2021 Phoenix Open
Pretty much all that could have gone against us last week, did so. Both Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy traded at under 3/1 at various stages in the win market, yet both contrived to miss out on the places. Scotts long game went to pieces after he had hit the front on Saturday. Rory Sabbatini briefly joined the Sunday lead in the race for Top Continental Euro. A 3 putt par on the Par 5 6th seemed to unsettle the volatile Slovak, and he ultimately finished 4th in that section. Hopefully some readers will have availed of PP/BFSB’s 15/2 on him to garner a Top 20 finish if they couldn’t get on each way with 365.
Corey Connors found one too good in Adam Hadwin in the Top Canadian market, but it was the three other bets that just didn’t fit the criteria for one reason or another that really hurt. Charl Scwhartzel won Top South African as outsider of 4, Ryan Palmer had a very comfortable Top 20, and Adam Scott and Marc Leishman led home a 1-2 in Top Oz. No return any week is poor, and it is no consolation to our wallets, but as ever variance will play a big part in gambling and we were very close to being on the right path last week.
Patrick Reed who’s case I have championed so much in the past, as one who is consistently overpriced, added a bit of extra salt in winning when we weren’t on. His lead in form just couldn’t encourage backing him, and in truth given how many greens he missed, it’s amazing that he did win. What a display around the greens. Again, he was embedded in controversy, and hopefully that hate so many have for him will continue to see him ignored by the market in future.
A very different Phoenix Open awaits players and viewers this week. Typically thronged with beer filled fans, this year will see a very different atmosphere down the closing stretch. The amphitheatre of the 16th hole will see limited fans allowed, and should probably see a lower scoring average due to it. It really is a very easy hole, made difficult because of the pressure of the watching hoards. The rest of the back 9 wil play as tough and exciting as ever though, and this classic risk and reward venue will see plenty of swings down the stretch. A Par 71 at 7260 yards, it sees an average winning score of 16 under par being good enough of late. Given soft conditions, and little wind this week, we could see it getting closer to 19/20 under par. As was the case at Torrey, surprises are few and far between here, with fancied players typically dominating the Sunday leaderboard. This year, with more strength in depth than ever at the head of the market, is unlikely to be any different.
Players of Interest:
Tournament favourite is once again Jon Rahm, and at pretty much the same price as he was last year. I didn’t see any value in his price then, and at 13/2 in a slightly deeper field here, I can let him go. He will have been disappointed by his weak Sunday showing at his beloved Torrey, and the niggling worry that he is not yet at one with his new clubs, still remains.
At 8/1 it’s a similar scenario with Justin Thomas. He clearly has an excellent chance, but I would be hard pushed to make a case that he should be any shorter.
I scoffed at the price of Webb Simpson 12 months ago, and though successful, I still feel that 11/1 was crazy. He was certainly on my radar this time around, and now a more assured closer at 3 points bigger, I can understand why people may want to get involved. I wanted 18/1 myself though, so will have to let him run.
I did play Xander Schauffele in the 2020 edition, but at 10/1 this time around, I see no value in the Californian.
A shade bigger, at 11/1, I was far more interested in Rory McIlroy. He couldn’t get the job done for us last week, but being chalked up here as mere 4th favourite in places just seems wrong. What cost him victory was not playing the North Course well enough, and not putting well enough. Tee to green on Thursday he was sublime, and continued to perform well in that part of his game through 54 holes. Sunday was poor, very poor. I do wonder if his lack of success on the greens was the catalyst in this. Starting a few shots back, and conscious he hadn’t been rolling anything in, he perhaps became too attacking, and Torrey can really punish that if you are just a bit off. He makes his debut here, but both Brooks Koepka and Kyle Stanley have won in recent years in the same situation, and wouldn’t be something I would worry about around TPC Scottsdale. Course form has proved a very pointer, but previous course experience is not a prerequisite to success. It is a course I feel is very much made for the attacking game of McIlroy, and I won’t be at all surprised if he were to prove successful. Again it comes down to just about preferring a couple of others towards the head of the market, and not wanting to put up another at short odds.
