Waste Management Phoenix Open: Preview and Predictions

Photo courtesy of Experiencescottsdale.com.

Photo courtesy of Experiencescottsdale.com.

It is time for “the Greatest (and Greenest) Show on Grass.” The ‘greenest’ part is a new addition to this now long-sounding tournament tagline, and was added some time after Waste Management took over as the tournament sponsor and turned this raucous, hot-mess of an event into the most sustainable, eco-friendly stop on tour. That is saying something, considering the course sees a whopping 500,000+ spectators come and go throughout the week, and further considering the undeniable fact that this tournament is known as one of the loudest and wildest events of the year. That loud and wild of an environment can only be created, and exacerbated, by the consumption of millions of plastic cups (as well as a specific drink that usually goes in them).

If you have never tuned in to the Waste Management Phoenix Open before, WATCH it this year. You will not be disappointed, especially if you enjoy this scene in Happy Gilmore, or this atmosphere at the Ryder Cup. In fact, just to get the “party” rolling, take a look at some memorable moments from the tournament.  The WMPO is best known for “the loudest hole in golf,” the 16th hole, an unassuming, 160 yard par 3 that has turned into one of the most exciting atmospheres in the game.

This year, we have as star-studded a cast as the greatest show on grass has seen. Understandably, the headlines are consumed by Tiger Woods making his PGA return, and first return to this tournament since 2001. Excited as we are to see how Tiger’s game unfolds, you will not see any further mention of him in our predictions – if 2014 taught us anything, Tiger’s game has entered the “wait and see” category, though as always, nothing would surprise us. We will also get our first looks at Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth, two of the most highly anticipated golfers of the season, and perhaps some other big names, like Bubba Watson, Jason Dufner, Keegan Bradley, Hunter Mahan, Brandt Snedeker, or Billy Horschel can get things going in Arizona. Only the next 108 hours will tell.

We decided to continue our strategy of “going against the grain” with our picks. Sure, we have some big names on the board, but they aren’t exactly the big names you’d expect. Even in such a strong field, there are going to be serious favorites this week: Bubba Watson will be expected to get revenge on his own collapse last year, crowd-favorite Phil Mickelson is hard to bet against in Scottsdale, and Jordan Spieth comes in after winning the Australian Open and the Hero World Challenge late in 2014.

Although certain things, like Padraig Harrington kicking footballs into the crowd, have been banned on the 16th hole, expect a good time to be had by all. Photo courtesy of nytimes.com.

Although certain things, like Padraig Harrington kicking footballs into the crowd, have been banned on the 16th hole, expect a good time to be had by all. Photo courtesy of nytimes.com.

Still, you cannot be “that guy” who tries to win fantasy golf by going after a bunch of sleepers, and don’t worry, we will not be those guys. We’ve taken some steady hands, some hot golfers, and sprinkled in a few hunches. Here are our teams for this week:

PGATour.com:

Zach JohnsonHard to believe a player like Zach Johnson could ever fly under the radar, but alas, here we are. Johnson has gotten off to a tough start in 2015, missing the cut last week, and finishing in an irrelevant T64 at the Sony Open. But ZJ doesn’t stay down long, which is exactly why we think he is going to fly under the radar to steal a win in Phoenix. Unless he’s hiding an injury… gosh we hope not.

Rickie FowlerProbably the most heavily favored player we took for this week. Do we think Fowler is going to jump right into 2015 with his second win on the PGA Tour? No (well one of us, who drafted Fowler second overall, might). But we do believe in the new-and-improved Butch Harmon-Rickie Fowler. This Rickie Fowler has played solid golf, through top 5 finishes in all four majors, to top 10s in both the November WGC and the Hero World Challenge. And frankly, Trickie Rickie is a fun guy to root for, especially in this tournament where he will get into it with the fans, so we’re going to give him a shot.

Scott PiercyComing off an injury that kept him out of the ropes for most of 2014, Piercy is at the top of his game early. He has two top 10s, including the solo runner-up in Hawaii, and returns to a course where he’s had plenty of success in the past. In seven career starts, Piercy has three top 10s, has never missed the cut, and even had a T15 last year before his injury.

