Pat Mayo and Geoff Fienberg preview the course and run through the odds while making their 2022 WM Phoenix Open Picks. The guys give their fantasy golf picks, provide their one and done strategy for the event from TPC Scottsdale.
2022 WM Phoenix Open: Field
Field: 132 Players
Cut: Top 65 and Ties
Lineup Lock: Thursday, February 10
Defending Champ: Brooks Koepka
HARRIS ENGLISH has Withdrawn
“The Road to the Masters” was typically acknowledged as beginning when the TOUR shifted to Florida, usually at the start of March. Then, THE PLAYERS was moved from May to mid-March, and that tournament is slightly too large to be considered a lead-up event to anything.
Since the season runs 11 months a year, I don’t think it’s disrespectful to break it off into the chunk that actually matters to fans. Or maybe it is disrespectful. The guys cashing million-dollar paydays at the Sanderson Farms don’t care. The same thing happens at the start of the year. The Hawaii events are fun. The Amex is OK. But they feel weirdly like exhibition events or the answer to trivia questions like, “How the hell does Hudson Swafford still have enough FedEx Cup points to be at East Lake?”
These all seem like warm-ups to golf that feels more important. Sure, the biggest names make cameos in Hawaii, but it just seems like it’s a paid vacation. It all feels like that until we get to Torrey Pines. Torrey kicks off the real season and that real season runs from La Jolla through the Open Championship in July. I realize the playoffs are a thing. I also realize no one truly cares. It’s a tough scene awarding someone $15 million by beating the 29 other best players of the last 12 months and the masses think the golf season ended six weeks prior.
Some can argue the “real” season is the PLAYERS through The Open. For casual fans, it’s The Masters through The Open. For the most casual observers, golf’s entire year exists solely within the highly-gated confines of Augusta National.
The Farmers feels like the real start, though. It’s a familiar course. It’s tough, major-equse even. With its field, it gives you a glimpse of what’s to come this year at the events that matter the most. Historically, Pebble Beach would act in a similar fashion. That’s a thing of the past now. The Pro-Am is like school starting before Labor Day. The first few hours of the first day are getting reacquainted with your peers in a slightly new setting and getting to know a few new faces. That lasts about an hour, then the rest of the day just becomes an extended long weekend. Pebble Beach has devolved into that level of irrelevancy.
It used to feel like the WM Phoenix Open was the same — just a big party with a few top names that gets drowned out by the Super Bowl. Not anymore. You’d think with Torrey Pines drawing a lot of elites out of hiding, Saudi backing up the Brinks truck to pad its field and Riviera looming in a week with a man named Tiger Woods having his name attached as the host, it would leave Phoenix with the scraps of the TOUR’s younger up-and-comers who just want to go get paid to go party in the desert.
Like most things in life, the laissez-faire attitude espoused by this tournament has mass appeal to the players. It certainly seems like a better strategy than the faux laissez-faire vibe of Pebble Beach. “Come play at Pebble, it’s a great time, you get to play a seven-hour round with the head of marketing of Valspar paint.” It’s contrived and the players have seen through it. Phoenix took the “Field of Dreams” strategy: They built it, and now they’re coming.
What actually matters, is how the 2022 Open is now a legit, big-time event on the PGA TOUR. Eighteen of the world’s Top 30 players will be teeing off in Scottsdale, headlined by No. 1 Jon Rahm, defending champ Brooks Koepka, Louis Oosthuizen, Patrick Cantlay, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Hideki Matsuyama, Abraham Ancer, Tony Finau, Webb Simpson, Xander Schauffele, Sam Burns, Scottie Scheffler and, fresh off a victory overseas, Viktor Hovland.
Daniel Berger is also currently listed in the field, but he had to withdraw from Pebble Beach with a back injury before the event started, so he may be out again. Ditto with Charley Hoffman. After pulling out pre-event the previous few weeks, he actually made it through a round at Pebble before calling it quits. It’s doubtful we’ll see him tee off this week. And if he does, you likely want to dodge that bullet.
It’s worth noting a collection of players in this field were in competition in Saudi Arabia over the weekend if that sort of thing matters to you. Schauffele, Ancer, Finau, Bubba Watson, Lucas Herbert, Graeme McDowell and Jason Dufner all played in Saudi. As did Harold Varner III, who won the event. Louis did not, in fact, participate and Phoenix is his first start anywhere in the world in 2022. It’s the season’s first PGA TOUR start for Adam Scott as well, after starting the year T10/T9 in the Middle East.
