The PGA Tour leaves California after a two-week stint and moves to Scottsdale, Arizona for the 2018 Waste Management Phoenix Open.
Hailed the “Greatest Show on Grass” this event is well known for the rowdy crowds that gather on the Par-3, 16th which is surrounded by a 20,000 seater grandstand. Miss the green and you are booed, but should you hole your tee shot here, pandemonium ensues.
The famous caddie races were put to an end in 2014, but the players still play to the fans and even reward them on the tee with numerous gifts.
Another factor in this event is the fact that the final round now clashes with the Super Bowl. Generally players have enough time to get their rounds done and get somewhere to watch the game but in 2009, when the event went to a play-off, Charley Hoffman, Kenny Perry and any spectators that stayed to watch, missed the start of the Super Bowl – which was being played in Tampa, Florida and featured local team, the Arizona Cardinals.
The Course and what it will take to win
TPC Scottsdale (Stadium), 7,261 Yards, Par 71
There were course changes prior to the 2015 renewal of this event, including the resurfacing of greens and an additional 100 yards being added to the overall length of the course, but this scoring has remained fairly consistent since.
After Phil Mickelson matched Mark Calcavecchia’s 72-hole record of -28 here in 2013, the scores have remained between -14 and -17, with the average winning score in that span -15.5. This suggests that -16 generally is good enough to get it done here and should be the aim, although Hideki Matsuyama and Webb Simpson went one shot lower last year getting to -17.
Matusyama won here for the second consecutive season and is going for the first PGA Tout three-peat in seven seasons. After finishing T12 at Torrey Pines last week, he will be come into the week confident of doing just that. So what has Matsuyama and other previous winners had to do here, to get the job done?
Well in 2016 Matsuyama ranked 1st in Greens in Regulation for the week, hitting 77.78% of the putting surfaces here. Fast forward a second year and Matsuyama this time ranked 2nd in the same category but did so after hitting 80.56% of greens this time. Billy Horschel hit an incredible 86.11% of greens here last season. to leave Matsuyama, Louis Oosthuizen, Shane Lowry and John Peterson in his wake, in that category.
Of the first five home in Greens in Regulation last year, Horschel finished the lowest in T24 with the other four finishing the top-16.
The last five winners of this event have all finished inside the top-10 for Greens in Regulation the week they won, with four of them ranking inside the top-5.
In addition to Greens in Regulation, good scoring on the Par 4’s here is also essential with each of the last five winners ranking inside the top-10 for Par 4 Performance the week they won. Brooks Koepka and Matsuyama both ranked 1st in both 2015 and 2016, to further solidify that this is part of the winning formula.
Proximity to the Hole also looks to be important as all of the last five winners have ranked inside the top-11, with Mickelson leading the way in 2013 and three of the other four winners ranking 6th or better.
You would think, given this is a birdie-fest that Putting would be essential, however Mickelson (5th) is the only player to rank better than 18th in Strokes-Gained: Putting with the average ranking of the last five winners here an interesting 26.6th. So whilst you do need to make your fair share of putts here to make the amount of birdies required, it is by no means the biggest factor to winning here.
Hideki Matsuyama 10/1
Jordan Spieth 10/1
Jon Rahm 10/1
Rickie Fowler 14/1
Justin Thomas 16/1
Webb Simpson 50/1 (Coral) 1pt e/w:
Webb Simpson has been in very consistent form since missing his last cut at the Wells Fargo Championship last May. In that span he has posted 11 top-20 finishes in his 18 starts, which is some going. This includes the RSM Classic, where Simpson withdrew after two rounds to be by his father’s side, who unfortunately died shortly after. Simpson was in contention to contend over the weekend, heading into the third round in T12 after three rounds in the 60’s.
Without a win since 2013, Simpson will be keen to take advantage of this run of exemplary form and this is a great spot for him to do just that.
In seven starts in this event, Simpson has finished inside the top-10 four times and has finished no worse than 14th in last five straight. After finishing 65th on debut in 2009 and missing the cut in 2010 it has been a great spell here for the 2012 U.S. Champion and 12 months ago he very nearly got his first win here.
Denied by Matsuyama last year, Simpson will be looking for vengeance this week and comes into the event ranking highly in some key areas. So far after 18 rounds this season, Simpson ranks T3 in Par 4 Scoring Average and T25 in Proximity to the Hole, but a less than impressive 52nd in Greens in Regulation.
The biggest improvement Simpson has made in recent months is his Putting, which he has famously struggled with since the anchoring ban came into force. Since adopting his new Putting grip though, Simpson has found form on the green once again and currently ranks T18 in Strokes-Gained: Putting this term.
If he can keep that level of Putting up this week, and hit more greens than he typically has so far this season, there is every chance Simpson goes one better than last year and 50/1 looks a fair price for him to do just that.
Zach Johnson 50/1 (General) 1pt e/w:
Zach Johnson is in a good vein of form right now and whilst you do not necessarily need to be coming in hot to win this event, it can’t do any harm to be either.
