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Waste Management Phoenix Open 2021 experts picks: Why Bubba Watson will win

Ben Jared

If you’re reading this column, you can likely relate. You’ve been the golfer at the Super Bowl party begging for the TV to remain on the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Oh, no—a playoff?! But the national anthem is about to start, and we have money on it, damnit! This is on the Mount Rushmore of sports weekends—and goodness, we hope there’s enough bullets in your sportsbook account.

The 2021 Waste Management Phoenix Open will look a bit different this year with only 5,000 fans per day will be in attendance. But it's still a can’t-miss tournament and it has another great field this week—in fact 18 of the top 20 players in the world are teeing it up this week either in Saudi Arabia (European Tour) or at TPC Scottsdale.

Hopefully, our experts can help pad your bankroll so you can throw down some more last-minute Super Bowl bets. Providing analysis for us, as usual, we have an anonymous tour caddie reporting from the range at TPC Scottsdale and data scientists Rick Gehman (RickRunGood.com); Pat Mayo (Fantasy National, DraftKings and Mayo Media Network); Brandon Gdula (numberFire and FanDuel); and Lee Alldrick (FanShareSports.com).

According to Datagolf, course history is as predictive here as nearly any course on tour—so our experts are digging Bubba Watson accordingly. But what about Hideki Matsuyama, who has two victories? Or Rickie Fowler, how do you weigh his great performance here with his poor form? And how do you fade the loaded top half of Rahm, JT, Xander or Rory? Our experts will help you make the right calls to start your Super Bowl Sunday making money. Who knows, maybe we’ll even avoid a playoff in Scottsdale, too.

Waste Management Phoenix Open 2021 picks: Our Experts’ Outright Predictions (Odds from DraftKings)

Anonymous Caddie Picker of the week: Xander Schauffele (+850, bet $10 to win $85) — After Xander’s sluggish start at Torrey, he matched Henrik Norlander and Francesco Molinari for having the lowest rounds on the weekend (Patrick Reed included). The approach numbers were great over his final three rounds—gaining more than 4.5 strokes on approach against the field. But the thing to be excited about? His putting. It seems like he really found the flat stick last week. Xander’s hungry for his first win in two-plus years—and we see ball-strikers just dominate here. I really like Xander this week.

Pat Mayo, DraftKings/Fantasy National, Mayo Media Network analyst: Brooks Koepka (50-1) — When Koepka earned his first PGA Tour win here in 2015, he was in the 40-1 range that week. Now he’s higher than that? He’s been bad—but not quite Jordan Spieth-level bad. He could flip it on at any time. He’s being priced well behind guys who have one career top 10. Maybe I’m a sucker for name value, but this number is too big to pass on.

Brandon Gdula, FanDuel/numberFire managing editor: Daniel Berger (17-1) — It’s impossible to nitpick the profiles of the guys at the top, but with pricing so tight, I’ll most likely be looking to start my card elsewhere (though Xander Schauffele at 11-1 rates as the best value among the top six, per my model). Berger does it all: Drives it well, hits the irons and putts well—and it’s all needed to separate at TPC Scottsdale. The current form is great, and we have seen four top-12s here from him in the past.

Rick Gehman, data scientist and RickRunGood.com founder: Webb Simpson (15-1) — Simpson will defend his title at TPC Scottsdale, and there’s little reason to believe he’ll give it up easily. Simpson clearly wasn’t sharp in his last start, the Sony Open, and still figured out a way to finish T-4. He’s now in the midst of a 12-event made-cut streak, with seven top-15s in that span. TPC Scottsdale demands a golfer who can nail their approaches, and few can fire darts like Simpson.

Stephen Hennessey, Golf Digest dep. managing editor: Daniel Berger (17-1) — If you can’t stomach one of the top four guys, Berger’s value is decent (you can find him 22-1 at BetMGM). The guy has nine top-10s since 2020—that’s Tony Finau-like, except Berger can close tournaments. He finished seventh at the Sony, an event that wouldn’t seem to even fit his game. Now he returns to Scottsdale with great history (T-9, T-11, T-7 three of the past four years), and he gained 7.6 strokes/putting on these greens in 2020—so it wouldn’t be surprising for him to get his fourth tour win this week.

Christopher Powers, Golf Digest assistant editor: Sungjae Im (34-1) — I was waffling on Sungjae, but when the course guru above me mentioned the greens are Bermuda this week, Im was an auto-bet. He is the Bermuda king, and while his history at WMPO is limited, he did finish seventh here in 2019. He has gained on approach and putting in back-to-back weeks, the two most important areas when it comes to winning at TPC Scottsdale. If not for a crap Saturday at AMEX, he would have been right there at the end, and at Torrey, he was a few off the lead on Sunday before he imploded on the back nine. As he’s shown the last two weeks, he’s a balls-to-the-wall type player, and that will get him in a lot less trouble at TPC Scottsdale, as opposed to Torrey and PGA West.

