Brooks Koepka fired a final round five-under-par 66 to post 15-under 269 to win the WMPO Phoenix Open. After Koepka took the lead on No. 15 he never relinquished the top spot and avoided danger of the last three holes to beat Hideki Matsuyama, Ryan Palmer and Bubba Watson to the finish line by one shot. The 36 and 54-hole leader, Martin Laird, ended in a tie for fifth with Arizona State University student-athlete John Rahm two shots further back.
Why This Performance Doesn’t Surprise
For those gamers new to the world of fantasy golf, welcome aboard! A great place to start weekly research is to see where the players in the field are ranked in the OWGR. The OWGR is a system that measures golfers’ performance over a two year cycle. Anyhow, Koepka entered the week ranked No. 33 above the likes of such fantasy favorites as Webb Simpson, Luke Donald, Jason Dufner and Tiger Woods, just to name a few. Koepka arrived at this ranking because he’s won four times in the last two years on the European Challenge Tour and the European Tour. Gamers will also remember that he finished T3 in his third event on the PGA TOUR as a pro (2013 Frys.com). He was T4 at Pinehurst last summer and T15 at the PGA Championship at Valhalla.
He went back to Europe, because as a non-member couldn’t participate in the FedExCup Playoffs, and racked up T3 at the Omega Masters, T11 KLM Open and T9 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.
Still not convinced?
He came back to the States to kick off his maiden year on TOUR with T8 (Frys.com) and T4 at the Shriners. He packed his bags and headed back to Europe for three more events and picked up a victory, his fourth professional win, in Turkey in the middle of November.
He made over $1 million in 16 events last year as a non-member to earn full-member status for 2015 in making 12 cuts.
Why This Performance Surprises
The first TOUR win is always the hardest and Koepka was teeing it up for the first time in 2015 after T19 (of 29 players) at the Nedbank Challenge to wrap up 2014. He also admitted this week to completely overhauling his awfully steady putting stroke. His putting, combined with bombing it off the tee, is his calling card and it’s even MOAR impressive that he broke through the first week with this stroke in place. That’s talent, gamers! It’s also talent to win a course the first time teeing it up in tournament play. He checked all of those boxes and that suggests he’s not normal.
How Koepka Won This Week
He began the day three shots out of the lead and didn’t claim sole possession until Martin Laird’s bogey on No. 17. He tied the lead on No. 15 with a fantastic 51-foot eagle putt that he claimed he was just trying to two-putt. His final round didn’t include a bogey. Neither did his 64 on Saturday as he played the weekend in 12-under. He only made five bogeys on the week including four in his first round in his first tournament here. He’s a quick learner, I’d say! He was third in driving distance and first in strokes gained: total. It didn’t hurt that he was 11th in putts per GIR. He was also T4 GIR. He only made one eagle on the week but it was shot that won him the tournament.
Koepka was highly thought of by most seasoned gamers before his 2015 season started and now everyone understands why. Winning breeds winning and this is now five, world-wide victories since he turned pro in 2012. He’s now won on both TOURS in the last four months. He’s turning 25 in May and hasn’t done anything the easy way. He almost reminds me of Patrick Reed. Reed went the Monday qualifier route; Koepka the minor league route in Europe. Nothing was handed to either of these guys. I’m on board.
With This Win:
His first win on TOUR comes with 500 FedExCup Points, $1,134,000 million, a trip to Kapalua plus a two-year exemption.
Déjà vu All Over Again?
After 28 wins in 45 events last season, Koepka joins Bill Haas, Jimmy Walker, Patrick Reed, Charley Hoffman, Bubba Watson, Ryan Moore, Robert Streb and Ben Martin as the USA have won nine of the first 11 events in 2014-15. Sang-moon Bae (Korea) and Nick Taylor (Canada) are the only worldwide influences in this list.
