Waste Management Phoenix Open Preview

The PGA Tour is making its annual trip to TPC Scottsdale for the Waste Management Phoenix Open. This event is a fan-favorite, and usually has the loudest galleries PGA golfers will see all season. This year due to COVID-19, there will be only 5,000 fans permitted each day of the tournament. Although it is drastically less fans than usual, I am sure some golfers will be excited to be playing in front of a gallery.

The Stadium Course at TPC Scottsdale is a Par 71 with four Par 3s, eleven Par 4s, and three Par 5s. The course measures 7,261 yards with TifEagle Bermuda greens overseeded with poa trivialis, velvet bentgrass, and perennial ryegrass. While it is technically a Bermuda course, it will not play like a true Bermuda that is seen on the Florida courses.

Previous winners of this event are Webb Simpson, Rickie Fowler, Gary Woodland, and Hideki Matsuyama. Matsuyama won in back-to-back years in 2016 and 2017. Four of the last five winners were ranked inside the Top 20 in the Official World Golf Rankings the week leading into their victories. Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas, Xander Schauffele, Rory McIlroy, Webb Simpson, Brooks Koepka, Sungjae Im, Matthew Wolff, and Harris English are all ranked inside the Top 20 and will be playing this week.

My handicapping process started by reviewing the scorecards of previous winners. During this review it became very obvious that Tee-to-Green is the most important stat to look at this week. Over the last five years, the winner of this event has averaged 10.4302 Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green. The winning score tends to be around -17 which means golfers will need to make birdies in order to contend. Golfers will need to take advantage of the three Par 5s. The previous 5 winners have made a birdie on at least five of the twelve total Par 5s. Scrambling and Around-the-Green has been easier on this course, and the winners of this event have not gained as many strokes putting as it would normally take to win a PGA Tour event. This had led me to ball-strikers who will hit plenty of greens and fairways.

Correlated courses I looked at were Bay Hill, Silverado, and the Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass. Bay Hill is the host of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where the course features a similarly strong field, TifEagle Bermuda greens, and requires a well-rounded performance in order to win. Silverado is the host of the Safeway Open, where the field is weaker, but it is a West Coast course where ball-striking is imperative. The Players Championship is hosted at TPC Sawgrass where there is an elite field, TifEagle Bermuda greens. Winners at TPC Sawgrass have had great Tee-to-Green performances the week they won.

Key Stats: Tee-to-Green, Ball-Striking, Approach, Accuracy, Distance, Greens-in-Regulation

Secondary Stats: Proximity to the hole, Good Drive Percentage, Scrambling (while scrambling has been easier at this course, I still want to avoid golfers who are poor scramblers.)

Scoring: Birdie or Better Percentage, Par 4 Birdie or Better Percentage, Par 5 Birdie or Better Percentage, Birdie Average, Bogey Avoidance, Par 4 Efficiency (450-500) yards

Waste Management Phoenix Open Tips

Sungjae Im 34-1 (DraftKings)

            Sungjae is coming off of a T32nd at the Farmers Insurance Open. Prior to Farmers, Sungjae finished T12th at the American Express, T56th at the Sony Open, and a T5th at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. The last two weeks Sungjae has not been striking the ball well. He lost strokes Tee-to-Green at the Sony, and only gained 1.4 Strokes Tee-to-Green last week. Historically, Sungjae has been an average Tee-to-Green player, but an above average ball-striker. Using 2020 ShotLink data, Sungjae is ranked 24th in this field in ball-striking. Among this field Sungjae also ranks: 18th in Proximity, 18th in Scrambling, 11th in Birdie or Better Percentage, 10th in Par 5 Birdie or Better Percentage, and 10th in Birdie Average.

The two times that Sungjae played at Bay Hill, he finished 3rd place both times. At the Safeway Open, Sungjae has a T49th and a T4th. At the Waste Management Phoenix Open, Sungjae has made the cut both times he played it, finishing T34th and T7th. Last year at this event, Sungjae gained nearly 5 strokes Tee-to-Green. Positive regression is in store for Sungjae’s ball-striking, and he is currently ranked inside the Top 20 OWGR. This is a good number for a top player who has been in contention recently.

