A look ahead at the Waste Management Phoenix Open
After two weeks in California, the Tour heads to Arizona for one of the most exciting tournaments in golf. There has been a youth movement to kick off the Tour this year. The last four tournaments have been won by players under 30 (Justin Thomas, Hudson Swafford, and Jon Rahm). It is fitting that the biggest party in golf is the 16th hole this weekend. The field is reasonably strong with 13 of the Top-30 in the World Rankings playing this weekend.
TPC Scottsdale’s Stadium Course is a 7,200+ Yard Par 71 course in Arizona. The last 5 winners have averaged around -17 to par which can lead to some excitement down the stretch on Sunday. On average, the Par 3s and 4s have played slightly over par while the Par 5s have played at .31 strokes under par. With only three Par 5s on the course, finding eagle and birdie opportunities will be important to be able to go low enough to win this tournament.
13th Hole (Par 5 – 558 Yards)
A well-placed tee shot can allow an aggressive strategy on the Par-5 13th hole. With only 10% of the field carding a bogey or worse in 2016, a birdie or par is necessary just to keep up. Look for the leaders on Sunday to attack this green and go for the birdie to keep up with the pace of the field.
14th Hole (Par 4 – 490 Yards)
After a 90% chance of going par or better on 13, players are faced with a hole that only allowed 8% of the field to card a birdie on the Par-4 14th hole. There’s no easy way around this hole. This played as the toughest scoring hole relative to par in 2016. Avoiding any mistakes and leaving with a par is ideal.
16th Hole (Par 3 – 163 Yards)
It doesn’t get much better than the 16th hole, in my opinion. The situation that the field will face on the 16th tee is unlike anything else in golf. With 82% of scores at par or better, players need to make sure they keep pace with the field and avoid the spectacle of 16.
Previewing the Field
The Clear Favorites
The usual faces are up at the top again this weekend. The Top 3, according to Vegas, are Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, and Hideki Matsuyama. Spieth has been in the top 6 of his last 3 tournaments yet has somehow dropped to 6th in the World Rankings. He is playing well recently from tee-to-green and usually performs well on the greens. Thomas is coming off of a two-week break from his dominance in Hawaii. He has been on a tear since September. Thomas has posted 7 Top-30 finishes, including 3 victories. Matsuyama has cooled off since his hot stretch with a couple of finishes in the 25-35 range, but is the defending champion in this event.
Phil Mickelson and Jon Rahm also find themselves up near the top of the Vegas odds this week. Phil Mickelson is a three-time champion at this event. All of those wins came before the redesign of TPC Scottsdale but he did finish T11 last year at this event. He is also playing well since returning from injury with 2 Top-25 performances in his previous two events. Rahm is coming off his first PGA victory with a lot of momentum heading into Phoenix. He also played college golf at Arizona State University where he won 11 college tournaments. As an added bonus, Rahm finished in 5th place at this tournament as an amateur in 2015.
The “B” Team
There are four names that catch my eye this week in the next tier of golfers. Keegan Bradley, Russell Knox, Harris English, and Tony Finau all have a chance to finish on the first page of the leaderboard come Sunday.
Keegan Bradley is coming off a strong T4 performance in the Farmers Insurance Open. He was 10th in strokes gained:tee to green and 4th in Greens in Regulation last week. He also is on a streak of four straight Top 25s at this tournament. If Bradley can approach the green the way he did last week, he can put himself into contention.
Russell Knox is currently on a streak of 9 straight Top-25 performances. The last time we saw him was in Waialae where he closed with a 64 on Sunday to vault himself into a T11 finish. He his 75% of his greens and was 15th in strokes gained on approach shots. If he can continue to ball-strike the way he has been, look for him to continue his streak of Top-25s this weekend.
Tony Finau is another golfer coming into the weekend in great form. He has two Top-10s and a Top-20 finish to start his 2017 season. Finau hit almost 70% of greens in regulation this week despite hitting less than 50% of fairways. He did miss the cut here last year but he was falling out of form as he dropped about 15 spots in the World Golf Rankings.
Ryan Moore has had success here in the past. In the two years since the redesign, he’s finished in 17th and 11th place. Moore finished at T3 in Kapalua for the Tournament of Champions to kick off 2017 but hasn’t played since. He led that field in strokes gained on approach shots which will lead to success in Arizona this weekend. Moore also hasn’t missed a cut since May of last year. He should be in the mix throughout the week based on how his game fits TPC Scottsdale.
Follow along on Twitter @MattJonesTFR for PGA updates as the week progresses.