2020 Waste Management Phoenix Open expert picks: Why we need a break from betting Rickie Fowler
(Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
It's a yearly tradition: Convincing whomever is controlling the remote at your Super Bowl party to keep the Waste Management Phoenix Open on the go-back. This is perhaps golf's most fun event of the year, and leading right into the Super Bowl, golf gamblers dream about sweating out a potential winner right into the biggest football game of the year. Let's make that a reality.
Our expert picks this week, just like every week, include a caddie offering insight from the range and putting green at the 2020 Waste Management Phoenix Open; picks from Jason Sobel, a senior writer at The Action Network, which is becoming the leader in sports betting and handicapping analysis, and it's growing its presence in golf; two of the most respected experts in the daily-fantasy community, Pat Mayo of DraftKings and Brandon Gdula of FanDuel; Lee Alldrick of FanShare Sports, which tracks DFS ownership and sentiment; and Columbia University senior lecturer and Ph.D. Lou Riccio, who uses predictive analysis and modeling to forecast winners in golf.
Though we respect Dr. Riccio for taking Rickie Fowler with his outright winner below, most of us in this column are on the opposite side. As we discuss on this week's podcast, there's a handful of players whom we're committed not to bet in 2020. Rickie's at the top of the list. What's the definition of insanity, repeating the same action over and over and expecting a different result? Don't get us wrong: We're always rooting for Rickie (defending his title this week, of course) to play well. But that's the problem—we have bet with our hearts too much in the past, lighting too much money on fire on the guy. We're taking a break, at least, on betting on Rickie—until he proves us wrong. Scroll down to see our complete analysis of the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
(Check out the 55-minute mark to hear Alex Myers, Stephen Hennessey and Christopher Powers discuss their best bets for the 2020 Waste Management Phoenix Open—and which golfers are on their official unofficial 'Do not bet' list.)
2020 Waste Management Phoenix Open Picks To Win (Odds from MGM Sportsbook)
Anonymous Caddie Picker of the Week: Hideki Matsuyama (16-1) — His record around here (see below) speaks for itself. To me, Hideki is due for a performance that reminds us all what a world-class player he is.
Pat Mayo, DraftKings/Fantasy National analyst: Hideki Matsuyama (16-1) — Six lifetime starts in Phoenix in his career, four top-four finishes (including two wins) along with a T-15 and a withdraw due to injury. In each of his five full tournaments, Hideki’s failed to gain less than nine strokes/ball-striking. That's an incredible number. He actually would have been in the mix to win last year as well if not for a wonky putter (losing 4.1 strokes/putting), the first time in four years he failed to have a positive putting mark here, enough for us to consider that an anomaly.
Brandon Gdula, FanDuel/numberFire editor: Xander Schauffele (18-1) — I have no problem starting a card with either Jon Rahm or Justin Thomas this week, but for the price I’m fine going back to Schauffele after a missed cut. We know that he’s a great ball-striker over a large sample, and that matters this week at TPC Scottsdale. Schauffele has finished 17th and 10th in two tries at this event and just finished top-10 in four straight before the missed cut.
Dr. Lou Riccio, Columbia University: Rickie Fowler (16-1) — My model makes Rickie the favorite with him defending this week. Sure, you can point to him gaining nine strokes on the green last year. But look deeper. Rickie has done so well at this event: Gaining an average of 7.325 strokes off the tee in his past four appearances as well as gaining 3.7 strokes on approach. He has two runners-up and a fourth-place to go with that win. Some places just suit certain players eyes, and the stats line up with that narrative.
Jason Sobel, Action Network senior golf writer: Bryson DeChambeau (25-1) — I have four major reasons for this pick, which took me longer to make than any other outright so far this year. The first is that TPC Scottsdale tends to offer a greater advantage to longer hitters—and we all know how much longer Bryson has become in recent months. My original choice to follow the likes of fellow big hitters Brooks Koepka, Gary Woodland and Phil Mickelson was Cameron Champ, but he’s not in the field, so his loss could be DeChambeau’s gain. The second reason is that he played well last week, contending for a title in Dubai before a slow-play warning led to a bevy of bogeys down the stretch. The third is based on a crucial bit of karma. DeChambeau had been scheduled to compete in Saudi Arabia this week and whether it was external or internal pressure that forced him stateside, he could be rewarded for this move. And the last reason is pure Murphy’s Law: I’m taking him here because, despite each of the other three reasons, it doesn’t make any sense. At the loudest, most boisterous tourney in the world, DeChambeau should expect to get jeered as much as anyone in the field —for slow play, for liking science, for trolling Koepka and myriad other reasons. I can absolutely see Bryson feeding off any negative energy coming his way this week—and I can certainly see him winning this title.
