On Super Bowl Weekend, the golf world gets a tournament with a Super Bowl vibe. This week the PGA Tour plays one of its most popular tournaments. It’s the 2022 WM Phoenix Open from TPC Scottsdale. As always, here is your early deep-dive of the 2022 WM Phoenix Open and a preview of how to bet.
WM Phoenix Open Preview – The Field
There isn’t a lack of star power in the field this week. After a barren field at Pebble Beach, some heavy hitters will make the trip to TPC Scottsdale. One of these stars is Viktor Hovland. Hovland is arguably one of the hottest players on the planet right now. He’s won three of the last five tournaments he’s played. However, he’s still looking for his big signature win on the PGA Tour. While he’s won the Mayakoba twice and the Puerto Rico once, he needs a big boy win on his resume. Getting one at the 2022 WM Phoenix Open is a great place to start.
Another player entering the tournament in great form is Hideki Matsuyama. Matsuyama has three wins over the last 12 months and will look to add another at the WM Phoenix Open. This tournament is one of Hideki’s best in his career. From 2014 to 2017, Matsuyama racked up two wins and two other Top 5’s at the WM Phoenix Open. With his form, he’s a threat to pick up another.
Other notables in the field include Sam Burns, Patrick Cantlay, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm, Xander Schauffele, Jordan Spieth, and Justin Thomas.
For the full field, click here.
WM Phoenix Open Preview – The Golf Course
The property of TPC Scottsdale holds two golf courses, both of which were co-designed by Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish. The commissioner of the PGA Tour in 1986 directed the two architects to build another golf resort for the TPC network that had the look and feel of TPC Sawgrass. Out of this endeavor gave rise to the Champions Course and the Stadium Course. The Stadium Course will host the tournament for all four rounds. This is a relief for gamblers who were tormented by multi-course formats the previous two weeks.
TPC Scottsdale is likely on the bucket list for more mainstream golf fans based solely on the insanity of the 16th hole alone. But the dirty little secret about TPC Scottsdale is, for the most part, it’s a bland, mediocre, cookie-cutter golf course. This is typically a stigma of most TPC golf courses.
There’s very little that piques my interest about TPC Scottsdale over the first fourteen holes. It suffers from a lot of the pitfalls that the South Course at Torrey Pines did last week. There are lots of similar-looking Par 4’s. Almost all of them play straight ahead with a bunker near the fairway landing zone.
There are not many decisions to make off the tee. Everything is very much out in front of the player. Players should be able to get good contact on the golf ball if they find the rough, however. The rough at TPC Scottsdale is only 2.25″ thick. Players might find some bother if they hit it into the desert and behind a cactus, though. But overall, this is a very straightforward golf course across the first 14 holes.
The golf course starts to get interesting at the 15th. It’s a 553 yard Par 5 featuring an island green that’s reachable in two. While an island green is a bit gimmicky, it presents the first interesting feature on the golf course.
From the tee box, the golfers will begin to hear the madness reverberating from the grandstands of the 16th. They’ll need to tune out the noise and hit a solid tee shot. With water all down the left, it’s an intimidating visual. It’s also very important to card a birdie here if one wants to win the tournament. Rickie Fowler birdied it in the final round on his way to overtaking Branden Grace for the victory. Gary Woodland carded a birdie on the 15th in three out of four rounds on his way to winning the tournament in 2018. Hideki Matsuyama birdied it six out of eight tries on his way to winning back to back in 2016 and 2017. And Brooks Koepka eagled this hole in the final round of the 2015 event to help him capture his first career win on the PGA Tour.
After that is the infamous Par 3 16th. For 361 days of the year, it is a very non-descript hole. On its own, the hole is quite a stress-less endeavor. It plays as little as 115 yards and as much as 160 into a simple two-tiered green. Its defense is four greenside bunkers to present the only challenge.
But when you surround the hole with a giant frat party attended by 20,000 drunks who’ll boo if you miss the green, it makes the tee shot a whole lot more nerve-wracking.
