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Waste Management Phoenix Open preview

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With the PGA Tour season now in full flow, the Tour sets up camp in Scottsdale, Arizona this week for the ever popular Waste Management Phoenix Open. One downside to the event this week, is the fact that they have banned the caddie races at the 16th hole, a great bit of fun, that sums up this event.

On the aforementioned par-3 16th hole, there is a stadium which holds around 20,000 people, creating a real atmosphere, that you wouldn’t normally associate with golf. Tiger Woods made a hole-in-one on this hole back in 1997, and the crowd erupted. Some players seem daunted by the prospect of playing the 16th, with the possibility of boos, should you miss the green, others embrace it.

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 Despite his hole-in-one, Woods is not the most famous man at this event, that title goes to Arizona State favourite, Phil Mickelson. Mickelson has played in every Phoenix Open, since 1991, however after withdrawing from the Farmers Insurance Open with back problems, a start this week looks in doubt. By the sounds of it, Mickelson is doing everything he can to start here this week, but after already having to pull out of the Pro-Am on Wednesday, he may have to accept defeat.

He will not want to injure his back further, it would not be a good way to start the season, and he definitely wasn’t right with it last week. He was trying his best to give it all he could, in typical Mickelson fashion, but he found himself in pain, all to often and I cannot see how he plays this week. Despite that, he is still the 14/1 favourite to retain his trophy, as he (if he plays) will try to become a four-time winner here.

Mickelson shot a 60 in round 1 here last year, after his putt for 59 refused to go in, despite his best efforts. His -28 winning tied Mark Calcavecchia’s record score here back in 2001, and it would take some doing, for anybody to record such a score this week. Apart from those two monster winning scores, -23 has been the lowest winning score between 2001-2013, and more often than not it’s been -14 and -18. It’s hard to tell exactly what the winning score will be this week, but anything around the -20 mark will put you in very good shape.

TPC Scottsdale (Stadium), 7,216 yards, par 71. This course is set up to make birdies, obviously and although water comes into play on six holes, three coming of them being the last four holes, it’s the bunkers that are dotted around this course, both on the fairways and around the greens that tend to challenge players. Of course the 16th hole is the focal point of the course, and it really is a huge attraction, but all in all this course is set up perfectly for players to shoot low numbers. You will need to stay hot with the putter for most of the week if you want to contend, as par or worse will see you trailing behind the rest of the pack.

The market leaders for this event are, Phil Mickelson 14/1, Webb Simpson 18/1, Keegan Bradley 25/1 and then both Ryan Moore and Bubba Watson come in at 30/1. You can get 33/1 and bigger the rest, and that makes for an exciting betting week once again.

Here are my selections for the 2014 Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Webb Simpson 18/1 (StanJames) 2.5pts e/w: Webb Simpson should of won earlier in 2013, but after getting his overdue win in the 2013-14 wraparound season, he has looked superb and I fully expect him to carry that on this week, in the Phoenix Open. He has played here in Scottsdale on four occasions, with back-to-back 8th place finishes in 2011 and 2012, and I fully expect him to go even better this week.

Simpson didn’t play here last year, and that probably won’t of bothered him, considering Phil Mickelson went wire-to-wire, shooting -28 12 months ago, but I believe Simpson has the ability to do a similar thing himself, especially as Mickelson’s fitness is in doubt this week.

He leads the Tour, albeit very early in the season, in a ton of vital statistics, including Greens in Regulation, Strokes-Gained Putting, Birdie Average, Scoring Average, Par 5 Birdie or Better, Par 4 Performance and Scrambling. On top of this he’s 13th in Driving Accuracy, so he’s making it easy on himself by playing from the fairway. If he can continue to putt the way he has been so far this season, here this week, there is absolutely no reason in my mind, why he cannot win.

At the first birdie-fest style tournament of this wraparound season, the Shriners Hospitals, Simpson led the field with a superb -24, six shots clear of the competition, and has since posted -17 at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and -18 at the Humana Challenge, so it’s clear going low is not a problem for this man.

Yes he is 18/1, 2nd favourite, but he deserves to be. He has four wins since 2011, including a FedEx Cup play off win and a major, and his win at the U.S Open, really sums up his game for me. A lot of the time, you find players are suited to one style of event, whether it be low or high scoring, long or short courses, or even based in a specific part of the country, but for Webb, a lot like Zach Johnson, he seems to be able to adapt to all.

It is no secret, that along with Brandt Snedeker, Simpson features a lot in my previews, but for me, they are both proven winners and both deserve all the credit I give them.

All in all, at 18/1 he may seem short to some, but for me, in the form he is in, he could well prove to be great value at the end of the week and he can definitely improve on the pair of 8th place finishes he boasts here currently.

