Bet on a dark horse at the star-studded Phoenix Open

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — If you’ve never attended the Waste Management Phoenix Open as a spectator, put it on your bucket list. Whether you enjoy golf, partying, people-watching or some combination of all three, it’s unlike any other tournament. Like they say about the elevation changes at Augusta National, television doesn’t do it justice — although this one has nothing to do with the course layout.

This is about my 10th time (give or take) covering the event on-site. One of my favorite stories from here is an oldie-but-goodie, from past champion Kenny Perry at least 15 years ago. He was introduced to a woman who lived nearby and asked if she ever attends the event. “’Oh, we love the Phoenix Open,” she exclaimed. “We go every night!” Perry had to explain that there’s actually a golf aspect to the week, too.

I’ve seen plenty of raucousness at TPC Scottsdale over the years, but one of my personal favorite stories — at least, of those I can tell — happened years ago. I was leaving the 16th hole, from which I’d live-blogged for some 10 hours, which included every single shot hit on the famous par-3 that day. As the sun was setting, I was walking near a couple of stumbling frat-bro types and couldn’t help but eavesdrop on their conversation.

“Dude, you know what I just realized? We’ve been here the entire day and we didn’t even see a single golf shot!”

That’s hardly a rare occurrence here, as the venue simply serves as the backdrop for a party and the golf is merely a hindrance for those who aren’t into it.

If the merriment can become any bigger, it just might this year, as for the first time, the WMPO will be contested with Arizona as a state with legalized sports gambling.

Keith Mitchell
Getty Images

For years, fans at the aforementioned 16th hole have bet amongst themselves on everything from caddie races (RIP) to which player would hit it the closest. We’re still at least a year away from TPC Scottsdale being home to a brick-and-mortar sportsbook which will be funded by the PGA Tour and operated by DraftKings, but plans are already in place for a proposed 12,000 square-foot facility on 3.2 acres of this property.

As if this fire needed a little more fuel, you’d better believe that some of the more than half-million expected ticket-holders this week will be partaking in the legal wagering.

With 15 of the world’s top-20 players in this field, we should expect to see plenty of big names on the leaderboard throughout the four rounds. My favorite outright play on the board isn’t one of those players, but instead one who’s trending up and is very capable of winning this week.

Outright winner

Keith Mitchell (80/1 at BetMGM): Strokes gained off the tee is an important metric at TPC Scottsdale, which sets up well for those who hit it long and (mostly) straight. That is decidedly Mitchell’s game, as he ranked 11th in strokes gained off the tee last season and is seventh this season.

In recent years, we’ve seen Brooks Koepka, Rickie Fowler and Gary Woodland win this title. I think it often takes a little swagger, a little desire to show off, in order to succeed in front of the biggest crowds of the year. Granted, that’s not a foolproof idea; Webb Simpson and Hideki Matsuyama don’t exactly fit the profile.

Mitchell does, though, and one week after playing well while partnered with Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen, I believe he’ll be prepared to evoke some of that swagger once again.