PGA Tour's Phoenix Open: Best bets

February 8, 2022 10:44 PM
USATSI_17461281

Two weeks ago, Luke List earned his first PGA Tour victory after 206 career starts at the Farmers Insurance Open. Last week, Tom Hoge did the same after 203 starts at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. With a terrific ball-striking performance on the back nine on Sunday, Hoge also provided this column with a 60-1 outright winner. He went 9-for-9 for Greens In Regulation, hitting seven approach shots inside of 20 feet with an average proximity of 15 feet, 5 inches. Hoge gained 2.3 strokes on approach over the final nine holes. Readers of this column last week learned that Hoge, after Daniel Berger's withdrawal from the tournament, led all players in the field for Strokes Gained Approach over the previous 24 rounds coming into the event. Both List and Hoge are in this week's field at the Waste Management Phoenix Open at 70-1 price tags. Harold Varner III, the winner of last week's Saudi International, is priced at 50-1 and still seeking his first PGA Tour win.

At the top of the board this week is Scottsdale resident and Arizona State University alum Jon Rahm (15-2). Rahm, the current OWGR No. 1, has never been able to win a home game at the Phoenix Open but has the lowest cumulative score to par over the last five years here at 56-under. Justin Thomas (14-1), also seeking a win in Phoenix for the first time, has consecutive third-place finishes here in 2019 and 2020. Viktor Hovland (18-1), ranked No. 3 and arguably the hottest player in the world, only has one appearance here (MC, 2020) but has won three events in his last five starts dating back to November, including the Dubai Desert Classic two weeks ago. Patrick Cantlay (16-1) was in contention last week at Pebble Beach but settled for a fourth-place finish. He has finished fourth or better in four of his last five events dating back to August, with a victory at the BMW Championship. 

While all of the players listed in the previous paragraph seek to win this event for the first time, Hideki Matsuyama (18-1) already has two victories (2016, 2017) and a runner-up (2015) in Phoenix plus two victories (Zozo Championship and Sony Open) in his last four worldwide starts. Jordan Spieth (20-1) looked to be the man to beat at Pebble Beach before he made a costly bogey at 17 and failed to birdie the par-5 18th, which led to a runner-up finish. A year ago, Spieth was in danger of falling out of the world’s top 100 until he finished fourth in Phoenix, jumpstarting a return to form. Xander Schauffele (22-1) was the co-runner-up here to eventual champion Brooks Koepka (30-1), a two-time winner in Phoenix (2015, 2021). 

In all, 15 of the top 20 players in the OWGR are in Phoenix for the best full-field event of the year so far in 2022. 

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 has been played at the Stadium Course at TPC Scottsdale since 1987. This is historically the best-attended event in golf, with weekly attendance usually exceeding 500,000 spectators. The signature hole is the 16th, nicknamed “The Coliseum,” a par-3 of 162 yards that possesses a party atmosphere. Poor shots are jeered while good and great shots are met with raucous cheers. It’s almost as if Happy Gilmore comes to life here. Last year, attendance was limited to 5,000 spectators a day due to COVID-19 protocols, but the event will be back to full capacity for 2022. 

Since 1973, the WMPO 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) and Vijay Singh (1995, 2003). The tournament scoring record of 256 (-28) is shared by Calcavecchia (2001) and Mickelson (2013). The course record is 60 (-11), shared by Grant Waite (1996), Calcavecchia (2001) and Mickelson (2005, 2013).

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 course records likely untouchable for now. The track plays as a par-71 of 7,261 yards, which is average length by PGA Tour standards, and has 11 par-4s, four par-3s, and three par-5s. TPC Scottsdale is about 1,530 feet above sea level (fifth highest on the PGA Tour), so the ball will travel a bit longer at altitude but only around 2%. The fairways are Bermudagrass overseeded with Rye and Fescue. The Bermudagrass greens, overseeded with Poa Trivialis and Ryegrass, are firm and slightly above average in terms of speed (12 on the stimpmeter). They’re also quite large (7,069 square feet). 

The back nine, particularly the last four holes, is the showcase of the course. The 15th is a reachable par-5 with water lurking on the entire left side. The 16th is the par-3 amphitheater with a 20,000-seat grandstand. The 17th is a driveable par-4 with water, and the 18th also contains water and deep bunkering.

