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Fantasy Preview: 2018 Waste Management Phoenix Open

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It’s off to the desert this week for the Waste Management Phoenix Open, and along with it the loudest hole in golf. Thousands will once again surround the par-3 16th hole, and as always it will be interesting to see how some of the world’s best players handle the intimidating atmosphere. Expect TPC Scottsdale to offer up a few more birdie opportunities than Torrey Pines did last week, with 14-under par being the highest winning score since the course was re-designed in 2014.

Hideki Matsuyama has won the last two editions here, defeating Webb Simpson last year in a playoff after posting 17-under in regulation. The par-71 course measures just under 7,300 yards and has bermuda greens. As always at TPC Scottsdale, strong tee-to-green play will be vitally important. There are five par-4’s in the range of 400-450 yards, and another five from 450-500 yards. Three long (but reachable) par-5’s are in play that fall in the 550-600 yard range.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Hideki Matsuyama 9/1
  • Jordan Spieth 9/1
  • Jon Rahm 10/1
  • Rickie Fowler 14/1
  • Justin Thomas 16/1
  • Marc Leishman 30/1
  • Webb Simpson 33/1

It’s one of those weeks were you could absolutely make a strong case for any player at the top of the board. It won’t be a surprise to see Matsuyama and Rickie Fowler both being very popular choices as usual here — with the latter tempting me most. There’s a sense that this course owes Fowler something, and his exceptional putting on bermuda greens (second in this field for his last 24 rounds ) could set him up for a big week.

But it’s Jordan Spieth (9/1, DK Price $11,400) who I like the most from the market leaders. Jordan opened up 2018 with a ninth-place finish at the Tournament of Champions before finishing T18 at the Sony Open, a relatively quiet start for the Texan. Yet all the signs show he is ready to win for the first time since last summer. Surprisingly, it’s been his usual rock solid short game that has prevented him from challenging for a win so far in 2018. After the Sony Open, Spieth commented on his putting woes: “I’ve got a lot of work to do with the putter, it’s as simple as that. Everything else is plenty ready to win.”

Spieth has lost strokes to the field on the greens in his last three official PGA Tour events. The last time he did so for four consecutive events? Back in 2013. The smart money is on one of the best putters of the last few years regaining his touch on the greens quickly.

If Spieth can manage that, then it’s very hard to argue against the fact that every other part of his game is good enough to win. Over his last 24 rounds, he ranks No. 1 in this field for Ball Striking and Strokes Gained Approaching the Green. He also sits second in Total Strokes Gained. Spieth’s long game has been exceptional for some time now, and it’s been no different in the eight rounds he’s played so far in 2018 where he’s ranked second in this field for Strokes Gained Tee to Green. Also in Jordan’s favor: he seems very comfortable at TPC Scottsdale. He’s recorded two top-10 finishes in his only two starts here, and if he’s managed to address some short game issues in the past fortnight then he will be a hard man to beat this week.

Another player who I feel could be close to putting it all together is Daniel Berger (40/1, DK Price $9,500). Berger has had a solid start to 2018, finishing 11th at the Tournament of Champions before finishing 14th at the Sony Open. He has yet to really contend for a victory, but I feel TPC Scottsdale offers up the best chance of 2018 so far for him to do so.

Berger has a very consistent tee-to-green game, which is crucial to succeed at TPC Scottsdale. He ranks ninth in this field over his last 12 rounds in Strokes Gained Tee to Green and 27th in Strokes Gained Total. It’s a course where Berger feels very comfortable, too. He has recorded top-10 finishes in two out of his three visits. Daniel also seems to putt best on bermuda greens. In his last 50 rounds on all greens, he ranks 65th in this field for Strokes Gained Putting. Narrow that down to his performance solely on Bermuda Greens, and he sits 11th over the same period.

Looking further down the board, there are two names that I was surprised to not see a little shorter in price. Keegan Bradley (66/1, DK Price $7,400) has been in the wilderness for too long. Plagued by putting problems since the anchoring ban came into play, he hasn’t had the high finishes that his excellent ball striking deserves. But this season could be a lot different for Bradley. He already has a runner up finish at the CIMB Classic to his name, and last week he finished solo 5th thanks to some exceptional Tee to Green play (he gained 7.6 strokes over the field).

TPC Scottsdale is a good fit for Bradley, too, where long and straight driving is demanded. He has recorded three top-25 finishes here in his last five starts, and with the condition of his current long game he will be confident of posting his best finish here yet. In his past 12 rounds, he is second in this field for Strokes Gained Approaching the Green, 10th in Strokes Gained Tee to Green and eighth in Ball Striking. He also sits T10 for the season in Proximity to the Hole. From a DraftKings perspective, a price of $7,400 looks to have a lot of value.

In the same range, I couldn’t pass up Scott Piercy (66/1, DK Price $7,500) this week. The Las Vegas native has had a very good start to 2018. He finished T25 at the Sony Open before settling for a T6 at the CareerBuilder Challenge, where he briefly held the lead on Sunday. Over his last 12 rounds, he ranks fifth in this field for Strokes Gained Approaching the Green, ninth in Ball Striking and sixth in Strokes Gained Total. He is also 19th for the season in Strokes Gained Tee to Green. TPC Scottsdale is a course where Piercy has had some success, too. He finished third in 2013 and T15 a year later. He is another who looks to be a little undervalued this week.