The first of those is DANIEL BERGER. Ranked 13th in the world, it might be slightly insulting to say that I feel this may be the year that Berger really arrives, but I do feel 2021 could be when Berger moves to the next level. A persistent injury niggle in his hand from the latter half of 2018, right through 2019, left the 2015 Rookie of the Year unable to practise more than a few shots a day. He was simply going through the motions on the course, painful motions at that. 2020 saw a fit, healthy and fully practising Berger return, and the difference has been massive. He has only missed 2 cuts in his last 29 outings, the latest coming at The Memorial way back in July, numbering a win at the Charles Schwab among several other high end finishes. The next level I refer to for Daniel, is really challenging for Major glory, something I feel he can do as soon as Augusta in April.
He has a strong history of reproducing top finishes at certain venues year on year, and he certainly knows his way around TPC Scottsdale. 10th in 2015, 7th in 2017, 11th in 2018 and 9th last term he clearly has the game to tame this week’s test. Indeed his only two poor performances here came in that injury riddled 2019 and when he was miles off his game in 2016. He has begun this year where he left off, playing consistent excellent golf. 10th at the Tournament of Champion, and 7th at The Sony, seen 7 rounds in the 60’s and a combined 37 under par. Take out 2019 and 2016 and Berger has not shot over par in his 12 other rounds here, with 9 of those in the 60’s. I put the Floridian up as a successful Top 20 selection here 12 months ago, but expect him to go even better this time around. I would have him as pretty much the equal of Simpson at the moment, with the prospect of more to come. On a course he is just as prolific on as Webb, I would have them couple on the same 14-1 mark. 20/1 is well worthy of support on a fierce competitor who is not afraid of the winning line. Berger can set up a very good year by notching a deserved victory at one of his favourite stops on Tour.
My next selection is a blindingly obvious one given his 2 previous wins here, but at a course where the blindingly obvious has a habit of happening, HIDEKI MATSUYAMA must go on the team sheet. The Japanese star simply relishes his time here. Taking out his withdrawal from wrist injury in 2018 after an opening 69, and he has been pretty faultless here. 4th on debut in 2014, runner up the following year ahead of back to back successes, he has a scoring average of 67.8 around this week’s layout. Very impressive indeed. Last weeks down the field finish at Torrey was disappointing, but it won’t be the first time he has arrived here off a below par effort there. In his two successful years here, he came off the back off 33rd and MC at the Farmers. What it has done is inflate his price from what would have been the 12-14/1 mark off a high end finish there to 22/1, which I feel is too much of an overreaction. TPC Scottsdale is a ball strikers paradise, and though he may have been below his best in that regard last week, he had been simply sublime in his two previous events. I would have it as more likely than not that he bounces right back to his best at a venue that suits him better than any other on Tour.
This is just a totally different test. We are moving from a beast to a shorter risk and reward style track. We head for the desert, and a venue at slight altitude. It doesn’t suit every player, but those that feel at home on this type of layout will churn out good performance after good performance. A lower echelon player such as Brendan Steele simply thrives here, and is a venue that not surprisingly has plenty of multiple champions down through the years. Hideki simply couldn’t get to grips with Torrey last week, but showed enough in his 7 birdie second round at the North Course to suggest that his best is still bubbling very close to the top. Course form can be overplayed, and over bet, but here I feel it is as important an indicator as any other venue all year. The worry with Hideki is as ever his putting. He typically coughs up shots to the field on the greens, though has been somewhat better here over the years. We are not however reliant on him producing magic with the flat stick to be involved, as in his two victories here he was a mere 29th and 47th in Strokes Gained Putting. He does his damage with his long game, the attacking nature of the course suiting a player who loves to go straight at the flag stick.
