There’s a party going on, many spirits strong.
The $8.2 million golf tournament, unlike any other, returns this week in Scottsdale, Arizona. After surviving one year of limited attendance due to COVID-19, the Waste Management Phoenix Open turns the volume back up to 11 on Thursday.
Folks may already be waiting in line.
What used to just feel like a golf event inside a music festival now includes an actual concert inside the coliseum around the 16th hole on Saturday night. All the flavor and color will fill the air. The Birds Nest, the road trippers, day trippers, fraternity bros, cheerers and jeerers gathered around the loudest par 3 on Earth will bask and bake in the desert sun as the golf shots and cocktails flow.
The TPC Scottsdale course is a 7,261 yard, par 71 featuring one of the Tour’s best finishing stretches. The 15th is a par 5 where eagles and bogeys are possible. The 16th may be the most nerve-wracking short shot of the season, non-water division, anyway. The 17th is the best short par 4 on the circuit besides the one at Riviera.
The course sits roughly 1,250 feet above sea level so it plays shorter than its yardage. The greens are typically firm by the weekend if not before.
Billy Horschel called the course a “great mid-iron to wedge course” explaining how the 50-something Steve Stricker was able to finish top 5 last year.
The greens are quite the mixture – TifEagle Bermuda overseeded with PoaTrivialis and bentgrass. There’s minimal grain but a subtle pull away from the nearby mountain and golfers who figure these greens out typically putt well here from year to year.
Justin Thomas, a perennial contender, summed up TPC Scottsdale in post-round remarks a year ago.
“It just is such a fun course to play because you really can just shoot so low. You can really get going and make just a bunch of birdies. If you’re not playing well, it’s going to expose you. That’s why this place is so fun to play.”
He went on to praise the par 5s as great risk / reward opportunities and explain how the players must be in position off the tee to attack the tucked hole locations.
I’ve watched bombers and elite iron players pick TPC Scottsdale to pieces for two days (what’s up Jesper and Squirrel). The list of recent champions includes both styles and our research focused on elite drivers of the golf ball, combining power and accuracy.
Current form, course history, recent SG: Tee-to-Green, proximity from 150-200 yards and par-4 scoring are also important ingredients for success.
Sunscreen and the occasional bottle of water are important for the spectators.
Expect a congested leaderboard late Sunday afternoon and an eventual winning score of 20 under as some rise and some fall on the pivotal trio of holes near the finish.
Feeling generous lately so decided to expand the Bargain Bin, which you can find below.
As always, good luck.
- Jason Dufner, Austin Eckroat, Doug Ghim, Adam Hadwin, Mito Pereira, J.T. Poston, Chez Reavie, Kyle Stanley, Matt Wallace, Cameron Young (assuming he gets into the field)
Golfer power rankings
25. Keegan Bradley – Made the cut each of the last four years in the WM Phoenix Open, finishing T-22 last year. Ranks seventh in the field in SG: Tee-to-Green over the last 50 rounds and top 5 in proximity from 150-200 yards in a 100 round span.
24. Russell Henley – There’s a reasonable correlation between the PGA West Stadium Course and TPC Scottsdale. Henley gained 3.5 shots on approach in that event last month, finishing T-14 despite a below average putting week. It was his fourth consecutive top 25. Has three top 30s and two missed cuts in the last five years in Scottsdale.
23. Brooks Koepka – Thought he was in store for a big year and it still may unfold – there are four major championships remaining. So far, the ballstriking and results have been poor. Earns a spot in the rankings because he’s a two-time WM Phoenix Open champion.
22. Bubba Watson – He’s been a golden selection here in the past (T-4, T-3 and T-22 the last three years) and assuming he’s no worse for the wear after a runner-up finish in Saudi Arabia and the subsequent travel, it’s easy to understand why he thrives on a course that produces some of the longest tee shots of the year (12 yards longer than Tour average).
21. Keith Mitchell – Can overpower the TPC Scottsdale (second in SG: Off-the-Tee) and has gained at least four shots Tee–to-Green in three of his last four starts, finishing T-12 last week at Pebble Beach. Tied for 16th here in 2020.
20. Webb Simpson – His sparkling approach play at the RSM Classic (9.8 shots gained) last fall made Simpson an obvious play at the Sony but the irons deserted him on Oahu (-2.8 SG: Approach). Still he’s won and finished runner-up at TPC Scottsdale in the last five years and ranks top 25 in par-4 scoring, birdies or better and SG: Tee-to-Green over the last 50 rounds.
19. Daniel Berger – Pay attention to pre-tournament media reports for information on his back, which bothered him at Torrey Pines and forced him to withdraw from Pebble Beach. Worth the risk perhaps as others will pass and he has three top 11s in the last five years here. Top five in SG: Tee-to-Green, proximity from 150-200 yards and good drives gained.
18. Aaron Wise – His strengths and credentials suggest he should perform well here but the results haven’t matched the metrics (T-66 last year, MC in 2020). Chipped away the offseason rust at the Farmers and continued to show progress on the greens despite failing to make the weekend. Ranks third in the field in birdies or better over the last 50 rounds and top 15 in SG: Tee-to-Green and SG: Around-the-Green.
