Out of the Rough: Waste Management Phoenix Open (2023)
It’s time for one of the biggest spectacles in the sport of golf.
The Tour turns its attention to the WM Phoenix Open for the first designed elevated full field event of the season.
This is an event like no other as it has the capacity to hold 350,000 fans. Due to this, TPC Scottsdale offers one of the most unique and exciting atmospheres in the sport. It’s essentially an arena.
Golfers will have to deal with the loud crowds. Some golfers feed off the uproars and energy of the large crowds as some falter due to the pressure.
Coming down to the finish through the sequence of risk-reward holes, the tournament can be won or lost. With the pressure of the arena atmosphere and thousands of fans staring down from the stadium-esk seating.
TPC Scottsdale plays as a par 71 at a distance of 7,200 yards; average by Tour standards.
Due to the elevation of the course along with the dryness of the Arizona desert causing firm ground, TPC Scottsdale annually offers the longest average driving distance on Tour at 305 yards. This offers help to those who struggle with distance off the tee.
With the longer drives, this sets up a ball strikers paradise. Approach shots beyond 200-plus yards will be rare.
With TPC Scottsdale removing one of the typical par fives in place of par fours, approach shots from within 200-yards will be the norm all tournament long.
Water is in play often, making it important for golfers to find the fairways. Although the two-inch rough doesn't offer much of a deterrence, the desert cacti and other vegetation will cause fits to those who find themselves in those areas.
Course history is important here as there are just two courses on Tour that offer a bigger predictor of success than TPC Scottsdale; Augusta National and Waiʻalae Country Club.
Golfers with previous success at TPC Scottsdale are most likely to repeat more than all but two other courses as we listed above. We can contribute this to possibly the atmosphere the course offers opposed to the course itself.
That doesn’t mean that debutants can’t find success as we saw last year in Patrick Cantlay (2nd), Sahith Theegala (T3rd,) and Matt Fitzpatrick (T10th.)
The event annually draws a really strong field. This year is no exception as the Phoenix Open has drawn one of the strongest fields outside of majors.
Eighteen of the World’s top 20 golfers will be in attendance with Cameron Smith being disqualified by joining the LIV Tour and Will Zalatoris not in attendance.
World #1 Rory McIlroy will be back in attendance, fresh off a victory at the Hero Dubai Desert Classic. This is the first time we’ll see Rory on Tour since his victory at the CJ Cup in South Carolina back in October.
Scottie Scheffler is the defending champion of the event as he used the event last year as his first Tour victory. Scheffler held off Cantlay in a playoff to win a year ago.
This kick-started the avalanche of success that Scheffler had a year ago on his way to World #1 status.
Other former winners of the event in attendance are Webb Simpson, Rickie Fowler, Gary Woodland and Hideki Matsuyama.
As for weather this week, highs are set to range from the mid-to-high 70’s from Thursday through Saturday with a cooler 67 degrees set for Sunday. There is little-to-no chance of precipitation in the forecast as well. Ideal conditions for some golf.
Important statistics to consider this week include:
Strokes Gained: Ball Striking (SG: BS)
Strokes Gained: Approach (SG: APP)
Strokes Gained: Off the Tee (SG: OTT)
Strokes Gained: Scrambling (SG: SCR)
Average Par 4 Scoring
Birdie or Better Percentage
Although he isn’t the Official World Golf Ranking number one, Jon Rahm ($11,000) is the best golfer in the world. As of the time of writing this, he’s currently the best on tour in SG: BS, SG: OTT and birdie or better percentage. He’s also second in average par four scoring, sixth in bogey avoidance, 23rd in SG: SCR and 33rd in SG: APP. In four tournaments Rahm has played on the season, his worst finish has been T7th and that was two weeks back at the Farmers Insurance Open. Prior to that he won back-to-back events with victories at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and The American Express. Rahm has played in this event for the past six years. He’s gone T10th, T13th, T9th, T10th, T11th and T11th. He’s very consistent in his placement. He’s yet to have a big breakthrough at the event and compete for a victory but should change that this year. In a year where he’s the hottest golfer on Tour, playing some of the best golf in the world and has a proven track record, this could be the season Rahm wins the WM Phoenix Open. Also consider Tony Finau ($10,100.) Finau is currently third on tour in birdie or better percentage, fifth in average par four scoring, sixth in SG: BS, ninth in SG: APP, 13th in SG: OTT, 21st in bogey avoidance and 57th in SG: SCR. Finau too is one of the hottest golfers on Tour. Maybe not to the same level of Rahm, but in his three events on the calendar year he’s gone T9th at the Farmers Insurance Open, T16th at The American Express and T7th at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. Now Finau doesn’t have the best of track records here at the Phoenix Open. He’s missed the cut more often than not but we are just a few years removed from his second place finish in 2020 to Webb Simpson, an event Finau should have won. Finau too is a whole other level of golfer since those missed cuts years. He’s set to have the breakthrough he’s been needing at this event this week.
