Waste Management Phoenix Open First Round Leader Prediction and Picks: Back a Hot Start From Justin Thomas

The Phoenix Open, an event steep in history and tradition, Tom Jacobs can now focus all his attention on the history at one course when analyzing the First Round Leader market here.
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Waste Management Phoenix Open First Round Leader Prediction and Picks: Back a Hot Start From Justin Thomas

Golfers and viewers around the world rejoice as we finally return to a single-course event, after a stretch of three weeks in California where at least two courses were used in each. It does feel good to be able to look at just one course and worry more about tee times than what course a player is playing in each round.

This makes our strategy perhaps more straightforward than it has been, even if the weeks before maybe allowed us to find more of an edge. This week though we can finally start targeting long shots in this market, as we have a full field to choose from. Let's look at those that have led here in the past decade, the scores required to lead, and those that have started fast last season.

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Waste Management Phoenix Open First Round Leader Strategy

This tends to change week-to-week depending on weather and course conditions but we tend to target early tee times when playing Stateside, as that seems to give players an edge as they’re out in generally calm conditions, with the best greens and smaller crowds unless in a marquee group, giving them a chance to string together their round in peace.

In this event in Phoenix, the tee times for the first-round leaders do tend to be split, and if anything lean towards the afternoon starters, so I am not too worried about what time a player tees off here unless something comes up in the forecast.

Here are the last ten first-round leaders at the Waste Management Phoenix Open:

  • 2021 - Mark Hubbard (9:00 am) and Matthew NeSmith (7:40 am) - 63
  • 2020 - Wyndham Clark (13:05 pm) - 61
  • 2019 - Harold Varner III (11:45 am) Justin Thomas (7:50 am) & Rickie Fowler (8:00 am) - 64
  • 2018 - Bill Haas (12:29 pm) - 64
  • 2017 - Matt Kuchar (12:16 pm) - 64
  • 2016 - Hideki Matsuyama (12:16 pm) Rickie Fowler (7:57 am) & Shane Lowry (8:15 am) - 65
  • 2015 - Ryan Palmer (12:43 pm) - 64
  • 2014 - Bubba Watson (12:16 pm) & YE Yang (8:24 am) - 64
  • 2013 - Phil Mickelson (8:06 am) - 60
  • 2012 - Jason Dufner (12:52 pm) & Ryan Palmer (12:07 pm) - 64

Who in this field started fastest on Tour last season?

Here are the 10 fastest starters in the field based on Round 1 Scoring Average in the 2020/21 PGA Tour season. As we get further into the season I think we can start to look into this season's Round 1 Scoring Average, but there are still too many players with limited starts to give accurate results.

  • Jon Rahm (2nd overall in 2020/21 – Scoring Average 68.95) – Low Opening Round – 63 (The Northern Trust)
  • Scottie Scheffler (T5 overall in 2020/21 – Scoring Average 69.37) – Low Opening Round – 65 (Farmers Insurance Open and FedEx St Jude)
  • Brian Harman (T5 overall in 2020/21 - Scoring Average 69.37) - Low Opening Round - 65 (Open Championship)
  • Patrick Cantlay (T7 overall in 2020/21 - Scoring Average 69.5) - Low Opening Round - 63 (Shriners Open)
  • Xander Schauffele (T7 overall in 2020/21 - Scoring Average 69.50) - Low Opening Round - 66 (CJ Cup and Phoenix Open)
  • Seamus Power (10th overall in 2020/21 - Scoring Average 69.59) - Low Opening Round - 65 (Barbasol and Byron Nelson)
  • Russell Henley (T11 overall in 2020/21 - Scoring Average 69.63) - Low Opening Round - 62 (Wyndham Championship)
  • Louis Oosthuizen (T11 overall in 2020/21 - Scoring Average 69.63) - Low Opening Round - 64 (Open Championship)
  • Keegan Bradley (T13 overall in 2020/21 – Scoring Average 69.65) – Low Opening Round - 64 (Valspar Championship)
  • Webb Simpson (T13 overall in 2020/21 - Scoring Average 69.65) - Low Opening Round - 65 (Sony Open & Wyndham Championship)

What score is required to lead after round 1?

The average leading round 1 score here over the past ten years currently sits at 63.3 and while it twice dipped below 63 (60 from Mickelson and 61 from Wyndham Clark), I think it you should feel confident a 63 can get it done. A 64 is a reasonable target, but to feel confident, I would like my player to hit the average score of 63.