Haas, Bae, Martin, Moore and Walker are those who have closed their 54-hole leads. Martin Laird did not handle his three-shot lead. Walker is the only person on BOTH sides of his list as he couldn’t close out his lead at Kapalua. This list is flawed because it doesn’t take into account ties but it’s my list so there.
After 13 first-time winners in 2013 there were only 10 last year. After 11 events in 2015, Martin, Streb, Taylor and now Koepka have made their breakthrough.
Kevin Stadler couldn’t defend his title this year because of an injury.
Koepka, 24, becomes the second-youngest winner behind J.B. Holmes (23) in 2006.
Koepka, Stanley and Holmes are the only three players to win on their maiden voyage at TPC Scottsdale.
Due to the terrible weather (low 50s, rain) the first two days, score were higher than usual. Matsuyama was low-man for the week with 63 on Saturday.
This was only the second time in five years where 62 or better didn’t happen.
The Stars and Stripes have won all but one of these since 2005. Aussie Aaron Baddeley took home the trophy in 2007.
Holmes is still the only rookie to win this event.
Young Guns Versus Prime Time Versus Old Guys
I annually keep track of the age of the winners on TOUR because I’m an ageist.
Bae got the youngsters (under 30) on the board first in 2014-15 followed by Martin and Streb, both 27. Nick Taylor, 26, popped in and Reed joined the party at a whopping 25 at Kapalua. The veterans rallied but Koepka makes it five youngsters from 11 events this season.
The old guys (40 and over) haven’t hit the winner’s circle yet in the new season. The Junkman, Freddie Jacobson, 40, busted a 64 on Sunday to lead the way for the old guys on T7.
What I learned from the finishers in the top 10 this week:
Hideki Matsuyama: I learned that he’s going to be on TOUR for a very, very long time. Gamers are aware he could use some work with the putter but most excellent ball-strikers don’t putt like Steve Stricker; it’s usually one or the other. His ball-striking led to two wins worldwide last year and he was third in strokes gained: tee-to-green this week. He was T4 in GIR and T10 in fairways. He contended because he only made one bogey on the weekend. The bad news for gamers it was on the 67th hole of the week that took him out of a tie for the lead. It was also a three-putt. He’ll turn 23 next month so I’ll cut him a break! In 2015, he was T3 at HTOC, T78 at Sony, a course he doesn’t play well, and T2 on a course where he was T4 last year. Looks like the changes Weiskopf made to the course didn’t bother him at all!
Ryan Palmer: His scorching-hot play over the last six months continued this week as he finished T2. He opened at Sony with a second-round 63 and ended up T17. Last week at Humana he fired off a second-round 61 and finished T10 because of a Sunday triple. This week he opened with 64 and closed with 66 and only made two bogeys (first for the week). He was T1 GIR and first in SGP. He was T2 in strokes gained: total. To put his numbers in perspective, he did all of this finishing T67 in fairways. This is the second top five in the last three years at TPC Scottsdale. Next stop: Back to the winner’s circle.
Bubba Watson: Make that seven WMPOs in a row for Watson as he matched last year’s T2 with T2 this year. Watson was the 54-hole leader last year and bogeyed two of the final three holes to give Stadler his first win. This year, he couldn’t put any pressure on the leaders coming home as he parred the final five holes to finish one shot short. He led the field in strokes gained: tee-to-green but he was T66 in putts per GIR and 56th in SGP. Yep, sounds about normal! This was his third top five finish in the last four years. The other finish was 15th. Automatic if enetered.