Lee Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Xander Schauffele (+850) — Despite not scaring the very top of the leader board in the past couple years, he has been consistently good here—ranking ninth in overall strokes-gained stats at TPC Scottsdale. His form is excellent coming into this event, too, ranking 10th in SG/tee to green over the past two months and ninth in Opportunities Gained, per Fantasy National.

Results from last season: Golf Digest's betting panel predicted 14 winners correctly last season, and collectively on outright winners, top-10 bets and matchups won and lost, our panel went up 225.30 units (the equivalent of being up $2,253 if you wagered $10 on all of our bets) last season. Our anonymous tour caddie nailed Viktor Hovland (25-1) to finish 2020 strong. Also at the end of last year, Brandon Gdula of numberFire/FanDuel correctly picked Patrick Cantlay at the Zozo Championship (30-1) and Christopher Powers predicted Bryson DeChambeau (28-1 at the U.S. Open)—picking up the momentum we had in the 2019-’20 season. Be sure to check this column every week for picks from the hottest betting panel in golf!

Waste Management Phoenix Open 2021 picks: Sleepers/Dark Horses Who Could Win (odds from DraftKings)

Caddie: Nick Taylor (175-1) — You don’t need to be long here—look at some past champions (Mark Wilson, Chez Reavie has two runners-up). You just need to be keeping it in play off the tee, and sticking your approaches tight. I’ve been out here the past couple of weeks—and Taylor's second round at AMEX was a ball-striking clinic. This is one where you need to ignore the stats from Torrey—his iron play can really pop week to week (he’s gained more than two strokes in a given round on approach three times since October). And I expect him to flash again this weekend.

Mayo: Bubba Watson (55-1) — Out of all courses where Bubba hasn’t won, he has the most career top-10s at TPC Scottsdale (six in 14 Starts). And he’s been a fast starter here, having been under par in all 14 of his opening rounds (49-under over those 14 rounds). The biggest reason I like this: The lack of grandstands around the course this year will open up different, more aggressive angles off the tee. And I can think of no one better to take advantage. I might have to take a flier on a Bubba first-round leader, too.

Gdula: Bubba Watson (55-1) — I love Bubba again this week. It’s the studs who get it done at this event (Webb, Rickie, Hideki x2, Koepka), and Bubba counts as a stud, plus you get a great price. Given the stacked field, I don’t want to throw out too many longshots and would rather get exposure as top-10s for those guys. We know that Bubba can be a top-five ball-striker in any field, and of course, he is great at TPC Scottsdale. Datagolf shows course history is more important here than almost any other course on tour. Bubba seems primed for a bounceback after struggling last week.

Gehman: Sebastian Munoz (150-1) — There’s an argument to be made that Munoz is the most mispriced golfer in the field. Since the restart, only eight golfers have averaged more strokes gained per round than Munoz—EIGHT! Yet he is priced with the 59th shortest odds. He certainly limped to the finish line in 2020, missing his final two cuts of the year. But he has bounced back and has been better than average at both the Sentry Tournament of Champions and the Sony Open. Munoz is certainly unlikely to win, but this number is way off and shouldn’t be overlooked.

Hennessey, Golf Digest: Henrik Norlander (125-1) — I’m definitely in on Bubba and Brooks at these great numbers. I also will take a shot on Henrik Norlander. I’m a little weary of him coming off the high of the best finish of his PGA Tour career (T-2 at Torrey Pines), but it’s not an outlier. Norlander is one of the best in this field on approach (fifth over the past 50 rounds, per Fantasy National). And he ranks first in par-4 scoring in the all-important range of 450-500 yards (six of the 11 par 4s this week fall into that range, with a few just shy of that). The price is too nice—back it up with top-10 and top-20 insurance since he’s still looking for his first win.

Powers, Golf Digest: Brooks Koepka (50-1) — We are truly living in bananaland when we’re picking Brooks Koepka in the longshots section, but that’s what three straight MCs and news of a breakup with your coach will do to your odds. At these odds, the value is simply too good to pass up for a four-time major champ who is healthy and still very much in his prime. He’s shown multiple times over the last year that he can flip the switch quickly (seventh at Masters, fifth at Houston, second at St. Jude), so it’s not like his A game isn’t in there somewhere. If he brings it out Thursday or Friday, I could see him instantly becoming the live tournament favorite, and then you’ll be kicking yourself for not having this ticket in your back pocket.

Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Chris Kirk (125-1) — Kirk is just two events removed from a second-place finish, signaling a possible return to when he was his best. He now has the pressure of needing to secure his card off his plate—he’s focused on trying to win. He ranks fifth in Opportunities Gained and second in SG/tee to green over the past two months. Kirk has an 11th-place finish to his name at TPC Scottsdale, too.

Waste Management Phoenix Open 2021 picks: Players to Fade This Week (who will disappoint)

Caddie: Matthew Wolff (55-1) — You’ll be tempted by this price on a course where bombing it is a huge advantage. But we just saw him WD with an injury. I don’t think he’s 100 percent, and there are a ton of other names in this range (Koepka, Bubba, Zalatoris) that are much safer options.

Mayo: Will Zalatoris (45-1) — A great player, well, he’s going to be—but this seems like an awful price considering the talent at deeper odds behind him, especially because he’s lower on other books.

Gdula: Hideki Matusyama (23-1) — I keep singling out Hideki as a fade, and it’s tougher here because he’s won twice in Phoenix despite lukewarm putting in those events. However, those fields weren’t quite as strong as this year’s Waste Management. While his tee-to-green game is about as strong as ever, his putting is actually trending down long-term—if you can believe that. With so many elite golfers at the top, he needs an outlier performance tee to green and to stop missing so many putts.

Gehman: Rickie Fowler (50-1) — Fowler and TPC Scottsdale go together like peanut butter and jelly, but I’m worried about this “version” of Rickie Fowler. He was victorious in 2019 and has three other top-10 finishes at this event. My concern is his flat stick, which is something I thought I’d never say about Fowler. Per the RickRunGood.com golf database, he’s lost strokes putting in three consecutive measured events. He’s only done that one other time in the past six years. It’s a huge red flag when a golfer can no longer rely on their best weapon.

Hennessey, Golf Digest: Rory McIlroy (+1150) — The longer-term stats are just not kind to Rory. Sure, he could be on the precipice of winning again—but he’s at a course he’s never seen, and his SG/approach stats over the past 50 rounds are middle of this field, which is not good enough to get it done here.

Ben Jared

Powers, Golf Digest: Rory McIlroy (+1150) — Same ol’, same ol’ weekend Rory last week at Torrey Pines. Right now, he’s Tony Finau with a far, far better career resume.

Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Jon Rahm (+650) — At this heavy price in such a stacked field, this is just too expensive.

Waste Management Phoenix Open 2021 picks: Matchups

Caddie: Jon Rahm (-125) over Justin Thomas (bet365) — Rahm put aside those injury questions with a great performance at Torrey. His putter seemed to let him down—gaining less than a stroke on the field in putting for the week. It was a new putter, so I’d think he’ll have it more fine-tuned this week. I think he’s more likely to stay hot than Justin Thomas—who was awful in the Middle East last time out. Rahm loves this course, too, so I do really like this.

Mayo: John Huh (-110) over Chris Kirk — The man of many question marks, John HUH????? (insert Tim Allen grunt), just keeps grinding. He’s made the cut in every event this season and has four top-25 finishes in those six starts. Kirk has been good as well, but his driver can take him out of an event like this, and his -11.2 SG/putting the past two years at this course is kind of concerning.

Gdula: Talor Gooch (-122) over Dylan Frittelli (FanDuel) — Gooch has an edge in all the key stats for me this week: distance, off-the-tee, approach and putting—and the biggest differences are with the irons and putter. That’s enough to get me to go here pretty easily for someone I’d also consider a top-10 play (Gooch).

Gehman: Justin Thomas (+100) over Jon Rahm (DraftKings) — As much as I love Jon Rahm, getting even money on Justin Thomas almost feels like stealing. Outside of a missed cut in Abu Dhabi two weeks ago, Thomas had rattled off seven consecutive top-12 finishes. TPC Scottsdale has been friendly to great ball-strikers in the past, and nobody in the world hits their irons like Thomas. He’s notched back-to-back third-place finishes at the Waste Management Open and should be right in the thick of it this week.

Hennessey: Bubba Watson (-118) over Ryan Palmer (PointsBet) — Like we said in the intro, course history is huge at TPC Scottsdale. Palmer’s last five appearances: MC, T-60, MC, MC, T-24. Bubba has six top-10s here in his career. This is a smash spot in my opinion.