Will Zalatoris 50-1 (DraftKings)

            Will Zalatoris might be a rookie, but he is here to stay. Zalatoris tore up the Korn Ferry last year, before earning a PGA Tour card through the 2021 season. Zalatoris has made seven starts in the 2021 PGA season, debuting at the US Open last September. Zalatoris has notched an astounding four top ten finishes during those seven starts. The 24-year-old returned to action last week, where a closing Eagle landed him a -8, in a tie for 7th place. Last week, Zalatoris gained 5.288 strokes Tee-to-Green in the three measured rounds at the Farmers. Torrey Pines was playing very difficult, but the rookie still found ways to give himself birdie opportunities. Looking forward to this week, if Zalatoris strikes the ball the same way he did last week I find it hard to imagine he won’t be contending on Sunday. The sportsbooks might not fully respect Zalatoris just yet, but I definitely do and 50-1 is great value.

Corey Conners 85-1 (DraftKings)

            Corey Conners is a golfer I’ve tipped before, and a guy who I believe is knocking on the door of a breakout season. Conners is an elite ball-striker, his biggest flaw is his putter. Conners made his 2021 debut last week at the Farmers Insurance Open where he finished T37th. Last week at Torrey Pines, Conners gained 4.472 Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green. The course was challenging last week, and I expect the Stadium Course at TPC Scottsdale will be more generous. Among this field, Conners ranks: 8th Tee-to-Green, 8th in Approach, 12th in Good Drives Percentage, 13th in Driving Accuracy, 5th in Greens-in-Regulation, and 1st in Ball-Striking. In his only appearance at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, Conners finished T45th. Conners has a T13th at the Safeway Open as well. Conners is the number one ball-striker in this field and he is coming in at 85-1 odds. That is a bet I am willing to make. The overall profile for Corey Conners is a perfect setup for this course, and I can see him attacking this course and posting a solid number.

Byeong-Hun (Benny) An 100-1 (BetMGM)

            Benny An has played twice since the start of 2021, finishing T8th at the American Express, and T75th last week at the Farmers Insurance Open. Ben An’s performance at PGA West at the American Express stands out to me, because this week will play out somewhat similarly to the American Express. The weather last week, and the course setup at Torrey Pines is not a great match for An, so I won’t take his T75th as a major red flag. Choosing Ben An is a play on his course form, and his correlated course performance. At his four appearances at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, Ben An has finished: T9th, T20th, T23rd, and 6th. At the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Ben An has made the cut all four times he played and finished T19th and T14th in 2019 and 2018 respectively. At the Players Championship in 2019 he finished T26th and in 2018 he finished T30th. Ben An showed good form two weeks ago, and he has played great here in the past. 100-1 is a huge number, and even if he does not win it, I can see Ben An notching a high finish.

Luke List 125-1 (DraftKings)

            Backing Luke List can be a roller coaster of emotions. List struggles with his putter, but is a good ball-striker. The theme this week is to back golfers whose drivers and irons will be the key to their success. List has back-to-back good starts finishing T21st at the American Express, and T10th at the Farmers Insurance Open. Last week, List gained over 8 strokes tee-to-green, 4 strokes off-the-tee, and 3 strokes in Approach. List also gained 6 strokes tee-to-green and 4 strokes in approach two weeks ago at the American Express. In this field, List ranks: 14th Tee-to-Green, 20th in Ball-Striking, 23rd Greens-in-Regulation, 10th in Driving Distance, and 9th in Par 5 Birdie or Better Percentage. In his last three appearances at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, List finished: T10th, T7th, and T17th. However, List has missed the cut at the Waste Management Phoenix Open three times in his last five tries. The two other appearances have resulted in T25th and T26th. It’s been feast or famine for List at this venue in the past, but he’s been striking the ball so well it’s hard to pass on this number.

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