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The best sight of a hectic weekend’s golf apart from Solheim Cup heroine Leona Maguire’s LPGA breakthrough was surely Bubba Watson racing to the 18th green in Saudi Arabia to embrace the man who had just holed a 92ft eagle putt to deprive him of a first win in almost five years.
On a tacky weekend when the talk seemed to be more about money than sporting excellence, Bubba’s gesture was a timely reminder that there’s far more to the game than multi-millionaires feathering their own gilded nests and wouldn’t it be great if he followed that up by winning this week’s Phoenix Open!
Despite the ominous presence of World No.1 Jon Rahm and top-ten stars Justin Thomas, Viktor Hovland and Patrick Cantlay, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that forgotten man Watson could spring a surprise and although the early 50/1 has gone, 45/1 is still worth chancing.
Bubba loves the raucous atmosphere at this unique tournament where half a million fans are expected over the four days. Last year, with a daily restriction to 5000 because of Covid, was deathly quiet by comparison but 20,000 will be back filling up the grandstand around the short “Coliseum” 16th again and much Bud will be necked.
The tiring day-long trip from Saudi to Phoenix puts him at a slight disadvantage but golfers seem to shrug off jetlag quickly these days and that Sunday 64, his second of the week, was some score in the wind.
Considering that was Bubba’s first competitive start since missing the cut at Northern Trust in August, second place was a stellar effort - and it is not as if he is short of previous at TPC Scottsdale, home to this $8.2m tournament for 35 years. Never a winner there but twice runner-up, in 2014-15, fourth in 2019 and third in 2020, the 43-year-old dual Masters champion clearly has plenty of good golf left in him.
Moving up from 105th to 60th on the world rankings will be some compensation for Sunday’s disappointment but desert golf is right up his alley as he demonstrated in Saudi and another big performance should be on the way.
Rahm is no Scottsdale specialist and Cantlay’s inability to make a putt at Pebble Beach on Sunday echoed a previous last-round effort so we’ll leave him out too.
Dual Scottsdale winner Brooks Koepka is defending champion but still does not play as if 100% after knee and hip problems while last year’s joint runner-up Xander Schauffele hasn’t been pulling up any trees either. That leaves Thomas, Hovland, Jordan Spieth and Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama of the front runners in the betting and they are all feared.
The Japanese No.1 was a back-to-back Phoenix champion in 2016-17, both after playoffs, one gifted to him by Rickie Fowler, and won’t easily be beaten judged on his January triumph at Waialae.
Hovland profited from a Rory McIlroy brain-fade in Dubai and oozes polish but it is pals JT and Spieth who most appeal.
Thomas’s Scottsdale record is solid (13-3-3 the last three years). True, he lacks a win since Sawgrass almost a year ago but there have been so many near-misses since and a 61 at Kapalua on the way to fifth place first time out this campaign shows what he can achieve when the flat stick heats up.
Spieth, a 22/1 pick last week, looked for all the world a winner at Pebble Beach until one small stumble let fast-finishing 66/1 shot Tom Hoge register his first victory at the 203rd attempt - and thoroughly deserve it.
Hoge isn’t playing this week but as he also went close at the AmEx a couple of weeks earlier, he is one to note for pro-ams where patience with slow celebs is a great virtue.
Fourth last year, the first sign that the Spieth of old was getting his act back together, points to the one-time world No.1 taking a hand again. His driving has improved.
The final pick is Adam Scott on his first US start of the year but his first two desert outings in Abu Dhabi and Dubai have produced two top-tens and a Phoenix debut fits in with the way he wants to reinvent himself.
The 2013 Masters champion has rearranged his schedule and his life, moving his family to Switzerland and starting his year much earlier than usual. He’s talking a good game, saying he’s “in a place where I feel I can get results” so at 60/1 the classy Aussie can land the each-way money. It’s worth noting his last victory, at Riviera two years ago, came in February. Obviously a Masters encore is the main plan but he will be after more encouragement here.
Birdies will be plentiful in the Arizona desert but the 28-under by record-holders Mark Calcavecchia and Phil Mickelson is unlikely to be under threat as nobody has even got to 20 under in recent years. Surprise, surprise! It’s going to sunny and hot all week.
I was going to say Arizona State alumnus Mickelson, a former Scottsdale resident and a triple Phoenix champion in three different decades, would be the most popular winner but after his ill-chosen words in Saudi last week, It is hard to be sure.
WM Phoenix Open Golf Betting Tips 2022
- 1.5pts each-way Bubba Watson at 45/1 (Bet365) 5 places
- 1.5pts each-way Hideki Matsuyama at 18/1 (William Hill) 8 places
- 1.5pts each-way Jordan Spieth at 22/1 (William Hill) 8 places
- 1pt each-way Justin Thomas at 12/1 (Betfair) 8 places
- 1pt each-way Adam Scott at 60/1 (Bet365) 5 places
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Celebrating my 52nd year tipping and writing about golf. Tipped more than 800 winners (and more than 8000 losers!). First big winner Lee Trevino at 8-1, 1972 Open at Muirfield. Biggest win £40 each-way Ernie Els at 80-1 and 50-1, 2012 Open. Most memorable: Giving the 1-2-3 at 33-1, 50-1, 33-1 out of 4 tips from a field of 180 in 2006 Pebble Beach Pro-Am. According to one bookmaker “Undoubtedly one of the greatest tipping performances of all time”. And, of course, putting up a 150/1 winner with Stewart Cink in my very first column for Golf Monthly. Lowest handicap 9 Present handicap 35.6. Publications tipped for: Sporting Life, Racing Post, Racing&Football Outlook, Golf World, Golf Weekly, Golf Monthly, Fitzdares Times. Check our Jeremy's latest tips at our Golf Betting tips home page
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