The Phoenix Open takes the PGA tour back to the desert for another four rounds of golf. We’ve picked out our best bets below.
Sahith Theegala E/W45/1
There couldn’t be more of a contrast from the evil of Pebble Beach last week to the raucous party that will take place in Scottsdale this week.
From a depleted field to one that contains 18 of the world’s top 20 players, there is no doubt that the 2023 elevated events are attracting the biggest names in the game. Combine that with Superbowl weekend, a stadium course and one of the biggest crowds outside of the majors, and this will be one to watch all weekend.
Played for the last 36 years at Scottsdale, the course offers a mix of risk-and-reward holes as well as severe penalties for those that hit it wild. Witness the 17th, or 71st, hole over the last two runnings.
In contention, both Jordan Spieth and Xander Schauffele hooked their aggressive approaches into the greenside lake, handing the title to Brooks Koepka, whilst last year debutant Sahith Theegala found that luck was not with him, his tee-shot perfectly on line but finding a hard bounce, long roll, and a place next to those of the far more experienced duo.
Whilst the course offers it’s rewards, first-timers are far more likely to be put off by the enthusiastic, if slightly drunk, crowd, perhaps demonstrating why the list of recent winners includes major winners and contenders.
It’s always tough opting between the classier players at the top of the market, but world number five Patrick Cantlay makes most appeal at anything over 14/a and should be backed as such.
Understandably, there is plenty of repeat course form here, so it is testament to the 30-year-old’s class, that he contended a play-off here on debut last year.
There are few secrets from the elite of the golfing world and, like most, with Cantlay we get a solid bank of high-level form, highlighted by his efforts at the Shriners and Memorial tournaments, both included in a select group of comp courses.
It’s quite simple with Pat. At Summerlin he has recorded finishes of 1/2/2/8/2 whilst at Muirfield we get a pair of victories, third, fourth and seventh in just seven starts. I love this as a guide, particularly when looking at his numbers.
At both course, Cantlay ranks an average of around 11th off-the-tee, 22nd for approaches and 11th for tee-to-green. In last season’s play-off loss, he ranked 13th OTT, 27th SGA and 10th T2G – spot anything?
Cantlay often needs a run or two so I’m not worried about the opening 16th at the Tournament of Champions, and the 26th place at the American Express can possibly be upgraded a touch – 14th at halfway and fought back from a poor third round and 49th place – and he arrives at what looks a perfect course.
If most of the top lot are easy to read, I’m still not sure that we have reached anything like the ceiling for Tom Kim.
It’s tough to add anything new to this potential superstar other than most golf fans were waiting to see how he reacted to a stellar first full year on tour – it certainly isn’t disappointing!
17th on ‘debut’ at the Byron Nelson, the 20-year-old has done nothing but improve, and now ranks inside the top-15 thanks to victories at the Wyndham and Shriners championships, both with huge form links to the Pheonix Open, courtesy mainly to Webb Simpson and Cantlay.
If Kim was going to fall away he may have started at the seasonal opener where his lack of length would have been exposed. However, a fifth place secured his name in the minds of most for the rest of the year, enhanced by a sixth place at the American Express where a ranking of 16th in approaches was his worst for some time, the vast majority being inside the top-10.
Tom absolutely relished the party environment of the Presidents Cup and will no doubt do the same here on debut, another factor hardly worrying given his first-time efforts last year. It was close between he and compatriot Sungjae Im, but despite the latter’s course experience, there is a win factor element that gives the younger man the hard edge.
Mentioned already, Sahith Theegala is another name that should pay to follow for this year and beyond.
Once again, his profile is hardly secretive, and even if he has just that ‘unofficial’ pairs win to his name, could quite easily be sitting aside Tom Kim with two individual titles.
It’s almost impossible to ignore what the 25-year-old did on debut here last year, when even ‘star-struck’ playing with Koepka and Xander, he managed to find himself tied for the lead on payday Sunday.
However, in came the troublesome 17th, and whilst his tee shot took an awful bounce and careered his ball into the water, the highly-decorated Pepperdine graduate, came out of the event with a much higher profile and a fan club much bigger than the 100-or-so family and friends that surrounded him afterwards.
Previously, Theegala had led at the Sanderson Farms before proving a touch naive, whilst he also tried a miracle bunker shot when in contention at the last hole of the Travelers, something that caused a double-bogey and a two-shot defeat.
Add a top five at Muirfield to his collection of high finishes – an event he called ‘major tough’ – and we have a player that, like Kim, is progressing fast.
A pair of runner-finishes, third and four other top-10s have led to a place inside the top-40 of the world rankings and he has progressed from his opening two events of 2023 to finish tied-fourth at Torrey Pines, one of the classic ball-striking courses.
Ranking fourth for iron play and tee-to-green last time suggests he can attack these pins with relish, something he can build on after the usual quality driving, whilst an overall rating of 14th for greens-in-regulation over the past three months will give the opportunity for aggressive putting, something he showed in that victory alongside Tom Hoge.
Brendon Todd (Top 20)18/5
Martin Laird (Top 20)7/1
J.T Poston is one of the easiest of all short course players to read, and he arrives with progressive form both for recent and course form.
The correlation between Sedgefield and Scottsdale is confirmed by former star tee-to-green player Webb Simpson, and with Poston’s wins at the Wyndham as well as at Deere Run creating an aggregate score of 43-under, this looks the right place for a further run up the OWGR.
The languid Sea Island has already had three very acceptable outings in 2023, opening with a siting inside the top 13 after three rounds at Kapalua before a top-20 at the Sony (8th and 9th after the middle rounds) and last time at the drawn out American Express where he finished in sixth place having been top three going into payday.
Adept should any wind arrive, with a short game that saves plenty of shots, the 29-year-old also has a decent record in this event.
Four outings have resulted in figures of 23/11/37/26, an average finish of around 24th with maybe the latest being able to be upgraded having been 20th after three rounds. It won’t take an awful lot for Poston to find another shot and land a tasty bet.
Brendon Todd is another player to have caught the eye last week, when finishing a three-shot runner-up behind Justin Rose at Pebble Beach.
The form of that is hard to weigh up given the atrocities of the weather during the third round, but it showed him in good form – something that he can exploit, as he did when coming back from the wilderness and winning back-to-back in Bermuda and Mexico in 2019. Add top finishes at the Wyndham and, particularly Muirfield and he has to retain interest after four top-10 and two further top-20 finishes since the start of 2022.
Form here is solid enough. Todd has made the last three cuts (from four starts) and the last two years have seen him sit in 13th place after three rounds, before finishing just outside a top-20 payday.
Putting at the moment is very solid, ranking 13th at Summerlin, 27th at the CJ Cup, 10th in Hawaii and a (maybe hard to figure) second at Pebble Beach and co. Repeat that and he has every right to land the wager.
Finally, if there was only one reason for backing Martin Laird it’s simply that he comes alive in the desert.
I like the correlation with the Shriners event via, amongst others, Sungjae Im, Webb Simpson and Patrick Cantlay, and it’s alongside Cantlay that the 35-year-old ranks as a Nevada specialist. Who can forget this bunker shot on his way to his second Summerlin title?
Form here in 14 starts reads four top-10s and a pair of top-20 finishes, and whilst it’s hard to see him winning his sixth PGA Tour title in this grade, but it’s that 14th in 2022 that allows me to retain belief he can still do a job, let alone that number one ranking for putting around La Quinta.