Brian HarmanOkay, chalk up Brian Harman as our big flier pick… Harman has only had two starts on this track – a missed cut last year, and a T32 the year before that. But as one of our projected break-out players this year, we think Harman has the kind of game, and personality, that would lend itself to such a pressure-filled, raucous environment that is the Waste Management Phoenix Open. He’s also a lefty who went to UGA, which can’t hurt.

Golf Channel:

Matt KucharHow do you not put Kuchar in one of 8 possible spots (technically 5, because he’s a lock to be in the top tier on Golf Channel for the forseeable future)? We’ve already used him twice on PGATour.com, and want to save some use for the summer, but it seemed impossible to pass on him here when he continues to be lights out every week. Maybe this will be the week he lets us down, but we doubt it.

Zach Johnson. You know it’s a strong field when there are players like Zach Johnson, Hunter Mahan, Keegan Bradley, and… Tiger Woods… in the second tier. Well, in maybe the toughest tier to predict thus far, we are going to stick with ZJ, our prized pick from the PGATour.com league.

Brendan Steele. Granted we had no idea about this until researching on ESPN’s website a little bit, but Steele has some seriously strong juju on this course. He’s been in the top 10 for three straight years (3 out of 4 tries), and he’s coming off a runner-up at the Humana. Sometimes these are the kind of “clever” picks that can burn you in the fickle sport that is golf, but in the third tier Steele appears to be the best guy on the board.

Pat PerezSomehow, thanks again to the strength of the field this week, Perez fell to the fourth tier. We’ve said it before – Perez is one of those guys who just feels good in the first two months of the year. Part of that is personal history; Perez was born in Phoenix, spent a lot of time in California growing up, and went to Arizona State for college (the chants of ‘ASU’ will be just as – okay, nearly as – loud for Perez as they will be for Phil), but regardless, TPC Scottsdale is definitely a place where he feels at home. It is rare to find such a horse for the course in the bottom tier, and one who is coming off a runner-up finish, which Perez is.

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Humana Challenge: Recap

Haas returned to the winner's circle with his 6th PGA win at the Humana. Photo courtesy of Yahoo Sports.

Haas returned to the winner’s circle with his 6th PGA win at the Humana. Photo courtesy of Yahoo Sports.

As there usually is, the Humana Challenge had a complete log jam of players at the top of the leader board on Sunday. Four players started the day tied for the lead, with another four only one shot back. On a course that averages 3-4 shots under par in scoring, you truly had no idea who was going to come away with the win. Most would agree that it was unfortunate Erik Compton – a two-time recipient of a heart transplant who redefines the term “journeyman” – wasn’t that guy. Compton has been on a journey through professional golf unlike any other, including his impressive T2 at the U.S. Open last year, but a win on the PGA Tour is something that still alludes him. Compton began the round as one of the players tied for the lead, but failed to get things going on Sunday.

Bill Haas, on the other hand, continued his magic in La Quinta and stayed on top of the field to earn his 6th win on tour. Things look to be back on track for Haas, who injured his wrist last April while coming to the aid of his son, who was having a seizure. He put together an impressive Sunday stand while claiming he is still battling through pain in his wrist. In a tournament when everyone is going low and the leader board is congested at the top, you have to forget about the race and just play your game. Haas was able to do that, and after a bogey on the third hole, he made four birdies and an eagle, and never looked back. Aside from a good look at birdie on the 18th for Matt Kuchar, that would have forced Haas to birdie the last, there wasn’t much drama at the very end.

Matt Kuchar nearly tied Haas at the last, but finished with a runner-up and his second straight top 5.

Matt Kuchar nearly tied Haas at the last, but finished with a runner-up and his second straight top 5.

Three things we are taking away from the Humana Challenge: Matt Kuchar, with his second top 5 finish in a row, is again looking like he could be a factor in every tournament he plays. Webb Simpson, who followed up a T13 in Hawaii with a T7 this week, shows no signs of struggle in transitioning away from the anchored putter. And finally, Lefty had the kind of ho-hum top 25 finish, ending with three straight rounds in the 60s, that indicates he could return to relevancy, and the winner’s circle, this season.

Now, let’s take a look at our results in what can easily be described as an improvement from last week.

