After the thrilling finale of the Farmers Insurance Open last week, the PGA Tour moves on to Arizona for the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
It took 78 holes for Jason Day to secure his eleventh PGA Tour title at Torrey Pines last week; a six-hole play-off ensuring he and opponent Alex Noren did not sleep well on Sunday night as darkness fell.
Monday finishes are always something of an anti-climax, but after a tough 2017 it was clear what the victory meant to Day even if it only took a matter of minutes to wrap it up. As for Noren, well, you suspect he will be back with a vengeance soon enough.
The Swede has an immediate chance for redemption this week, as he is in the field alongside a stellar cast of players that includes four of the world’s top 10. Hideki Matsuyama is looking for a historic ‘three-peat’ this week having won the last pair of Phoenix Opens. He was also second here in 2015, so it’s fair to say the Japanese ace knows his way around this TPC Scottsdale course!
Other headliners in the field include Open champion Jordan Spieth, Jon Rahm – winner of the CareerBuilder Challenge just a fortnight ago, FedEx Cup holder Justin Thomas and multi-time PGA Tour winner Rickie Fowler, amongst many others.
The assignment facing them this week is to tame TPC Scottsdale, one of the most vibrant and raucous courses in the world. More than 500,000 punters stream through the doors across the four days, and the greatest concentration of them will sit in the grandstands surrounding the Par 3 sixteenth hole, which is one of the greatest tests of nerve around. The vino (and other things) does flow.
Otherwise, this is a fairly rudimentary Par 71 test, with no advantage given to bombers off the tee or the short, straight hitters. It is, quite simply, a contest to see who can get their ball closest: a fact summarised nicely by Matsuyama ranking first for Strokes Gained: Tee to Green and second for SG: Approach 12 months ago.
So where is the smart betting money going?
It’s hard to overlook Matsuyama given his complete dominance of Scottsdale in recent years, and at 10/1 remarkably he is third favourite behind Spieth (8/1) and Rahm (9/1) with the bookmakers.
They say he’s out-of-form, but top-fives in two of his last four starts worldwide suggests otherwise, and a middling effort at Torrey Pines last week was capped by an excellent final round of 69 – better than anybody else in challenging conditions on the Sunday.
— Podcast Voyeur (@podcastvoyeur) January 31, 2018
It’s easy enough to make a case for Spieth, but he hasn’t really challenged here in two attempts despite finishing in the top-10 on both occasions. And Rahm’s complete meltdown on Sunday when challenging in the Farmers suggests that for all his talent, the Spaniard still has some aspects of the psychological game to work on.
Matsuyama is another whose mental toughness can be questioned, but at tracks he clearly loves his confidence will sky-rocket. Given his history here, there is no real reason for him not to be favourite.
Top 10 Finish
As ever, a case can be made for a litany of players in this market, but there is plenty of value to be had lower down the pecking order.
At the prices, one who really stands out is Byeong-Hun An, a brilliantly-talented Korean who has recorded some fine results in desert settings. He led this event after 54 holes 12 months ago, slowly fading away on the Sunday, but he heads to Arizona in good heart after finishing sixth in the Dubai Desert Classic last week.
Other top-10 finishes on America’s south coast are eye catching, and An’s arrow straight hitting looks ready to propel him towards glory once again.
Top 20 Finish
Robert Garrigus is a slow and steady type who can thrive at tracks like Scottsdale where you don’t need to do anything flash with the ball; simply hit it straight and make some putts.
The 40-year-old ranked second for Strokes Gained: Tee to Green last week at Torrey Pines, and that was the foundation for his eighth place finish.
He has a pair of eleventh place finishes to his name at Scottsdale, and given the quality of his ball striking last week there is absolutely no reason why he can’t add another top-20 to his collection; and at odds of 7/1 into the bargain.