The First Tee – Waste Management Phoenix Open

Adam Daly
By Adam Daly January 27, 2020 19:54

The First Tee – Waste Management Phoenix Open

This Week

TPC Scottsdale is the host of the Waste Management Phoenix Open (WMPO) as it has been for 30-odd years, and its reputation as a party course is well-maintained with no elaboration needed. The WMPO is a 132-man field (so ~24 golfers smaller than a regular PGA Tour event) with a regular 36-hole cut, and the winning score is usually in the mid-to-high teens with the cut hanging around par (although with the smaller cut, that should maybe shift down one stroke).

THE COURSE

TPC Scottsdale is a par-71 that’s listed at 7261 yards, and it’s about average in terms of overall difficulty – 70.51 was the scoring average last year (T23/40) – and it sees a below-average number of birdies made (3.48/rd). The flip side of the low birdie number is the total number of eagles, as Scottsdale over the past three years has seen 39, 41 and 47 total eagles. This is mostly because the three par-5s play easy (4.64) and are short and scoreable, all threes sitting between 550-yard and 560-yards.

The rest of the course is set up long, with seven of the 11 par-4s playing outside 440 yards, although the par-3s are relatively easy and not nearly as long (which obviously includes the infamous #16).

Although the course plays long, the fairways narrow quite a bit the farther off the tee, going from 32-yards across at the 250-275 markers on average to a tiny 27-yards across outside 300. While 27 is a touch wider than last week’s narrow fairways, it’s still below average in terms of width and definitely needs to be a consideration when rostering golfers this week. Missing the fairways to the rough can be a tough ask – this year the rough is expected to be cut to 3” – but missing beyond the rough is a nightmare, as the course has desert vegetation (cacti, sand, etc.) and some water hazards. Only 53-55% of fairways are hit here, because golfers tend to bomb it off the tee.

The greens here are large (~7000 sq. ft.) and tend to be very easy to navigate and hold, and on average 65% of golfers will get to them in regulation. The most common approach distances in will come from the 50-125-yard and 125-150-yard ranges, given that most golfers bomb it off the tee; even with the narrow fairways the average distance off the tee here is a whopping 303 yards which is consistently one of the longest averages on tour.

The greens are Bermuda overseeded with rye, a touch above-average in speed (similar to Torrey) and putting here tends to be a bit harder than the average course – the putting average of 1.797 last year was 10th-hardest, and it tends to hang around that number. There are a fair number of three-putts here (2.99/rd) and putts outside 20’ are rarely hit (more rare than normal).

Comparable courses/events:

Liberty National (Northern Trust) – Another long par-71, Liberty has narrow fairways as well but bombers still find success; the rough is also penal at Liberty, between 3-4”. Both courses have a ton of par-4s longer than 440 (seven at Scottsdale, eight at Liberty) and scoring tends to be similar relative to par.

Riviera (Genesis Open) – Riviera tends to see a lot of eagles (45 last year) but still plays tough and often above par, which is thanks to its length (7322 yards, par-71) and the narrow fairways; the average width on the fairways is a little smaller at Riviera than at Scottsdale, but it narrows considerably at both courses and bombers find success at both tracks.

 

STATS

The Strokes Gained stats to focus on in order (not including Tee to Green):

  • Approach
  • Off the Tee
  • Putting
  • Around the Green

Counting stats to focus on in order:

  • Birdie or Better %
  • Driving Distance (All Drives)
  • Approach Shots: 50-125 Yards, 125-150 Yards
  • Bogey Avoidance
  • Par-4 Birdie or Better %

 

Top-Tier Golfers

New format to the article to make it less “wordy” – feedback welcomed!

Bubba Watson ($9000)

Form: Coming off a T6 last week at the Farmers, this is shaping up to be a “good” Bubba year; he wasn’t great in the swing season, finishing T47 at the Greenbriar and missing the cut at the Shriners, but he did fine in the Asian & alternate events (T8 in the QBE Shootout, T28 at the WGC HSBC).

History & Comp. History: Although he missed the cut at Liberty National this past year, Bubba obviously has incredible history at the second comp. course (Riviera): three wins, and top-25 finishes every time he made the cut (8/13). He’s got incredible history at TPC Scottsdale with only two missed cuts in 13 attempts, and five top-10 finishes (including T2 twice).

Stats (2019): Last year, Bubba wasn’t great on approach (-0.52SG/rd) or around the greens (-0.67), but he was elite off the tee, picking up 0.743 strokes per round (third-best). That combo placed him 38th in SG: T2G, and is obviously due to his insane length off the tee; that length also explains his dominant par-5 scoring (T4 scoring/fifth in BoB%). Bubba struggles with putting.