If you’re reading this article, you already know exactly what the 16th offers. So instead of regurgitating the same clichés and jokes about the 16th that everyone will make, here’s a video from the guys at No Laying Up that accurately sums up the vibe:
Last year, the 16th hole was limited to 5,000 fans. This year, however, there aren’t any restrictions. The hole will be rocking and rolling from Thursday through Sunday.
For those who’d rather go watch golf instead of taking funnels of Miller Light from sunup to sundown, the place to be is the Par 4 17th. This is the best and most exciting hole on the golf course. It’s a high-risk, high reward hole where tournaments are won and lost.
Pros have two options when they step to the tee at the downhill 332 yard 17th. They can either layup down the right side of the fairway, past the centerline bunker, and set up an easy approach into the large green. That’ll ensure at worst walking off the green with a par. It’ll also earn a few boos from those waking up from their early afternoon alcohol coma.
Or they could pull out a three-wood or driver and attempt to drive the green. The reward is very big. Those who successfully drive the green have a great opportunity at carding an eagle or two-putting for birdie. It’s also the site of the only hole in one on a Par 4 in PGA Tour history:
There are downsides to both strategies. Those who lay up run the risk of walking away without a birdie. The hole annually plays under par, so it’s crucial to card a birdie so you don’t lose strokes to the field. Pros would rather two-putt for birdie instead of trying to get up and down for one from off the green. In 2020, Tony Finau choose to lay up on 17 while leading in the final round. He, unfortunately, found the centerline bunker short of the green. Finau was unable to get up and down for birdie, which allowed Webb Simpson back into the tournament. He would later go on to lose to Simpson in the playoff.
There’s much more downside to going for the green, though. Water awaits those who miss left of the fairway. Branden Grace ended his chances to win in 2019 by sending his tee shot left into the drink. There’s also water behind the green. Anyone who overcooks their tee shot runs the risk of running through the green and into the drink. Poor Rickie Fowler did just that in 2016 while leading the tournament. He would later lose to Hideki Matsuyama in a playoff.
The tournament wraps up at the 442 yard 18th. It’s a dog-legged left Par 4 with water down the left side. This is a very common template for a finishing hole at TPC golf courses:
This hole is intimidating to mere mortals. Hugging the left side of the fairway is a large water hazard, with church pew bunkers looming just past it. To the right are a trio of fairway bunkers. But for the PGA Tour, these guys are able to take almost all of these out of play. At altitude, most players can fly past these hazards off the tee. And it takes a gross mishit to wind up in the penal church bunkers on the left side. This closing hole has a lot more bark than bite.
WM Phoenix Open Preview – Betting Strategies
In 2014, the golf course underwent a renovation by Tom Weiskopf. Among the changes were new greens on four holes, the consolidation of the split fairway on the Par 5 13th, and the addition of the church pew bunkers on 18. The goal was to modernize the golf course in the face of advancements in equipment and distance gains. While the golf course only added about 50 yards from the back tees, it’s become a little more penal off the tee. Before the renovation, the winning score was usually in the mid to upper teens under par. It remains that threshold today.
Let’s start with some nuts and bolts of TPC Scottsdale. The golf course is just over 7,260 yards from the back tees. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, the winnings score is around mid to upper teens under par. The cut line traditionally hovers and even par or -1, though in calm conditions it might creep a little lower under par. The average score is usually around -0.5 to -.75 under par, but in 2021 it played almost -1.5 strokes under par every day. While it’s not the most difficult golf course on the PGA Tour, it’s one that will expose anyone who’s struggling. With numerous water hazards, bunkers, and waste areas, this isn’t a golf course where one can spray it everywhere.
