Waste Management Phoenix Open
It was a disappointing end to what was promising to be another good week for us at Torrey Pines. Our pick the inform Ryan Palmer headed in to the weekend holding the 36 hole lead after blitzing the North Course on Friday with a round of 62.
Unfortunately though he was unable to make any further real headway over the final two days and after a 71 on Saturday, which saw him enter day 4 in second place he folded Sunday with a final round of 77 to fall out of the places.
In addition our 175-1 shot Cam Davis who entered Sunday in contention for a place shot a disappointing final round of 74 to slip backwards.
So, move on we shall and after two weeks in California the PGA tour heads back in to the desert to TPC Scottsdale in Arizona located North East of downtown Phoenix. This will be the 33rd consecutive year the event has been played at this venue.
Congratulations though to Marc Leishman who made it a memorable ‘Australia Day’ as his victory alongside Lucas Herbert’s one earlier in the day in Dubai made it an Aussie double.
The event has become known for its raucous crowds and record attendances. The four-day attendance of the tournament is usually around a half million; the best-attended event in golf. In 2016, it set a PGA Tour single day attendance record with 201,003 fans attending on the Saturday, and set a tournament week attendance record of 618,365 people.
There’s no doubt that a certain type of temperament is required to handle the atmosphere this week, with the noise reaching a crescendo at the par 3 16th hole, nicknamed the Coliseum. This hole is basically an amphitheatre surrounded by 20,000 + fans who will boo you in unison if you hit a bad tee shot.
In addition the fact that the event traditionally falls on Super Bowl weekend adds to the overall party atmosphere.
The field from a betting perspective is headed up by Sun Devil Jon Rahm. Justin Thomas, Webb Simpson, defending champion Rickie Fowler and course specialist Hideki Matsuyama.
TPC Scottsdale is a par 71 playing to just over 7250 yards. The course features 3 par 5s and 4 par 3s. Undoubtedly the back 9 is the more scoreable 9 on the course with the real birdie opportunities coming on a 5 hole stretch from 13 through to 17, which features 2 par 5s and the driveable par 4 17th.
The greens are TiffEagle Bermuda.
The original course designers were Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish. The course then underwent a renovation in 2014 under the guidance again of Tom Weiskopf.
TPC Scottsdale is set in the Arizona desert and as such we should be looking this week at players with strong form in in other Desert events such as the Reno Tahoe Open, The Desert Classic and the Shriners Hospital for Children Open, as well as on the European Tour in Dubai.
In addition it is worth noting the event is played at altitude of approximately 1250ft above sea level.
As well as the Reno Tahoe Open and the Shriners other events played on the PGA Tour at altitude include the WGC Mexico and the CJ Cup.
So let us firstly look at the last ten winners of the event have been as follows;
2019 R Fowler
2018 G Woodland
2017 H Matsuyama
2016 H Matsuyama
2015 B Koepka
2014 K Stadler
2013 P Mickelson
2012 K Stanley
2011 M Wilson
2010 H Mahan
Looking at these winners and the first thing that grabs me is that previous form in desert events, whether here or elsewhere, is the key to solving the puzzle here.
Last year’s winner Fowler had been the perennial bridesmaid here prior to his victory with finishes of 11 4 2 in the previous three years while Woodland the 2018 champion had previously won the Reno Tahoe event and finished 5th here and the winner for the previous two years Matsuyama had come 2nd here in 2015 and 4th in 2014.
If we then dig deeper Koepka had finished 3rd in the Dubai Desert Classic the year before winning here whilst Stadler, who was born in Nevada, was something of a desert specialist, having previously finished 11th, 5th and 2nd in Reno as well as 11th here the year before winning.
Go back even further and Mickelson was a two time winner here prior to his win in 2013, as well as having previously tasted success in the Desert Classic. In addition of course Phil has strong ties with the area having attended college in Arizona.
2012 winner Kyle Stanley had finished 10th at the Shriners the year before and in addition came here in strong form having memorably lost the previous week’s tournament at Torrey Pines with a meltdown on the 18th hole.