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

— 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 Tony Finau*

Playoff win over Chez Reavie**

Playoff win over Webb Simpson***

Playoff win over Rickie Fowler****

Playoff win over Jason Dufner*****

Statistical Analysis

Strokes Gained Ball Striking (Last 24 Rounds)

The last six winners of the WMPO have had average field rankings of 11th for Strokes Gained Off The Tee and fifth for Strokes Gained Approach. Strokes Gained Ball Striking combines Strokes Gained Off The Tee and Strokes Gained Approach.

— Jon Rahm, 38.6

— Daniel Berger, 34.7

— Viktor Hovland, 34.7

— Luke List, 29.7

— Russell Henley, 29.2

— Corey Conners, 27.9

— Justin Thomas, 25.7

— Mito Pereira, 25.3

— Adam Scott, 23.2

— Tom Hoge, 23.2

— Hideki Matsuyama, 21.6

— Patrick Cantlay, 21

​Strokes Gained Off The Tee (Last 24 Rounds)

— Jon Rahm, 20.6

— Luke List, 16.5

— Keith Mitchell, 16.4

— Patrick Cantlay, 15.5

— Corey Conners, 14.9

— Viktor Hovland, 13.9

— Matt Fitzpatrick, 12.2

— Bubba Watson, 12.2

— Sam Burns, 11.3

— Troy Merritt, 11.3

— Joseph Bramlett, 11

— Emiliano Grillo, 10.8

​Strokes Gained Approach (Last 24 Rounds)

— Daniel Berger, 30.1

— Tom Hoge, 25.3

— Russell Henley, 23.5

— Viktor Hovland, 20.8

— Chez Reavie, 20

— Jon Rahm, 18

— Justin Thomas, 17.9

— Mito Pereira, 17.6

— Adam Scott, 16.9

— Talor Gooch, 16.9

— Russell Knox, 16.1

— Louis Oosthuizen, 16.1

Strokes Gained Par-4s: 400-450 Yards (Last 24 Rounds)

There are 11 par-4s at TPC Scottsdale. Five of them measure between 400-450 yards and five others between 450-500 yards. The outlier is the driveable par-4 17th at 332 yards.

— Tyler Duncan, 17.4

— Seamus Power, 13.4

— Denny McCarthy, 13

— Jon Rahm, 12.7

— Jason Dufner, 11.8

— Corey Conners, 11.6

— Russell Knox, 11.2

— Adam Scott, 11

— Matt Kuchar, 10.1

— Kramer Hickok, 9.7

— Victor Hovland, 9.3

— Brian Stuard, 8.9

Strokes Gained Par-4s: 450-500 Yards (Last 24 Rounds)

— Andrew Putnam, 15.2

— Adam Schenk, 14

— Viktor Hovland, 13.7

— Russell Henley, 13.2

— Billy Horschel, 12.6

— Luke List, 12.2

— Pat Perez, 11.2

— Daniel Berger, 10.7

— Patrick Cantlay, 10.7

— Francesco Molinari, 8.3

— Bubba Watson, 8.2

— Alex Noren, 8.1

Greens In Regulation Gained (Last 24 Rounds)

The last six winners at the WMPO have had an average field ranking of fourth for Greens In Regulation. Brooks Koepka (2021) and Hideki Matsuyama (2016) both topped the field for GIR during their winning weeks. 

— Russell Knox, 43

— Luke List, 32.7

— Adam Hadwin, 25.6

— Russell Henley, 24.9

— Scottie Scheffler, 24.3

— Jon Rahm, 23.8

— Patrick Rodgers, 22.6

— Corey Conners, 22.5

— Martin Laird, 20.8

— Charles Howell III, 20.8

— Viktor Hovland, 19.2

— Talor Gooch, 18.2

Scoring Opportunities Gained (Last 24 Rounds)

Scoring Opportunities Gained measures birdie opportunities inside 15 feet from the green or fringe plus greens/fringes under regulation (such as reaching a par-5 in two).