Due to the climate in Arizona, the golf course is overseeded to accommodate the cooler temperatures. While traditionally a bermuda golf course tee-to-green, it’s too cold in February to allow for the Bermuda to emerge from dormancy. And with Waste Management as the sponsor, they want the golf course to look as green as possible. The fairways and rough are overseeded with fescue and ryegrass. The Tif-Eagle Bermuda greens are overseeded with Poa Trivialis, Belvet Bentgrass, and Ryegrass. Do not make the mistake of using bermuda statistics this week. Focus either on this tournament, or other overseeded venues such as PGA West, TPC San Antonio, Innisbrook Resort, and recent Players Championships at TPC Sawgrass.
Next, let’s look at a preview of what types of players do well at the WM Phoenix Open. Here is the relative skill set chart for TPC Scottsdale, per DataGolf:
This week puts an emphasis back on Strokes Gained – Off the Tee. Given how challenging it can be off the tee, it’s no surprise that players that either have good length, accuracy, or both off the tee have success at TPC Scottsdale. Some really good players off the tee have won this event recently. Brooks Koepka, Hideki Matsuyama, and Gary Woodland call them champions at TPC Scottsdale since the renovation. While his game has fallen off, at his peak Rickie Fowler possessed a solid combination of length and accuracy off the tee. Webb Simpson is a very accurate player in his own right. Others who have great track records at TPC Scottsdale include Jon Rahm and Xander Schauffele. Both players excel on golf courses with demanding off the tee setups.
Great putters also historically populate the top of the leaderboard. However, some of the recent winners don’t fit this criteria. Hideki Matsuyama is one of the worst putters on the PGA Tour. Gary Woodland also isn’t someone you’d say has a reliable flat stick. But both these players have elevated their game on overseeded surfaces in their careers. The overseed helps take a lot of the grain out of the putting surface and makes it run smoother. Hideki typically putts better on these types of surfaces. And so does Gary Woodland. That’s why it’s important to nail the grass type when looking at putting stats.
Around the green definitely takes a back seat this week. It’s not crucial to be a short game wizard to do well at TPC Scottsdale. The greens are huge at the golf course. They average around 7,200 sq. feet, more than double what they were last week at Pebble Beach. The green in regulation rate is historically between 70-75% in this event. Around the green performance is so unimportant that no winner of the WM Phoenix Open has gained more than 0.25 strokes per round on the field in their victory. If there’s one area a gambler can pass on, it’s scrambling statistics this week.
Good iron play always helps, but it’s not a great preview of how the final leaderboard of the WM Phoenix Open shakes out. Instead, gamblers need to focus on where the golfers will hit their approach shots from. Here’s the TPC Scottsdale distribution chart, per DataGolf:
In 2021, about 62% of all approach shots at TPC Scottsdale came between 125-200 yards. This range is pretty consistent going all the way back to the 2014 renovation. Only one of the Par 3’s play over 200 yards. And there’s only three Par 5’s on the golf course. With firm conditions, the ball rolls out a long ways at TPC Scottsdale to shorten up approach shots on the Par 4’s.
But there’s also only one Par 4 on the golf course that plays under 400 yards, and that one is drivable. Players just aren’t hitting a ton of short approach shots this week either. This week is a big test of who can hit their short to mid irons the best. With big greens to aim at, the ability to stuff approach shots close for good looks at birdie is vital.
Lastly, here are the Top 10 players in the field who have gained the most strokes per round at TPC Scottsdale:
- Branden Grace – +2.82, 8 Rounds
- Louis Oosthuizen – +2.63, 8 Rounds
- Hideki Matsuyama – +2.55, 29 Rounds
- Matthew NeSmith – +2.53, 4 Rounds
- Xander Schauffele – +2.35, 16 Rounds
- Jon Rahm – +2.19, 24 Rounds
- Brooks Koepka – +2.03, 16 Rounds
- Bubba Watson – +1.90, 56 Rounds
- Justin Thomas – +1.87, 24 Rounds
There’s a big theme to this list. Almost all these players are very gifted off the tee. They traditionally rank very highly in Strokes Gained – Off-the-Tee on the PGA Tour. This list is a great preview of who will play well at this week’s WM Phoenix Open.