PGA Tour: Waste Management Phoenix Open preview/picks

PHOENIX OPEN: While the early-season events in Hawaii and California are always a nice, relaxing way to start the PGA Tour schedule, the excitement doesn’t really get ratcheted up until this week, the Phoenix stop, where the fans are rowdy and the field is generally strong. Remember, we’re only a month away from The Players, so it’s time for the guys to get their minds right and get re-adjusted to the week-to-week grind. For many, that starts this week at TPC Scottsdale.

The Stadium Course at TPC Scottsdale was built for the express purpose of hosting this tournament and, like its cousin at TPC Sawgrass, it was designed with the galleries in mind, meaning there’s plenty of space and lots of great natural viewing areas for the spectators. A par-71 that measures just under 7,300 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 longer guys are swinging the driver well this turns into a wedge-fest, so we always see lots of low numbers here, with 17-under or better winning this tournament in each of the past five years. The star of the show, of course, is the par-3 16th, where thousands of well-lubricated spectators contribute to a raucous atmosphere that is much closer to a football game than anything you’d normally see in professional golf. The players and the Tour itself have really leaned in to the craziness on the 16th, which has given this event a fun reputation.

There are no Saudi millions being thrown around this week to tempt the players so many big names are in attendance, led by World No. 1 Jon Rahm, who heads BETDAQ’s Win Market at 8.5. Rahm hasn’t won here yet but it sure feels like a tournament that he’s going to win one of these days, and with the way he’s been playing lately I don’t think anyone would be the least bit surprised if he were to get the job done this week. That said, his price is awfully short, and there are several other intriguing options out there. Here’s what I’m thinking:

WIN MARKET

Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)

Viktor Hovland (18.5)- A disappointing summer gave way to a red-hot autumn for Hovland last year, as he finished 2021 with back-to-back victories at the Mayakoba Classic and Hero World Challenge. After knocking some rust off in Kapalua he headed over to the UAE for two weeks of desert golf and made a small fortune, finishing 4th at the Abu Dhabi HSBC and then winning the Dubai Desert Classic two weeks ago, where he closed with a brilliant Sunday 66. He’s now back stateside for more desert golf, and with the way he’s been playing lately I certainly wouldn’t expect him to take his foot off the accelerator. TPC Scottsdale has a reputation as a second-shot golf course and Hovland is one of the finest iron players in the world, so I wouldn’t let the fact that he missed the cut in this event on debut in 2020 throw me off the scent. He’s a blue chip option with a much friendlier price than Rahm.

Webb Simpson (42.0)- I realize we haven’t seen Simpson on the course much lately, but he’s only three starts removed from a top-10 finish at the RSM Classic and he did make the cut in his only event of 2022, the Sony Open, before fading over the weekend. Is his game sharp? We don’t know for sure, but we haven’t seen any evidence that it isn’t, and what we do know for sure is that Simpson absolutely loves TPC Scottsdale. He’s made a boatload of money in this event over the years, with the most recent highlights being a runner-up in 2017 and a victory in 2020 (he also found the top-20 in ’11, ’12, ’14, ’16, and ’19). A light early-season schedule is nothing new for Simpson at this stage of his career, but he always plays this tournament for a reason: at TPC Scottsdale, he’s tough to beat. This is a no-brainer at a price like 42.0.

Andrew Putnam (70.0)- Putnam has been in great form to open 2022 and he’s been improving every week, finishing 27th at the Sony, 14th at The American Express, and then T6 at Pebble Beach last week. A West Coast guy who has always been an excellent putter, Putnam has been flushing his irons this year and is posting the best approach-the-green stats of his career. That’s good news when you’re about to take on a course like TPC Scottsdale, where there’s room off the tee but you need to be fairly precise with the irons, and Putnam played beautifully in this tournament last year, finishing 7th after breaking 70 in all four rounds. Everything points to him having a big week– he’s playing great golf at the moment and has good course history. At a price like 70.0, he may be the best value on the board this week.

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