Waste Management Phoenix Open
It was a disappointing week for us at the Farmers as despite a fast Thursday start on The North Course from Cam Smith and Gary Woodland we were never at the races once the ‘stagger unwound’ at the halfway stage. In the end Kyle Stanley was the strongest of our team finishing 18th, however despite his solid play he was never able string together a concerted run of birdies to threaten the frame.
The event was won in the end by Patrick Reed who hung tough on Sunday in the face of another rules controversy on Saturday to close out for the sixth time out of eight when he has entered Sunday with the lead or a share of it.
So we move on and after two 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 34th 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.
This year though due to the impact of Covid 19 whilst we will have the pleasure of seeing fans in attendance the numbers will be far more limited to what we are normally used to.
The field from a betting perspective is headed up by Sun Devil Jon Rahm. Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy who makes his debut here, Xander Schauffele and defending champion Webb Simpson.
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 include the WGC Mexico and the CJ Cup.
So let us firstly look at the last ten winners of the event have been as follows;
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
2011 M Wilson
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 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 whilst 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.
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 last year 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.
All in all though, bearing in mind the completely different challenges they set, to me the pedigree in the desert is more important than form at Torrey the week before.
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 & English all producing the goods here in the past four years.
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 5yrs the winning score has ranged from -14 to -18, with Rickie triumphing with a -17 total last year.
As you would always expect for this event the forecast is for a dry, predominantly sunny week however conditions look set to be a little chilly for the week sitting in the mid to high 60s.
Wind does not look to be an issue with nothing more than 6-8mph in the forecast all week.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with 5 players this week as follows;
DANIEL BERGER – 20-1 – 2pts E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
First cab off the rank for us this week is Daniel Berger.
Berger went in to the Covid enforced hiatus last March on the back of three consecutive top ten finishes, a run, which began this time last year with a ninth place finish in this event.
When the tour resumed in June Berger then came straight out of the blocks and posted a victory in the first event back, The Charles Schwab Challenge, before posting three further top three finishes in his final seven starts of the season.
The new campaign started a little slowly by comparison for Daniel as although still in really solid form his four starts pre Christmas saw him post four finishes between 17th and 34th.
The new year though has seen the Floridian get right back on track at the business end of proceedings finishing tenth and seventh in the two Hawaii events.
So on to this week then and after taking a couple of weeks off Berger is back in action on a course, which he has shown to be very much to his liking over the years in that in his six previous visits he has posted four top 11 finishes.
Looking more closely at Berger’s record here and we see that his two poorer performances at TPC Scottsdale, a missed cut in 2019 and a 58th place finish in 2016, came when he was finding his way back from injury and in poor form respectively, every time he has tee’d it up here when arriving in decent to strong form he has produced the goods.
Delving in a bit more detail in to Berger’s last three strong performances here also reveals more interesting data. In 2017 when he finished seventh here he lead the field for the week in putting and he was second with the flatstick for the week last year when he finished ninth, however on both of those occasions he struggled through the week with his long game.
In 2018 though when he finished 11th his long game was far sharper but his putter let him down! In other words Daniel has just not quite managed to get all the components to click at once to the level he needs to get the job done here.
This year though arriving in the form of his life everything points to another really strong week for the 27yr old on a course that clearly suits his eye, and with a history of repeatedly playing well on courses that he played strongly on before I believe he has a great chance of adding another trophy to his cabinet this week.
BYEONG HUN AN – 80-1 – 1pt e/w 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 53rd
I mentioned earlier that form in the desert is more important to me in this event than current for coming in and one player who leaps out on that basis is Byeong Hun An.
An has shown over recent years that he is a big fan of desert golf by notching four consecutive top 15 finishes in the Dubai Desert Classic, the latest of which came in 2018.
In addition Ben had a great opportunity to grab his first PGA Tour title here in 2017 when he held the 54 hole lead before closing with a disappointing 73 on Sunday.
On that occasion Ben found the pressure too much as he limped home with a round of 73 to fall back in to 6th place, however it was another strong indicator that Ben enjoys his time in the desert.
Following Ben’s near miss here in 2017 over the next couple of years he chose to play in the Dubai Desert Classic the week before this event finishing sixth and 12th before arriving here and playing solidly, however last year he played at Torrey Pines instead finishing way down the field in 68th, place but without the associating jet lag he went on to finish ninth here having been right in the thick of things through 36 holes.
Moving on to this year and Ben has once more stayed Stateside to start 2021 and he posted his best effort of the new season a couple of weeks ago, an eighth place finish at the American Express….in the desert.
Furthermore that event was won of course by his close friend Si Woo Kim and the hope would be he can take some inspiration from his fellow countryman’s success.
Leading in to 2021 the South Korean talked about how working with new coach Sean Foley had got his swing back on track and it was therefore positive to see him ranking strongly that week at the Amex in all areas of the long game and in addition holing his share of putts.
An finished way down the field last week at Torrey Pines however I am more than happy to overlook that and trust that he can spring back to life this week in an event that he is clearly ideally suited to and make a big run to finally land his first PGA Tour title.
ADAM LONG – 125-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Talking of the American Express next up for us this week is the man who produced a massive shock in that event when landing the title in 2019, Adam Long.
Long came completely out of nowhere that week when seeing off Phil Mickelson and Adam Hadwin on the Sunday however after a period of adjustment through the remainder of that season he showed in the following campaign that he really belongs out here as he posted eight top 25 finishes, including three top tens, on the way to ending agonisingly just outside the top 30, at 31st place, in the Fedex Cup standings.