— Jason Dufner, 33.4

— Viktor Hovland, 25.4

— Russell Henley, 25.1

— Justin Thomas, 23.9

— Jon Rahm, 23.7

— Tom Hoge, 22.3

— Hideki Matsuyama, 21.8

— Hudson Swafford, 20.2

— Emiliano Grillo, 20

— Luke List, 19.1

— Louis Oosthuizen, 17.1

— Talor Gooch, 16.4

Strokes Gained TPC Scottsdale (Last 24 Rounds)

Course History at TPC Scottsdale is the third-most predictive of any course on tour, behind only Augusta National and Waialae. That means players who have seen success in Phoenix are more likely to repeat it here than most other courses.

— Hideki Matsuyama, 54.1

— Rickie Fowler, 50.7

— Webb Simpson, 47.6

— Jon Rahm, 47.2

— Justin Thomas, 40.3

— Matt Kuchar, 40.2

— Bubba Watson, 37.2

— Daniel Berger, 30.3

— Pat Perez, 26.4

— Brendan Steele, 26.3

— Nick Watney, 23.7

— Gary Woodland, 23.5

Strokes Gained TPC Scottsdale (Last 12 Rounds)

We can also take this same category over the last 12 rounds to get a better indication of more recent form at TPC Scottsdale.

— Justin Thomas, 28.8

— Xander Schauffele, 25.8

— Bubba Watson, 24.8

— Jon Rahm, 21.8

— Webb Simpson, 20.8

— Branden Grace, 20.6 (8 rounds)

— Louis Oosthuizen, 19.5 (8 rounds)

— Chez Reavie, 19.4

— Matt Kuchar, 17.8

— Gary Woodland, 17.2

— Brooks Koepka, 16.4

— Rickie Fowler, 16.2

Selections

​​Justin Thomas (14-1)

Thomas has two third-place finishes in Phoenix and three top 5s in his last four starts. Despite winning The Players Championship, 2021 was a disappointing year for Thomas, having not truly contended in a major. Enter Jim “Bones” Mackay, who served as Phil Mickelson’s caddie for the better part of a quarter-century. This move might prove key to getting Thomas back into contention on a regular basis. 

Viktor Hovland (18-1)

Hovland did miss the cut on his lone appearance here in 2020, but that was during a learning period for the young Norwegian, who still had zero wins. Since then, he has amassed six worldwide victories, including three in his last five starts, and has reached No. 3 in the world. Other than the course history categories, Hovland's name popped up on every statistical category we examined. There is no hotter player in the world and he should be highly motivated to earn his first win on the mainland. His three PGA Tour victories include two wins in Mexico and one in Puerto Rico. 

Scottie Scheffler (28-1)

Scheffler finished 20th in his last start at the Farmers but ranked third in the field for Strokes Gained Approach. He finished seventh here last year and ranked eighth in the field for putting. Ranked No. 15 in the OWGR, Scheffler is clearly the best player in the world without a PGA Tour victory.

Corey Conners (50-1)

Conners rates sixth in this week's field for Strokes Gained Ball Striking, and surprisingly he is getting it done off the tee more than with his irons. Despite the deserved reputation for struggling on and around the greens, Conners has actually gained there in four of his last six starts. 

Russell Henley (50-1)

Like Hoge last week, Henley has already had a near-miss this year when he lost in a playoff at the Sony Open. He followed up that runner-up finish with a solid 14th at The American Express, an event where he had missed the cut in four of six appearances. Henley ranks first in Strokes Gained Approach over the last eight weeks and second in Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green. 

Adam Scott (51-1)

Scott has never played this event but is a former Players champion, and TPC Sawgrass is arguably the strongest course correlation to TPC Scottsdale. Other Players champs who have won here include Webb Simpson, Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson. He has started 2022 with back-to-back top 10s in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. 

Russell Knox (160-1)

Knox finished 33rd last week at Pebble Beach but rated third in the field for Strokes Gained Approach. The putter let him down as he lost almost six strokes on the greens, but he should like Bermuda better than Poa. Knox has three finishes of 16th or better in six appearances in Phoenix. 

Adam Hadwin (180-1)

Hadwin finished 16th last week at Pebble Beach but finished second for Strokes Gained Tee-To-Green (behind Spieth) and seventh in the field for Strokes Gained Approach. The Canadian has a solid record for desert golf with two runner-up finishes at The American Express, a runner-up in the Safeway Open at Silverado and a sixth in the fall at TPC Summerlin. 

