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Waste Management Phoenix Open preview

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The Waste Management Phoenix Open is another popular stop on Tour, so we are being spoiled of late. Known for its stadium atmosphere on Hole 16, this event is perfect for the livelier spectators. With 20,000 people sitting in stadium seating on one hole, it is sure to get loud. If there is a hole in one on Hole 16, there is absolute pandemonium, miss the green though and expect a chorus of boos. It is all good natured generally though, and adds another dimension to an already stellar event.

One big conflict with the event is recent years is the fact it tends to clash with SuperBowl Sunday. Any players who are Atlanta Falcons or New England Patriots fans may just surprisingly miss the cut this week. All kidding aside it is testament to this event that so many fans and players turn up here year-on-year given the clash in schedule.

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Three of the last five winners have been straight out the top drawer with Hideki Matsuyama (2016), Brooks Koepka (2015) and Phil Mickelson (2013) winning in recent years. Whilst Koepka wasn’t a surprise winner, it was still his maiden win and as a result three of the last five winners have also been first-time PGA Tour winners. Kevin Stadler (2014) and Kyle Stanley (2012) also got their maiden PGA Tour wins at this venue in the last five renewals. Stanley especially, showed great character in the year of his win, bouncing back from a disappointing collapse at the Farmers Insurance Open just one week prior to his win here.

Another player who got his first and interestingly second PGA Tour win here in recent years is J.B Holmes. Holmes won here in 2006 and backed that up in 2008. Now a four-time winner on Tour, Holmes will have fond memories of the site of his first two wins.

With this in mind, this looks a friendly place to get a winner-in-waiting on side. The stage was set perfectly for a certain Jon Rahm to get his maiden win here however he shot a spectacular -7 final round, on the South Course at Torrey Pines this past Sunday, to win the Farmers Insurance Open by three.

I say the stage was set, mainly because of Rahm’s performance as an amateur here in 2015. He finished 5th here that week and given the progress he has made since, it would have been no surprise to see him emulate that success this time around. Now with a win under his belt, it will be interesting to see if he can follow up his win with another straight off the bat. Players such as Matsuyama and Justin Thomas have already done so recently, and Rahm is certainly up there with both in terms of talent level.

There are several other young players on Tour showing promise and fit the bill as a winner-in-waiting this week. There are also plenty of more experienced players looking for their first victory, and given recent results, they may just come into this week with renewed confidence.

Whilst I wouldn’t want to focus all my attention on non-winners, it’s definitely worth giving some of these players a second look.

The Course:

TPC Scottsdale (Stadium), 7,266 yards, Par 71.

This course went under a $12m remodelling three years ago, remodelling the greens, whilst also adding bunkers. The scoring at this event has still remained low since the changes have been made. The course was also lengthened slightly during the re-model (roughly 100 yards), but again this has not changed an awful lot.

What it takes to win the Waste Management Phoenix Open:

The 18-hole record here is 60 which has been shot four times, twice by Phil Mickelson. Mickelson did this most recently in 2013, when he cruelly lipped out for a 59 on the final hole. Grant Waite (1996) and Mark Calcavecchia (2001) were the other two players to shoot 60 at this event.

Mickelson was looking to become just the sixth person in the history of the PGA Tour to shoot 59, back in 2013. Later that year, Jim Furyk became that sixth person. Whilst the magic 59 was once upon a time a rare occurrence on the PGA Tour, in the last six months alone we have seen Furyk shoot a 58, as well as two 59’s from Justin Thomas and Adam Hadwin. With these sub-60 rounds occurring more regularly of late, we may well start this week on “59 watch”.

Mickelson (2013) and Calcavecchia (2001) also hold the 72-hole scoring record, finishing the event in just 256 shots (-28).

With low winning-scores and 18-hole scores regularly shot here, it is clear the course does not put up much of a defence.

Hitting plenty of greens will be imperative in order to set up birdie chances, as it always is in these low-scoring events. There are six holes which have a water hazard, three of which come in the closing four holes, in the hope of adding late drama.

As there are only three par-5’s (one on the front 9, two on the back) it is important to score well on the par-4’s this week.

The 17th in particular is a perfect risk/reward hole. There is water down the left-hand side which can see players take the safe option and bail out to the right, but players will certainly go for it. It is only 332 yards and there has in fact been a hole-in-one here, Andrew Magee making it in 2001. This is believed to be the first hole-in-one on a par-4 in PGA Tour history, and remains the only one made so far. Whilst you can’t expect another hole-in-one this week, there should be plenty of eagle opportunities at this hole.

This sort of hole really gives you an insight into how aggressive a player is. Should a player be chasing down the lead, driving the green and setting up an eagle seems the obvious option, but would they do the same if they were in the lead? Probably not.

Either way, low scoring should be expected this week as per usual.

With all of the above in mind, here are my selections for the 2017 Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Phil Mickelson 28/1 (General) 1.5pts e/w:

Mickelson has not won since the 2013 Open Championship and that is an obvious concern, but where better to get back on track than TPC Scottsdale.

Mickelson is a three-time winner here and has shot the course record (60) twice, so it is clear he loves the place. Unlike Torrey Pines (where he had struggled in recent years), Mickelson has still kept up his form here. I compare it to Torrey because that is the other course he has won three times at, and they both happen to be after one another in the schedule.