Fan favorite Max Homa ($9,900) is my first suggestion in this price range. Of course, the last time we saw Homa was two weeks back at the Farmers Insurance Open where he won in dramatic come-from-behind fashion. Beyond that in this calendar year he placed T3rd at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. Homa has played in the Phoenix Open the past four years where he’s made the cut each time. His top finishes at the event was a T6th in 2020 and T14th a year ago. Not crazy success at the event, but success nonetheless. He is currently fifth on tour in birdie or better percentage, sixth in SG: BS, 13th in SG: APP and average par four scoring, 15th in bogey avoidance, 21st in SG: SCR and 54th in SG: OTT. When it comes to feeding off a crowd, Homa will be great. He’s already a fan favorite so expect the large crowds to be behind him this week. Also consider Tom Kim ($9,100.) The last time we saw Kim was a few weeks back at The American Express where he placed T6th. Prior to that he went T5th at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. This will be Kim’s first WM Phoenix Open. We keep talking about course history at this event being so important but as we previously mentioned in recent years, debutants have had success. Kim is currently third on tour in bogey avoidance, fourth in SG: APP, seventh in birdie or better percentage, 11th in SG: BS, 18th in average par four scoring, 19th in SG: SCR and 66th in SG: OTT. I believe Kim is in line for a big debut at the WM Phoenix Open this week.
This may be the first time in this series that I’ve ever suggested Rickie Fowler ($8,000.) The price is right for Fowler as a former winner of this event. Fowler won it all in 2019 and has played in this event the last 14 years. He had a stretch from 2016-2019 where he went second, T4th, T11th and then of course, won it all in 2019. He has proven he knows his way around this course and too is a fan favorite that will get the crowd behind him. On top of the past success, he’s playing some great golf as of late placing T11th at the Farmers Insurance Open two weeks back the last time we saw him. On the season he finished T2nd at the Zozo Championship and T6th at the Fortinet Championship as well. He’s currently sixth on tour in SG: BS, 17th in SG: APP, 28th in birdie or better percentage, 40th in average par four scoring, 41st in bogey avoidance, 48th in SG: OTT and 70th in SG: SCR. Also consider Cameron Young ($8,900.) Young has played in the WM Phoenix Open just one time prior, placing T26th a year ago. In four events he’s played on the season he hasn’t missed the cut and in two tournaments he’s played in the calendar year he went T13th at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T26th at The American Express. He’s currently fourth on Tour in birdie or better percentage, 14th in both SG: BS and SG: APP, 17th in SG: OTT, 23rd in average par four scoring and 96th in bogey avoidance. He ranks really low in SG: OTT which is hurting his score in our model this week. He’ll need to get some breaks off the tee this week if he wants to compete for a victory. Although his SG: OTT is low, he ranks high in SG: BS, which takes total driving into account.
Both options in this price range model very highly this week. First off we have Jason Day ($7,900.) He is currently 11th on Tour in bogey avoidance, 13th in each of SG: BS, SG: SCR and average par four scoring, 18th in SG: APP, 36th in birdie or better percentage and 40th in SG: OTT. In other words, he’s well above average in each of the statistical categories we’re taking into consideration this week. The Aussie has been busy to start this season, playing in nine Tour events. On the calendar year he went T18th at The American Express and more recently went T7th at the Farmers Insurance Open. Day does not consistently play in this event on a year-to-year basis and in the years he has played, he hasn’t had much success. However, he is in line to have a big week this week. Also consider Brian Harman ($7,400.) Harman is currently tops on tour when it comes to SG: SCR. In an event where scrambling is key, Harman has a leg up. He’s also second in bogey avoidance, third in average par four scoring, 16th in SG: BS, 19th in birdie or better percentage, 22nd in SG: OTT and 78th in SG: APP. He did miss the cut in his last outing at The American Express but prior to that went T16th at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T32nd at the Sony Open in Hawaii. He did have back-to-back second place finishes earlier this season at the World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba and the RSM Classic. In seven consecutive outings at the WM Phoenix Open, Harman had not missed the cut, highlighted by a T14th last year.
I’m super high on Hayden Buckley ($6,800) this week and his +21000 to win. We’re just a few weeks removed from Buckley placing second at the Sony Open in Hawaii. He’s made six-of-eight cuts on the season. Along with a second place finish at the Sony Open in Hawaii, he placed T5th at the Zozo Championship in October. Buckley made his debut at the WM Phoenix Open year ago where he did miss the cut but I’m not too worried about that. He is currently third on Tour in SG: OTT, fifth in SG: BS, 23rd in average par four scoring, 51st in bogey avoidance, 65th in birdie or better percentage, 76th in SG: APP and 135th in SG: SCR. These are some pretty good stats for a golfer in this price range. Also consider Erik van Rooyen ($6,700.) Now I know I played van Rooyen a week ago and he missed the cut but prior to that he placed T6th at The American Express. He has played in this tournament once before back in 2021 where he did miss the cut but like Buckley, I’m not too concerned about that. Van Rooyen is currently 33rd in birdies or better percentage, 40th in average par four scoring, 51st in SG: OTT, 60th in SG: BS, 64th in bogey avoidance and 66th in both SG: APP and SG: SCR. For someone in this price range to be above average in each of the statistical categories we’re taking into consideration is rare.