Stephen Hennessey, Golf Digest associate editor: Justin Thomas (8-1) — It's not exciting to pick players in the single-digits to win. But when they cash, you're glad you did it. JT represents value to me over Rahm—you're getting value based on his MC at the Sony Open, where JT admitted he played great but didn't make any putts. His stats over the past 36 rounds per FantasyNational.com make him the best player in the world: first in strokes gained/off-the-tee; first in SG/approach; first in SG/overall. JT was in the mix last year and is playing for a sixth time at TPC Scottsdale. I'll take the best golfer in the field at a slight discount all day.
Christopher Powers, Golf Digest assistant editor: Matt Kuchar (25-1) — After an incredible start to the 2018-’19 season last year, Kuch has cooled off a bit. Since the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, the nine-time tour winner and legendary top tenner has not finished top 10 in a PGA Tour event (10 starts). But in the middle of the night two weeks ago he won the Singapore Open by three strokes over Justin Rose, and that was with an 8 (!) in the final round. I think he’s coming back around and his recent history at WMPO (T-4, T-5, T-9 last three years) makes him an attractive play at 25-1.
Lee Alldrick, FanShare Sports golf expert: Justin Thomas (8-1) — JT is first in the field in Opportunities Gained and strokes gained/off-the-tee over the past two months per FantasyNational.com. He's been off the charts good recently, and he's at a course that suits him very well, so this shouldn't need much convincing.
Results from this season: We correctly predicted seven of the first 14 winners to start the season. FanDuel's Brandon Gdula has predicted four victories on his own, netting +128 units this season alone (the equivalent of being up $1,280 on $10 bets), after predicting Justin Thomas' win at Kapalua. Our tour caddie, and DraftKings' Pat Mayo, also had JT as their pick to win. FanShare Sports' Lee Alldrick picked Rory McIlroy at the WGC-HSBC Champions, giving him three winning predictions early in the season. Three members of our expert panel correctly picked the favorite in the fall at the CJ Cup, Justin Thomas (8-1), so we have a lot of positive momentum. Check out everyone's records in the betting card above.
Sleepers/Dark Horses That Could Win at the 2020 Waste Management Phoenix Open (odds from MGM Sportsbook)
Caddie: Tony Finau (28-1) — Tony hasn't won a full-strength event yet (most out on tour likely forget this, as we think of him as such an elite player). He's been playing some extremely solid golf of late. He's now based in Scottsdale, so he's very familiar with the desert style of course. If he can get some putts to drop, watch out.
Mayo: Byeong Hun An (66-1) — I just can’t help myself with An. After faltering on the weekend at Torrey Pines, Phoenix has actually been a happy place for one of the tour’s worst putters. Somehow, this tee-to-green maven has actually gained strokes putting in nine of his 12 rounds lifetime at TPC Scottsdale per FantasyNational.com. Just enough to rope me back in.
Gdula: Adam Hadwin (110-1) — Hadwin owns good Bermuda putting splits and can make birdies. He’s not overly long off the tee but leads the field in good drive rate. He can linger.
Riccio: Zach Johnson (100-1) — We're seeing a little resurgence from Zach Johnson at a venue where he has sneakily hit it great the past two years. Zach gained five strokes off the tee and on his approach shots here in 2019 but lost 1.6 strokes on the greens. And in 2018, Zach 3.8 strokes on the greens, which is usually the strength in the two-time major champion's game. It seemed like ZJ's putting is on the upturn, so if we get a positive putting week, ZJ could threaten the lead again—worth a try at this value.
