The gorgeous scenery of Pebble Beach, where last week’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am was played, gives way to this week’s raucous, party-like feel of the WM Phoenix Open.
Contested at TPC Scottsdale in the Phoenix, Arizona area, the tournament dates all the way back to 1932 and is known for being the most attended event on the schedule. A fun, Super Bowl lead-in, the par-3 16th hole – The Stadium Hole – is known as the loudest hole in golf. It is an inimitable sight, particularly on Sundays.
As for the players set to be the subject of the immense cheering in Scottsdale, the field is strong, boasting 15 of the top 20 players in the world rankings. How many of those power players do we see getting into contention for this jovial gathering ? Here are the top 15 we like this week:
15. Harold Varner III
That 88-foot walk-off eagle to win in Saudi Arabia last week had to feel amazing for Varner, a very talented player who gets in the mix frequently, but has really struggled when in Sunday contention.
According to google maps the distance from King Abdullah Economic City (no, we didn’t make that up, that’s the actual name of it) to Scottsdale is roughly 8,100 miles, so having to travel that distance in a short period of time and actually playing well seems improbable. But the high he must be feeling from accomplishing a lifetime goal could be enough to ward off jet jag temporarily.
We have seen the flood gates open up on a number of players once they finally stand in the winner’s circle. He has at least a T10 and a T13 in two of his most recent attempts at TPC Scottsdale. We’re not putting serious money on him, but we’re also saying don’t count him out.
World Rank: 45th
Field Rank: 26th
Last Six: 1, 22, MC, 32, 11, 16
Best at Scottsdale: 10th (2019)
14. Pat Perez
We had kind of forgotten that the Phoenix native who played his college golf at Arizona State even existed after a forgetful past two seasons, but Perez has thrown himself back on the radar after top-10 finishes in each of the last two weeks.
It should be noted that his best finishes tend to be close together. He also has played a stunning 45 competitive rounds at TPC Scottsdale. Simply put, he knows how to get around here.
His previous best Phoenix Open finish was a T11 in 2014.
World Rank: 191st
Field Rank: 81st
Last Six: 9, 6, MC, MC, MC, 44
Best at Scottsdale: 11th (2014)
13. Scottie Scheffler
The world’s highest-ranked player without a Tour win (No. 15), the 25-year-old Ryder Cup star has gotten a good start on what looks like another productive season, already with three finishes inside the top 4.
Could this finally be Scheffler’s week? He played the WM Phoenix Open well last year, placing T7, just three strokes behind Brooks Koepka. An impressive 16 of his 29 2021 starts resulted in a finish inside the top 25. Only two players on Tour compiled more birdies in the season.
World Rank: 15th
Field Rank: 10th
Last Six: 20, 25, 2, 57, 2, 4
Best at Scottsdale: 7th (2021)
12. Seamus Power
The 34-year-old from Ireland had to be disappointed to finish T9 at last week’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am given that he held a commanding five-stroke advantage at the halfway point. He should also be greatly encouraged though, because he somehow birdied 18 of the first 36 holes, and it was his seventh top-15 finish in his last eight PGA Tour starts.
Power has asserted himself as the Tour’s breakthrough player for the 2022 season. There’s no reason to quit riding this hot hand, although after three consecutive top-10s last July, this is likely more than a hot streak.
World Rank: 46th
Field Rank: 27th
Last Six: 9, 14, 3, 15, 4, MC
Best at Scottsdale: MC (2019)
11. Xander Schauffele
The world No. 8 would seem like an easy choice this week, given that he was the 54-hole co-leader in this event a year ago before finishing T2, but he’s arriving at TPC Scottsdale straight from Saudi Arabia where he finished T18 at an Asian Tour event.
That would be a concern enough without the fact that he has also not been his best version since the new season started, with his best finish in four starts being a 12th-place finish at a 32-man event in Hawaii early last month.
We have little doubt that Schauffele will rebound soon, be highly relevant in the majors, and be comfortably among the top dozen or so players on Tour this season, but we would be inclined to wait at least another week to put money on him, unless the odds are just too juicy to pass up.
World Rank: 8th
Field Rank: 5th
Last Six: 18, 34, 12, 12, 28, 18
Best at Scottsdale: 2nd (2021)
10. Sam Burns
To say the 25-year-old LSU product had a breakthrough 2021 season would be an understatement; as he had a win, two runner-ups, and a T3 among eight top 10s.
While he wasn’t impressive in either of his 2022 calendar season starts, that momentum carried into the current season, with him winning the Sanderson Farms Championship, which he followed up with finishes of T14, T5, T7, and T3 respectively.
As for TPC Scottsdale, Burns opened last year’s edition with a 64 en route to a T22.
World Rank: 14th
Field Rank: 9th
Last Six: MC, 19, 3, 7, 5, 14
Best at Scottsdale: 22nd (2021)
9. Patrick Cantlay
The reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year and FedExCup Champion might have had a disappointing Sunday at last week’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, but a T9 is another high finish in an impressive four-start stretch where he also has a win and two T4s. In fact, in his last 10 starts, he has placed worse than T23 just once.
Sporting one of the best all-around games on Tour, Cantlay finished in the top 30 in all six strokes gained categories.
One thing to consider, though: this is his WM Phoenix Open debut, if that even matters with a player of his caliber.
World Rank: 4th
Field Rank: 3rd
Last Six: 4, 9, 4, 1, 1, 11
Best at Scottsdale: Debut
8. Louis Oosthuizen
The man who finished in the top 3 of three majors last season (without a win) should be exceptionally well-rested as he heads to Arizona, having only played one round of competitive golf since the middle of October.
