February 7, 2023, 5:20 pm
The PGA Tour returns this week after Justin Rose was able to secure his first win in four years. A weather delay pushed the finishing round of the tournament into Monday where Rose cleared his nearest competitors by three strokes. The top of the board disappointed as Jordan Spieth and Tom Hoge whimpered to T63 and T48 finishes, Matt Fitzpatrick missed the cut, and Viktor Hovland couldn’t get anything going in the final round to finish T13.
Say goodbye to course rotations and Pro-Ams and hello to what has become the premier winter event on tour; the Waste Management Phoenix Open played at TPC Scottsdale. For those unfamiliar with this event, it has gained notoriety as being one of the best atmospheres in golf and is routinely the highest attended tournament on tour year-in and year-out. The stadium-style par 3 16th hole is electric and completely different than any other hole on tour as the fans are encouraged to make noise which is a welcome changeup to the usual routine of a golf tournament. The party reached its peak last year when there were two hole-in-ones at the 16th hole and play had to be paused as the fans celebrated by spraying beer all over the place while numerous beer cans were thrown onto the green.
TPC Scottsdale comes in as a par-71 and is playing at 7,261 yards, which falls in the middle-of-the-pack on the tour schedule. The dry desert air makes the greens fast and firm and not as receptive as typical greens. The greens themselves are technically Bermuda, but are over-seeded with Bent, Poa, and Rye. The dry air also lends itself to driving distance being longer for the field than the average tour stop. The 2” Rye and Fescue rough is not particularly penalizing, but there is water to contend with as well as the natural cacti if golfers get overly wayward with their tee shots.
The closing stretch of holes here provides great risk/reward and almost always produces exciting finishes on Sunday as a lead into the Super Bowl. After going through the aforementioned party going on at the 16th hole, golfers are faced with a short par-4 that is drivable for the majority of the field. However, there is water lurking around the green causing some ill-timed water shots. The 18th is a shortish par-4 that typically plays slightly over par but like most TPC courses, you can make a birdie to close out your round if you put the ball in the right spot.
We are treated to the best full field to date this year. 22 of the top-25 in the world are attending, including the 2023 PGA Tour debut of world number one; Rory McIlroy. Other notables making their PGA Tour debuts for 2023 include: Tyrrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood, Shane Lowry, and Francesco Molinari.
The WM Phoenix Open is one of the “Designated Events” this year and will be played for a purse of $20 million with $3.6 million going to the winner.
Course history will be a factor this week. I don’t believe it is necessarily due to the course itself, but more so the outside conditions of the fans that make this event unique. Per Data Golf, this event is the third-most predictive, so let’s take a look at the best players in terms of Total Strokes Gained:
- Hideki Matsuyama (2 wins/ 7 top-20 finishes in 8 appearances)
- Jon Rahm (ASU alum, 4-of-7 top-10 finishes and no finish worse than 16th)
- Xander Shauffele (3rd, 2nd, 16th, 10th, 17th)
- Justin Thomas (3 top-10 finishes in 8 appearances)
- Webb Simpson (A win, a 2nd-place finish and 3 other top-10 finishes)
Tee to Green game has proven to be the recipe for success here. Strong off the tee and strong iron play (except for Scheffler last year) has generally reigned supreme when looking at past winners. While the greens are firm and fast, they are also flat and there is not a lot of break to them. This has helped traditional poor putters perform above their normal expected outcome, putting even more emphasis on strong iron play.
Here are the key stats I am considering when building my lineups this week.
- SG: Approach– A staple stat that translates to any course. It is the stat that has been proven to be heavily correlated with long term success. With minimal rough, fast and firm greens, golfers’ second shots this week will need to be dialed in to contend.
- SG: OTT– As mentioned above, off-the-tee play is linked to success at TPC Scottsdale. Being able to take advantage of the dry air for more distance and setting yourself up to be able to take advantage of scoring conditions is crucial.
