THE WASTE MANAGEMENT PHOENIX OPEN PREVIEW
This week players head to Scottsdale, Arizona for the Waste Management Phoenix Open. 600,000 fans will descend onto TPC Scottsdale in what is much more of a party than an actual golf tournament. Jon Rahm, fresh off his come from ahead 2nd place finish last week at Torrey Pines, headlines a very solid field that includes Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler, Xander Schauffele and Bryson DeChambeau along with former champion Gary Woodland and two-time winner here Hideki Matsuyama. This event is most known for the stadium style Par 3 16th where raucous crowds are encouraged. With water in play on 3 of the 4 closing holes, the WMPO sets up for exciting finishes. While there is plenty to discuss regarding TPC Scottsdale, lets first quickly recap last week’s Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines
FARMERS INSURANCE OPEN RECAP
Torrey Pines South proved to be a difficult test for most but ultimately Marc Leishman aced it on Sunday shooting a final round 65 behind a magical putting performance to best John Rahm by one stroke and McIlroy and Snedeker by two. While the Outright bets failed to secure a winner, the 3 full tournament head to head matchups featured here went 3-0 with Phil and Molinari missing the cut and of course Leishman winning the whole thing while also besting Spieth. Overall a profitable week at my favorite non major tournament of the year.
TPC SCOTTSDALE COURSE PREVIEW
TPC Scottsdale is a scoreable course, but the added distraction of what basically amounts to a 100k+ person frat party makes this event a unique one to handicap. We are likely looking at a winning mark of between 15 and 18 under and the 7200 par 71 plays much shorter than advertised as the course is set roughly 1,250 feet above sea level which will make the golf ball travel further than what players have been accustomed to thus far with the tournaments in Hawaii and California.
The greens are Bermudagrass, which goes dormant in the winner, so greens keepers will overseed them this time of the year with Bent and Poa. Players say they play mostly like Bent greens for this tournament with the slight grain that is common to Bermuda. The kicker here is that they run them FAST in an effort to protect what is a relatively easy test tee to green. With the forecast looking to be clear the days leading up to and during the tournament I don’t expect this year to be any exception in terms of green speed.
Again, Tee to Green the course doesn’t offer much of a challenge. The Bermuda fairways are relatively easy to hit and the rough is not penal. The course will likely play fast and firm which, when you combine with the high elevation, means bombers will be looking at shorter irons and wedges into many greens. The 3 Par 5s are absolutely attackable, playing at 558, 560 and 553 on the scorecard, easily reach about in two for the vast majority of the field.
Ultimately, a high ball flight, needed to combat the firm greens, and world class game off the tee game are what is necessary to win here. With every winner since 2010 finishing the week inside the top 13 in Greens in Regulation, players will need to give themselves a lot of birdie looks to compete.
Victor Hovland +5650 – The young Norwegian and former Oklahoma State standout is making his 2020 PGA Tour debut this week and considering the success his fellow class of 2019 graduates have had on Tour, I don’t see why Hovland won’t be far behind in the winner’s circle. After a 12th at the US Open as an amateur, Hovland turned pro and racked up 5 straight top 16 finishes to gain full eligibility on Tour this year. I’ve highlighted fellow 2019 rookie Collin Morikawa in this space in week’s past, pointing out his elite iron play. Hovland also brings an utterly stunning skill set to the Tour, his Off the Tee game. Hovland recorded 36 rounds in 2019 and during that stretch only Rory McIlroy gained more strokes off the tee. By the way, last year Rory put up one of the best driving seasons ever recorded. The idea that Hovland averaged only .1 strokes OTT on per round less than Rory is mind blowing. While he is no Morikawa on approach he is also no slouch, ranking 6th in this field in Strokes Gained Approach in 2019. Hovland’s issue is around the green as he loses over a stroke per round there. I’m willing to overlook that at a track like TPC Scottsdale as the large greens combined with the elevation should equate to Hovland constantly finding himself on the putting surface on approach. Ultimately, the young guns of Hovland, Morikawa and Wolff are auto bets for me at anywhere near the 50-1 price going forward as I believe they will all find themselves in the winner’s circle in 2020.