Martin Laird: The 54-hole leader couldn’t convert his three-shot lead as his tee shot on the final hole found the water. His drive on No. 17 was dead right and his drive on No. 18 was dead left. #BadCombo. The first bad drive led to a bogey to drop out of the lead; the second led to a double bogey and a loss of a couple hundred thousand bucks. Gulp. He proved again that he can factor on courses where ball-striking is a premium as he finished T5 in strokes gained: total. He backed up his T15 last week at Humana nicely and, like Brooks Koepka, was found in the Form Players section in Range Rover. #Tasty
Jon Rahm: Located in the “Off the Radar” section of the preview, he was a tasty flier in any format and he absolutely killed it finishing T5. He was looking to join ASU alum Phil Mickelson as the only amateur to win the WMPO. Rahm, a junior at ASU, broke par in all four rounds after being three-over through his first seven holes. Whenever the Spaniard decides to turn pro, gamers should be ahead of the curve by just paying attention this week.
Graham DeLaet: Located in the “Form Players” the Canadian knocked his rust off last week and the week before in Hawaii to bag T7 this week and hit the top 10 for the second consecutive year at WMPO (T2, 2014). Veteran gamers know his strength is ball-striking and those same gamers probably found a place on their rosters for him this week as well. He was fifth in strokes gained: total and should be in the lineup next week at another ball-strikers paradise, Torrey Pines.
Freddie Jacobson: His final round 64 tied Kevin Streelman for the low round of the day and moved him from T30 to T7. This was his best finish since T2 at Wyndham. Actually, everything between Wyndham and this week was T53 or worse and he MC his last two times to Phoenix. Bravo if he was in your plans this week.
Jordan Spieth: Be patient. Gamers that did were rewarded on Sunday as #SpiethBoner shot the T2-low round of the day and moved up from T23 to T7. Not a bad way to start 2015 after pounding the fields into submission in Australia and Isleworth late last year. It was also his first time here. I guess that didn’t bother him. Not much does besides not winning. I like that.
Daniel Berger: As I remarked on Twitter, a week late and a dollar short on Berger. He started in Group 4 last week in the Golf Channel game before I made a last minute adjustment to go with Jeff Overton, a veteran. Like Koepka, Berger went to FSU; unlike Koepka, Berger is more of a ball-striker than a putter but they are both quite long. Berger was T13 at Sony but MC last week, such is the life of a rookie. Don’t forget, he was T28 at Pinehurst last year in the U.S. Open. Berger comes to the TOUR on the back of finishing 15th on the Web.com money list last year. This was his 34th event as a pro. High ceiling!
Zach Johnson: After finishing seventh at the HTOC, T64 and MC last week, it makes PERFECT SENSE to gamers that Johnson would hit the top 10 this week. Oh, it’s his first top 10 in six tries at WMPO as well. His double on the final hole killed those gamers who put their blind faith into his game this week but a top 10 is a nice bounce back. It didn’t hurt that he led the field in birdies with 22 and was T2 in strokes gained: tee-to-green. He was also eighth in putts per GIR. Form is temporary; class is permanent.
Brandt Snedeker: Ok, that’s better. Like Johnson, Snedeker MC last week on some of the easiest courses on TOUR but rebounded this week with T10. Gamers will be encouraged to see that Sneds was third in SGP for the week. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh, that’s better. His ball-striking numbers weren’t great but I’m happy to see he was T13 in fairways and only made three bogeys all week. His last four on TOUR are T10, T10, MC, T10.
Robert Streb: FOLKS, FOLKS, FOLKS! Streb throat won’t make you sick! With four more rounds of 70 or better this week that’s 27 of 32 on the year. This was his first visit to the TPC Scottsdale. He’s looking like the 2015 Brendon Todd. He’s doing nothing to force gamers to omit him from their weekly games and that’s great news for season-long investors as well. The only thing that might hold him back moving forward is the birth of kiddo No. 1 on February 3.
Brian Stuard: When gamers saw him open with 72 this week I doubt any of us were shocked. I doubt any of us were shocked when we found out he only made 14 birdies on the week. His 54 pars and only four bogeys were the impressive part of this T10. Hitting 80% of the fairways didn’t hurt anything either! Stuard returns to the top 10 after MC in five of his last seven on TOUR. It’s his best finish since Hilton Head (T5) last April. I’m paying attention again but proceeding with caution.