PGATour.com: Keegan Bradley (T48/20 points), Matt Kuchar (T2/167 points), Cameron Tringale (T30/36 points), Charley Hoffman (T2/167 points). Overall grade – B 

We like our results here, picking two of the 5 players who finished in a runner-up spot, and all four of our picks making the cut. That is not an easy thing to do in a shoot-out tournament that cuts after the third round. Just look at some of the players who didn’t make the cut: Zach Johnson, Brandt Snedeker, Jason Dufner, and Luke Donald. It would have been nice to trade Bradley or Tringale for Haas, who we picked in the Golf Channel league, and who was a favorite going into the tournament, but we will take these results any week.

Golf Channel: Patrick Reed (T24), Bill Haas (1st), Stewart Cink (Cut), Robert Garrigus (72). Total Earnings: $1,083,342. Overall grade – B- 

Despite picking the winner in this league, we graded our performance slightly below the PGATour.com results. Yes, whenever you correctly predict the winner, your total points for that week will skyrocket. But when the correctly picked winner is also a heavy favorite, as Haas was, the victory just doesn’t taste as sweet. Had Stewart Cink won the whole thing, we would immediately jump to A grade territory, but instead we whiffed on Cink, essentially whiffed on Garrigus, and even Reed did not deliver, considering Kuchar was a much safer pick in the top tier. So while we may be satisfied with the monetary results, we’d like to see at least 2 strong picks to earn the solid B or better.

Humana Challenge: Preview and Predictions

First and foremost, let’s observe our results from the Sony Open:

PGATour.com: Jimmy Walker (1st/500 points), Chris Kirk (T26/44 points), Charles Howell (T26/44 points), Tony Finau (Cut/0 points)

Golf Channel: Jason Day (T17), Brendon Todd (T44), Charles Howell (T26), Jeff Overton (T37) Total earnings: $151,332.

While we did correctly add Jimmy Walker to the list, these results leave a lot to be desired out of the gate. Charles Howell III had a poor finish by his own standards on this golf course. We picked the wrong rookie, as Finau failed to get it going, but Justin Thomas shot the low round of the tournament and finished in a T6. Every golfer picked for the Golf Channel disappointed, and we missed some safe bets in Matt Kuchar (T3), Harris English (T3), and Webb Simpson (T13). But it is just the first week, we gotta get back into our rhythm!

Defending champ Patrick Reed, coming off a win in Hawaii, would be the hottest player in golf with a successful defense this week. Photo courtesy of golfcanada.ca.

Defending champ Patrick Reed, coming off a win in Hawaii, would be the hottest player in golf with a successful defense this week. Photo courtesy of golfcanada.ca.

The Humana Challenge presents a difficult task to get things on track, though. It is a tricky little tournament to predict, because it is played on three different courses, and is well-known as a complete shoot-out, with winning scores like -28, -25, and -24 posted in the past three years. The tournament is played in La Quinta, Cal. and stems from the Bob Hope Classic, which used to actually be played in five rounds instead of four.

All sorts of players in the field have had success here, including big names like Phil Mickelson, who won the Bob Hope twice (albeit early in the 2000s), Bill Haas, who ranks third among the all-time money earners here,  and of course there is Patrick Reed, coming off the win in Hawaii, and who is the defending champion after opening with three 63s last year. There are also lesser-known names like Ryan Palmer, who has three top 10 finishes – including a runner-up last year – in the past four years, Brian Gay, who finished in the top 15 three times between 2010-2013 (including a playoff win in 2013), and  Charley Hoffman, who has grabbed several top 10s and a win in 2007, and who is currently in great form, already earning a win on the wraparound season.

As for our picks, we’d like to make it a little more interesting, and perhaps adopt more of an against-the-grain strategy that will hopefully provide better results. In the first week, we went all chalk – combining the best of course history and current-form – and yielded mediocre results. This week, we are looking at talented players, but not necessarily players who make logical sense for this tournament. Golf is an unpredictable sport, and sometimes you just have to make decisions on a whim. Here are our teams for this week:

The Bradley stare was not an intimidating force in 2014, but we think he will find a way back to golf relevance in 2015. Photo courtesy of theaposition.com.

The Bradley stare was not an intimidating force in 2014, but we think he will find a way back to golf relevance in 2015. Photo courtesy of theaposition.com.