Sobel, Action Network: Jason Kokrak (66-1) — I’ll admit it: I got a little spooked after being bullish on Kokrak for the AmEx event two weeks, only to see him miss the cut. He was T-21 last week, though, and T-20 here last year, so I like the intersection of form and history. Just as I wrote in the section on DeChambeau, distance is beneficial on this track, and Kokrak owns plenty of it.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Emiliano Grillo (100-1) — It's easy for analysts in this industry to get roped into Emiliano Grillo. His stats are elite—by nearly every ball-striking metric, Grillo is a top-20 player in any field like this. It's the short game that's lacking. But Grillo's off-the-tee stats are still strong, huge to success at TPC Scottsdale. This feels like a venue where Grillo should do well, and these odds are as high as we've seen on Grillo in months.
Powers, Golf Digest: J.B. Holmes (80-1) — You can get J.B. at an even better number elsewhere, but I still like the 80-1 number for the two-time WMPO champ (2006, 2008) who just flashed at Torrey. How funny would it be to watch people lose their minds with J.B. in contention, grinding at a snail’s pace and potentially having coverage bleed over into the Super Bowl? Sign me the hell up.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Ryan Moore (66-1) — Moore ranks 20th in strokes gained/tee-to-green over the past two months and 15th for Opportunities Gained. Quietly, he has converted this great play into two top-10s in his past three starts. Moore likes it here at TPC Scottsdale with three top-10 finishes to his name, so he could easily contend here.
Players to Fade This Week (who will disappoint)
Caddie: Bryson DeChambeau (25-1) — I'm fading Bryson. He's got so much going on at the moment, although it is mainly self-inflicted. After getting in a prime spot to close out in Dubai last week, he crumbled down the back nine. I think he's still learning how to play in his "new body."
Mayo: Tony Finau (28-1) — This is a better number than you’d expect from Finau in comparison to other events, but where he’s usually a top-10 machine, Phoenix has been death to his bank account. After posting a T-25 in his first start, he’s missed the cut the past four years at the WMPO. Not great. Is it the party atmosphere for a buttoned-down guy, or the fact his wild accuracy off the tee leads to disaster on the back nine? I want to believe the former, but it’s likely the latter.
Gdula: Rickie Fowler (16-1) — Fowler gained 9.5 strokes putting en route to his win here a year ago, and while he’s always in the mix at TPC Scottsdale, Fowler lacks the overall profile of other golfers with similar win odds.
Riccio: Branden Grace (45-1) — Grace got hot in 2019 down the stretch, but we'll mostly credit the poor conditions on Sunday, where Grace usually thrives. My model, taking into account his struggles over the past two years, is low on his larger sample size, and thus this is a fade at such a low number.
Sobel, Action Network: Rickie Fowler (16-1) — Fading the defending champion usually isn’t a great idea, but there are a few factors around Fowler that we need to remember. The first is that, despite winning last year, he posted a final-round 74 that included both a triple- and double-bogey. The second is that, despite contending two weeks ago at the AmEx, he posted scores of 70-71 on the weekend, intimating that he was still undergoing swing tweaks, then followed with a missed cut last week. Of course, he’s talented enough to contend on any given week, but compared with the other big names here, he comes with greater risk.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Branden Grace (45-1) — Rather than piling on Rickie, I'm with Dr. Riccio here. Grace hasn't finished inside the top 25 in a PGA Tour stroke-play event since last year's Waste Management Phoenix Open. Sure, he just won the South African Open, but that's a limited field in his homeland. And his third-place at the Alfred Dunhill Links isn't necessarily a corollary to me to here. I will happily go down with a fade here on Grace.
Powers, Golf Digest: Jon Rahm (6-1) — Fading Jon Rahm right now is one of the dumbest things a human can do, but it’s just such a low number for a guy who (whispers) only has two solo victories on the PGA Tour. If I was betting a favorite, I’d much rather have Justin Thomas, who can’t stop, won’t stop winning.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Jon Rahm (6-1) — Although the course does suit his game and he is clearly playing very well, there are a number of players in the same boat at better value. He should not be such a short 6-1 favorite this week in a strong field. He actually loses shots to this field putting on fast, Bermuda greens, which is a concern for such a big favorite.
2020 Waste Management Phoenix Open: Matchups
Caddie: Branden Grace (+105) over Ryan Palmer (Sportsbook) — I'm taking Grace in this matchup. Ryan has not shown any previous form at this event. Grace finished runner-up last year, and he's coming off his South African Open win in his last start.
Mayo: Branden Grace (+105) over Ryan Palmer (Sportsbook) — Grace, the runner up a year ago, has quietly found his form overseas, posting a T-3/first/T-17 in his past three worldwide starts. Palmer, fresh off a meltdown in the final round at Torrey Pines, might be running on fumes at this point.