FGI Rolling Stats (last 16 rounds): Watson’s in the middle of the pack from a stats perspective recently, sitting 53rd in the field in SG: Tee to Green, although his ball-striking is a bit strong (37th) – his play around the green has been downright awful. He’s still hitting it a mile off the tee (fourth) and will make eagle at about as good a rate as possible, but recently he’s struggled to make birdies: only 3.25/rd on average, which is dismal 121st.

 

Gary Woodland ($9300)

Form: A missed cut last week at the Farmers wasn’t ideal, and the previous event played by Woodland was the Tournament of Champions where he finished T7. His last missed cut came at the Open last August, and since then he’s finished fifth at the Zozo and T3 at the CJ Cup as the highlights.

History & Comp. History: Woody’s form at TPC Scottsdale is phenomenal, winning here in 2018 and overall having four top-25 finishes; he’s only missed two cuts in ten tries as well, and has only shot below par here in 15 rounds (out of 36). Weirdly, Woodland has struggled at Riviera with a T26, T69 and two missed cuts to his name – but he also hasn’t played that track since 2016, so it’s not a perfect indicator; he finished T52 at Liberty last year.

Stats (2019): Woodland ranked 19th off the tee, 20th on approach, and 16th tee to green last year, which is obviously a fantastic season. He averaged the fifth-most birdies (4.38/rd), sat second in par-5 BoB%, and had the third-best overall BoB%. His putting generally sucks (130th) but he gives himself enough chances that it shouldn’t make too much of a difference.

FGI Rolling Stats (last 16 rounds): The last 16 doesn’t look too hot for big Gary from a Strokes Gained perspective, as he ranks no better than 55th in any category, and 56th in SG: Tee to Green. At the same time, he’s hitting a ton of greens in regulation (73.26%, 12th) and has been accurate off the tee (75.24%), and from a scoring perspective has been elite: 4.68 birdies/round (seventh), and 1.56 bogeys/round (first).

Honourable mention: Branden Grace ($8700)

 

Value Golfer (below $8000)

Chesson Hadley ($6900)

Form: He just missed the cut at the Farmers after a 74-72, but finished T29 at the Amex the week prior and had a decent swing season: only one missed cut in five events played, with the highlight a T18 at the Shriners.

History & Comp. History: Although he missed the cut in his first shot in Phoenix (2015), Hadley has finished T60, T5 and T20 since then. He’s been bad at Riviera – two missed cuts – although those both came prior to his “breakout” (2015 and 2014) so it’s no surprise he didn’t perform well. Hadley managed a T43 in the Northern Trust last year with two rounds in the 60s.

Stats (2019): Chesson used to be a good driver of the ball but had a terrible 2019, losing 0.336 strokes/round and hitting only 59.7% of fairways. His overall game was pretty ugly last year, as he ranked 152nd in SG: Tee to Green and only picked up 3.46 birdies/round; one of the bright spots was his accuracy, sitting eighth in proximity to the hole – he just needs putts to drop.

FGI Rolling Stats (last 16 rounds): Hadley has been an elite birdie-maker over his past 16 rounds, averaging 5.0 per round (third-best in the field) which puts him in great company with Justin Thomas, Xander Schauffele, etc. He’s the fifth-best player in SG:T2G thanks to dynamite approach play (1.049SG on average), but his putting remains an issue.

 

Brendan Steele ($7500)

Form: Steele finished solo second at the Sony Open, T43 at the Amex, and then last week missed the cut to end what was a nice start to the season. He took December off and during the swing season his best finish was T29 (Shriners), with two missed cuts in the six swing events played.

History & Comp. History: There may be nobody with a cleaner course history than Brendan Steele – which means he’ll be quite popular here – as he’s played this course nine times, made the cut in eight of those attempts, and finished in the top-25 six times. After finishing T53 in 2011, Steele knocked out seven straight years of finishing T26 or better. His play at Riviera is a bit worse but still comparable, with only two MC in nine tries; Steele didn’t play at Liberty last year.

Stats (2019): Last year, Steele was the 22nd-best player off the tee, as a long and accurate driver of the ball. His approach game ‘seemingly’ fell off a cliff – he ranked 158th and lost 0.316 strokes/rd – but that’s more due to the fact that he was in such great positions off the tee that even an average shot would lose strokes; he still hit the tenth-most greens in regulation. Putting is his major bugaboo, as he ranked no better than 176th in any putting category last year.

FGI Rolling Stats (last 16 rounds): Steele ranks 60th in SG: T2G (0.304) but is 33rd on approach (0.386), but is absolutely crushing birdies and eagles – he ranks 13th and 16th respectively, averaging 4.5 birdies per round and 0.18 eagles.

Honourable mention: Emiliano Grillo ($7300)

 

You can follow me on Twitter @adalyfrey and good luck this week!

Adam Daly
By Adam Daly January 27, 2020 19:54

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