PGATour.com:

Keegan BradleyFinished in a T18 last year, including a Friday hole-in-one, and is making his first start in 2015. We expect Bradley to have a bounce-back year with at least one win and at least one strong major performance. The Humana Challenge is a good tournament, with a lot of birdies to be made, to help someone like Keegan get back into a comfortable zone.

Matt KucharThis is almost a defensive pick, as Kuch is one of the clear favorites and will be commonly picked in this format. He has been playing so solidly this season (including a T3 last week), and has a good history in this tournament (skipped last year, but no worse than a 25th finish since 2009, including a runner-up in 2010 and 7th place finish in 2011). Hard to bet against these steady hands.

Cameron Tringale. Tringale is a name that’s been floated out there as a good bet to be a first-time winner on tour this year. While it is still early to expect a win, we do think this tournament sets up nicely for Tringale to start working his way up the leaderboard.

Charley HoffmanSort of a ‘horse for the course’ pick, the aforementioned Hoffman has been solid in this tournament over the years. In fact, Hoffman has been solid overall in January/February golf throughout his career. In a format where you only get to pick a golfer 10 times, you have to pick guys like Charley Hoffman, Charles Howell III, and Pat Perez when they are consistently on the top of their game early, but fall off when the majors start coming around.

Golf Channel:

Patrick ReedWhile there are several great picks in the top tier (Phil Mickelson, Matt Kuchar and Zach Johnson among them), we are wondering whether this could be the year of the defending champ. Is it possible that the first two tournaments of the year could be successfully defended? Each by the two players who battled it out in the playoff of the Tournament of Champions? When the latter title is being defended by Patrick Reed, you better believe it. After the way he played in the Ryder Cup, and the way he came back to steal the TOC from Walker, it seems like Reed is at his best when the most pressure is on him. If not a win, we’d be surprised if Reed wasn’t at least in the mix.

Bill Haas. We’ve already said what we needed to say on Haas. He’s the ultimate ‘horse for the course.’ and he was picked by us to be one of the most underrated draft picks in fantasy this year. Why not get things going in one of his best tournaments?

Stewart CinkThe third tier might have been the trickiest to pick, and there were certainly more logical picks out there than Cink. Scott Stallings, Boo Weekley, Charles Howell III, and Nick Watney would probably all be considered safer picks. But the Stewart Cink of new (not the Cink who won the Open Championship in 2009) is also in the category of golfers who start the year strong, before fading into the summer. A strong surprise pick here, we think.

Robert Garrigus. That guy is still playing golf, you ask? After being a recognizable, winning golfer earlier in his career, the long-hitting, weirdly putting Garrigus has fallen out of favor with the golf gods recently. But like we’ve said before, the Humana Challenge is a great place for ailing golfers to get back into a rhythm. And does Garrigus have any history in this particular tournament, you ask? Well, he did tie the Nicklaus course record with a 61 en route to a runner-up finish in 2012. For the bottom tier, he is not a bad flier pick.

Sony Open in Hawaii: Preview and Predictions

The symbolic Waialae "W" rests behind the 16th green. Photo courtesy of swingmotion.blogspot.com

The symbolic Waialae “W” rests behind the 16th green. Photo courtesy of swingmotion.blogspot.com

It’s a new year, and a continued golf season… 6 full-field events have already occurred in the PGA season, but since we haven’t yet been able to wrap our heads around the wrap-around season concept, this is – for all intents and purposes – the first full-field event of the season.

And the Sony Open in Hawaii is a classic. Though it has not always been the Sony Open, the Hawaiian tournament has been played at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu since 1965. The course opened in 1927 and was designed by Seth Raynor (also designing the Old White Course at the Greenbrier), though Raynor died from pneumonia before the course was completed. It is a course with the type of beauty you would expect given the surroundings, and is known for intertwined palm trees behind the 16th green that form the letter “W” (there, now when you see golfers tweeting ‘#W’ you’ll know what they mean).

The tournament itself has consistently provided a thrilling start to the new year. No one has ever won this tournament more than twice, and only four have two wins, including Ernie Els and Corey Pavin. Russell Henley set the 72-hole record with a 256 (-24), en route to earning his first PGA win in 2013. Last year, Jimmy Walker carded a -17 to win one of his three PGA wins last season. Aside from Henley’s record-setting affair, the winner of each of the past five years has won with a score ranging from 13 to 17 shots under par.