Many will not back Matsuyama this week simply because they will feel he is too obvious and therefore a bad price. I argue the contrary. 3 poor rounds last week has seen him slip out of the betting public’s glare, and into a price that I deem to be very acceptable indeed.
He may not quite have the record of Matsuyama around here, but the claims of BYEONG HUN-AN are also pretty crystal clear this week. 4 appearances here have seen the Korean finish 6/23/20/9th. That 6th on debut in 2017 could have been even better but for a capitulating Sunday 73 which was the worst score of anyone in the top 20. It is no surprise that Ben has taken so well to this week’s desert layout, considering his consistent high finishes in the Dubai Desert Classic. He really announced himself onto the world stage with victory in the European Tour’s flagship event, the BMW Wentworth, in 2015. A venue which also demands an excellent tee to green game. Without a win since then, it has often been the putter which has been the reason for him coming up short. It was heartening in that regard to see him more prolific on the greens in his recent 8th place finish at the Amex. Last week was a step backwards in that regard, but a Sunday 78 when he seemed fed up with the Poa imperfections put a poorer slant on his performance than was truly the case. He produced a similar display at Torrey last year, ahead of his excellent 9th here, and I expect him to bounce straight back again under more ideal conditions. 80/1 to extended places is big enough to get involved.
I imagine it will be quite a while before Harris English comes onto my selection radar. He’s simply too short a price week on week in my opinion. I was cringing through 8 holes of Sungjae Im’s final round last week. Having been on him to no return the previous two weeks he was mounting a stren assault on the head of the leaderboard. 10 holes later I was mighty glad he wasn’t on the team sheet a third week in a row! He has his chance here, but I do wonder if that back 9 collapse may have left a slight short term scar.
Brooks Koepka is a big price for an event where many of the world’s best are not in attendance, but the truth is he was absolutely awful last week. He is a former winner here, and may bounce back, but off back to back missed cuts he will need a drastic improvement. All that said, I wouldn’t be laying him at that price!
There were a couple of others close to selection, one of those being another former winner, Rickie Fowler. How the fans’ favourite had not won this tournament before that overdue success in 2019 is a mystery to everyone, and even in victory then he had his share of wobbles. It is clearly a layout which very much suits the eye of the Californian, and it has been a long time since he has started a 50/1 shot here. 2020 was a year to forget for Rickie, but there were shoots of promise in his 23rd at the recent Amex. He didn’t build on that last week at Torrey, but he rarely plays well there and once again putted poorly on those greens. The rest of his game was in better shape than his finishing position of 53rd suggests, and I wouldn’t put anyone off adding him here. I have however decided to get him onside elsewhere.
Gary Woodland was also very tempting. Another who has struggled with injury, with hip and back pain making even walking difficult for much of last year, he is now relishing his time on the golf course once again. A winner here in 2018, it would be quite the feel good story to see him put the seal on his return with another win this week. I do wonder though if playing 3 weeks in a row is quite the ideal for him at this stage of his comeback. Obviously he knows his body far better than me, but it is a worry which has put me off getting involved.
As it is so, my last outright selection is WILL ZALATORIS. Like McIlroy, Zalatoris has never teed it up here before, but similarly to the Northern Irishman I feel this layout is very much made for the big hitting Californian. In his first proper season on Tour, he has made quite the start. 6th at the US Open, 8th at Corales, 5th at The Shriners and 7th last week he has been the epitome of consistency. All of this in just 7 outings, which all also numbers a top 20 at The Bermuda, these excellent displays have been built on the foundation of a superb tee to green game. The exact trait we are looking for in a stereo typical Phoenix Open winner. 15th in strokes gained off the tee this year, and 5th in Approach sees him 4th in Tee to Green strokes gained. That 5th place finish at The Shriners also shows that he can cope with playing at altitude, and all seems in place for another good week for this fast progressing talent. He has now amassed 14 top 10 finishes since the beginning of 2020. This kid is no flash in the pan, and the next step towards the summit of his profession is to notch his first PGA Tour win. With fairways here wider than the average on Tour, it will allow Will to be in full attack mode from the tee and set himself up to attack pins with his excellent approach play. The 45/1 has just disappeared, though I do feel in the not so distant future that 40/1 quotes on Zalatoris will be a thing of the past also. Given his current form and how well I feel this week’s layout will suit him, I feel compelled to get involved now.