Powers: Sam Burns (+105) over Gary Woodland (DraftKings) — Many of us got suckered into Gary Wood at Torrey after his T-16 at Amex, and it looked like it was about to pay off after a great first round. Then, he drove it like garbage the rest of the week and wound up finishing 48th. Burns is clicking in just about every area right now, particularly off the tee. He’ll be in great position all week to attack pins and then roll in the birdies on the bermuda putting surfaces, which are Burns’ favorite.

Sean M. Haffey

Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Sam Burns (+100) over Si Woo Kim (Betfair) — Kim really struggles around TPC Scottsdale—ranking just 118th in the field this week for SG/overall at TPC Scottsdale. Burns on the other hand does well around here and statistically gains a shot per round on Kim on Bermuda greens.

Matchup Results from Torrey: Gdula: 1 for 1 (Adam Scott (-112) over Marc Leishman); Mayo: push (Finau over Schauffele); Powers: push (Scheffler over Si Woo); Caddie, Gehman, Hennessey, Alldrick: 0 for 1.

Matchup Results this season: Alldrick: 12 for 16 (up 6.87 units); Gdula: 9 for 16 (up 1.29 units); Hennessey: 8-1-6 (up 1.20 units); Powers: 6-4-6 (down 0.48 units); Gehman: 5-1-10 (down 4.28 units); Caddie: 4-1-12 (down 5.82 units); Mayo: 5-1-10 (down 5.23 units).

Waste Management Phoenix Open 2021 picks: Top 10 (odds from FanDuel Sportsbook)

Caddie: Kevin Streelman (+950) — This is a home game for Streels, and he’s coming off a very nice 2020 with top 10s at the Travelers, Workday and Safeway. The upside on this bet, almost 10-1, is worth it for someone who’s been great with his wedges and irons.

Mayo: Rickie Fowler (+410) — The ball-striking has returned for the Rickster—just in time for his favorite course. Through his struggles the past year, Fowler’s irons have been atrocious. Yet that hasn’t been the case since the calendar flipped. In two events, he’s gaining more than a stroke on the field on approach. It’s actually been his putter that has let him down. Considering he’s one of the best putters in the history of this event, he should be able to figure that part out.

Gdula: Corey Conners (+500) — Conners is in play much more for a top-10 than an outright. Conners is surely a tee-to-green stud, ranking in the 94th percentile among this field since the start of 2020 when adjusted for field strength. Where he struggles is with the putter, but we’ve seen life there, and he has been a baseline putter in his past 10 events. A slight uptick there puts him in play for a top-10.

Gehman: Bubba Watson (+410) — We are seeing signs that Watson is ready to break through and capture his first victory since 2018. He looks like the Bubba of old, gaining strokes off the tee in 10 consecutive measured events and gaining on approach in six of his past seven starts. Also, you always want to get Watson on a “Bubba Track,” and while he hasn’t won at TPC Scottsdale, he’s earned two runners-up and two more top-five finishes all in the past six years.

Hennessey, Golf Digest: Chez Reavie (+1500) — These odds are glorious for someone with two top-five finishes in the past three years here. Dating back to the restart in June, Reavie has only lost strokes on approach in three starts—and he can get insanely hot with the irons, like he did at the Safeway in September (third-place finish, gaining 7.4 strokes on approach) and WGC-St. Jude (sixth-place, 7.2 SG/approach). It’s a Chez week.

Powers, Golf Digest: Max Homa (+600) — This time last year, Homa went 9th at Torrey, 6th at WMPO, 14th at Pebble and 5th at Riviera. I think we’re seeing another streaky run from him now, and it should continue this week in Arizona. He’s gone 12th at Mayakoba, 21st at Amex (where he was tied for the 54-hole lead), and 18th at Torrey, where he gained 4.5 strokes on approach.

Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Sungjae Im (+250) — Im is another player with an excellent all-around game, so it’s no surprise he ranks sixth in FanShare’s course-suitability ranking this week. His putting on Bermuda is another big reason why he ranks so high in our CSR. Im comes into this event ranked 19th for Opportunities Gained over the past two months and eighth for SG/tee to green.

Top 10 results from Torrey: Mayo: 1 for 1 (Luke List, +1400); Gehman: 1 for 1 (Ryan Palmer, +490). Everyone else: 0 for 1.

Top 10 results from this season: Gehman: 6 for 16 (up 22.1 units); Mayo: 1 for 16 (down 1 unit); Powers: 1 for 16 (down 2 units); Tour caddie: 2 for 16 (down 10.95 units); Hennessey: 1 for 16 (down 12 units); Alldrick: 0 for 15 (down 15 units); Gdula: 0 for 16 (down 16 units).

