PHOENIX OPEN: After an abbreviated week that was a letdown for all except one Wyndham Clark, the PGA Tour moves on to Phoenix, where large, raucous crowds will greet the players and the threat of a weather-related event cutting the party short is practically nonexistent.
This is the only tournament on Tour where the galleries have shaped, strengthened, and defined the event itself, for without the noise, excitement, and rowdiness of the fans, particularly around the par-3 16th, where the party starts early in the morning and an atmosphere is created that is unlike any in golf, this would just be another ho-hum week, no different than the Rocket Mortgage Classic or two dozen other “filler events” between the big ones. But that’s far from what it has become: it’s now one of the highlights of the West Coast Swing, with a youthful, energetic vibe that makes for enjoyable viewing and a course that reliably churns out close, exciting finishes.
That course, the Stadium Course at TPC Scottsdale, has played host to this event since 1987 and has changed very little over the years, which is a credit to the Weiskopf/Morrish design. A par-71 that measures 7,261 yards, it’s a “grip it and rip it” type of track that tempts the longer players to challenge fairway bunkers and the native desert vegetation. If the bombers are swinging the driver well the course turns into a wedge-fest, so we always see plenty of low numbers here and a winning score in the 15-20 under range.
Scottie Scheffler (6.2) has claimed ownership of this tournament after taking home the title in each of the past two years and he’s the heavy favorite this week despite some recent putting struggles. Other names atop BETDAQ’s market include Justin Thomas (13.0), Max Homa (21.0), and Jordan Spieth (23.0), and it’s worth mentioning that only once in the past eight years has the winner here gone off at longer than 50/1, as TPC Scottsdale has proven adept at producing big-name champions. With that in mind, here’s what I’m thinking this week:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Justin Thomas (13.0)- Scheffler is the clear favorite this week and it’s certainly understandable given his recent dominance at this tournament. However, he’s been struggling with a balky putter lately, while Thomas has started the year fast and seems to be playing with a little extra motivation after missing the FedEx Cup Playoffs last season. He was in 6th place last week at Pebble before the final round was cancelled, and something tells me he would’ve given Clark a run on Sunday. At The American Express a couple of weeks ago, Thomas’s only other appearance in 2024, he posted 27-under for the week and finished 3rd, firing a 61 on Saturday. He also happens to be a monster at TPC Scottsdale, finding the top-15 here in each of the past five years, including back-to-back 3rd-place finishes in ’19/’20 and a 4th-place showing last year. This feels like JT’s week. I’m riding with him.
Sahith Theegala (47.0)- After a career-changing year in 2023, Theegala has picked up right where he left off with some strong play over the past month that includes a runner-up at the Sentry, where he fired 28-under for the week, and a T20 in last week’s rain-shortened Pebble Beach Pro-Am. He bombs it off the tee, averaging 304.9 yards per drive last year, and he’s a California kid who is very comfortable with desert golf. It should come as no surprise, then, that he’s played quite well at TPC Scottsdale, making the cut in both of his appearances at this tournament and finishing 3rd in 2022. Theegala picked up his first career win in last year’s Fortinet Championship (another West Coast venue), and with his game it won’t be long until he gets another. He’s a great bet this week at a price like 47.0.
Akshay Bhatia (100.0)- The rail-thin Bhatia, whose official PGA Tour profile lists him at 6’1 and 130 lbs (!), was viewed as a can’t-miss prospect when he turned pro four years ago and is finally starting to deliver on that promise. Back in 2022 he won in his first career start on the Korn Ferry Tour, and then last year he Monday qualified into the Puerto Rico Open and finished runner-up, giving him Special Temporary Member status on the big Tour for the remainder of the season, and he followed that by winning the Barracuda Championship, so he won’t have to worry about “status” anywhere for quite a while. This is a young guy with lots of game and a fearless streak, and though he’s never played TPC Scottsdale in competition, he’s a West Coast kid who grew up playing desert golf, so the course should be a great fit for him. The talent is there and the price is right… sounds like a good deal to me.