GolferFirst Round Leader Odds
Jon Rahm+2000
Hideki Matsuyama+2900
Justin Thomas+2900
Viktor Hovland+2900
Jordan Spieth+3000
Patrick Cantlay+3100
Xander Schauffele+3300
Brooks Koepka+4000
Scottie Scheffler+4000
Daniel Berger+4200

Click Here for Waste Management Open odds

Phoenix Open The Favorites

Jon Rahm (+2000) (Bet $100 to Win $2000)

There's only so much you can say about Jon Rahm now. Everything I could tell you, you probably already know, so let's focus on his performances here in a micro sense. His lowest opening round at this event so far is 67, which he's shot in three of his last four starts here. His lowest round here in general is 65, which he's shot twice on Saturday here.

I won't be backing him as the favorite, purely in the hope he saves his lowest round for later in the week when it matters most.

He's led/co-led 8 times already in his career, dating back to his first lead in 2016, and he's been within two of the first-round lead a further 23 times, so he's often starting his weeks fast. The latest occurrence was at the Tournament of Champions when he opened with a 66 to start this year and sit one back.

Justin Thomas (+2900) (Bet $100 to Win $2900)

At eight points bigger than Rahm, Thomas is arguably the play between the two, given his history in this event. He tied for the best opening round in 2019 with a 64, and has six rounds of 66 or better in his last four starts here overall.

He's led or co-led 11 times in his career so far and been within two of the lead a further 21 times on TOUR. He last led at The Northern Trust in the playoffs, where he finished 4th, after opening with a 63, and he opened with a 67 to sit two back at the Tour Championship also.

Viktor Hovland (+2900) (Bet $100 to Win $2900)

He missed the cut in his only start here, but he's a much-improved player two years on, so I am not worried about that, despite him failing to break 70 in either round that week.

He's only led once after round 1 so far in his career (aside from the pairs event at the Zurich), and that was on the Korn Ferry Tour, but again it doesn't phase me too much considering how long he's been on Tour. Hovland has been within two of the lead eight times total in his career, and five times total on the PGA Tour and a first-round lead is surely in his near future.

I won't take him here, because Thomas makes more sense, but the price is fair.

Hideki Matsuyama +2900 (Bet $100 to Win $2900)

Hideki Matsuyama opened with a 65 here in 2016, which was tied for the lowest opening round that week, and he dominates at this course where he has two wins, a 2nd, and a 4th to his name. He has six rounds of 66 or better here in seven full starts here (he withdrew in 2018) and given the way he's playing, a quick start is far from out the question.

There may be a slight doubt over his fitness, as he carried a niggle at Torrey Pines, but we are unlikely to know if he's fully fit until it is too late. This could be a good way to get one of the obvious favorites here, if you do not like the outright price. 27 times he's been within two shots of the first-round lead in his career, including 7 leads or co-leads.

Phoenix Open First Round Leader Picks

Justin Thomas (+2900) (Bet $100 to Win $2900)

I am not sure Thomas is right at the moment, and still think there's something missing that may hold him back over 72 holes, but as I stated in my preview, he can turn that around very quickly, and maybe last week's break served him well. This bet though allows me to back him on a course he loves, without the worry of wondering if he can convert over 72 holes.

He's already co-led here after day one once before, and as stated above, he's posted six rounds of 66 or better here over his past four starts, so he regularly goes low in this event. I will back him here, at double the price of his outright odds, as I think him contending this week would come off the back of a fast start, so I may as well chance him posting the lowest of the field.

Over the past 10 years alone, Rickie Fowler and Ryan Palmer have been the first round leader on two occasions in that span, and it my following selections you will note a lot of repeat performances here.

Thomas will tee off #1 tee @ 12:13 pm with Hideki Matsuyama and Patrick Cantlay.

Billy Horschel (+6600) (Bet $100 to Win $6600)

I love Billy Horschel's chances this week, despite some cold iron performances, and as I keep repeating to anyone that follows me or listens to my podcast, I think his course form is being overlooked. Horschel has been inside the top-9 in five of his last eight rounds, so he's consistently among the best performers here recently, and it's been one of the weekend rounds that have let him down in the past.

In the last four starts alone, Horschel has started his week with a 66 (2018), a 63 (2020), and a 66 again in 2021, and after those opening rounds he's ranked 2nd, 2nd, and 6th, so not only does he like this event, he clearly likes Thursday at this event.

If he's going to win here, like I think he can, I will bet he starts fast as well.

He held the first-round lead at Torrey Pines on his last start, and also co-led on day 1 of the Tour Championship back in September, and considering he's only led four times after round 1 in his career overall, it might be that we see Horschel emerge as a regular in this market in the future.