Scottie Scheffler +5550 – After being unable to hold onto the 54-hole lead two weeks ago in the American Express, Scottie 2 Hottie missed the cut last week at his first look at Torrey Pines as a pro. You know who else missed the cut? The number 8, 9 and 13 ranked players in the World Justin Rose, Xander Schauffele and Gary Woodland. Here is the issue with this, while those guys are priced similar to where they were last week here at the WMPO, Scheffler has somehow gone from roughly 30/1 at Torrey to now 55/1 in what is a much weaker field and golf course that is far more suitable to his game. I have a running theory regarding the Korny Tour graduates and collegiate guys coming onto the Big Boy Tour. All they see in both college and the minor league tour are straight birdie fests. To win the VAST majority of the Korny events players have to get to 20 under, often times lower. That kind of test doesn’t translate well to the classic and difficult courses players see from time to time, like Torrey last week. Because of this, I will look to back Scheffler and others newly on Tour at events that mirror what they saw in college and on the Korny Tour. Tournaments like the American Express a few weeks ago, where Scheffler showed he can compete, and courses like what we see here at TPC Scottsdale where the winner will end up in the high teens under par are perfect spots. It obviously helps that Scheffler comes in 7th in my model and has 3 top 5s in his last 5 starts. Similar to the Big 3 coming from college in Wolff, Morikawa and Hovland, I plan to back him anytime he is around this number on a course that will require a lot of birdies. The fact I am are getting a better number than last week at a more suitable track against worst competition is just icing on the cake.
Harry Higgs T20 +425 – Keeping with the theme of the week in backing PGA Tour Rookies I’m, looking at the 28-year-old Higgs to maintain his form and case a ridiculously priced Top 20 Bet. While Higgs doesn’t have the phenom potential of the previously mentioned Rooks, he has the exact skillset that thrives at TPC Scottsdale. A ball striking machine who chips like he has never seen a wedge, Higgs’ game mimics Hovland’s to a certain extent. He has gained strokes off the tee in all but one event, where he broke even in the category, and peaked with the driver at the Sony, gaining 3.3 strokes on the field. He managed to notch a T10 last week at his first start at Torrey behind stellar iron play gaining 3.6 strokes on approach, and put together a 2nd place finish at the Bermuda during the Swing Season. He is going on over a year of solid play, finishing 5th in the Korny Order of Merit in order to gain his Tour card for 2020 and I expect him to continue his form on a course that will play similar to what he saw all season last year.
The matchups this week have a theme: fade guys who have shown shitty form but are still priced like they are good. These plays are much more about the guy being faded than the guy being back so I’ll give a quick breakdown of all three.
2u Matthew Wolff -1.5 (+110) over Cameron Smith – Yes, I am fading a guy who won 3 weeks ago at the Sony. Quite frankly, that was about as fluky of a win as you will see with Smith taking home the title despite LOSING strokes on approach. The windy conditions during the week at Waialae allowed Smith to essentially scramble his way to a title behind a ridiculous 8.2 strokes gained putting. It isn’t like Smith is like Spieth with the putter, he loses strokes in the category just about as often as he gains over the course of a full tournament. What is consistent about Smith is his poor iron play. Since the Masters, Smith has lost strokes to the field on approach in 10 of 15 tournaments. That kind of poor iron play will absolutely not work this week at TPC Scottsdale. Enter Wolff. Much of the reasoning for why I like the young guns here applies to why I think Wolff is also primed for a successful week. An elite driver of the ball, interestingly enough Wolff is probably the best putter out of the bunch, gaining strokes in the category in 10 of 12 rounds on Tour. If it is an iron competition between these two, Wolff has already proven to be the better player and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Wolff competing on Sunday with Smith planning his travel away from Scottsdale on Friday.
That is it for this week’s breakdown! Thank you for reading. Make sure you follow my Twitter @jmazzjd for my full card, usually out Wednesday Morning. Also, I will be adding to my Outright card as the tournament progresses and will post all additions there as well.