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Sometimes it's great to say, "I was there". Now naturally I was not in La Jolla, California to see Jon Rahm capture his first of I'm sure many PGA Tour titles, but I was certainly watching his amazing victory Sunday night. It was truly an inspirational victory on a classical Torrey Pines course which simply requires Major-type skill levels. By finishing 6-under across his final 8 holes, including 2 eagles, Rahm became the first player since Jay Don Blake in 1991 to win their maiden title at the Farmers Insurance Open. He's the youngest ever winner of the tournament and the first winner since 1957 to win it on his first appearance. Great feats, but the way that Rahm won was extraordinary. Similar to Rory McIlroy at Quail Hollow in 2010 or Jordan Spieth at Deere Run in 2013. I'd suggest we are dealing with a similar type of star now in 2017.
For the 5th successive year we're running our popular Majors Competition in association with bet365 who've put a total of £250 in free bets up for grabs to the winners. The competition is in the form of a one-and-done, so all you need to do is give us a single player for each of the 4 Majors to enter - full details are here.
From the soft conditions and tough rough of Torrey Pines, we travel back to the desert for the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Expect dome-like playing conditions and over 600,000 fans at TPC Scottsdale for what is always a lively encounter at altitude on Super Bowl weekend.
Over on the European Tour, Paul Williams previews the Dubai Desert Classic - you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Course Guide: Since 2015 the PGA Tour professionals in the main have welcomed the Tom Weiskopf-inspired changes to the Stadium Course at TPC Scottsdale. 2014 had seen the course closed to undergo a major re-design which included new irrigation, re-surfacing of greens including new green locations at No. 2, No. 3, No. 4 and No. 14, bunker construction and tee construction. In all 114 additional yards was added to the course across 11 holes, extending the layout to a 7,266 yard, Par 71 test. Set at approximately 1,250 feet above sea level, players face a different challenge this week as the golf ball will travel slightly further than they've experienced across Hawaii and California. Talking of challenges, players also need to embrace the atmosphere on the Stadium Course with over 600,000 spectators last year making this most attended golf tournament on the planet.
Stadium Course, TPC Scottsdale, Scottsdale, Arizona: Designer: Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish 1995, with Weiskopf re-design 2014; Course Type: Desert, Resort; Par: 71; Length: 7,266 yards; Holes with Water Hazards: 7; Fairways: Bermudagrass with Perennial Rye and fine fescue; Rough: Bermudagrass with Perennial Rye and fine fescue 2.75"; Greens: 6,350 sq.ft average featuring TifEagle Bermudagrass overseeded with Velvet Bentgrass and Poa Trivialis; Tournament Stimp: 12.5ft; Course Scoring Average 2012: 70.76 (-0.24), Difficulty Rank 29 of 49 courses. 2013: 68.95 (-2.05), Difficulty Rank 40 of 43 courses. 2014: 70.64 (-0.36), Rank 33 of 48 courses. 2015: 70.75 (-0.25), Rank 22 of 52 courses. 2016: 71.03 (+0.03) Rank 20 of 50 courses.
Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for TPC Scottsdale Course and how they compare to recent courses on Tour:
Course Overview: Scoring at the Stadium Course tends to be around the -15/269 to -17/267 mark, unless course conditions are soft like they were in 2013 when Phil Mickelson won at an eye-watering mark of -28/256. The freshly renovated course features an additional 114 yards of length, with fresh green surfaces featuring TifEagle Bermudagrass overseeded with Velvet Bentgrass and Poa Trivialis. These green complexes have now been in place for just over 2 years so shouldn't offer up too many surprises now. They run pretty quick, unless rain comes and softens the course.
Undoubtedly the new Weiskopf-inspired Stadium Course is a much tougher proposition. Greens have proved far harder to hit since 2015 and interestingly the course was the 2nd toughest for Proximity to Hole last season, despite conditions being kind. The course is scoreable, but when the course is played as it was intended in terms of fairway/green speeds, this tournament never features scoring like we see at PGA West for the reasons listed above. Throw in the fact that scrambling is relatively easy here and it's clear that big hitting ball-strikers, who can consistently hit greens, have a real advantage here in the thinner air. This is no better illustrated than looking at course specialists Bubba Watson and defending champion Hideki Matsuyama who must love attacking a set of par-5s, which read 558, 558 and 553 yards on the scorecard, at altitude.