​Ras Al Khaimah Classic​

​Nicolai Hojgaard was once thought to be in the shadow of twin brother Rasmus, but he earned his second DP World Tour win (Rasmus has three) Sunday at the Ras Al Khaimah Championship, winning by four strokes over Englishman Jordan Smith. Nicolai shot 24-under 264 and won on this golf course at a price of 25-1. 

Both Hojgaard brothers return for the second consecutive week to RAK to play in the Ras Al Khaimah Classic, which was created in January to supplant the recently postponed Qatar Masters. Nicolai is the tournament favorite at 16-1, while Rasmus is 30-1. 

Smith (18-1) returns this week, attempting to go one spot better. Adri Arnaus (25-1) finished third in a top-heavy field in Saudi Arabia that hosted 20 of the OWGR’s top 50, and he has a win at Al Hamra Golf Club. Thomas Detry (25-1), a five-time runner-up on the DP World Tour, finished ninth last week and returns for another go-around in search of his long-awaited maiden win on the DP World Tour. Robert MacIntyre (28-1) finished 13th on this course last week. Justin Harding (30-1) led after 18, 36 and 54 holes two weeks ago in Dubai but settled for fourth. 

The Event

The DP World Tour visits Ras Al Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates for the second consecutive week with the inaugural Ras Al Khaimah Classic. 

This week’s — and last week’s — course, Al Hamra Golf Club, previously hosted the European Challenge Tour from 2016-2018. It was the venue for the Ras Al Khaimah Golf Challenge in 2016 and 2017, before hosting the Ras Al Khaimah Challenge Tour Grand Final as the final stop on the Road to Ras Al Khaimah in 2018.

​The Course

Al Hamra Golf Club, a Peter Harradine design, is a par-72 stretching to 7,325 yards.

A regular 36-36 setup, the back nine is longer than the front. Many of the best scoring opportunities will come on the first eight holes.

The par-5s are all long and range from 576 to 607 yards. There are three sub-400-yard par-4s, which are all birdie opportunities.

Set just off the coast of Ras Al Khaimah, there is a coastal vibe at Al Hamra with exposed fairways and desert surroundings, complemented by water hazards in the shape of lagoons on several holes. Paspalum grass has once again been used for this course, like what we saw at Abu Dhabi three weeks ago.

​Selections

Adri Arnaus (25-1)

Arnaus has a victory on this course at the 2018 Ras Al Khaimah Challenge Tour Grand Final. He finished 2021 with two top 10s (eighth, Portugal Masters; ninth, DP World Tour Championship). Last week, the Spaniard finished third at the Saudi International against a world-class field. Arnaus was second in last week's field for putts per GIR on very similar Paspalum greens. 

Rasmus Hojgaard (30-1)

Perhaps Rasmus will be inspired by his brother's triumph last week. We saw back-to-back Hojgaard victories last fall with Nicolai capturing the Italian Open a week after Rasmus’ success at Crans-sur-Sierre. Rasmus has sixth-place finishes in the Oman Open and the Saudi International on his career ledger, so he has shown he can putt well on Paspalum greens. 

Haotong Li (35-1)

Last week in RAK, he opened with a round of 74 in which he did nothing well but was again particularly poor off the tee. Li responded brilliantly, firing rounds of 66 and 68 before a stunning final-round 63 shot him up to third. The struggles of the last two years, particularly with the driver, seem to be behind him. 

Daniel van Tonder (66-1)

Van Tonder finished 13th on this course last week after starting 3-over through his first three holes and eventually shooting 73 before rounds of 68, 69 and 65. The top two finishers here last week ranked first and second for Strokes Gained Off The Tee. Van Tonder finished 2021 ranked seventh in that category on the DP World Tour. 

Brandon Stone (66-1)

Stone was in contention last week before a Saturday 76 ended his chances. Dom Pedro Victoria, which hosts the Portugal Masters, seems to have a strong correlation with Al Hamra, and Stone finished runner-up in that event back in 2019. 

George Coetzee (66-1)

Speaking of the Portugal Masters, Coetzee won that event in 2020. While finishing 27th last week, he ranked 11th in the field for Strokes Gained Tee-To-Green.

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