Since missing the cut at the first of his three play-off starts in 2017, Johnson has made seven straight cuts and has finished inside the top-23 on six of those starts. His best finish so far this season was his T8 finish at the RSM Classic and he can improve on that this week, at a course he is playing consistently well.
After finishing 12th and 24th in 2009 and 2010 respectively, Johnson started a four-year hiatus at this event, before returning in 2015. Since then,
Johnson has finished inside the top-14 on all three visits and has not been far away from contending.
Statistically he is off to great start to this season for this event, ranking 8th in Proximity to the Hole, 9th in Par-4 Scoring Average and 41st in Greens in Regulation through his first 20 rounds.
He will want to hit more greens this week, than he has both this season and over the last three-year stretch here, but if he can do that he will have chances this week.
The two-time major winner, who has 12 wins overall on Tour still has plenty left him in him at the top level yet, and I expect him to get to 13 wins sooner rather than later.
At 50/1 you are getting a player who is striking the ball well, has threatened to finish inside the top 5/6 in each of the last three seasons here and also knows how to win, should he find himself in such a position come Sunday.
JJ Spaun 100/1 (Coral 7 Places Betfred 6 Places both 1/5 odds) 1pt e/w:
JJ Spaun has looked like a winner in waiting for some time now, and this week may present one of the best opportunities to get the so far elusive PGA Tour victory.
Last year Spaun finished T4 here on debut, largely thanks to a second-round 64 which was bettered only by John Peterson’s 63 in Round Three.
In terms of what has helped him play so well this season, Spaun currently ranks 14th in Proximity to the Hole, 20th in Par 4 Scoring Average and 29th in Greens in Regulation, all important stats this week.
No one that has played 29 rounds or more ranks higher than Spaun in Proximity to the Hole and only Charles Howell III and Patton Kizzire, both of whom rank 24th, have played 29 rounds or more (both have played 30) and rank higher than Spaun in Greens in Regulation, so it is fair to say he is striking the ball wonderfully.
Kizzire is also the only player to have played 29 rounds or more and rank higher than Spaun in Par 4 Scoring Average, so this test looks to be right up Spaun’s alley this week.
His T4 finish here 12 months ago was one of four top-10’s Spaun posted in 2017, with two of them coming at the start of this wrap-around season. He has finished inside the top-23 in 50% of his starts this season, with just two missed cuts, so a pretty successful start to the season overall.
His 2nd at the RSM Classic was his standout finish of this season and in fact his whole PGA Tour career to date, but his T10 at the Shriners Hospital for Children Open is the one result this season that may be the best indicator ahead of this week. The Shriners is played in Vegas so another Desert venue and that even more reason for optimism this week.
His results in 2018 read T47-MC-T23, but that T23 at Torrey Pines last week could have been a lot better but for a final round 75, after three under-par rounds to start the week.
At 100/1, Spaun looks too big for a player who finished 2017 strongly and found a bit of form last week, after struggling in his first two events of the year. He is striking the ball exceptionally well and possesses a top-4 finish on his sole start at this course, which again makes him an intriguing option here.
John Peterson 250/1 (General) 0.5pt e/w:
John Peterson started this season needing to make 273.60 FedEx Cup Points or $375,165 in eight events to fulfil his Major Medical Extension and retain Tour playing rights.
He started the season off brightly, sitting T2 after two rounds at the Sony Open, however a third round 74 put to bed any chances of winning the event. A final-round 69 was only enough to see him finish T47 but there were plenty of positives to draw from the week.
The CareerBuilder Challenge was less successful, as Peterson just scraped through the 54-hole cut, and ended the week with a final-round 76 to finish 75th.
Peterson can however bounce back this week at a course he has enjoyed success at in the past. In 2014 he made his course debut and finished just 61st, but opened the week with a round of 68, proving he can score here.
Roll on three years and Peterson finished T12 here in 2017, opening the week with a round of 66 and blitzing through the field with a 63 in Round Three.
The Texas native was not far from a spectacular week last season, and can go better this week if his putter starts to behave. Peterson currently ranks 6th in Putting Average through his first eight rounds of the season, but also ranks an awful 213th in Strokes-Gained: Putting.
This course does let you get away with less-than stellar Putting, but it still needs to be in the top-20 or so for the week and if Peterson is going to stand any chance of winning his first PGA Tour event this week, he will have to get the flat stick working.
He is much more promising in other key areas so far this season, ranking 5th in Proximity to the Hole, 16th in Par 4 Scoring Average and 33rd in Greens in Regulation, to suggest there is nothing wrong with his Ball-Striking. These rankings will be a little bit skewed due to the lack of rounds played so far this season but if he can just keep up similar play this week, it could be a good week for him.
A top-3 finish this week would almost guarantee he makes enough money to fulfil the Medical Extension and should he hole some putts and hit the ball like he did here last season (hitting over 80% of greens), Peterson may well turn his PGA Tour career around. His off the course life is looking the best it ever has after getting married and welcoming his first-born child into the world last year and he will hope, however blasé he has been about it, that his golf follows.
Total Points staked this week: 7
Profit/Loss for 2018: -12.4