17. Tom Hoge – Making first start since becoming a first-time PGA Tour winner but his ballstriking has been second-to-none in the 2021-22 season. Should be relaxed staying at his mom’s house in Scottsdale this week. Hard to predict what will happen the week after a win but his cool demeanor and flushed irons lead me to believe he won’t fade.
16. Luke List – He’s still top 10 in the models; it just feels more believable now after the final-round 66 and clutch wedge shot produced a thrilling victory at Torrey Pines. Finished top 30 here three of the last four years and remains an affordable roster option.
15. Talor Gooch – Finished fifth in the Players last year and 11th in the Shriners in the fall and both courses present a similar challenge to TPC Scottsdale. His precision should play well here – top 30 in par-4 scoring, good drives gained and SG: Tee-to-Green.
14. Branden Grace – I’ve been optimistic about Grace’s chances for most of the last year and while he’s sometimes fallen short of those expectations, there are worse notions than backing him on a course where he finished ninth and second in his last two appearances (2019 and ‘20).
13. Louis Oosthuizen – He’s back. So he’s here. Such syrupy tempo never sleeps. This is Louis Oosthuizen we’re talking about. He finished 11th here last year and third in 2017.
12. Matt Fitzpatrick – Avoided him last week out of concern for his offseason swing changes but he put those fears to rest with a T-6 at Pebble Beach, gaining three shots Tee-to-Green. One of the best drivers in the field and that’s been a common thread among past champions of this event.
11. Sam Burns – Lost 6.9 shots Tee-to-Green here last year – which may never happen again – yet still finished T-22 because he putted the tricky TPC Scottsdale surfaces better than anyone. Making only his third start of 2022 after a T-19 at the Sentry TOC and MC at the Farmers.
10. Patrick Cantlay – Three starts for Cantlay in 2022 and three top 10s including a T-4 at Pebble Beach last week despite a mediocre effort on approach. It was the second consecutive event where his approach numbers were worse than the field average. Making his first start here. He’s 97 under in his last five tournaments.
9. Jordan Spieth – Gained 5.8 shots on approach in his runner-up finish at Pebble Beach, hitting the wrong shot shape on 17 and getting a strange break on 18. Now returns to a course where he shot 61 last year and finished T-4. Liked the tempo of his swing last week.
8. Seamus Power – Sure he had a five-shot lead after 36 holes last week and didn’t win. Not a big deal. His consistent performance cannot be overlooked. He’s ended up in the top 15 in seven of the last eight starts and is third in the field in par-4 scoring.
7. Corey Conners – Missed the cut in his last two starts despite gaining more than two shots Tee-to-Green each week. Tied for 17th last year here and has dipped down to an attractive price point in the fantasy markets. He’s top 5 in SG: OTT and good drives gained over the last 50 rounds.
6. Scottie Scheffler – Have to wonder if watching Luke List and Tom Hoge win the last two weeks – no offense to either – gave the Ryder Cupper an extra boost of confidence or motivation to secure his first Tour title. He likes the course. “Yeah, I think it suits my game well, especially when I’m driving it good,” he said last year. “I think the greens will get firmer as the week goes on, and I hit the ball pretty high, so pretty comfortable out here.” Putted well here in the past (37th in the field) and gained 5.2 shots on approach in a T-20 at the Farmers two weeks ago.
5. Hideki Matsuyama – I can’t stop thinking about the 3-wood he hit to end the Sony Open playoff. Also that he’s won here, leads the field in scoring average at TPC Scottsdale and claimed three trophies in the last 10 months.
4. Viktor Hovland – Just won in a desert. Has won about everywhere recently – except the mainland U.S. It’s just a matter of time. Tour stats don’t paint an accurate picture of his elite ballstriking but if he’s anywhere other than the leaderboard late Sunday afternoon it will be a surprise. Missed the cut here in only appearance (2020).
3. Xander Schauffele – Holes in his short game have kept him from winning on Tour in the last three years. He let this one slip away (second) a year ago, losing 0.7 shots around the greens in his fourth consecutive top 20 in the WM Phoenix Open.
2. Jon Rahm – When he wins again it will probably be a six-shot margin and it could happen this week. The former Arizona State star will revel in the return of the mania around the 16th hole and beyond this week. Never worse than 16th or better than ninth here the last five years.
1. Justin Thomas – Was hoping he’d slip another spot or two down the fantasy and Vegas boards this week. But with two top 3s and two other top 20s the last four years, that wasn’t likely. Couple of loose tee shots and uncharacteristic weak chipping and pitching relegated Thomas to a T-20 at the Farmers. The iron game was solid and he gained 1.3 shots on the greens. Stringing strong putting performances together has been a challenge of late but he gained 4.4 and four shots on the TPC- Scottsdale greens the last two years. A similar effort should propel him to his 15th PGA Tour title this week.
“I just like the golf course, Thomas said last year. “I come in knowing that I don’t need my best stuff to win, which I think is huge. I really feel like I can reel off nine birdies in an 11- or 12-hole stretch, but I also understand and respect the golf course and kind of take what it gives me if I get out of position or if it’s an uncomfortable pin or yardage.”