What is interesting heading into this week, is the fact Mickelson finished T14 last week, his best finish in the Farmers Insurance Open since finishing 2nd in 2011. Since 2011, he had four missed cuts and a 51st place finish before last week, not good preparation coming into this event each year.

Mickelson finished T11 here last season and he can better that this year.

In 2016, Mickelson did almost everything but win. Any other year he would have won the Open Championship with his performance at Royal Troon, but Henrik Stenson was just too good. In addition to his 2nd place that week, Mickelson also finished runner-up at Pebble Beach and the FedEx St Jude Classic. Three further top-4 finishes at the CareerBuilder, WGC Cadillac and the Wells Fargo were enough to ensure a very solid year.

Mickelson will be desperate to get back in the winners’ circle and this is the place for him to do so. He doesn’t stand out statistically but he must be doing something right, looking at his current form. In three starts in the 2016/17 season, Mickelson has finished T8, T21 and T14 and he still isn’t at 100%. He was quoted saying “If I were going to start 100 percent, it’d be about Phoenix” whilst also adding “Yet my game came around quicker than I thought it would, and I felt the best place to sharpen it and to see where I was at was to play last week and this week”

“I’m really glad I did because my touch is starting to come around a little bit. The sensitivity to shotmaking, chipping, putting on Tour‑caliber greens and rough and things that you can’t replicate at your home course is getting sharper because I did play these last two weeks.”

This all makes very good reading as he heads into an event he loves so dearly and I really do believe this is where we could see Mickelson get back to winning ways.

Brendan Steele 40/1 (General) 1pt e/w:

Steele has enjoyed a hot start to 2016, and continued that last week with a T20 finish at the Farmers Insurance Open. In six starts this season, Steele has one win and two 6th place finishes. His worst finish this year was 31st at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.

Given his current form, he would be a good bet anywhere but especially so this week at a course he loves. Steele has never missed a cut at TPC Scottsdale, with his worse finish a T53 on debut. Since then his form reads 5-6-6-26-17 and I fully expect him to keep this run going this week.

To be in such good current form, he must be doing some things really well. In the stats of importance this week, Steele ranks 20th in Greens in Regulation, T22 in Par-4 Performance and T34 in Par-4 Scoring Average this season. In addition, Steele ranks 15th in the All-Around Ranking.

Steele has only won twice on the PGA Tour, his first win coming back in 2011, so it may be difficult to see him winning twice in one season when it took him six years just to add to his maiden victory. I am hoping however that he can ride this current form, and make it three career wins, thus enjoying his first multiple-win season.

The talent is no doubt there, along with form (current and course) so at 40/1 he looks good value to do just that.

Tony Finau 50/1 (Betfred) 1pt e/w:

Finau has been in great form of late, most notably his T4 finish last week at Torrey Pines.

After a slow start to the season (T26, T33, T41, MC) Finau turned a corner at the Tournament of Champions finishing T9. He added to that a T20 at the Sony Open, before his T4 finish last week.

The big-hitting American had five top-10’s in his first season on the PGA Tour and followed that up with another two in 2016, one of which was a win. He got his breakthrough at the Puerto Rico Open, but if he wants to make that next step, winning an event as prestigious as this one will go a long way to making it.

In two starts here, he has a T22 finish on debut, followed by a MC last year, but he is in much better shape this week than he was in both of those starts. He finished T18 at the Farmers Insurance Open in 2016 and T24 in 2015 the week before this event, which is nowhere near as impressive as his T4 last week.

Given his play in his last three starts and his obvious pedigree, I think he presents an interesting play this week. His big hitting off the tee will always give him a chance, but he is hitting a good percentage of greens (73.93%) this season and that will go a long way this week.

Kyle Stanley 125/1 (General) 0.5pt e/w:

Kyle Stanley is a player that has been off the radar for a while now, but this week I think he has a chance to put himself firmly back in the spotlight.

Five years on from his win here, Stanley has not yet managed to find another win. Between 2013-2014 on the PGA Tour, Stanley only managed two third-place finishes in 2013 and just a solitary top-10 in the whole of 2014. Stanley managed five top-20’s over the next two years but failed to post a top-10, however he looks to be making his way back.

So far, in six events this season, Stanley has made five of his cuts, finishing inside the top-22 on four of those occasions. His worst finish of the season when making the weekend is T36, whilst his best was a T7 finish at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.

Stanley finished T14 at the Farmers Insurance Open last week, an event he should have won in 2012. He rectified his collapse that week by winning here a week later, and I hope he can contend again here this time around.

His form since at TPC Scottsdale since his win has been nothing to shout about (74-MC-MC-45), but his play in general in that span was pretty dismal. He is now finding some form again though and most importantly consistency, so he could be in for another good week.

Stanley currently ranks 7th in Greens in Regulation, 10th in Par 4 Performance and 17th in Par 4 Scoring Average. He also ranks 24th in the All-Around Ranking.

With him performing well in the categories I have highlighted, as well as being a previous winner of the event, I thought he was well worth chancing at 125/1.

Total Points Staked this week: 8

Profit/Loss for 2016: +10