This year, a strong field will tee it up on Thursday. The list includes highly ranked golfers in Jason Day, Matt Kuchar, Zach Johnson, Jimmy Walker, Webb Simpson, and Luke Donald. It also includes up-and-comers like Hideki Matsuyama and 2013 champ Russell Henley, both of whom finished in a T3 at the Tournament of Champions, and Chris Kirk, who carded a 62 in the final round of the TOC. Charles Howell III returns to Waialae, perhaps being the hottest player on this golf course – in 13 appearances he’s finished in the top 5 seven times, and finished in a T8 last year.

For our predictions this year, we are going to share our official fantasy picks on both PGATour.com and GolfChannel.com. The rules are slightly different: PGATour.com allows you to pick any player in the field, but you can only pick the same golfer 10 times all season. Golf Channel sets up 4 tiers of golfers, and you must pick one from each tier. Here are our teams for the week:

Charles Howell III figures to be a favorite heading into the first full tournament of 2015, going 7-13 in top 5 finishes over the years. Photo courtesy of thestar.com.

Charles Howell III figures to be a favorite heading into the first full tournament of 2015, going 7-13 in top 5 finishes over the years. Photo courtesy of thestar.com.

PGATour.com:

Jimmy Walker. The defending champion is just too solid this time of year. He proved that by taking a commanding lead at the TOC last week, granted he lost the lead to a surging Patrick Reed and ultimately lost the tournament. Still, we expect Walker to be in the mix at a course he clearly enjoys, and this time around he’s far less likely to choke.

Chris Kirk. Coming off the 62 on Monday, Kirk can easily carry that momentum with him to the island of Oahu. In fact, he finished as a runner-up last year and in the top 5 two years ago. Another safe pick here.

Charles Howell III. Third safe pick. The aforementioned “horse for the course” is too tempting a pick to pass up. Even if he doesn’t win, he’s likely to earn a solid payout for the team.

Tony Finau. You gotta be able to play the game. So with three ultra-conservative picks, we’re going to go with a complete flier for the fourth. Finau is a member of what is being considered one of the strongest rookie classes in years. Word on the street  (credit: Golf Week) is that he has distance that could redefine the term “Bubba Long.” We think this distance will give him a huge advantage on a course that favors the long ball. If he can keep it straight, he can be in the mix, and we want to take advantage of that before everyone else knows about this guy.

Golf Channel:

Jason Day. In this tier, we had the option to take either Jimmy Walker or Chris Kirk. But deciding to hedge our bets a little bit, we went with Day. The Aussie, who ranks highest in the field on the Official World Golf Rankings at 8, is also coming off a 62 on Monday at the TOC that vaulted him into a T3. Day is poised to have perhaps the strongest season of his career, and kicking things off with a win in Hawaii is not out of the realm of possibility.

Brendon Todd. The UGA product had an acceptable T20 finish in this tournament last year, but is coming off a T8 at his first try at the TOC. Todd is capable of playing some quality golf, and is one of many golfers touted to have a breakout season in 2015.

Charles Howell III. The seasoned veteran slipping to the third tier? Yes, please. They ought to put Howell in the first tier just for this tournament, but their oversight is fine with us.

Jeff Overton. The last tier doesn’t consist of many sexy picks, but we believe Overton is a solid choice and an underrated player. His game has not been up to the level that saw him making a Ryder Cup team in 2010, but he does have lots of experience at Waialae, finishing in a T24 in his first try back in 2006, and playing every year but once since then, including back to back top 10s the past two years.

There is the list for (our) week 1… We will see how it goes. Good luck to all who share in our love of fantasy golf, and enjoy watching some warm, sunny golf this weekend, no matter what chilly pocket of the world you reside!

2015: Let the golf begin!