A quick recap of what happened to the Chalk from my preview column:
Matt Kuchar: T30. His 71 on Sunday wasn’t the number needed to move up. I never have any regrets when he’s in my lineup but I haven’t timed him right for the last two years. His last three finishes here are T30 or worse.
Bubba Watson: T2
Jordan Spieth: T7
Rickie Fowler: His closing round 67 moved him up 23 places to T46 I’m guessing Yahoo! owners weren’t rushing him into the lineup on Sunday after 72-72 Friday and Saturday so the best bet would have been not firing him at all. As with Kuchar, I mismanaged him all of 2014 but left him out this week in Yahoo! so I should be plus one on the field there.
Ryan Palmer: T2
Bill Haas: He finished DFL after the cut and didn’t break par in four rounds. He mentioned last week after winning that his wrist wasn’t 100% and he was just playing to make the cut. Maybe we should have listened more closely. Entering the week he put 15 of his last 16 rounds at the WMPO at par or better; this week three of four were OVER par. I’m nervously keeping an eye on him as he usually plays well at Torrey and Riviera. Buyer beware!
Charley Hoffman: My “zag” pick away from Brendan Steele in Yahoo! posted 69 bookends but finished T53. Plenty of players who enjoy desert golf didn’t have much fun the first two days with the poor weather. Hoffman’s course history here, again, superseded his current form. Some tracks just don’t fit the eye and Hoffman has finished T76, MC, T61 and T53 since T29 five years ago.
Hideki Matsuyama: T2
Shawn Stefani: T30 in his second visit as he posted three of four rounds 69 or better. The second round 74 in nasty conditions killed his chances but he’s on the up. Get on board.
Patrick Reed: In four rounds of par or better Reed never got low enough to make a ruckus. His T40 included just three bogeys in the final three rounds but two doubles were the killer. The good news for gamers is that the putter did its job, as usual, but the ball-striking was loose.
Hunter Mahan: My OAD pick crashed and burned for T30 and that was on the back of a final round 68. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the nicest day of the week resulted in his nicest round of the week. Best of luck to him and his wife on kid No. 2 who is on the way!
Francesco Molinari: His first WMPO and he aces No. 16 on Saturday. CUE THE SILVER BULLET RAINSTORM. That was his only round in the 60s for the week but it was a beauty, 64, that vaulted him into the top 10 heading into Sunday. His 72 in the final round dropped him to T22 but it’s hardly criminal NOT backing up a 64 on a foreign course. Steady as she goes, Avanti!
Gary Woodland: He was five-for-five here entering the week but crashed out MC after 70-74. He’s been all-or-nothing in his last four starts. I’ll take a chance and weather the storm.
Jamie Donaldson: His week consisted of two good ones (68-68) and two not-so-good ones (73-72). Don’t just dismiss him next time out because of this result, especially if he’s in next week at another ball-striker’s course. Jet lag, USA-ness and everything else will be easier next week.
Coming TUESDAY Afternoon
I’ll publish my weekly preview, Range Rover, around lunchtime, children permitting. I’ll focus on history, current form, course characteristics, winning qualities and those who I think will and will not.
Coming TUESDAY Afternoon Pt. II
Playing the Tips will be up and running this and every Tuesday late afternoon and will list all of the Rotoworld experts picks in the GolfChannel.com game, the Yahoo! Fantasy Golf game, DFS plus the European Tour! Oh, and my One-and-Done feature. Look for it every Tuesday until the Presidents Cup.
And the analysis doesn't end here. Rotoworld's Rob Bolton and I will be co-hosting a one-hour live chat Wednesday at NOON ET. We will be breaking down the field at the Farmers Insurance Open (WMPO) plus answering your questions. Simply return to the golf home page to join in on the chatter. Don’t forget to follow Rob (http://twitter.com/RobBoltonGolf) and Glass (http://twitter.com/mikeglasscott) on Twitter.