This week the PGA Tour heads to Phoenix for the “The Greatest Show on Grass” – the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Each year record crowds flock to this event, with the infamous Par-3 16thhole the centre of attention.
The stand which encloses this hole can hold up to 20,000 spectators and in 2016 this event broke the PGA Tour single-day and weekly attendance record for an event, with 201,003 in attendance on the Saturday and 618,365 fans in total throughout the week.
Understandably there is normally a drop-off during the final-round, as the end of this event always coincides with the beginning of the Super Bowl, a tradition that has been in place since 1973. There was one exception, back in 1996 when the Super Bowl was held at the Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, a stadium just east of Phoenix. In 2009, when Charley Hoffman and Kenny Perry went to a playoff, viewers were denied the opportunity to watch the start of the Super Bowl on NBC, and with the game featuring local franchise, Arizona Cardinals – you can imagine how that went down!
For many reasons, this event is one of the most unique stops on the PGA Tour schedule and one that always brings excitement, so it is fair to expect another special week.
TPC Scottsdale (Stadium), 7,261 Yards, Par 71, Bermuda Greens (12 on the stimpmeter)
In 2015, the course underwent a renovation which included over 100 yards of length being added as well as additional bunkers – but this still remains the low-scoring birdie-fest it has always been.
Until you get to the Par-5 15th, this is a pretty bland test. The 15th is a driveable Par-5, but has a water hazard to trip some up, as does the driveable Par-4 17th. These two holes are good risk and reward holes to end the round, and the challenge the 16th poses speaks for itself.
Course designer Tom Weiskopf also ensures that the 18th hole gives players a choice to make off the tee. You can either bail out right, in order to avoid the lake to the left-hand side, but face a tougher shot in, with a steep bunker guarding the green – or you can take the aggressive line down the left, cutting the corner and leaving you a better shot in to attack the flag. The left-hand side of the green does also include a false front however, so this final hole is not to be underestimated. Players scores from 15-18 could really shape the result of this event.
Given the easiness of scoring here, there are a couple of key areas you need to excel in, to separate yourself from the pack. The following areas are where previous champions have excelled:
Greens in Regulation
Par 4 Scoring
Both of these make perfect sense. To get to the score required you need to make a hatful of putts, but in order to have the opportunity to score with the flat stick, you need to hit the greens first. The last five winners have all ranked inside the top-13 in GIR for the week, with four of the five ranking inside the top-5. Fowler ranked 13th last year but before that; Woodland ranked 4th in 2018, Matsuyama led the way in 2016 and also sat 2nd in this category when defending a year later, while Koepka ranked 4th in 2015.
Jon Rahm (13/2)
Justin Thomas (9/1)
Webb Simpson (14/1)
Hideki Matsuyama (16/1)
Rickie Fowler (18/1)
Xander Schauffele (18/1)
Xander Schauffele 18/1 (General) 3 points win:
Xander Schauffele has finished 17th and 10th in his two starts at this event, and he can go even better this time around.
A proven winner and former Rookie of the Year, Schauffele has finished 2nd twice already this season, in just five starts and he will be keen to get that 5th PGA Tour victory sooner rather than later.
Xander currently ranks 4th in Par 4 Scoring Average and 13th in GIR this season, however we can’t put too much stock into these, given his limited starts.
He missed the cut last week at Torrey Pines, somewhere he has regularly struggled despite it being a home event, but he can easily put that right here.
In eight rounds at this event, Schauffele has five rounds of 68 or better and if he can cut out the one over-par round in each start, he can cause a serious problem for the rest of the field.
He’s won bigger events than this, and has finished 2nd at The Masters and The Open. Add to that his three top-6 finishes in as many starts at the US Open, and he’s clearly a player with major calibre. He has also come close (T2) to winning the Players Championship, so he’s bound to start winning these sort of events with regularity in the future.
His missed cut last week has given us a chance to grab him at 18/1, which I think is a good price, despite a strong field.
Bubba Watson 30/1 (SkyBet 8 Places 1/5) 1pt e/w:
Before last week, Bubba Watson’s start to the season could only be described as poor. His best finish was a T28 at the WGC HSBC Champions, with his next best being a T47 finish at the Greenbrier. T51 in a 78-man field at the ZOZO, a missed cut at the Shriners and dead last at the Hero World Challenge, you may wonder why he appeals this week.
Well firstly, he played great last week at Torrey Pines. A second-round 73 really dented his chances of winning in the end, but a T6 finish is not to be sniffed at in this event, especially when top-10’s have been hard to come by for the 2-time Masters champion, over the past year. What is perhaps most disappointing about last week is the fact his 73 came on the North Course, where he should be scoring.
The good news is, Watson never relies on a run of good form anyway, so his effort last week is a bonus. Some of his best performances have been off the back of missed cuts and he is well known for being a bit of a horses-for-courses type. With that in mind, it is a huge positive that his form figures here include two 2nd’s, two top-5’s and two top-15’s here over his past eight starts.