2022 WM Phoenix Open: Key Stats
- Strokes Gained: Ball Striking
- Par 4s Gained: 450-500 Yards
- Eagles Gained
- Opportunities Gained
Mayo’s Key Stats powered by FantasyNational.com
2022 WM Phoenix Open: Course
- Course: TPC Scottsdale
- Yardage: 7,261
- Par: 71
- Greens: Bermuda
2022 WM Phoenix Open: Past Winners
- 2021: Brooks Koepka -19
- 2020: Webb Simpson -17
- 2019: Rickie Fowler -17
- 2018: Gary Woodland -18
- 2017: Hideki Matsuyama -17
- 2016: Hideki Matsuyama -14
- 2015: Brooks Koepka -15
- 2014: Kevin Stadler -16
- 2013: Phil Mickelson -28
- 2012: Kyle Stanley -15
2022 WM Phoenix Open: Notes
Stats that have correlated to finishing position in the past five years, beyond the traditional Strokes Gained metrics, have been Par 5s Gained/Eagles Gained and Par 4s Gained between 450-500 yards. There are five holes here from that distance, three of which are the most difficult on the course. Like most weeks, approach and putting matter the most of any stats, but TPC Scottsdale is actually much flatter for each of the individual Tee-To-Green metrics than most events. We get tournaments where approach can be worth as much as four times the value of driving and chipping, but not this week.
There are a bunch of odd factors that make this possible. Despite playing about 400 yards shorter than the South Course at Torrey Pines, expect most of the field to attack with driver off the tee. This event has the second-highest driving distance of any event and the average drive has rested around 300 yards in the past few years with almost 60% of all drives going over 300 yards.
All three par 5s are reachable in two, but No. 15 tends to be a magnet for the water. Much like its aqua brethren, No. 18 at TPC Twin Cities, you must carry the hazard to reach it in two. In 2019, 74 balls reached the bottom of the lake during the tournament. Despite there only being three par 5s, they combined for the fifth-best score to par when going for the green (-572) in 2020.
Beyond the par 5s, the drivable par 4 17th is the other spot on the course to gain back significant strokes on the field. Just 332 yards, every player can take a crack at the green from the tee box, but with water looming off the left side, both eagle and bogey are in play depending on the drive. Originally, I assumed it was an ultimate risk/reward proposition, but, players have made par 40% of the time on No. 17 after they go into the water. Considering the field makes birdie over 38% of the time and eagle more than 1% of the time, there’s little incentive to lay up. In 2020, 51 balls found the water off the tee, while 63 landed on the green. Rickie Fowler has made the most bogeys or worse of any player, 12, and that was when he was good. Overall, since the start of the millennium, No. 17 has seen the third-most water balls off the tee of any hole on TOUR (571), trailing only No. 15 at TPC River Highlands (849) and No. 2 at Waialae (663).
Five winners since 2012 have ranked inside the Top 10 for the week in approach proximity from 175-200 yards. Per Fantasy National, Luke List, Daniel Berger, Doug Ghim, Harold Varner and Louis Oosthuizen are the leaders in that category over the past 50 rounds. Shrink that down to the past 24 rounds and List, Tom Hoge, Francesco Molinari, Matthew NeSmith and Hudson Swafford top that list. Additionally, 10 players who have hoisted a novelty check in Phoenix have also won THE PLAYERS Championship. Webb Simpson was the last to accomplish the double. You’d think this would lead to Si WOOOOO Kim having success in Phoenix. NOPE. Kim’s lost the most strokes of any player over the past five years at TPC Scottsdale (-23.56).
No. 17 is also the hole that features the most putts from over 80 feet. There have been over 220 putts from 80 feet or beyond on this green and almost half have resulted in a three-putt or worse (49.3%).
The greens are listed as “Bermuda” when we’re separating them, but it’s not exactly the Bermuda grass putting surfaces we see in Florida. Per the GCSAA, they’re officially listed as “TifEagle Bermuda over-seeded with velvet bentgrass, Poa trivialis and perennial ryegrass .100.” I have no idea what that means after about the sixth word. Just know, these greens are historically firm and run faster than the average TOUR event, which has helped out the poorer putters as shorter putts have become easier in these conditions. In 2020, the field made 89% of putts inside of 10 feet. A rather absurd rate.
