd 17.9
  2. Aaron Baddeley 17.4
  3. Brian Harman 16.8
  4. Taylor Montgomery 16.3
  5. Denny McCarthy 15.7
  6. Peter Malnati 15.6
  7. Bud Cauley 14.7
  8. Alex Noren 14.2
  9. Sam Burns 14.1
  10. Stewart Cink 13.7
  11. Maverick McNealy 12
  12. Christiaan Bezuidenhout 11.7
  13. Daniel Berger 11.5
  14. Andrew Putnam 11
  15. Jordan Spieth 10.6
  16. J.T. Poston 10.1

The plurality of approach shots will come from the 150-175 and 175-200-yard buckets. 

Proximity 150-175 Yards (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Lucas Glover 11.58
  2. Sam Ryder 10.98
  3. Brandon Wu 10.11
  4. Akshay Bhatia 9.65
  5. Nicolas Echavarria 9.61
  6. Ben Martin 8.96
  7. Daniel Berger 8.89
  8. Tom Hoge 8.86
  9. Mark Hubbard 8.69
  10. Greyson Sigg 8.11
  11. Michael Kim 8.02
  12. Harris English 7.72
  13. Sam Burns 7.69
  14. Eric Cole 7.68
  15. Callum Tarren 7.42
  16. Scott Stallings 7.42

Proximity 175-200 Yards (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Gary Woodland 15.97
  2. Eric Cole 13.53
  3. Adrien Dumont De Chassart 12.87 (5 rounds)
  4. Justin Lower 12.27
  5. Scottie Scheffler 11.84
  6. Chez Reavie 11.24
  7. Tom Hoge 10.22
  8. Sam Ryder 9.85
  9. Lucas Glover 9.62
  10. Kurt Kitayama 9.32
  11. Austin Eckroat 9.3
  12. Greyson Sigg 8.69
  13. Adam Svensson 8.24
  14. Tom Kim 7.18
  15. Luke List 6.59
  16. Jhonattan Vegas 6.57

Note: Feet Gained Toward the Hole Per Shot from the Distance

The greens at TPC Scottsdale are some of the easiest to putt on tour. With the Poa trivialis greens being overseeded and baked by the desert sun, they roll fast and pure. Plus, they are flat and lacking undulations. 

Strokes Gained Putting — Firm and Fast Greens (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Maverick McNealy 38.8
  2. Denny McCarthy 38.6
  3. Taylor Moore 29.3
  4. Sam Ryder 29.1
  5. Max Homa 28.7
  6. Brendon Todd 28.6
  7. Matt Kuchar 26.6
  8. Harris English 26.4
  9. Chesson Hadley 24.3
  10. Alex Noren 23.2
  11. Daniel Berger 23
  12. Christiaan Bezuidenhout 21.9
  13. Sam Burns 21.7
  14. Adam Scott 20.9
  15. Wyndham Clark 20.4
  16. Peter Malnati 20

Based on past performance, TPC Scottsdale is the fourth-most predictive course on the PGA Tour. 

Average Strokes Gained Total Per Round TPC Scottsdale (Last 24 rounds)

  1. Scottie Scheffler 2.79 (14 rounds)
  2. Justin Thomas 2.44
  3. Rickie Fowler 1.88
  4. Sungjae Im 1.79 (16 rounds)
  5. Hideki Matusyama 1.75
  6. Sahith Theegala 1.72 (8 rounds)
  7. Taylor Moore 1.72 (4 rounds)
  8. Matt Fitzpatrick 1.6 (8 rounds)
  9. Byeong Hun An 1.46 (20 rounds)
  10. Alex Noren 1.41 (14 rounds)
  11. Matt Kuchar 1.32
  12. Jordan Spieth 1.31
  13. Max Homa 1.28 (20 rounds)
  14. Kurt Kitayama 1.22 (4 rounds)
  15. Garrick Higgo 1.14 (6 rounds)
  16. Billy Horschel 1.03
  17. Martin Laird 1.01

Selections

Byeong Hun An (28-1, BetMGM)

Benny An is just four weeks removed from missing a short putt that cost him a potential victory in the playoff at the Sony Open.

He has very solid form in desert golf conditions with a run of four consecutive top-15 finishes at the Dubai Desert Classic and having been the 54-hole leader here at TPC Scottsdale in 2017 before finishing sixth. 

An ranks sixth in this field for Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee over the last 36 rounds. 

Sahith Theegala (38-1, Circa Sports)

Theegala first came to prominence in this event in 2022, when he could and maybe should have won his first PGA Tour title if not for a bad bounce into the water for his drive on the 71st hole, which dropped him to an eventual finish of third. 

He was also runner-up in The Sentry to start 2024 and was a recent winner last fall at the Fortinet Championship. 

Adam Hadwin (50-1, BetMGM)

Hadwin, a Canadian, is based in Scottsdale now and is a regular in this event (10th here last year).

He finished sixth three weeks ago at The American Express. 

The 36-hole leader here last year also finished runner-up last fall at the Shriners in Las Vegas and is very comfortable with desert golf. 

Hideki Matsuyama (50-1, BetMGM)

Matsuyama was poor last week at Pebble Beach, finishing 71st in an 80-player field but was 14th for Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee. 

He is a two-time champion (2016, 2017) at TPC Scottsdale and a runner-up (2015). 

Perhaps he improves on these easier greens after the bumpy Poa seen the last two weeks at Torrey Pines and Pebble Beach. 

Kurt Kitayama (90-1, BetMGM)

Kitayama finished T-39 last week at Pebble Beach but led the field for Strokes Gained: Tee-To-Green and was fifth for Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee. 

The putter has not fired for him for a while now, but we have seen historically poor putters win here on these smooth and easy greens. 

Erik Van Rooyen (100-1, Bet Rivers)

Van Rooyen saw fellow South African Dylan Frittelli win last week on the DP World Tour in Bahrain.

His desert form is solid on both tours. He made the top 25 at The American Express and the Shriners in his last two desert starts on the PGA Tour while he was sixth in the 2020 AMEX. 

Van Rooyen was runner-up the last time he contested the Qatar Masters, while his last four visits to the UAE show four top-15s in five starts across three events. The most recent was fourth in the 2022 Dubai Desert Classic.

Placement markets and matchups will be available at VSiN.com/picks on Wednesday

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