Oosthuizen has fared well in his two rounds at TPC Scottsdale, with a T3 in 2017 and a T11 a year ago, the latter of which included a Saturday 63.
At the very least, expect the South African to make the cut: he missed the weekend just once in 21 starts last season, and hasn’t had a season with more than three since 2015-16.
World Rank: 12th
Field Rank: 7th
Last Six: 38, 14, 15, 38, 17, 2
Best at Scottsdale: 3rd (2017)
7. Webb Simpson
TPC Scottsdale seems to have more “horse for the course” type players than most courses, and Webb certainly fits that bill. In 11 starts in this event, he has a win and a runner-up (in a playoff) among five top 10s, and two other top 20s.
Simpson should be motivated to get back on track after his only 2022 calendar year start yielded a T61 at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Largely the result of a phenomenal short game, the 36-year-old finished last season in the top 10 in both birdie and scoring average.
World Rank: 30th
Field Rank: 18th
Last Six: 61, 17, 8, 14, MC, 30
Best at Scottsdale: 1st (2020)
6. Justin Thomas
The 14-time Tour winner would have liked to have played the weekend better at Torrey Pines two weeks ago, but for the most part, seems to have emerged from his funk last summer, with top 20 finishes in all four of his 2022 season starts.
The man who finished third last season in strokes gained: tee-to-green also finished third in both the 2019 and 2020 editions of this event.
Only twice in seven TPC Scottsdale starts has Thomas finished worse than 17th, and even in his T13 finish last year, he shot a 65 in round 2 and a 64 in round 3.
World Rank: 7th
Field Rank: 4th
Last Six: 20, 5, 5, 3, 18, 4
Best at Scottsdale: 3rd (2019, 2020)
5. Brooks Koepka
Koepka has three career wins that didn’t occur in either majors or WGC events, and two of them were at TPC Scottsdale, with the most recent coming just last year, as he exploded down the stretch, playing his last six holes in 5-under to capture the victory.
Aside from one impressive afternoon with Bryson DeChambeau, it cannot be disputed that the four-time major winner has been awful since placing T6 at The Open Championship last June, but keep in mind, when he won the WM Phoenix Open last year, he was coming off a string of three missed cuts.
Brooks can never be counted out anywhere he is confident.
World Rank: 20th
Field Rank: 15th
Last Six: MC, 28, 9, MC, MC, 38
Best at Scottsdale: 1st (2021, 2015)
4. Jordan Spieth
After a pedestrian start to the new season, following a resurgent 2021 where he had a win, two runner-ups, and two third-place finishes, Spieth looked to be in control at last week’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. He was just one-stroke off the 54-hole lead, and managed to not fall to his untimely death on live television in a clip that has gone viral.
He led by two strokes late, but stumbled down the stretch and was passed by Tom Hoge, who had zero career wins to Spieth’s 15. The last time Spieth had a high finish that was considered disappointing was at last year’s WM Phoenix Open, where he held the 54-hole co-lead after a ridiculous third-round 61, only to follow with a 1-over 72 on Sunday to finish T4.
It will be interesting to see how he performs the next time in Sunday contention, which could very well be at TPC Scottsdale, where he has three top-10s in five starts.
World Rank: 13th
Field Rank: 8th
Last Six: 2, MC, 21, 20, 18, 24
Best at Scottsdale: 4th (2021)
3. Hideki Matsuyama
With two wins, a runner-up, and a T4 in his WM Phoenix Open career, Matsuyama was an easy pick at this event BEFORE he became The Masters champion last April, and added two wins in his last four Tour starts. Now it almost feels unfair.
The current FedExCup points leader has played TPC Scottsdale seven times and has yet to shoot worse than 2-under in any weekend round. And speaking of weekends, at the Sony Open in Hawaii last month, Matsuyama closed 63-63.
World Rank: 10th
Field Rank: 6th
Last Six: 30, 1, 13, 1, 59, 67
Best at Scottsdale: 1st (2017, 2016)
2. Viktor Hovland
The 24-year-old Norwegian is no longer the up-and-comer who broke Jack Nicklaus’ amateur major scoring record, he has arrived. With three wins in his last five starts worldwide, Hovland has soared to No. 3 in the World Rankings.
He has only played two rounds at TPC Scottsdale, missing the cut in 2020, but that should not factor into any decision for the wunderkind, who had five top-3 finishes last season, and has three official Tour wins in his young career, with only four missed cuts in 54 starts. He is going to be a problem for the Tour this season.
World Rank: 3rd
Field Rank: 2nd
Last Six: 1, 4, 30, 1, 1, 18
Best at Scottsdale: MC (2021)
1. Jon Rahm
Going chalk gets boring, but the star from local Arizona State will be a favorite of the enormous crowd: he has finished inside the top 16 in all six of his starts at TPC Scottsdale, with only one of his 24 competitive rounds not being under par. Plus, that thing about being ranked the No. 1 golfer in the entire world.
Rahm did put together an underwhelming 72-71 weekend two weeks ago at the Farmers Insurance Open to finish T3 at a tournament that looked ripe for his taking, on a course he has previously dominated, so if there’s something to get in his head, maybe that. It is not always easy being the guy everyone assumes is going to win.
World Rank: 1st
Field Rank: 1st
Last Six: 3, 14, 2, MC, 17, MC
Best at Scottsdale: 9th (2020)
Next Five: Matt Fitzpatrick, Tony Finau, Adam Scott, Russell Henley, Andrew Putnam