Not much to go at here this week, with just the two bets, and not much of interest elsewhere. Top 20 Finish:
I am very sweet on the chances of BYEONG HUN AN this week, and am keen to add him here at 3/1. Only once outside the Top 20 here in 4 appearances, he can make it 4 from 5 now. 5th in scoring average around here, and 3rd of anyone that has played the event more than once, it is clearly a venue he relishes. I find it interesting he has ditched the Dubai Desert Classic the last couple of years in favour of a warm up at Torrey, which when taking the travel out of it, surely has to increase his chances of a maiden PGA Tour success. If he continues with his 68.38 scoring average this week, we won’t have much of a sweat to land this bet. I rate him a very good bet here.
First Round Leader:
Backing a course specialist who typically thrives on Thursdays at 55/1 to be first round leader, seems like a sensible route to take on a player you think is primed to go well this week. That is very much the case with RICKIE FOWLER, and having toyed with him in both the outright market and Top 20, it is here I have chosen to play him. Twice in his 12 appearances here has he led after round one, and on 4 occasions would you have received a dividend when betting each way to 5 places. I mentioned earlier how 2020 was a year to forget for Fowler, but the three years prior to that he was 15/1/4th in round one scoring average on Tour. Closing tournaments out has been his problem, getting out of the blocks quickly presenting no such difficulties. I tend to ignore his outings at Torrey, but a 21st at the Amex previously which included rounds of 66 and 68 suggested 2021 may be a better year for the 2019 champ. If anywhere is going to inspire him back to his best, it’s here at TPC Scottsdale.
I was close to backing Corey Conners here again at the same price as last week. At 7/4 I would have played.
There is no such market yet, so this is all very sceptical. Jason Day had a horror show at his beloved Torrey Pines last week and has to have a bit of a Timeform squiggle over him after that. I do imagine he would still be put in here at around the 4/7 mark though. It would be just a 3 runner field, hence why it may transpire that no one prices it up, but if Danny Lee was to be put in at 10/3-7/2 I would rate him a good bet.
The Top Rest of the World section is the only real competitive market of the top player sections, and I like too many individual players in that market to be getting involved.
1.5pts ew Daniel Berger 20/1 (⅕ odds 8 places, WH) *Also 20/1 to less places with 365/BV/Betfred 1.4pts ew Hideki Matsuyama 22/1 (⅕ odds 8 places, WH/Skybet)
.8pt ew Will Zalatoris 40/1 (⅕ odds 8 places, WH/Boyles/888) *Unibet 45/1 to 6 places .4pt ew Byeong Hun-An 80/1 (⅕ odds 8 places, WH/PP/BFSB/888) *90/1 with 365 to 5 places
Top 20 Finish:
5pts Byeong Hun-An 3/1 (Bet 365/Sporting Index/Spreadex) *11/4 and upwards acceptable, available with PP/BFSB/UnibetSkybet/Betway)
First Round Leader:
.5pt ew Rickie Fowler 55/1 (⅕ odds 5 places, Betfred) *Unibet is the same price to 6 places, so take that if you can. Anything 40/1 upwards is acceptable, Coral/Lads/365 are 45/1. Boyles are 40/1 to 7 places.
Running Totals 2021:
Best of luck this week, hopefully the bounce of the ball goes our way after a frustrating week at the Farmers. Again, keep staking in line with your betting bank so as bad runs don’t bust you. Each of the last 4 years will have endured losing spells, but each one has ended profitably. I have every confidence in this being another.