Recommended Plays

  • Jordan Spieth 9/1, DK Price $11,400
  • Daniel Berger 40/1 DK Price $9,500
  • Keegan Bradley 66/1, DK Price $7,400
  • Scott Piercy 66/1, DK Price $7,500
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Gianni is a freelance writer. He holds a Bachelor of Arts as well as a Diploma in Sports Journalism. He can be contacted at gmagliocco@outlook.com. Follow him on Twitter @giancarlomag

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Opinion & Analysis

Are golf fans and the media right to judge Brooks Koepka?

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Brooks Koepka’s relationship with observers of the game has been uncomfortable of late. You only have to go back to August of this year, when at the PGA Championship, Tiger Woods poured his heart and soul into his final round at the year’s last major with the spectators of St. Louis delivering in kind to create one of the best atmospheres at a golf event in recent years. Koepka that day, received polite applause from the crowd that Sunday evening as he tapped in nonchalantly on the 18th green to win his second major championship title of the year. After the climate that Woods had created, that final scene, it is fair to say, was a little anti-climactic.

Koepka, who ascended to the summit of the game after victory at the CJ Cup on Sunday has come under fire for being an aloof golfer who lacks personality and passion on the golf course. His lack of emotion while competing rubs many people the wrong way, especially ever since he described golf as “kind of boring” in a 2015 interview with Golf Digest.

Koepka’s blasé appearance on the golf course has led to a distant relationship between himself and both golf spectators and the media. The media’s perceived lack of appreciation for Koepka is fueled by his robotic style on the golf course. Unlike, Woods, McIlroy, or Spieth, who express themselves on the course and offer marketable narratives at all times, Koepka is considered dull and lacking a personality.

This lack of appreciation from golf’s media lights a fire under the American. Earlier this year, Koepka displayed the type of emotion that golf fans would love to see on the course when he railed against the media for the lack of attention they give him.

“You’ve got guys who will kiss up, and I’m not gonna kiss up. I don’t need to kiss anyone’s butt. I’m here to play golf. I’m not here to do anything else. I don’t need to bend over backwards to be friends with anyone [in the media], but certain guys do that because they want their names written. I’d rather be written about because of my play. Sometimes it does suck, but I’ve started to care less. Come Sunday, I won’t forget it when everyone wants to talk to me because I just won. I don’t forget things.”

It is clear what now motivates Koepka (at least in part): His indignation at the lack of respect he feels he receives from the media has given him the impetus to work even harder, resulting in a career-defining year which saw him bag two majors, the PGA Player of the Year award and the world number one ranking.

Are golf fans unfair to judge Koepka on his emotionally void performances? I don’t think they are. While it’s only right to appreciate the level of dedication, skill, and nerve that Koepka has displayed on his way to the top of the sport, fans of any sport want to root for a player who showcases their thirst for victory as imperative to their being. Think Rafael Nadal, Tom Brady, Cristiano Ronaldo etc. Athletes are admired as much for their skill as they are their desire to win that they express outwardly, energizing fans of their sport. Nowadays, sports are as much a competitive activity as they are entertainment. As long as Koepka fails to show how much he wants to win to the public, fans of the sport and the media are not going to show him the adoration and attention that he deserves.

How will Koepka’s personality affect his status in the game of golf?

Should the American continue to claim major titles and hold onto the world number one ranking, will appreciation rise? Probably not. His situation is reminiscent of tennis legends Pete Sampras and Ivan Lendl. Both world class champions throughout their illustrious careers, yet both failed to capture the imagination of fans due to their stoic and emotionally lacking approach on the court.

While the attention and love Koepka receives currently is limited for someone who is world number one, his unresponsive, passive demeanor doesn’t afford him the luxury of having a dip in form and still staying relative. Woods barely played from 2014-17, yet any news from the 14-time major winner in this period was still box office, while the likes of McIlroy and Spieth who have both suffered substantial dips in form over the past couple of years have received bundles of attention both from the media and from spectators during this period. Koepka does not have the same comfort, and he will need to stay at the top of the game or his limited attention from the golfing world will diminish.

However, it’s difficult to imagine the 28-year-old going anywhere anytime soon though. The three-time major winner has a game designed to dismantle even the most challenging of golf courses. While viewers may be unenthused by BK’s robotic nature, it’s something they may have to accept. Koepka’s feeling of being slighted by the golfing world may have had one of the most positive effects on his career, and as long as he feels unappreciated, he can allow his talent to hit back at his critics.

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The 19th Hole (Ep. 55): How to cure the chipping yips, from Master Instructor Jim Waldron

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The yips can be career-ending. Master Instructor and GolfWRX contributor Jim Waldron talks with host Michael Williams on what causes the yips and how to get rid of them. Also appearing in this episode is Dean Knuth of Heat Golf, and Bodo Siebert of Tagmarshal.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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The Gear Dive: Golf prodigy Cole Hammer talks equipment, not turning pro, committing to Texas

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Cole Hammer, who once qualified for the 2015 U.S. Open at 15 years old, joins The Gear Dive Podcast with Johnny Wunder to discuss equipment, being a Freshman at the University of Texas, committing for 4 years, not turning pro and his crazy big summer including a win at the 2018 Western Amateur.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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