Woooooohweeeeeeee it’s been a while… Though we at Fantasy Golf Source have been mildly interested in the 2014-15 season thus far, meaning the second year of this new “wrap-around season” business, I think we can all agree that the excitement for PGA golf truly begins when the pros fly to Hawaii to kick off the new year of golf. Frankly, it is hard for golf to compete with football, and fantasy football. In fact, our fantasy league – as I’m sure is the case for many – doesn’t even begin until the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Therefore, now that 2015 has begun, so too has our desire for fantasy golf and what is almost guaranteed to be a fantastic season to kick into full-swing. We’ve all heard the storylines… Will Rory soar to Tiger-level dominance? What will Tiger’s return to healthy (we can hope) golf mean for the sport? Will Phil Mickelson become a factor again after one of the rare winless seasons in his career? Will Jordan Spieth be able to officially take his place as one of the greats? How about Rickie Fowler coming off top 5 finishes in all four majors? How will Billy Horschel follow up his clutch Fed Ex Cup playoffs performance? Those are just a few of the big storylines, and they certainly are deserving of all the attention.

Tiger will make his 2015 debut at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, a tournament he hasn’t played since 2001 where he did this in 1999 and basically started the 16th hole madness. The last time Phil had a winless season was 2003, and he followed it up with 3 wins in 2004, including the Masters, and top 10 finishes in all 4 majors. Jordan Spieth will certainly not be leaving the conversation in 2015, and deserves it after dominate wins at the Australian Open and the Hero World Challenge.

But what we would like to do to kick off our 2015 hype is talk about three things that haven’t been major story lines, but deserve some attention nonetheless.

Waste Management Phoenix Open - Final Round

Bill Haas could be the most underrated fantasy player of 2015. Photo courtesy of weiunderpar.com

1. In addition to Phil Mickelson, several elite golfers were left out of the winner’s circle in 2014. Jason Dufner and Brandt Snedeker were nowhere near the conversation, though both had their own share of injury struggles. Keegan Bradley’s lack of results was more puzzling given that he appeared to be healthy throughout the season. He surely figures to be in the mix and add to his win column in 2015. But the name everyone seems to be forgetting is Bill Haas. After a Thursday 68 at the Masters, Billy Haas was nowhere to be found last year. He struggled with a business decision of taking his brother off the bag as his caddie, and largely he was not a factor at all. This leads me to think that the 2011 Fed Ex Cup champion could be the most underrated fantasy player of 2015. Aside from last season, Haas has had at least one win every season since 2009. His struggles in the majors have plagued him, but maybe 2015 could be his year.

2. Not a lot of discussion is going on regarding Dustin Johnson’s return to the game, but don’t expect the 30 year old to have lost any of his ability just because of the off-the-course issues he dealt with in 2014. No one has suggested that any of DJ’s drug issues directly related to his performance on the course. If he truly has begun a healthier lifestyle, his golf game should only benefit from it. Slated for an early 2015 return, DJ should still be a significant factor this season.

Ryder Cup rookies Jamie Donaldson (pictured) and Victor Dubuisson figure to be bigger factors on the PGA Tour in 2015. Photo courtesy of golfweek.com

Ryder Cup rookies Jamie Donaldson (pictured) and Victor Dubuisson figure to be bigger factors on the PGA Tour in 2015. Photo courtesy of golfweek.com

3. Much has been made of the 2015 rookie class. Players like Justin Thomas, Nick Taylor, Tony Finau, Carlos Ortiz, and Blayne Barber all figure to be instant factors. Not as much has been said about a short list of European Tour golfers who have obtained a PGA Tour card and will increase their schedule in the states this year. Brooks Koepka, Max Homa, Jamie Donaldson, Francesco Molinari, and Victor Dubuisson are among the list. Koepka and Homa, being Americans, look forward to moving back to their home country, while Donaldson and Dubuisson look to broaden their resumes in the wake of impressive Ryder Cup performances. Anyone who watched Dubuisson work miracles in the playoff against Jason Day in last year’s WGC Match Play knows what the Frenchman is capable of doing. For us, though, we think Jamie Donaldson is the guy to watch out for in 2015. The Welshman has been a fixture on the European Tour for years, and hopes to evolve into a bigger threat in the majors by adding PGA events to his schedule. We believe he has the talent and the ball-striking to do just that.

Regardless of these storylines, or the many others exciting golf fans worldwide, we are expecting a thrilling season as the PGA looks to build an identity that perhaps isn’t reliant on Tiger Woods – that is unless Woods remains healthy and pops off multiple wins and potentially achieves the 15th major win, of course. Nothing is out of the realm of possibility, and we look forward to just being along for the ride. Stay tuned for the return of predictions with next week’s full field at the Sony Open.