2011 winner Mark Wilson had won two starts previously in Hawaii, in addition he had posted a 9th place and 11th place finish in this event over the previous three years as well as a top 10 in Reno and at the Shriners while finally 2010 winner Hunter Mahan had posted a previous top 10 finish here.
To sum up every one of the past ten winners had posted previous top 10 finishes in Desert events, whilst eight of them had posted one either in this event or in Reno.
While current form coming in to the event can be beneficial it is not a requisite as can be seen by the fact that last years winner Fowler had only made one start in the calendar year a ‘loosener’ of a 66th place at Torrey Pines the week before, similarly Hideki Matsuyama had missed the cut on his only previous calendar year start, also at the Farmers, the year he was first victorious, conversely though 2018 winner Gary Woodland had finished 12th and seventh in his previous two starts. All in all though, baring in mind the completely different challenges they set, to me the pedigree in the desert is more important than form at Torrey the week before.
Whilst you still need to go low there is a definite feel that the course has toughened up a bit since the redesign in 2014 and it is unlikely for the foreseeable future we will be seeing a winning score like the -24 Phil Mickelson posted in 2013.
It’s also worth noting that the type of player peppering the leaderboard since the redesign seems to have shifted slightly with solid tee to green players Reavie, Steele, Kuchar, Simpson, Spaun, Weekley & English all making the frame in the past three years.
Undoubtedly bombing it off the tee is still an advantage but keeping it in play and finding the greens seems to have become more relevant.
Until his withdrawal with injury last in 2018 Hideki had been the dominant player in the event over a four year stretch with two wins, a second place and a fourth place to his name.
Three of the past ten winners here, Koepka, Stadler and Stanley were all notching their first PGA Tour victories.
Over the last 5yrs the winning score has ranged from -14 to -18, with Rickie triumphing with a -17 total last year.
As you would always expect for this event the forecast is for a dry, predominantly sunny week with temperatures in the low to mid 70s for the first three days, before Sunday peaks at 80.
Wind does not look to be an issue with nothing more than 8-10mph in the forecast all week.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with 5 players this week as follows;
BRANDEN GRACE – 40-1 – 1.5pts E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 9th
First cab off the rank for us this week is recent South African Open winner Branden Grace.
The South African had a 2019 to forget on the golf course with the only real bright spot to his PGA Tour year being his second place finish in this event.
At the back end of the year though Branden started his 2019/20 European Tour campaign with a third place finish on home soil at the Alfred Dunhill Championship and he then followed this up in spades with a win at the South African Open three weeks ago to bag his first national Open title, a victory which he closed out with a stunning final round of 62.
The victory gave the 31yr old his first trophy worldwide since he bagged the Nedbank Challenge title at the back end of 2017.
So the question now is can he push on and if so why do I think he can pick up another trophy this week?
Well the first thing that compels you to put Branden right at the top of this weeks shortlist is his undoubted love of desert golf, something, which he has shown by winning the Qatar Masters in back to back years in 2015 and 2016. This then of course ties in to the fact that Grace made his debut in Scottsdale last year and posted four rounds in the 60s to notch a -15 total and a second place finish.
The next thing to me to look at is that fact that when Grace’s confidence is up he is undoubtedly capable of going on a long stretch of high quality golf and having a multiple win year.
The obvious example of this is the year he posted his debut win on the European Tour at the Joburg Open, 2012. Branden backed that victory up the very next week with his second tour title and he went on to post two further victories in the year to make it a four win season.
Four years later in 2016 and Grace followed securing his second Qatar Masters title at the very end of January [coincidentally in this week on the calendar] by bagging his first PGA Tour title at the RBC Heritage in April. A result which was a prelude to him posting four top ten finishes in his next six starts on the PGA Tour including two top five finishes in majors.
