Waste Management Phoenix Open betting preview and selections from Ben Coley

Don't miss Ben Coley's Phoenix Open tips
Don't miss Ben Coley's Phoenix Open tips

Followers of Ben Coley's golf tips have enjoyed an excellent start to the year - don't miss his selections for the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Recommended bets

2pts e.w. Tony Finau at 22/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

2pts e.w. Phil Mickelson at 28/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)

1pt e.w. Lucas Glover at 100/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

0.5pt e.w. Scott Stallings at 250/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)

0.5pt e.w. Trey Mullinax at 250/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

It's Super Bowl weekend (like rugby, but even worse) and that means it's also time for the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where Jon Rahm will attempt to complete something of a home double after winning his national championship in 2018.

Rahm is Spanish, of course, but his golfing education was completed here in Arizona and it was in this event that he gave us a first glimpse of what was to come, finishing fifth as an amateur on what was his second PGA Tour start. Even then it would've been hard to forecast a graduation so seamless.

That unpaid top-five remains Rahm's best performance in the event, but subsequent finishes of 16th and 11th help strengthen his title chances and there can be little doubt that TPC Scottsdale is not only a course he knows, but one which really helps to accentuate, even exaggerate, his strengths.

The same ought to be true of Justin Thomas, the highest-ranked player in the field, although he's yet to match Rahm's worst effort here in four attempts which show two missed cuts and two ties for 17th. Strict reading of finishing positions is rarely enough, however, and it should be noted that Thomas birdied the first six holes in the third round last year only to give every one of those shots back from the 14th to the 16th.

That remarkable level-par round of golf says much about this week's venue. Scottsdale is a course built for the PGA Tour, offering great reward at serious risk throughout a brilliant closing stretch - enough to make up for some forgettable holes on the front nine - and providing a nice break from the California cost and those poa annua greens.

Certainly, it's a perfect playground for a drunken Super Bowl weekend and there's been suitable drama here for several years now, like three play-offs in a row after two one-shot wins, with the renewal before this quintet seeing Phil Mickelson miss out on shooting 59 by the width of a betting slip.

That tournament-record win for Mickelson in turn came after Kyle Stanley had reeled in Wild Spencer Levin' and before that, Rickie Fowler had managed to gift a title to Hunter Mahan. Oh, and Wisconsin's Mark Wilson. He won here in-between.

Tying champions together is, for once, straightforward - this is a golf course on which the very best tee-to-green operators on the circuit have thrived. It's true that this category of player can win anywhere, but it's hard to look through names and numbers here and reach any other conclusion.

Last year is a perfectly sound example, Gary Woodland beating Chez Reavie, and so is 2017's victory for Hideki Matsuyama over Webb Simpson. But for the latter's marked putting improvement, these are not players on whom lives should be staked when it comes to making a putt.

The same is true for the more surprising winners, Stanley and Kevin Stadler, with Bubba Watson, Graham DeLaet, Louis Oosthuizen and Jason Dufner among the many, many players to have gone close to lifting this title despite being typically unreliable putters.

Unfortunately this doesn't help much when it comes to the head of the market, but in an event which has more often than not proven fairly predictable my two against the field are Tony Finau and Phil Mickelson.

Finau was on the fringes of contention throughout last week and ended it ranked first for strokes-gained tee-to-green. Only a misfiring putter kept him from the heat of battle and while that concern won't necessarily go away overnight, he did show marked improvement throughout 2018, ending the season 53rd in the putting standings from 136th in 2017.

Tony Finau
Tony Finau must surely win his second PGA Tour title soon

Undoubtedly, this helps explain Finau's progression through the ranks, which culminated in a strong Ryder Cup debut, and while it remains the case that he's stuck on one PGA Tour win, there's every reason to expect that to change this year. Certainly, he did very little wrong when beaten by Xander Schauffele in China.

As for why this week, it strikes me that a poor course record - largely on account of a cold putter - might put people off the scent somewhat, enough to explain why he's slightly bigger than last week in an eminently more winnable event.

Regular readers will know by now that poor course form really doesn't worry me if I believe the player should be suited to it and that's very much the case here. Besides, Finau struck the ball really nicely for 22nd during his rookie season and that's more than enough to suggest that if he does struggle, it can't all be blamed on the layout.

Last year saw Reavie defy an abysmal Scottsdale record to go within a stroke of winning, ultimately finishing second to Woodland, and Finau can follow the lead of these rare winners and get the monkey off his back.

Xander Schauffele is interesting, as he almost always is, having fared well at Torrey Pines last week when grouped with Tiger Woods for the first 36 holes. He played well here last year, continues to impress and appeals more than Matsuyama, who is bidding for a third title in an event he plainly loves.