One and Done pick

Gehman: Hideki Matsuyama — While I think Bubba Watson is an interesting choice, many should simply default to Hideki Matsuyama. His course history is second to none at almost any course on tour. We are in the echelon of Webb Simpson at Wyndham, Dustin Johnson at Pebble Beach, Patrick Cantlay at Shriners and a few other really elite course histories. Matsuyama, of course, has won this event twice while also finishing T-2 and T-4. Just for good measure he threw in two more top-16 finishes for icing on the cake. You read that right, 7 starts: Two wins, a T-2, T-4, T-15, T-16 and a random WD after an opening round 69 (-2).

Previous weeks: Safeway Open: Joel Dahmen; U.S. Open: Jon Rahm; Corales: Denny McCarthy. Sanderson: Sebastian Munoz. Shriners: Matthew Wolff. CJ Cup: Xander Schauffele. Zozo: Bubba Watson. Bermuda: Rasmus Hojgaard. Houston: Lanto Griffin. Masters: Rory McIlroy. RSM: Webb Simpson. Sentry TOC: Patrick Reed. Sony: Abraham Ancer. AMEX: Patrick Cantlay. Torrey: Jon Rahm.

Hennessey: Daniel Berger — I teased taking Tony Finau for this week in last week’s column, but alas, he’s not playing this week! Serves right for trying to outsmart Powers, he had a good pick. Now he gets to use Sungjae here in a great spot. I’ll go with Berger for the reasons why I liked him as my outright pick.

Previous weeks: Safeway Open: Phil Mickelson; U.S. Open: Hideki Matsuyama; Corales: Adam Long. Sanderson: Sam Burns. Shriners: Harris English. CJ Cup: Kevin Na. Zozo: Joaquin Niemann. Bermuda: Doc Redman. Houston: Russell Henley. Masters: Tyrrell Hatton. RSM: Brian Harman. Sentry TOC: Justin Thomas. Sony: Ryan Palmer. AMEX: Scottie Scheffler. Torrey: Sungjae Im.

Powers: Sungjae Im — He’s a lock to make the cut (made 13 of his last 14), which is nice, but he also feels like a lock to contend. The approach game is there (gained in nine of his last 12), and the putting is back, as he’s gained strokes putting in back-to-back starts.

Previous weeks: Safeway Open: Brendan Steele; U.S. Open: Louis Oosthuizen; Corales: Adam Long. Sanderson: Sam Burns. Shriners: Jason Kokrak. CJ Cup: Daniel Berger. Zozo: Joaquin Niemann. Bermuda: Denny McCarthy. Houston: Russell Henley. Masters: Bubba Watson. RSM: Brian Harman. Mayakoba: Corey Conners. Sentry TOC: Harris English. Sony: Zach Johnson. AMEX: Matthew Wolff. Torrey: Tony Finau.

By The Numbers:

Courtesy of Rick Gehman of RickRunGood.com:

71 The par at TPC Scottsdale. That means only three par 5s (all measuring in between 525 and 550 yards) to go with 11 par 4s (six in the 450-500 yard range) and four par 3s.

80 percent — The percentage of events that have gone to a playoff in the past five years. That’s four playoffs with Rickie Fowler’s two-stroke win over Branden Grace as the only non-playoff since 2016.

1.08 — The average number of strokes gained per round for Rory McIlroy since the restart last summer. While excellent for many, it’s a far cry from the 2.43 strokes per round he was averaging in the first half of 2020.

34 — The number of years this event has been held (prior to 2021) at TPC Scottsdale, one of the longest running course relationships on the tour schedule.

About our experts

Pat Mayo is an award-winning video host and producer of long and short-form content, owner of the Mayo Media Network and host of The Pat Mayo Experience. (Subscribe for video or audio. Mayo (@ThePME) won the 2020 Fantasy Sports Writing Association Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year and Golf Writer of the Year awards, along with the Fantasy Sports Trade Association Best Sports Betting Analyst award, and was finalist for four FSWA Awards in 2020 (Best Podcast, Best Video, Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year, Golf Writer of the Year). His 21 FSWA nominations lead all writers this decade and are third-most all-time. Mayo is on the board of governors at www.fantasynational.com.

Brandon Gdula, managing 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.

Rick Gehman is the founder of RickRunGood.com and the RickRunGood YouTube Channel, is one of the industry’s leading experts on golf DFS and gambling. Gehman is co-host of the First Cut Podcast and appears regularly on the Pat Mayo Experience golf podcasts. Follow him on Twitter: @RickRunGood.

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.