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One of the best golf events of the early part of the year takes place this week at TPC Scottsdale with the WM Phoenix Open. While Phoenix doesn't carry the weight of Riviera or the allure of Pebble Beach or perhaps the anticipation of Torrey Pines, there's a case to be made that it's at the top of their class -- which we'll talk about in a bit. The field reflects that, too. Fifteen of the top 20 players in the world will tee it up in the most loaded field of the year, which will be a nice lead-in to the Bengals-Rams game in Super Bowl 56 on Sunday evening.

Let's take a closer look at this week's contest with odds provided via Caesars Sportsbook.

Event information

Event: WM Phoenix Open | Dates: Feb. 10-13
Location: TPC Scottsdale – Scottsdale, Arizona
Par: 71 | Purse: $8.2 million

Three things to know

1. Phoenix rocks: Though it gets a bit overplayed because of the hype of the famous par-3 16th hole, this tournament has turned into a giant on the PGA Tour. Consider the strength of field from the last 10 Phoenix Opens:

2013: 322
2014: 343
2015: 357
2016: 350
2017: 377
2018: 428
2019: 392
2020: 350
2021: 418
2022: 536

This is, by far, the best field Phoenix has had in the last 10 years, and it's tantamount to the strength of field at last year's Memorial Tournament (more on that below). This is one piece of the puzzle for this event. Its reputation as the People's Open has been good for branding, and though the golf course is perhaps not great in the traditional sense of what we think of when we envision championship courses, it works splendidly for this tournament. The closing kick -- and especially No. 17 -- certainly helps with that. There's a buzz this week that just doesn't exist in most of the other weeks of the first part of the golf year, and as somebody who loves and consumes this sport on a daily basis, that has me fired up for the next few days.

2. That 61: Jordan Spieth returns to the site of his rebirth last year when he shot 61 in Round 3 on this course and had us thinking unspeakable things. He faded coming home, mostly because he was swinging his driver like it was a wooden log, but after last week's thrilling final 36, there's a bit more punch to that 61 from last year than there otherwise would have been. He has played well on this golf course. Of golfers who have 10 or more rounds here, he's seventh in total strokes gained. He's not currently among the favorites here, but after last year, and last week, perhaps he should be.

3. Back-to-back Brooks: Speaking of golfers who played well here last year, Brooks Koepka won the event after an insanely improbable chip fell on the 71st hole. It was his second victory at TPC Scottsdale, and he went on to contend at a handful of other events throughout 2021, including three major championships. However, his last four months have not been great. He doesn't have a top 25 anywhere other than the Hero World Challenge -- where there were only 20 golfers -- since the BMW Championship last August. That stretch includes a WD, three missed cuts and three other finishes outside the top 25 (plus that T9 at the Hero). Koepka is famous for his singular focus at major championships, but this is a long stretch of not contending at non-majors, even for him. I'm guessing he gets up for this one as the reigning champ here, and in a field that looks a lot more like a major than most other stops he visits.

Rick Gehman is joined by Kyle Porter, Greg DuCharme and Mark Immelman to preview the 2022 WM Phoenix Open. Follow & listen to The First Cut on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Grading the field

This year's strength of field rating of 536 is by far the best field of the year so far, and it would have ranked No. 14 last year behind the majors, the Players, two playoff events, three WGCs, the CJ Cup, the Genesis and the Memorial. In other words, you could make the case that this is the very best "regular" PGA Tour event since the start of 2021. Its participants include top-10 players Jon Rahm, Viktor Hovland, Patrick Cantlay, Justin Thomas, Xander Schauffele and Hideki Matsuyama. Throw in Spieth, Scottie Scheffler, Sam Burns and last year's champ, Koepka, and boy, this is a field. Grade: A

2022 Phoenix Open picks

Winner (12-1): J.T. has 10 straight top 30s worldwide, so you know he's going to at least be near the top of the board, and whether he asserts himself at the top will likely be putter dependent. Only five golfers play this course better than he does historically, and only one of them -- Jon Rahm -- is playing better golf than Thomas over his last 20 rounds. Like my guy, Ben Coley , I don't care about J.T.'s T20 at Torrey because that's not a place I envision him thriving. I care far more about the fact that he was still elite with his approach play and should carry that into a tournament in Phoenix that demands it. I like Thomas' 12-1 number better than I like Rahm's 15/2, and I think we get another in a nice list of world-class winners at this tournament (Koepka, Webb Simpson, Rickie Fowler) over the last few years.
Top 10 (-110): You cannot possibly make this number too short for me. He has nine top 10s in his last 11 starts on the PGA Tour (yes, I'm counting last year's Memorial), and he somehow plays even better at TPC Scottsdale than he does everywhere else. His 2.19 strokes gained per round here is bested by only Matsuyama and Schauffele, who would have been my top-10 lock if not for Rahm. Rahm's last year has been the real-life equivalent of those hole-in-one videos you see the European Tour produce. Guys taking 500 rips at making a hole in one only to hit 27 of them to within 8 inches. That's Rahm's finishes over the last year. He's been all over the flag -- T2s, T3s, T4s everywhere -- but with only one win to show for it. The odds are bad, sure, but I see no reason that stops this week.
Sleeper (40-1): I waffled a lot on this, switching from Henley to Louis Oosthuizen to Max Homa to (briefly) Troy Merritt and finally back to Henley. There's a lot to like here. His course history is not super inspiring, but his current form is. You're getting a ball-striker equivalent to Rahm, Thomas and Matsuyama over his last 20 rounds at a much longer number. Four straight top 25s including that near miss in Hawaii. This is a perfect course fit for him, and I suspect if he starts off putting well on Thursday and Friday, he'll be in it until the end.

Who will win the WM Phoenix Open, and which long shots will stun the golfing world? Visit SportsLine now to see the projected leaderboard and best bets, all from the model that's nailed seven golf majors and is up almost $10,000 since the restart.