PHOENIX OPEN: The PGA Tour replaces stuffiness and tradition with plain old fun this week, and the galleries at the appropriately named Waste Management Phoenix Open are much more likely to get wasted than actually manage anything. Yes, it’s a week unlike any other on Tour, and the 16th hole specifically is unlike anything you’ll see in the world of professional golf: a par-3 with a stadium setting and a large, rowdy crowd that behaves more like they’re at a cock fight than a golf tournament, with drinking and gambling as the primary pastimes.
It seems to be a hit with everybody, as this event’s reputation as a 4-day party has increased over the years and the field strength and accompanying prestige have increased right along with it. And with this tournament now officially “designated”, meaning elevated points and a $20 million purse, we’ll be seeing the big guns teeing it up here for the foreseeable future. Most of them have turned up this week– Rahm, McIlroy, Scheffler, Thomas, Morikawa… sprinkle in the LIV guys and we’d have ourselves a major championship-caliber field.
The course is a familiar one: the Stadium Course at TPC Scottsdale has played host to this event since 1987 and has changed very little over the years, which a credit to the Weiskopf/Morrish design. A par-71 that measures 7,261 yards, it’s a “grip it and rip it” type of track that tempts the longer players to challenge fairway bunkers and the native desert vegetation. If the bombers are swinging the driver well the course turns into a wedge-fest, so we always see plenty of low numbers here and a winning score in the 15-20 under range.
Scottie Scheffler got the job done last year on his way to the world No. 1 ranking, a spot he has since relinquished to Rory McIlroy. Both McIlroy (10.0) and Scheffler (15.5) are near the top of BETDAQ’s Win Market this week, but the betting favorite is the red-hot Jon Rahm, who is currently trading at 8.5. One of those three might very well hoist the trophy, but I think I’m going to get greedy and take a stab at some longer odds:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Xander Schauffele (17.5)- Schauffele is a threat to win anytime he tees it up but he’s particularly dangerous at TPC Scottsdale, where his 67.8 stroke average across 20 career rounds is the best of all players in the field this week. He’s yet to close the deal in this tournament but has come awfully close, finishing 3rd last year and runner-up in 2021, and he comes into this week in excellent form after finishes of T3 at the AmEx and T13 at the Farmers over the past month. With seven career victories under his belt, there are no doubts about Schauffele’s ability to win, and it sure seems like a lot of things are aligned for him this week, most importantly form and venue. I’m quite happy getting him at a price like 17.5.
Cameron Young (38.0)- I realize the field is stacked this week but given what we’ve seen out of Young lately I was surprised to see that he was available at 38.0. He may not have as much experience as some, and I realize he’s still looking for his first PGA Tour victory, but the 2022 Rookie of the Year is absolutely one of the best 15-20 players in the world right now, as he showed again last week when he traveled across the globe to Saudi Arabia and finished runner-up, two shots behind winner Abraham Ancer. He’s now logged four top-15s in his last five worldwide starts, and the “other” tournament in that group– the one where he didn’t find the top-15– was at the American Express a couple of weeks ago, where he posted 18-under for the week and finished T26. That also happens to be his finishing position in this event last year, his debut appearance here, and with its emphasis on hitting it long and straight, TPC Scottsdale seems tailor made for Young. He has a legitimate chance to win this week and is an excellent value at the current price.
Sam Ryder (82.0)- Though big names like Scheffler and Koepka have won this tournament recently, TPC Scottsdale has produced plenty of lesser-known champions in the not-too-distant past, guys like Kevin Stadler (2014) and Kyle Stanley (2012). In combing through some of the longer-odds types this week, one name stood out: Sam Ryder is one of the best putters in the world, ranking near the top of most major putting stats, and he just finished 4th at the Farmers in his last start. He’s always been the streaky sort, following missed cuts with top-10s on occasion, but he’s been very consistent in this tournament, never missing a cut in four career starts and finishing T23 last year. Here is someone who knows his way around TPC Scottsdale, is coming off a top-5 finish in his last start, and can putt the eyes out of the ball. At a price like 82.0, sign me up.