- SG: Par 4 – Being a par-71 set up, there is an extra par 4 hole in play this week as there are only 3 par 5s. If you want to get really granular, you can focus on par 4s in the 400–500-yard range which all but one fit into this week.
- Birdie or Better %: The winning score is typically in the 16 to 19 under par range. Taking advantage of the birdie opportunities is going to be important this week. Yes, birdies are always important, but are even more so in weeks when the scoring is this high.
- Scrambling gained- The fast and firm conditions as well as the dry conditions lead to some off-the-green play. When these instances do occur, we are looking for golfers who are capable of getting up and down to save par and not make big numbers.
Round 1 Props
Thrive Contest Plays for Thursday’s Round 1 Action
Tom Kim 2.5 Birdies MORE (75 PTS) – Tom Kim is not the longest off the tee, but he is deadly accurate. Pair that with his exceptional iron play (2nd in the field over the last 50 rounds) and his ability to get hot with the putter, and I expect more than 2 birdies from Kim on Thursday.
Hideki Matsuyama 71.5 Strokes LESS (75 PTS) – Hideki has experienced great success in this tournament over the years and most of that has been fueled by strong starts. He’s never gone over this number in the first round and has shot in the 60s seven of eight times. In fact, he has only gone over this number once in 32 career rounds at this course. Easy click.
Jon Rahm 3.5 Birdies MORE (80 PTS) – Elite off the tee (number one in the field over the last 50 rounds) and immaculate course history without a win. We saw an up and down performance from him at Torrey Pines, but I expect the Arizona State alum to come out firing to get the taste of the poor final round at Torrey out of his mouth.
Props Record YTD
DFS Top Tier Play
Recommending you to play the number one player in the world takes a lot of guts, but I’m going to do it. This is the best Rory has played in quite some time coming off another worldwide win, holding off Patrick Reed in Dubai two weeks ago. He has only played this tournament once back in 2021 and finished 13th. He checks all the boxes we are looking for this week: elite off the tee, elite iron player and should be able to take advantage of putting on these greens. He also ranks first in DraftKings points in the field over the last 50 rounds. Confidently fire him up in cash games or tournaments.
Others Considered: Xander Schauffele ($10,000), Collin Morikawa ($9,700)
DFS Mid Tier Play
Young is on the short list to be labeled “best player yet to win” much like his fellow Wake Forest teammate Will Zalatoris recently was. Young is elite off the tee and can putt the lights out when he has it rolling. He has also shown the ability to be near the top of the leader board in big events, finishing 3rd at the PGA Championship and 2nd at the Open Championship last season. He finished 26th here last year in the midst of a poor stretch of iron play (lost stokes to the field in eight of ten events at the time). Coming in with good form after finishing 2nd in Saudi Arabia last week, I think Cam can keep it rolling into this week.
Others Considered: Hideki Matsuyama ($9,400), Sam Burns ($8,600)
DFS Value Play
When we look for value plays in golf, there are going to be concerns associated with all of these plays. Hence why they are not expensive and are not as consistent as the top players in the world. So, what are we looking for? We are looking for our values to have 1-2 elite skills that we can lean on. In the case of Steele, off the tee and iron play are his bread and butter (ranking 6th and 4th in the field over the last 50 rounds). The short game has been his downfall, but lucky for us this is a course that mitigates that weakness to an extent. Steele should be able to give himself enough opportunities after finding himself in excellent position off the tee. If the scrambling and putting can be adequate, Steele can easily pay off this price tag.
Others Considered: Hayden Buckley ($6,800), Jhonattan Vegas ($6,700)
Outright Betting Picks
*All odds are courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook
Justin Thomas (+2000)
Collin Morikawa (+2500)
Cameron Young (+4500)
Sam Burns (+5500)
Position Player Name DK Salary G Rory McIlroy $10,800 G Cameron Young $8,900 G Brendan Steele $7,200 G Hayden Buckley $6,800 G Sam Burns $8,600 G REMAINING BUDGET $7,700 for 1 play