Gdula: Bryson DeChambeau (-116) over Bubba Watson (FanDuel) — DeChambeau finished eighth at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic last week, which made less noise than Watson’s sixth at the Farmers. Watson has the edge off the tee, but pretty much everything else favors Bryson this week.
Riccio: Hideki Matsuyama (-125) over Xander Schauffele (MGM) — You might be able to shop around for a better number, but to me Hideki is rightfully a strong favorite over Xander, and my model even recommends the disparity to be greater. Hideki gets a bump for overall driving, imperative at TPC Scottsdale, and Hideki is like Rickie with his course history—just a great fit. Xander has made some noise here, but my model makes this more of a 2-to-1 favorite in favor of Hideki, so I'd recommend laying the -125.
Sobel, Action Network: Daniel Berger (-110) over Brendan Steele (FanDuel) — He’s not quite there yet, but Berger is on the verge of returning to the status he owned just a few years ago, when he was a member of the U.S. Presidents Cup team. Already with a T-38 and T-29 this year, he’s inching closer to a title contention and this could be the right place for it, with three finishes of 11th-or-better in five previous starts here. I like him for a longshot outright, top-10 and DFS pick, but Berger’s value might be most dangerous against other players priced similarly.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Ryan Palmer (-125) over Jordan Spieth (MGM) — As much as golf might be rooting for Jordan Spieth to figure it out, I'm also willing to put my money elsewhere until he figures it out. Meanwhile, Ryan Palmer is playing some great golf, coming off a fourth-place at the Sony and a second-round 62 at Torrey Pines. I'll take the more consistent Dallas guy over the inconsistent one here.
Powers, Golf Digest: Bubba Watson (+115) over Gary Woodland (DraftKings) — It’s very difficult to go against any former WMPO champ, but I like Bubba at plus odds coming off a T-6 at Torrey, while Woodland is coming off his first MC since the Open Championship.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Webb Simpson (+105) over Hideki Matsuyama (Bet365) — Both should have a great chance to win this week, however, the difference will come down to their performances on the greens. Simpson gains 0.7 shots per round on Matsuyama when putting on fast, Bermuda greens. That gives Simpson a great advantage in my eyes.
*Matchup results last week: Riccio and Hennessey: 1 for 1 (Jon Rahm (+115) over Rory McIlroy); Sobel: 1 for 1 (Cameron Champ (+100) over Lanto Griffin); Mayo: 1 for 1 (Keegan Bradley (-150) over Phil Mickelson); Alldrick: 1 for 1 (Rickie Fowler (+100) over Justin Rose); Gdula and Powers: 0 for 1.
Matchup results this season (assuming each matchup is a one-unit wager): Alldrick, FanShare Sports: 10 wins, 2 losses, 1 push (up 6.38 units); Riccio: 8 wins, 5 losses, 1 push (up 2.75 units); Tour Caddie: 6 wins, 3 losses, 1 push (up 2.53 units); Mayo: 8 for 14 (up 1.32 units); Action Network: 7 for 13 (up 0.5 units); Hennessey: 1 for 3 (down 0.85 units); Gdula: 5 for 12 and a push (down 1.61 units); Powers: 2 losses, 1 push (down 2 units).
Top 10 (odds from FanDuel Sportsbook)
Caddie: Matthew Wolff (+600) — Wolff played some good golf here as an amateur last year. Hard to believe that was only a year ago. A lot has happened for him since, including a game that continues to mature.
Mayo: Chesson Hadley (+1900) — If he's put into a position needing to scramble, Hadley is DOA. But success at TPC Scottsdale means hitting a bunch of greens, which is what Hadley does well, and that's his recipe for earning a top 10. It’s now been six consecutive events gaining strokes in the positive on approaches, and seven of his past 10 starts where he’s gained strokes against the field with accuracy. TPC Scottsdale is his wheelhouse, evidenced by his T-20/T-5 results the past two years.
Gdula: Jason Kokrak (+750) — Kokrak has been 20th and 31st here the past two years and finished 21st at the Farmers last week. It’s a week where I really want to prioritize elite ball-striking, and Kokrak has that in his profile: he’s 7th in strokes gained/off the tee and 25th in strokes gained/approach over the past 50 rounds on the PGA Tour, according to FantasyNational.com.
