Putting a bow on the West Coast swing, the PGA TOUR makes its way to Scottsdale, Arizona, for the Waste Management Phoenix Open (WMPO) at TPC Scottsdale on the Stadium Course. The tournament will play as a par 71, measuring 7,261 yards and will be putt on Bermuda greens this week.
Always well attended in previous years, the WMPO will go from averaging 210,000 fans, depending on the day, to a maximum of 5,000 fans a day due to COVID-19 protocols.
On paper, the course profile doesn’t lean toward golfers who hit it far, especially not as much as last week at Torrey Pines, but this could be a potential contrarian strategy for lineup construction this week. Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green is still the priority, but Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee measures almost the same as approach in average strokes gained per round by former winners. Distance hitters like Tony Finau, Gary Woodland (+7500, $8,300) and Bubba Watson (+5500, $8,500) routinely play well here, with the latter two winning this tournament. Bubba’s admitted to hitting driver a lot at this course in the past, with the rough not being penal. Like Bubba, longer hitters have the advantage of hitting shorter irons into these fast greens. The course sits over 1,500 feet above sea level, which could be another reason we see the average driving distance 12 yards higher (293 yards) than the TOUR average. Driving distance is not the end-all, be-all here by any stretch, but it’s a way to differentiate your lineups from others.
Conversely, and just as important, is driving accuracy with 70 bunkers and three water hazards that come into play on six holes. Golfers like Chez Reavie (+17500, $7,000), who ranks fourth in fairways gained over the previous 50 rounds, and 2020 champion Webb Simpson (+1500, $10,100), who ranks 15th in off-the-tee accuracy over the same timeframe, have done well with their ability to keep it in the short grass.
Currently set at 132 golfers, the field is 15% less than what we’ve seen over the past two weeks, which could help us get our golfers through the cut line. Getting your guys to play the weekend is vital at most tournaments, but especially this week. Only two out of the past 11 golfers have held on to win when leading after 54 holes, and five of the previous eight have come from two or more back to win this tournament.
Another potential strategy is rostering golfers in the afternoon tee draws when building lineups for the classic four-day or single-round Showdown contest. Golfers like Martin Laird (+17500, $7,000) have mentioned the course can play longer in the morning and shorter in the afternoon after the humidity burns off.
GOLFERS TO CONSIDER
This stretch of golf is Rahm season, even though he didn’t win last week. With his third straight seventh-place finish this season, Rahm is coming home, literally. Being in contention last week with the new Callaway clubs, especially the new putter, should only help Rahm, who ranks fifth in Strokes Gained: Total at the WMPO since 2016. Surprisingly, Rahm has yet to win here. Not surprisingly, he is gaining an average of 5.82 strokes tee-to-green at TPC Scottdale over his five appearances. Daniel Berger (+1700, $9,600) should also be a consideration this week. Berger’s game should work well here, ranking 26th in Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green over the previous 12 rounds and 11th in Strokes Gained: Total here over the past five years. Coming off of back-to-back top 10s, Berger should feel great about where his game is at right now.
Zalatoris found himself in the mix last week, but the greens at Torrey Pines got the better of him on Sunday, losing 1.3 strokes putting. Despite his flastick foibles, Zalatoris gained 3.53 strokes tee-to-green over the weekend, finishing seventh in his first tournament of the calendar year. Three top 10s at Winged Foot, TPC Summerlin (a top 5 at the Shriners) and Torrey Pines prove he can play on all types of courses.
Henley deserves some consideration this week when it’s a ball-striking course with Bermuda greens. Even though he missed the cut here last season and in 2018, he proved he can play well, finishing top 15 in 2019 and 16th in 2017. With two missed cuts in the past four years and a missed weekend in San Diego last week, this could be a spot we get a low-rostered Henley who ranks inside the top 40 in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee, third in Tee-to-Green and first in Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green. Another player in this range who deserves attention is Sebastian Munoz (+17500, $7,100). Munoz’s ability to make birdies in bunches is as good as anybody’s on TOUR and presents value in this range, ranking 23rd in birdies or better gained over the previous 50 rounds. A top 30 at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open and a top 10 at the CJ Cup, another desert course, should be enough to give him a look this week.
Varner finished last season ranked inside the top 20 in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee and was hitting it great toward the end of last year, ranking fifth in Tee-to-Green over the previous 24 rounds. Varner also has a solid track record at correlated tournaments like the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, finishing 13th at TPC Summerlin last season. The short game wasn’t great last week, but Varner was still able to gain with his Approach and Off-the-Tee. TPC Scottsdale should fit his game a little more than Torrey Pines; over his previous three WMPO outings, he’s gained an average of 3.6 strokes Tee-to-Green. Varner needs to equalize his putting in Scottsdale, or we may see similar results from his 2020 effort when he missed the cut.
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