One other thing to note also regarding his trophy at Hilton Head is that Branden had finished seventh on his debut at the Heritage the year before, clearly showcasing his liking for the course, thus giving us parallels to his second place on debut at Phoenix last year.
In fact to stretch this further it is clear, with Qatar being another obvious example, that Grace is a player that repeatedly returns to and plays well on certain courses that he likes.
To sum up with the top of the market being so strong this week Grace leaps out to me as an attractive e/w proposition with an excellent chance to win, and importantly, as a player who with his confidence up will not be afraid to take on the big names down the stretch on Sunday if he is in the hunt.
RYAN MOORE – 50-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Next up is a familiar face to these columns over the past twelve months or so, Ryan Moore.
I should start this endorsement for Ryan this week with the admission that I have had a very hard time catching the Las Vegas resident right over the past year, with the pattern being that every time I put him up he disappoints only to then play well next time out!
From that point of you as you can imagine I was somewhat reticent about siding with Ryan this week a mere month or so in to the new year, however every time I went to cross him off the list I kept getting drawn back to him.
The reason for my enthusiasm for Ryan this week is quite a simple one, he has started the 19/20 campaign before Christmas In good solid form with two top 13 finishes in four starts, before picking up where he left off with a sixth place finish in the American Express a couple of weeks ago.
Over the years Moore has been a regular visitor to TPC Scottsdale and until the last two years, when he has missed the cut on both occasions, he has posted some good strong results here, most noticeably in 2014 & 2013 when he finished sixth and fourth.
As I say the last two years have been disappointing for Moore here, however he has always been a momentum player who gets in a groove and last year he arrived here on the back of a MC at Torrey Pines, while the previous year he was making his first start of the new calendar year.
This year though as I say the UNLV man was sixth two weeks ago in the American Express, another desert event, and, while we only have two rounds of data to go on, he hit the ball really solidly there from tee to green finishing the week fourth in SGATTG and second in GIR.
A former winner in the desert at the Shriners, and with solid form across other desert tracks including of course here, Ryan ticks all the boxes for me this week and I expect him to be right in the hunt come Sunday.
BYEONG HUN AN – 80-1 – 1pt e/w 1/5 odds 1st 7 - FINISHED 9th
A player who has been on a lot of peoples radars for this event over recent years is Korean, Ben An and I am keen to have him on side this time around.
An has shown over recent years that he is a big fan of desert golf by notching four consecutive top 15 finishes in the Dubai Desert Classic, the latest of which came last year.
In addition Ben had a great opportunity to grab his first PGA Tour title here in 2017 when he held the 54 hole lead before closing with a disappointing 73 on Sunday.
On that occasion Ben found the pressure too much as he limped home with a round of 73 to fall back in to 6th place, however it was another strong indicator that Ben enjoys his time in the desert.
Since Ben’s near miss here in 2017 he has chosen to play in the Dubai Desert Classic the week before this event finishing sixth and 12th before arriving here, this year however he played at Torrey Pines instead and finished way down the field in 68th place.
On the face of it then one would assume that his warm up this year is less than ideal compared to the previous two years, however in my eyes it is quite the reverse as of course he does not have to contend with a flight back from Dubai and a time zone change, which surely cant have helped him last year and the year before.
As mentioned earlier this event is not one that we necessarily need to look too closely at form in the week or two before to find clues for, and instead desert form is the over riding factor and on that basis I am confident that An can spring to life this week in an event that he is clearly ideally suited to.
BEAU HOSSLER – 125-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 66th
Next up I shall take a chance that last weeks ninth place finish at Torrey Pines was a prelude to greater things for the talented Californian Beau Hossler.
Longer term followers will no doubt remember that Beau was, through no fault of his own, responsible for the biggest ‘heartbreak moment’ we have had since this column has been running, when, carrying our hard earned at 150-1 in Houston back in 2018, he had victory snatched from him by the heroics of Ian Poulter on the 18th green.
Since then things haven’t quite gone to plan for the 24yr old as after finishing the 17/18 season in solid fashion he lost his way in the 18/19 season and as a result found himself back at the Korn Ferry finals last fall looking to regain his card.