Riccio: Matt Kuchar (+380) — Nearly 4-to-1 on your money on the ultimate top-10 machine is great value. The 2020 version of Webb Simpson is basically like 2016, 2017 Matt Kuchar, so I can see you also taking Webb here. But I'd prefer the bump in value with Kuchar.
Sobel, Action Network: Max Homa (+800) — That’s right – Mr. Roast Ya Swing his own self isn’t just a social media superstar. In his next 15 PGA Tour starts after winning the Wells Fargo Championship last year, Homa failed to record a single top-20 finish. Until last week, that is, when a final-round 67 at Torrey South vaulted him into a share of ninth place. Playing in his adopted hometown, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if he repeats something close to last week’s result.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Viktor Hovland (+430) — While I'm also going to sprinkle some outright money on Hovland, I probably like the top-10 bet slightly better. Hovland has developed a penchant for putting up a low number on Sundays to secure a low finish (six of his 14 appearances on the PGA Tour have been top 16 or better). TPC Scottsdale's premium on driving the ball well should really suit Hovland's game—the only concern is his travel from the Middle East. If he starts slow on Thursday and Friday, be ready to jump on some live odds on him as well.
Powers, Golf Digest: Kiradech Aphibarnrat (+1600) — If you want to actually hit on a top 10 bet, go with Webb Simpson at +185, but for a little value I’m taking Barn Rat. Kiradech seems to always show up in strong fields, and this week’s field is absolutely a strong one. In the last two years alone he’s had three top 5s in WGCs, and in his only tour start this season he finished T-8 at the CJ Cup. Another reason to like him? He took quite a liking to the greens at TPC Scottsdale in his second appearance here last year (T-33), gaining 8.2 strokes, which ranked third for the week.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Brandt Snedeker (+380) — I cashed this last week, and somehow Sneds' odds are higher this week. Snedeker is in the middle of a great run at the minute. In his previous eight events he has six top-25 finishes, which includes three top 10s. Snedeker is an excellent putter on these types of greens, so if he finds fairways and greens, in my mind, he will no doubt finish top 10 once again this week.
Top 10 results last week: Alldrick: 1 for 1 (Brandt Snedeker: +340); Everybody else: 0 for 1
Top-10 results for the year (assuming a one-unit wager): Mayo: 2 for 13 (up 5.1 units); Alldrick: 3 for 14 (up 4.9 units); Gdula 2 for 14 (down 3.7 units); Powers: 1 for 3 (down 0.35 units); Action Network: 5 for 13 (down 3.3 units); Riccio: 1 for 14 (down 10.5 units); Hennessey: 0 for 3 (down 3 units); Tour Caddie: 0 for 13 (down 13 units)
About our experts
Dr. Lou Riccio, a PhD senior lecturer, teaches rational decision making at Columbia's Graduate School of Business and has served on the USGA's handicap research team for three decades. His predictive analysis and modeling helps him make expert picks for our column.
Pat Mayo is known as one of the pre-eminent experts in daily-fantasy sports and golf handicapping specifically. Mayo is a 17-time fantasy sports-writers association finalist, the most of any writer this decade, and Mayo won the 2019 Fantasy Sports Writing Association Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year and Podcast of the Year awards, along with the Fantasy Sports Trade Association Best Video award. Mayo is on the board of governors at www.fantasynational.com. Here’s a link to watch his complete DraftKings preview of the 2020 Waste Management Phoenix Open.
Brandon Gdula, a senior editor and analyst for NumberFire, a FanDuel daily-fantasy analysis company, recently won the 2018 fantasy sports-writers association Golf Writer of the Year (congrats, Brandon!). Gdula also co-hosts the DFS Heat Check podcast.
Jason Sobel is a senior writer for The Action Network. For more analysis from The Action Network, click here.
Lee Alldrick of FanShare Sports started out writing an article highlighting the best bargain plays for fantasy golf under his twitter handle @DKGolfBargains. His success at this prompted FanShare Sports to enlist him as a guest writer, which evolved into him writing the weekly Under The Radar article. As a U.K.-based expert, Alldrick’s insight into European Tour regulars and low priced, low owned plays has provided an invaluable edge for readers when it comes to DFS GPPs.
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