His putting has been electric so far in 2014, and that’s exactly what you need here at TPC Scottsdale, and should he continue to hole those putts, he for me is the man to beat this week.

Brandt Snedeker 33/1 (General) 1pt e/w: I have told myself, ever since Friday when Snedeker failed to make the cut at Torrey Pines, that I would not back him this week, at 33/1 I couldn’t resist once again.

This is a completely different prospect all together from last week, as on the South Course at Torrey Pines, par felt like an achievement for best part of the round, where as this course is set up for the chance to make birdies on almost every hole.

There is not a lot I need to say about Snedeker, that I or everyone else has not already said. He is one of, if not the best putters in the world, he can clearly shoot low numbers and he knows to win, so that’s three important factors checked off.

How about his course form? In seven appearances at TPC Scottsdale, he has finished inside the top-10 on three occasions, including his 2nd place finish last year. He was very unlucky to come up against an unbeatable Phil Mickelson last year, something he may not have to deal with this time around.

I do feel Snedeker is one of those players that can just turn his game around at the drop of a hat, and let’s hope that hat is dropped this week. He is amongst the most successful players on Tour in the last couple of seasons, mainly thanks to his FedEx Cup win, which earned him a cool $10m bonus, and he just needs to add one thing to his résumé, and that is a major championship.

Winning a major is easier said than done, but that really is the next step for Snedeker, and getting a win early on in the season, heading into those big events, the Masters being the closest, will really add to this confidence, just like last season. Any win can only add to your belief, and shooting a low score is enough to put a smile back on anyone’s face, an opportunity I hope Snedeker takes this week.

Anything shorter and I would of had to of left Snedeker alone, but at 33/1 I couldn’t resist, and had to include him in the staking plan.

Patrick Reed 75/1 (Bet365) 1pt e/w: So after winning the Humana Challenge, two weeks back, when tipped at 100/1, Patrick Reed returns to the field, and I am happy to bet on him again.

I am glad he took last week off, as he cited displaced ribs as a problem after winning the Humana, and I am hoping that his return this week means he feels fit to compete.

We know Reed can shoot low, three consecutive rounds of 63 doesn’t happen, ever, so this style of event should be tailor-made for the now, two-time PGA Tour winner.

Reed has never played here at the Phoenix Open, and whilst that could prove a stumbling block, I do think he is the type of player that can overcome that. Former winner of this event J.B Holmes, who is in the field this week, after missing the whole of 2013, managed to win here on his debut, and went on to win two years later, so I believe this is possible for Reed.

I simply think 75/1 about a player who won two weeks ago, and at the tail-end of last season is very generous. Yes there could be false faith here, as he won for me at big odds so recently, but I truly believe he has, not only the skill set, but the temperament to win here.

When it wasn’t going to plan thru 9 holes last week, Reed did start  to struggle, and his play was looking poor at times, however he did not let that get the better of him. He took his chance late on, after a lucky break on the par-3 to hole a great putt for birdie, managing to collect himself and get the job done. He did have a 7-shot lead, and really it should of been more comfortable for him, but he got through his bad spell, and came out the other side, signs of a winner for me.

It is difficult for a player to win back-to-back events, but Reed is a streaky player, and as long as his ribs don’t cause him any bother here, I see no reason why he can’t contend.

Ben Crane 80/1 (General) 1pt e/w: Ben Crane is a four-time winner on the PGA Tour, and anyone with that type of record is worth a second look. It just so happens that my second look at Crane this week, interested me enough to include him at 80/1

He has a steady record here in Scottsdale, where he has finished 2nd and 4th in 2012 and 2008 respectively, as well as 11th last year, 18th in 2011, and 36th in 2010. Either side of that 4th place finish in 2008, Crane did miss three cuts, but I am happy to ignore those, in the hope that he can win here, after some relative success.

Each of his four Tour wins have required a double-digit winning score, and he will keen to return to the winners circle under the same conditions, for the first time since 2011.

He has shown he is more than capable of navigating TPC Scottsdale, and off the back of a decent finish at the Humana Challenge two weeks ago (T9), I am hoping he’s set to contend here once again.

Good course form, mixed with a good finish in recent weeks is a good combination, and hopefully one that will prove successful with Crane this week. He’s not a favourite of mine, but he’s highly regarded on Tour and his record at this course entices me into backing him this time around.

Points staked on the PGA Tour: 11

Total points staked this week (inc European Tour): 19

Profit/Loss for 2014: +100.875

A pretty poor showing from my selections at Torrey Pines last week, with Jordan Spieth being the only highlight of the four chosen, He too failed to deliver, as he faded over the weekend, something he later revealed was due to an injured ankle. I am hoping to keep up the good start to the season, with another good showing here, and between the four picks above, I feel there is a great chance that will happen. You can follow me on Twitter @TJacobsGolf if you have any feedback or questions.

Good luck this week!