As for the front two, I worry slightly that Rahm is playing his third event in succession. It's a minor concern, but he does exert a lot of mental energy, particularly when in the mix, and so far playing three or four times without a break hasn't appeared to help him. That alone leads me elsewhere.

Thomas was chanced at a bigger price last year and there's nothing I can say against him really, except that he'll be a bigger price to land a more suitable event on other days and I'm happy to let him win, so it's Mickelson who goes in with Finau.

This one is simple. Mickelson has won the event three times, the risk-reward nature of the course is ideal for him, his career-low round is here, he owns the tournament scoring record, and this 43-time PGA Tour winner continues to be underestimated.

Truth be told I spent most of the Desert Classic regretting my decision to ignore quotes of 40/1 and expected his runner-up finish there to ruin his price for this, but that hasn't been the case. Instead, we get the benefit of having seen him play beautifully, the putter the reason for second rather than first, and it's probably a significant plus that he decided not to grind it out at Torrey Pines last week.

Phil Mickelson all smiles
Phil Mickelson is all smiles

When Mickelson returned to winning form last year, it came on the back of a couple of outstanding performances and it seems to me that his abject Ryder Cup display continues to prop up his price despite being of precisely zero relevance to the task at hand.

One day, he will be done winning. I'm yet to be convinced that day has come and having been fifth here last year when in poor form, he's got to be a bet now in obviously good form. Always one to improve for his first outing of the year, it'll be disappointing if he's not bang in the mix.

The middle portion of the market makes limited appeal. Keegan Bradley was initially interesting but he's ultimately needed two outstanding putting weeks to get in the mix over the last six months or so, and forecasting when one of those will come along next is not something I'm going to try to do.

Ryan Palmer ended last year in rude health and was back playing well last week, enough to earn him a second glance at 80/1, but at a slightly bigger price I'll play the slightly classier Lucas Glover, whose play this season has been outstanding.

Since finishing second in the Web.com Tour Championship to confirm his PGA Tour status, Glover has finished 17th, 14th, seventh, 11th and 12th, the first time in a career almost two decades old that he's strung together five top-20s in succession.

That alone makes him of interest, and while his record at Scottsdale doesn't leap off the page he's fired several low rounds, contended once and made five cuts from seven - more than enough for me.

Certainly, never before has he arrived in this sort of shape and again I like the fact that he skipped Torrey Pines. This is a similar test to his sole previous start this year, 12th place in the California desert, and there's no reason he can't continue to pay his way.

Brendan Steele's record at Scottsdale is so strong that he's entitled to respect at a similar price, and he was fifth in 2012 on the back of a poor run of form. He'll do for many, while new dad Austin Cook made a nice debut in the event 12 months ago and would be of interest but for not having played in nearly three months.

Instead, I'm taking a chance on the proven winning credentials of Scott Stallings.

Here's another whose course form isn't obvious, but he was fifth at halfway last year and fought back on Sunday following a disappointing third round.

To an extent that's what you get when siding with the 33-year-old, but the pay-off is that he can beat the very best in the sport - something he did at Torrey Pines around this time five years ago.

Encouragingly, his strokes-gained approach stats are remarkably consistent - 39th currently, 41st last year, 37th in 2017 - and while I'd be a little worried this huge Patriots fan isn't desperate to contend here on Sunday night, perhaps that'll help free him up somewhat.

More seriously, Stallings lives in Scottsdale over the winter months and that's another nice little boost towards the prospects of a player who showed a little more last week and is worth a small bet.

Jason Kokrak got a mention in last week's preview and I'll keep up that trend here. My slight quibble is he's been better on classical courses in the main and while I've stressed that course form isn't everything, he's had enough chances here without ever looking totally comfortable.

Sung Kang has been sneakily good this year, finishing 10th and 20th in two starts, and has some course form to highlight an outside chance, but preference is for the more demonstrable talents of Trey Mullinax.

This big-hitter from Alabama has enormous talent and will show it one day. In fact that day was nearly at the Texas Open, where he threatened to reel in Andrew Landry, and it appeared to take him a good while to recover from some shocking errors on the 17th hole there.

Encouragingly, he's improved throughout each of his last four starts (65-57-34-25) and there was much to like about his display at the Farmers, where he was second in strokes-gained approach and fifth tee-to-green.

With his power virtually unmatched, that's a nice platform for success if he can take another step forward and I don't mind TPC San Antonio, home of the Texas Open, as a guide to this event.

Posted at 1950 GMT on 28/01/19.

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