Moving forward and the new season has been no less impressive from Adam as he already has two more top fives to his name and has only missed one cut in nine starts.
Going back to last year and one of Adam’s top ten finishes was an eighth place in this event and when you put that together with his win in the American Express it gives us a clear indication that he is very much at home in desert conditions.
In that event last year Long was right in the hunt through 54 holes before faltering to a one over par 72 on Sunday, however despite that scrappy final day he ranked tenth for the week in approach play and eighth in putting so he is clearly comfortable around here.
We sided with the 33yr old at the Mayakoba Classic just before Christmas and he rewarded us with a full place finishing third in an event he had finished second in twelve months prior, giving us an indication that he is a man who can be relied on to perform consistently well over time on the same course if it is one that fits his eye.
Finally it is worth noting that last year’s eighth place here came on the back of two missed cuts so the fact that Adam has only played once so far this year when finishing down the field at the American Express should not be a concern.
Long has now finished in the frame on five occasions since the start of the 19/20 season so he is clearly knocking on the door of another win and I am keen to have him onside this week.
MARTIN LAIRD – 150-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
There is an old phrase that ‘lightning doesn’t strike twice’ however if odds compilers are going to continue chalking up Martin Laird at decent three figure prices when he tee’s it up in the desert I will quite happily continue backing him.
As most readers will not need reminding we sided with Laird at the Shriners last Fall and he provided us with a week that will last long in my, and anyone elses memory who backed him, landing the spoils at 250/1.
My logic that week was overridingly based on Laird’s love of desert golf, something he had shown with his previous win and strong performances at TPC Summerlin, alongside strong form at the Barracuda and of course here.
Focusing on Laird’s history at the WMPO and he has only missed the cut on two occasions in his past 11 starts here notching four top tens along the way.
This year Martin arrives here having in all intensive purposes gone off the boil since his win missing three cuts in five starts, however there have been glimmers of form to start 2021 with a solid 17th place at the Sentry ToC and an opening 66 at the American Express, furthermore a 74 on the South in the tough conditions on Friday at the Farmers on the way to missing the cut was hardly a disgrace.
All of this though is fairly secondary in that my hope is that with the win in Vegas very much in his recent memory banks to go alongside his huge comfortability here, he will settle back in to his ‘desert groove’ this week and get in the mix.
A second win for Laird in the space of just over three months is naturally a big ask for him, however at the odds we are looking at a place return would be more than acceptable. To sum up the Scotsman of course owes us nothing but I can’t bring myself to leave him out this week.
DANNY LEE – 300-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
For my final pick this week I am going to roll the dice at big odds on Danny Lee.
Lee has shown us on several occasions over recent years that he can pop up out of nowhere with a big finish. Last seasons second place at the CJ Cup came on the back of a 71st and a missed cut while his fifth place at the API came on the back of a similar run of poor form. If we then go back to the previous season he posted a seventh place in Texas when struggling and the year prior to that saw a seventh place at Sawgrass come completely out of nowhere.
So what we have in Lee is a player who can find form seemingly from nothing and if we then tie that in with his form here that gives us more encouragement. Firstly Lee finished 4th here in 2016 on the back of a closing 80 at the Farmers the week before, while last year he finished 25th here after withdrawing following a day one 79 at the Farmers the week before.
Moving on to this season and while in typical fashion Danny has done little so far this campaign four rounds of 69 69 and 70 72 on his way to two missed cuts at the Sony and American Express were signs of a player who is ‘close’ but just not quite clicking, while his efforts at Torrey Pines, particularly a 67 on the tougher Friday on the North Course and a 26th place ranking off the tee for the week on the South course again gave us promising signs.
I acknowledge of course that all of the above is pretty speculative however that is representative of Lee’s price this week. The bottom line to me however is that Lee has shown enough glimpses, alongside his propensity to place at big odds and his history here, to make him worth chancing.
UPDATED 2nd FEBRUARY
FANTASY DRAFT KINGS PICKS
PICK 1 - JT POSTON - DK VALUE $6900 - FINISHED 11th - DK POINTS TOTAL 109.5
For my first pick this week I am going to side with JT Poston.
After a solid start to the new season, which included a third place finish at the Sanderson Farms Poston went off the boil missing the cut on his last two starts just before Christmas and his first two this year.
Last week however he produced a much improved effort to finish 18th at the Farmers where he ranked 17th for the week off the tee and first for the week on the measured rounds with his trademark best weapon, the putter.
This week back on his preferred Bermuda and in an event, which he has finished 26th and 37th at on his two previous visits I expect him to take the momentum from last week and put in another strong showing.
PICK 2 - KYLE STANLEY - DK VALUE $6700 - FINISHED 36th - DK POINTS TOTAL 73
Kyle Stanley finished on the same number as Poston last week at Torrey Pines, 5- under, however their scores could not have been put together in two more contrasting ways as while Poston made hay with the flatstick, Stanley as is often the case, struggled hugely in that department, while peppering the pins with his irons for fun.
The fact remains though that while Stanley is hard to keep faith with because of his short game struggles, his long game has clearly come together of late as he showed by ranking ninth for the week in approach play and 11th from tee to green last week.
If Kyle can continue in that same vein then even if his short game struggles continue he should do enough from tee to green to put in another solid week and on that basis he looks a strong play at $6700 on a course where he memorably bagged his maiden tour title back in 2012.