In total Horschel's been within two of the lead 27 times after day one.

Horschel will tee off #10 tee @ 1:08 pm with Kevin Kisner and Sung Kang.

Keegan Bradley (+9000) (Bet $100 to Win $9000)

Keegan Bradley is perennially a fast starter, having been within two of the day one lead 42 (!!) times in his career, and he's held the lead on 9 of those occasions.

Perhaps the conversion of first-round leads, when in with a chance isn't high, but I like how often he puts himself in the position to lead across the Tour, and he has a history of low rounds here also. He was within two of the opening-day lead here in 2014, opening with a 66, and somehow managed to miss the cut, and was only one behind going into Friday, when opening with a 65 in 2015 as well.

Bradley also shot a second-round 63 here in 2013, but to prove it is not all old form, Bradley also opened with rounds of 66-65 last year to sit 2nd at the halfway stage. Not long ago, Bradley ended the Sony Open with rounds of 65-66-65 and while he wasn't at his best last time out at Torrey, I think he can go low for one round at least.

Bradley tees off #10 @ 12:02 pm with Jonathan Byrd and Kelly Kraft.

Cam Davis (+10000) (Bet $100 to Win $10000)

Cam Davis has never played here, so we have no evidence that he will like it, but I love his ability to make eagles (2nd in Total Eagles last season and 7th so far in 21/22) and his upside and volatility work perfectly for this layout. His 3rd place finish at the AMEX last year was a nice pointer for me overall for him this week, and I like his T27 at Shriners earlier this season as well.

He only ranked around 40th in Round 1 Scoring Average last year, such is his inconsistency, but his figures improved slightly with the earlier tee times, and I like him going out early, with his capacity to score well. His early tee time swayed me over the last man out, Wyndham Clark but he was certainly someone I thought long and hard about when comprising this card.

Davis will tee off #1 tee @ 8:21 am with Carlos Ortiz and Sebastian Munoz.

Bill Haas (+20000) (Bet $100 to Win $20000)

Bill Haas is no longer the player that once upon a time won the FedEx Cup, but he is working his way back to a decent level, making cuts again and actually starting off his weeks in quick fashion at the moment. He opened with a 66 last week at Pebble Beach, a 67 at Torrey Pines the week before, and if we go back to November he started his week at the RSM Classic with a 65, so there's plenty of recent evidence that he can go low on Thursday.

Haas shot a 64 to lead here after day one in 2018 and he also hit a 3rd round 66 that same week, which is his most recent success at this course. He does however have a rich history of low rounds here, especially on a Thursday, and I think he channel those this week.

In 2008 he opened with a 67, in 2011 he opened with two 65's and in 2013 he opened 65, 64 and also shot a 64 on Sunday. This is a flyer, knowing where he is with his game overall these days, but as one of the rank outsiders, his recent fast starts and his history of going low here on day one were enough for me to take that chance.

Bill Haas is teeing off #10 tee @ 1:19 pm with Brian Stuard and Brice Garnett.

Also Considered

Wyndham Clark (+12500) (Bet $100 to Win $12500)

Wyndham Clark was the man left out due to tee times, as I had a dominant afternoon wave, I have replaced him with Cam Davis who was the one to miss out on the original shortlist.

Wyndham Clark is garnering some chatter in the outright market this week, and while I have less interest there, given the level of winners here in recent history, I do think he can start fast, as he's been known to before.

The best evidence of that is when he shot a 61 here in 2020 in the pm wave, and he also came close for us in this market in Houston when he was well under par, and on track to lead, but instead settled for a 66, one short of the required total.

I am happy to move on now from that Houston disappointment, so the fact Clark currently sits T17 in Round 1 Scoring Average this season offers some appeal, as do his opening rounds of 66 at the RSM Classic and the Houston Open, and his 65 more recently at the American Express.

Clark has an early tee time this time around, so while his 61 here came in the afternoon, I am interested to see what he does going out early.

Clark is teeing off #10 @ 7:26 am with Chris Kirk and Jason Dufner.

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Tom Jacobs is the host of the Lost Fore Words golf podcast and has been writing betting articles on golf for the past decade. Tom also co-host the DP World Tour Picks & Bets show on the Mayo Media Network, so has his finger on the pulse on the tours on both sides of the pond. A long-suffering Nottingham Forest fan, Tom also enjoys watching Soccer at the weekend, but his main passion remains golf, and every year he holds onto the hope of Lee Westwood winning his first major championship.

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