2023 WM Phoenix Open Final Round Picks: Scottie Scheffler Atop Star-Studded Leaderboard

2023 WM Phoenix Open Final Round Picks: Scottie Scheffler Atop Star-Studded Leaderboard article feature image

Pictured: Scottie Scheffler. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Well, I just spent Saturday’s third round of the WM Phoenix Open undercover inside the belly of the beast and I can safely report to those who haven’t attended this event previously that it’s everything you probably think it is. Maybe more.

And yet, I didn’t just make it through the day. I lived to write about it.

Believe it or not, there was also some golf played — and the end result was a star-studded leaderboard topped by defending champion Scottie Scheffler.

Staked to a two-stroke lead, Scheffler will try to pull a reverse of last year’s triumph, when he trailed by two, but posted a final-round 67 and eventually defeated Patrick Cantlay in a playoff.

You might think a player — even one like Scheffler, who proved to be a closer with four wins last year — would prefer being a chaser entering the final round instead of the guy with a target on his back. However, that's not the case in this instance.

After his third-round 68, I asked Scheffler about his preference.

“I feel like my odds are a little bit better if I’ve got a two-shot lead than a two-shot deficit,” he said.

Ah, he’s clearly speaking our love language now — and he’s not wrong.

(He’s not alone, either. Jon Rahm, who’s tied for second place and has won one title this year from a share of the third-round lead and one in come-from-behind fashion, echoed that sentiment: “You always want to be in the lead,” he said. “It’s just math.”)

Last year, with a similarly jam-packed leaderboard, Scheffler’s two-shot deficit left him in fifth place on the odds board and he entered the final round at a robust +800. Of course, this was before he’d ever won a PGA Tour event and he was chasing some big-time closers — former champion Brooks Koepka was the favorite at that point.

This time around, Scheffler is +115, with nine players within four shots of the lead.

“I don’t like showing up to tournaments and finishing 30th,” he continued. “I like being up by the lead, I like having a chance to win. Today was a lot of fun going out there and grinding. I hit some really nice shots under pressure. And tomorrow, I’m looking forward to more of the same.”

Betting on a defending champion often feels like walking up to a roulette table, seeing what number just hit and playing that same one to repeat. That said, in 14 tournaments so far this season, we’ve already seen two repeat winners in Max Homa (Fortinet Championship) and Rory McIlroy (CJ Cup).

Scheffler is armed with all of the seemingly sustainable statistics that we prefer when backing a live contender. He ranks first in SG: Tee-to-Green and on approach shots and while the former number placed him “only” 11th for Saturday’s third round, he was still second in the latter category.

If you love Scheffler to follow in the footsteps of Homa and McIlroy by successfully defending this one, I won’t talk you out of a plus-money play on a guy who fits the profile and knows what it takes to get it done, especially in front of a raucous audience like this one.

If you don’t like Scheffler and you’re searching for a little value, there are certainly plenty of other options.

In a share of second place are Rahm (+300) and Nick Taylor (+1600); one shot further back are Jordan Spieth (+1600) and Adam Hadwin (+2800); and in a share of sixth place, four shots off the lead, are Xander Schauffele (+1800), Sungjae Im (+2500), Jason Day (+3500), Tyrrell Hatton (+3500) and Rickie Fowler (+3500).

I don’t think five shots is an insurmountable deficit, but there are a lot of players on the board for anyone lower to overcome. However, I wouldn’t write off Tony Finau (+4000) and Sam Burns (+6500), each of whom owns the offensive firepower to take it deep Sunday.

Of all the contenders, it’s hard not to think Rahm owns the best chance of chasing down Scheffler, which is obviously reflected in his short odds. In four PGA Tour starts this season, Rahm owns a mixed bag of final-round scores: 69, 63, 68 and 74.

The last of those totals was a disappointing conclusion to the Farmers Insurance Open, where he was in contention to win a third consecutive title, but never got it going on Sunday. For better or worse, the lingering effects of that might be rattling around in his end as he tries to avenge it.

Of the others in contention, Spieth — especially at 16/1 — intrigues me. He sounded extremely confident in his mechanics following a third-round 69 and has been known to go low here at TPC Scottsdale. In fact, he turned in a third-round 61 two years ago and a second-round 63 that concluded Saturday morning. He trails only Scheffler in those all-important tee-to-green and approach statistics for the week.

As an appetizer to the Super Bowl, which is being played not too far down the road, the party will continue here Sunday. In the midst of it, they’ll crown another deserving champion — and based on the leaderboard here at this designated event, chances are it’ll be yet another big name.

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