Watson has five Top 5 finishes at TPC Scottsdale in his past 10 starts. He’s never won this event. For first-round DraftKings purposes, Bubba has never been above par in any of his 15 opening rounds at the course and is -49 over those 15 rounds.
Among other golfers to watch, Matsuyama has played 27 of 29 career rounds under par; Rahm, an ASU product, has never finished worse than T16 in six appearances in Phoenix, including one start as an amateur; and last year, Andrew Putnam only finished T7 but didn’t make any bogeys in the event.
Since 2000, just eight 54-hole leaders have gone on to convert the victory on Sunday, and only two since 2009 — Phil in 2013 and Fowler in 2019. It was Fowler’s second 54-hole leader conversion in seven career tries. Last year’s 54-hole leaders, Xander and Spieth, were caught by Brooks down the stretch, capped off with the chip-in eagle on No. 17 to complete the five-stroke comeback. Stanley, Woodland, Matsuyama and Koepka (twice) have all staged large Sunday rallies in the past decade en route to a win.
Johnny Miller (1974 and 1975) and Matsuyama (2016 and 2017) are the only back-to-back winners in Phoenix, while Arnold Palmer, Phil Mickelson, Gene Littler and Mark Calcavecchia are the only three-time winners of this event. There have been multiple repeat winners since 2000: Mickelson, Matsuyama, Koepka and JB Holmes have each won twice.
This event has gone to a playoff in four of the past six years and was settled by one stroke twice. Overall, outside of Phil’s four-stroke win in 2013, the ement Open has gone to a playoff seven times in the past 14 years.
All-time, 10 players have won in their first appearance at TPC Scottsdale dating back to 1932. Koepka (2015), Stanley (2012) and Holmes (2005) are the only players to accomplish that feat this millennium.
Scrambling and GIRs are higher than TOUR average while hitting fairways is slightly below most courses (59 percent to 61 percent average). As reflected in the GIR rate, the rough isn’t very penalizing, although there isn’t much of it. Once you veer too far from the short grass, you’re in the desert. There are 68 sand traps littered across the course with water in play on six holes. There’s also an abundance of cacti littered across the sand. Ask Spencer Levin.
Of the players in the field, Kuchar, Rahm, Fowler, Thomas and Schauffele have gained the most total strokes at TPC Scottsdale over the past five years.
For the first time in seven years, the cut in 2021 didn’t fall between even and +2. It was -2, the lowest number since 2013.
2022 WM Phoenix Open Picks
Justin Thomas ($11,000)
Thomas faltering at Torrey Pines may work to our advantage. He comes to Phoenix with less shine than the rest of the top players at the moment. Now that can change. Beyond posting four straight top 20s at TPC Scottsdale, JT is actually on a run of gaining strokes on approach in 31 of his past 33 starts, and best of all, his driver and putter have started to cooperate on a more consistent basis. Over his past 10 tournaments, Thomas has averaged +4.0 SG: Ball Striking per start.
Corey Conners ($8,300)
It’s somewhat worrisome the Canadian’s driving hasn’t been consistently as good as the previous two years, but it’s still early. The more positive note has been his around the green performance. You could have called Conners the worst chipper and putter on the PGA TOUR the last two years and not been wrong, yet so far in 2022, he’s gained from just off the green in two of three starts. Outlier? Potentially. Still, if he’s truly no longer a disaster from green side, that’s a huge boost to actual chances of winning. Conners has made the cut in two trips to Scottsdale, improving his result in each of the past two years.
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Pat Mayo is an award-winning video host and producer of long and short-form content, and the host of The Pat Mayo Experience daily talk show. (Subscribe for video or audio). Mayo (@ThePME) won the 2020 Fantasy Sports Writing Association Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year and Golf Writer of the Year awards, along with the Fantasy Sports Trade Association Best Sports Betting Analyst award, and is a finalist for three FSWA Awards in 2022 (Best Podcast, Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year, Golf Writer of the Year). His 24 FSWA nominations lead all writers this decade and are second-most all-time.
Mayo has been recognized across multiple sports (Football, Baseball & Golf), mediums (Video, Writing & Podcasting), genre (Humor), and game formats (Daily Fantasy and Traditions Season Long). Beyond sports, Mayo covers everything from entertainment to pop culture to politics. If you have a fantasy question, general inquiry or snarky comment, ship it to Mayo at ThePatMayoExperience@gmail.com and the best will be addressed on the show.
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