Fortunately for Beau he produced the goods when needed to regain his status and he now finds himself back in the big league where he undoubtedly belongs.
Based on a fairly slow start to the new campaign however, which had so far seen a best result of 13th place in Houston Beau isn’t an automatic entry in to all of the stronger fields and he was actually down to play in this weeks Monday Qualifier for the WMPO.
As it transpires due to his best performance by far of the 19/20 season to date at Torrey Pines Beau no longer needs to go through this process as the top 10 finish there gains him automatic entry in to this weeks field.
So we’ve established that Beau arrives here in good spirits but what of his credentials in the desert?
Well the good news is that he has been solid here in his two previous visits finishing 17th and 39th and that he has also finished seventh and 23rd in his two visits to the Shriners, meaning he has the requisite top ten in the Desert we are looking for.
Last week at Torrey Pines Beau’s iron play was in good order as he finished the week fourth for GIR. In addition his putter was working well as he was 11th for SGP.
In his short time on tour Hossler has shown that he tends to back up one good week with another as on two of three occasions he has finished in the top ten he did so again the following week, with the exception being after his near miss in Houston.
Last weeks ninth place represents Beau’s first top ten on Tour since he was sixth at the Quicken Loans in July 2018 and buoyed by this strong result I am confident he can go really well again this week.
JJ SPAUN – 200-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 47th
For my final play this week I am going to roll the dice with another man who has proven to be something of a desert special over recent years and who showed me enough last week to warrant inclusion this time out at huge odds, that man is JJ Spaun.
Fourth in this event in 2017 JJ then went on to finish third at the Barracuda in 2018, so two great finishes in the desert. In addition JJ also has a tenth place and 15th place to his name in Las Vegas at the Shriners.
This sort of form in past desert events was enough to have me keeping a close eye on his showing at Torrey Pines last week to see if he could show us any signs of encouragement after his two missed cuts to start 2020.
From that point of view I was delighted to see the Californian close out his week at Torrey with a round of 69 to finish in 30th place.
What was particularly encouraging to me is that although JJ did finish ninth at the Farmers back in 2017 Torrey is surely a course that does not favour a man currently 112th in DD on tour, and therefore the fact that he was able to produce a solid week there and rank 11th for SGATTG, 14th for GIR and 22nd for SGOTT was a big step in the right direction.
With six top six finishes now to his name since he joined the PGA Tour full time in 16/17 season JJ has knocked on the door on several occasions and at the odds on offer this week I am happy to take a chance that he can build on last week and post another really strong performance back in the desert.
UPDATED 28th JANUARY
FANTASY DRAFT KINGS PICKS
PICK 1 - GRAYSON MURRAY - DK VALUE $6700 -FINISHED 55th DK POINTS TOTAL 60
Our first pick this week Grayson Murray can, it is fair to say, be a bit inconsistent, however he showed at the back end of 2019 when securing his card in the Korn Ferry finals that still has plenty of game when he gets on a roll.
After that period of success Murray then went completely off the boil in the Fall events on the PGA Tour however he has started 2020 far more encouragingly with a tenth place finish at the American Express and a solid 55th last week at Torrey Pines.
Grayson had his best college years at Arizona State and having made the cut on all three vists here I am expecting another solid showing from him this week.
PICK 2 - JAIMIE LOVEMARK - DK VALUE $6200. - FINISHED MC - DK POINTS TOTAL 29.5
Former standout amateur Jamie Lovermark has had a really tough time of things on the course since returning from a long term shoulder injury last Fall.
Last week however at Torrey Pines he appeared to turn a corner with a solid 36th place finish, which saw him finish the week ranked eighth for SGTTG and 18th for SGATTG.
Granted Jamie doesn't have much positive history in this event but he has played well in other desert events before and with his confidence buoyed after last week I am expecting him to make a further dent in to his Major Medical Exemption requirements with another solid week this week.