One of those top-5’s came last year, when he finished in a tie for 4th, and he was wildly out of form coming into the week. Watson had missed the cut on his last start at the Sony Open, finished 31st out of 33 places in the Tournament of Champions and 12th out of 18 at the Hero World Challenge. All of this after ending his previous season 29th out 30th at the season-ending Tour Championship, and it’s fair to say Watson’s game was in tatters. Three weeks removed from that MC at the Sony, Watson shoots three rounds of 68 or better to finish T4 here, at a course he loves.
What I am going round the houses to say is, Watson doesn’t need to be in form to excel, he just needs a course that suits his eye and a bit of belief, and the stop this week ticks both of those boxes.
At 30/1, he makes a lot of appeal to me, given his effort last week.
Corey Conners 90/1 (888Sport/UniBet 6 places 1/5) 1pt e/w:
On a course where hitting regular greens counts for something, it makes perfect sense to look at Canadian, Corey Conners who led the Tour in GIR last year and ranks 11th this season too.
Conners also comes into the event fresh off a week’s break and has been playing nicely since the start of a new season. A missed cut at the Sanderson Farms Championship and an indifferent T19 finish at the Tournament of Champions are slight blights on what has been a stellar start to the 2019/20 season.
Conners has top-20 finishes in each of his five other starts this season, including in elite company at the WGC-HSBC Champions in China. A T12 last time out at the Sony Open, adds to a T6 finish at the ZOZO and top-13 finishes at the Safeway and CJ Cup, so it’s fair to say he is playing well.
Averaging level-par on the Par 4’s this year leaves him 109th on Tour in that category, but that same average saw him rank 22nd in this key area in Hawaii, and he can go better this time on a new course.
He’s been consistent for most of the season, without really putting four rounds together yet, and if he does do that we have seen last season what he can do. A Monday-qualifying specialist last season, Conners won the Valero Texas Open after only getting in the field that Monday, and by doing so booked a spot at the Masters. Add to his win, 2nd and 3rd place finishes at the Sanderson Farms and Sony Open respectively in 2019, and it’s clear he had a stellar year.
Now 61st in the OWGR, Conners will be looking to crack the top-50 this season, to book spots in the majors and the WGC’s, and a second PGA Tour win doesn’t look far away.
Tom Hoge 90/1 (General) 0.5pt e/w:
I had become quite wary of backing players who have had weeks and weeks of solid form, because the worry is that you jump on the wagon too late, but Hoge’s form is hard to ignore at an attractive price.
Since the turn of the year, Hoge has finished T12, T6 and finally 5th at the Farmers Insurance Open this past week. His 5thplace finish there becomes even more impressive when you consider he shot 68 while playing with 8-time winner of the event, Tiger Woods. Players often struggle to cope with the hysteria surrounding Woods, but Hoge remained solid and his final-round 68 was bettered by just three players, one of which was winner, Marc Leishman.
His impressive recent run adds to his 2nd place finish at the Greenbrier last September, and despite missing four straight cuts between the Safeway Open and the RSM Classic, Hoge has bounced back in spectacular fashion in 2020.
Hoge ranks an impressive 13th in Par 4 Scoring Average on Tour this season, with only seven of those ahead of him playing more than 20 rounds – Hoge has played 28.
Of course with any longshot there is bound to be negatives, and with Hoge it is the fact he doesn’t hit many greens. He did however rank 24th in the field last week for greens hit, finding over 70% of them in regulation, so he will hope for similar here in Phoenix.
Hoge played here 12 months ago and was sitting 12th after three rounds, but a final-round 77 saw him fall 32 places into a tie for 44th. Given his recent form however, you would like to think if he gets off to a good start again, he can see it through to the end on Sunday and reward bettors with at least place money, and at 90/1 that would be very welcome.
Denny McCarthy 125/1 (General 8 places 1/5) 0.5pt e/w:
In nine starts this season, Denny McCarthy has three top-10’s and two more top-18 finishes, without missing a single cut.
A lot was expected of McCarthy in 2019, following his win at the Web.com Tour Championship, and he played some solid golf, without setting the world alight. He had four top-15 finishes in the 2018/19 season, including a T7 finish at the Sanderson Farms Championship, which remains his second best finish on the Tour (4th at Corales his best). He has already matched that effort in just nine starts this season and it’s time for him to win at this level.
McCarthy ranks 12th in Par 4 Scoring Average and 30th in Greens in Regulation this season, which is impressive considering he’s played 36 rounds already.
Last year he finished T33 on his debut in this event, despite a tough weekend (71-73) but his hot start (65-69) ensured a decent finish.
Despite a great start to the season, he’s off to a slow start in the calendar year, so he’ll be keen to find that late 2019 form, on a course he played well at just a year ago. He missed his last two cuts when coming into the event last time, and while he’s not been near the top of the leaderboard in his last two events, he has at least made the weekend on both occasions, meaning he’s coming into this with more recent rounds under his belt, and possibly a new-found belief given his strong start to the season.
Total Points Staked this week: 9
Profit/Loss for 2020: N/A