Today's Free Picks for
Posted Wednesday, one day before evenbt starts. Odds subject to change.
WM Phoenix Open
The first sign of spring is the AT&T Pebble Beach Open and the second sign is the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Even if it gets forgotten in the annals of time, you’ll never take Wyndham Clark’s round of 60 at Pebble Beach away from him. It’s the best score ever recorded at one of America’s most storied venues, and it was enough to catapult Clark to victory after tournament officials deemed it too unsafe to finish the event on Sunday or Monday in strong winds and heavy downpours. Onwards we march. Even though the Waste Management Phoenix Open isn’t a Signature Event, it sure feels like one with a quality field and a host course, TPC Scottsdale, is the closest golf will ever get to a ball game atmosphere.
This is the most attended golf tournament in the world – more than 250,000 patrons pass through the door of the Arizona venue, with 20,000 or so seated in The Coliseum; the infamous stadium that bedecks the 16th hole. There is, for better or worse, no ambience quite like it in golf.
The 16th is the meat in a tasty sandwich for fans of tough closing stretches. The 15th at TPC Scottsdale is a risk-and-reward Par 5, while the 17th is golf’s answer to a siren on the rocks – a drivable Par 4, but one where the water hazard is so in-play that it has literally ended the title dreams of a handful of players in the past decade alone.
The 18th requires two quality shots to make the green, and that is the overriding theme at TPC Scottsdale: quality. Five of the last six winners of this event have been major champions, with a healthy smattering of US Open and Masters victors in that group – you might argue that those are the two toughest majors to win.
Many of the past Phoenix Open champions share a similar trait: they are immaculate ball-strikers and metronomic from tee to green, with the Bermuda greens running so smooth as to give everybody a fair shot with the flat stick. It takes a classy operator to get the job done at TPC Scottsdale, and this is a field packed with them. That’s not usually a recipe for success for longshot backers, although Nick Taylor – the closest to Scottie Scheffler at the top of the leaderboard 12 months ago – was available at 150/1 last year so there’s hope.
What We’re Looking For:
The winner’s circle at the Phoenix Open reads like a who’s who of modern-day golf. Scheffler, Brooks Koepka, Hideki Matsuyama – all major champions, all double winners at TPC Scottsdale. Phil Mickelson before them won this event three times.
Webb Simpson and Gary Woodland – both US Open champions, no less – join the dots of contemporary Phoenix Open winners, with a selection of runners-up that include Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele, Tony Finau plus course horses Ricky Fowler, Webb Simpson and Matsuyama.
In short, you need to be good to win the Phoenix Open. Very good. The prevailing statistics don’t help out too much: Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green, Approaches from 100+ yards, Par 4 Scoring….these are just simply measures of quality operators.
It’s interesting how well Augusta National's form correlates with TPC Scottsdale. Anecdotally they’re not similar, but an ability to shoot a decent score under immense pressure – against a quality field – is as strong a causal link as any. Desert form at the Shriners and American Express can be considered useful, as can the menage-a-trois of Phoenix Open, Memorial Tournament and Honda Classic – there’s a whole host of players who have performed well at all three of these events. Scheffler will be looking for a three-peat having also prevailed in 2022, but we’re after longshots, thus Scottie is not playable for us but these pros are:
Akshay Bhatia 80-1
Akshay Bhatia may enjoy a softer version of Scottsdale because his stellar approach play can sometimes be let down by poor form around the green when Greens in Regulation (GIR) are occasionally missed. The most noteworthy aspect of Bhatia’s 2024 so far is the improvement in his putting – he’s gained strokes on the field in this department in all four of his starts, and even so when missing the cut at The American Express. Although he seems to prefer his golf by the seaside judging on past results, there’s so much to admire about Bhatia’s ball-striking and putting improvements that it surely won’t be long before he’s a contender for silverware everywhere he goes. He’s a dude to watch in 2024 and we’ll take our chances with him here. Risking 0.2 units (0.1 unit on Top-10 and 0.1 units to win outright).
Taylor Montgomery 125-1
There’s an unwritten list of players who it feels as though are rounding up to a maiden PGA TOUR win in 2024. Taylor Montgomery is on the list, in the sense that his game draws parallels to that of Wyndham Clark – long off the tee and with a reliable short game, he’s just starting to add the kind of approach play improvements that finally unlocked the door for Clark to break through. Montgomery isn’t as talented as Clark, let’s make that clear, but his game is in decent shape right now with three finishes of T13 or better in his last five starts. T5 at the American Express in 2023 suggests an affinity with desert golf, too, from the University of Nevada grad. Montgomery ranks 11th ON TOUR in SG: Putting, 14th in Scrambling and 23rd in SG: Approach. Risking 0.2 units (0.1 unit on Top-10 and 0.1 units to win outright).
Kevin Yu 80-1
The Arizona State grad is sure to get plenty of support at the Phoenix Open, with his fellow alumni – such as Jon Rahm – always getting strong backing at TPC Scottsdale. That’s not to say that will automatically lead to a strong performance from Yu, who will be making his tournament debut, but so many of the ingredients are in place for a good showing. His approach play was once again on point in the two measured rounds at Pebble Beach, where his flat stick was colder than a gale blowing in from the Pacific. But, generally in 2024, Yu has improved in that department, and he’ll find the overseeded greens at Scottsdale to be much purer and smoother. Always excellent off the tee, we expect Kevin Yu to win on the PGA TOUR in 2024 – could it come on his old stomping ground? Dude ranks 6th ON TOUR in SG: Off-the-Tee, 15th in Approaches from Inside 100 Yards and 29th in Proximity to Hole. Those are some nifty numbers for this course. Risking 0.2 units (0.1 unit on Top-10 and 0.1 units to win outright).
Jake Knapp 150-1
What a performance Jake Knapp put in a fortnight ago at the Farmers Insurance Open. He finished T3, ranked third for Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green, and gained strokes on the field putting. It’s a continuation of the upward curve Knapp has enjoyed since the start of the 2023 season, where he put together a stack of top-10 finishes on the Korn Ferry Tour. We particularly like him this week because he has such easy length off the tee, which is always a help in rain-softened conditions, and he’s won three times on the Canadian Tour, so he’s no stranger to success in cooler environments. Knapp ranks 9th ON TOUR in Scoring Average and 37th in SG: Off-the-Tee and at prices like this, he’s another under-the radar pro that is worth keeping an eye on in 2024. Risking 0.2 units (0.1 unit on Top-10 and 0.1 units to win outright).
Kurt Kitayama 90-1
For months now, Kurt Kitayama has been besting the field from tee-to-green in high quality PGA TOUR events but a rut has set in on the dancefloor, and he’s actually lost strokes to the field putting in each of his last 10 measured starts. He might not sound like someone you’d want to back then, but cast your mind back to February last year and Kitayama was gaining +0.80 on the field here, and a matter of weeks later he rolled the rock for +1.51 on his way to his maiden PGA TOUR title at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Kurt opened with a 75 last year, but battled back nicely over the final three rounds to finish in a share of 23rd. The UNLV Runnin' Rebel enters this week playing perhaps his best golf in quite some time and these conditions seem to bring the best out of Kitayama on the greens – he only needs marginal gains to contend once more. Risking 0.2 units (0.1 unit on Top-10 and 0.1 units to win outright).
WM Phoenix Open (Risking 5 units - To Win: 0.00)
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