Winners: 2016: Hideki Matsuyama (-14); 2015: Brooks Koepka (-15); 2014: Kevin Stadler (-16); 2013: Phil Mickelson (-23); 2012: Kyle Stanley (-15); 2011: Mark Wilson (-18); 2010: Hunter Mahan (-16).
Tournament Stats: We've published some key player statistics for this week's event that are well worth a look. Naturally they'll help to shape a view on players who could go well this week: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader | Top 20 Finishes.
Published Predictor Model: Our published Waste Management Phoenix Open predictor is available here. You can build your own model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Top 5 of the predictor are Hideki Matsuyama (No.1), Jordan Spieth, Brendan Steele Bubba Watson and Ryan Moore.
DraftKings Predictor Model: For those of you who play DraftKings there's now a dedicated predictor model available here.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10-tournament window that stretches back to the HSBC Champions / Sanderson Farms Championship and includes PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players must have played in a minimum of 2 main Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners & Prices: 2016: Matsuyama 25/1; 2015: Koepka 40/1; 2014: Stadler 125/1; 2013: Mickelson 25/1; 2012: Stanley 66/1; 2011: Wilson 80/1; 2010: Mahan 66/1; Average: 61/1.
Weather Forecast: The latest weather forecast for Scottsdale, Arizona is here. Scottsdale has seen a little rain in January and the course should be a little slower than we saw here 12 months ago. Conditions will be tranquil and perfect for scoring, but it's worth noting that conditions for morning starters will not warm up until around 10am.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 7 winners of the Phoenix Open since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
Tournament Skill Averages:
Let's take a view from players as to how the Farmers Insurance sets up and what skill sets the course favours:
Hideki Matsuyama: "Before the re-design or the changes, I thought it was an easier course than it is now. I mean, the 2nd hole and the 14th hole have really put some bite into this course, and those are two difficult holes right now where before they weren't that difficult."
Brooks Koepka: "15, 16, 17 is just I think an unbelievable finish. There is so much risk reward, like you said. And if you hit a couple of quality golf shots, you can really make a move, whereas, you know, the opposite, you hit one bad one, and you can run up a number pretty quick. Luckily I was able to pull some shots off."
Phil Mickelson: "I think, for the most part, they're very well done. The first year you always have to cut some slack because the greens are firm and unreceptive because the roots haven't had a chance to grow in. You want to cut it some slack the first year. But I think it looks really good. Surprisingly, the greens are putting very true and in wonderful shape. I was pleasantly surprised. In terms of new bunkering, I thought it was strategic and well-placed in a lot of holes. I have always liked Weiskopf's stuff. He has great strategy from a player's standpoint. Really not too much was done differently other than three or four holes; otherwise, very similar throughout."
Bubba Watson: "It's just a different mindset, I mean, when you're adding length to a golf course you still have to hit driver. But it's funny to me how they add length and then shorten the landing zone. They make it skinnier. They don't want you to hit it any farther but they want to stretch the course out. It's funny to me. It makes this golf course a lot different and tougher. Today I hit my driver nicely. I think I missed two fairways, which is pretty good for me. G30 worked out today. But, yeah, for me today it was about the driver. Around this golf course my driver stays in play. My irons are pretty decent. So now it's a driving golf course. There are a couple things they could tweak here and there. It's about 85 to 80% perfect the way they changed it, but there are a couple of little things. Nothing major, though. It doesn't change the outcome of the score if you changed them, but just the way it looks."
Ryan Palmer: "In the past it's been better for me, I think, because there is a lot of shots that, a lot of draw ball tee shots. A lot of greens set up for me, as well, depending on where the pin is obviously. I was able to kind of attack the golf course with the length I have. From what it is now to what it used to be, it's definitely longer, for sure. I used to hit a lot of wedges, sand wedges, and we are not doing that anymore. But I like what they did from tee to green. They did a lot of good things. There are a few greens that I'm sure if you ask a lot of players they weren't very pleased about, but overall I think they did a really good job with it. It's in perfect shape, for sure. Greens are rolling pretty pure, of course with the bounces they are getting. Overall I think they did a good job."
Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 7 winners:
Incoming form of winners since 2010:
Course Designer Links: For research purposes other Tom Weiskopf designs include (including re-designs):
• North Course, Torrey Pines (2017 Farmers Insurance Open)
First Round Leader Analysis: First round leader(s), their group and winning score since 2010. Full First Round Leader stats are here.
For the record, here's the breakdown of altitude golf course resorts on the PGA Tour since 2012. TPC Scottsdale course history is available via this Tournament Form link:
So what's the recipe for success this week? Well key player attributes rewarded here undoubtedly include driving distance, consistent ball-striking and a high Going for the Green rate. Players who can hit the ball both high and consistently thrive on Weiskopf's design which features relatively large and flat green complexes. The re-laid greens themselves are quite tricky as they feature TifEagle Bermudagrass which has been overseeded with Velvet Bentgrass and Poa Trivialis. They play like Bentgrass. All winners here since 2010 have featured in the Top 10 for Greens in Regulation and, with firm conditions set to feature, I can't see that changing in 2016. Course experience is not essential here as both Kyle Stanley and Brooks Koepka won on their course debut.
Looking at incoming form of recent winners, Hideki Matsuyama arrived off the back of a Torrey Pines missed cut on his only 2016 appearance. However 2nd at the Dunlop Phoenix in Japan and 5th at the CIMB Classic in Kuala Lumpur had shown form at the latter end of 2015. Brooks Koepka had started the 2014/15 PGA Tour season strongly with 8th at Silverado and 4th at TPC Summerlin followed by his first career victory at the star-studded Turkish Airlines Open on the European Tour. This was his calendar debut. In 2014 'Baby Walrus' Kevin Stadler had shaken the rust off at PGA West (78th) after a strong close to 2013 which included 4th at TPC Boston, 19th at Kuala Lumpur, 10th at Sea Island and 12th at El Camaleon.
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My selections are as follows:
I was pleasantly surprised to see 10/1 about for Jordan Spieth this week. Spieth tops my 10-week skill tracker for both Greens in Regulation and Putting Average after 3rd place finishes in Kapalua and Waialae and on a course where ball striking is so critical, it's positive to note that the World Number 6 was 11th and 1st for Greens in Regulation across the Aloha Swing. Undoubtedly Team Spieth have a plan in action for early 2017 and that's to get Jordan's approach play back into a competitive and consistent state. That has clearly been his weakness in 2016 (strange to say when he landed 2 PGA Tour titles) and it appears to be working. As we've noted, TPC Scottsdale allows scoring, but only for those who are at a top-level with their aggressive ball striking, so 1st for Par Breakers, 2nd for Ball Striking, 10th for Going for the Green and 5th for Putting Average PGA Tour season long statistical categories make for perfect reading.
Maybe the 10/1 is indicative of Spieth's lack of desert history, but that doesn't concern me. 7th here on his debut outing was positive enough, especially as Jordan was making his seasonal debut that year. He was coming off 2 straight victories at the Australian Open and World Challenge, but despite 6 weeks of inactivity he was competitive throughout finishing with a closing -6/65. He was also 8th at altitude at Cherry Hills (Colorado) in 2014 and reached the Quarter Final of the World Matchplay so he 'gets the math.' So I expect Spieth to be fully charged this week at a time in both his year and career when I'm sure he would love to land his 10th PGA Tour title. I'm sure that watching close friend Justin Thomas as well as Jon Rahm land big victories in January will only drive Jordan to deliver at TPC Scottsdale this week.
In this day and age it would seem remiss not to include Jon Rahm in this week's team. Naturally you can always read things in differing ways, but I was surprised by 25/1 offered as the markets opened, and that has already been taken into 22s. Clearly it's going to be a huge ask for a player to win back-to-back titles, especially after just capturing their maiden victory, but in the case of Rahm it might just happen. As Justin Thomas proved 2 weeks ago, these young players can string back-to-back wins together when they are playing well. Young first time winners can also string wins together as Jeunghun Wang proved last year on the European Tour as he went back-to-back in 7 days across the Trophee Hassan II and Mauritius Open. It happens and in the case of Rahm, he knows TPC Scottsdale very well having studied at Arizona State University and still lives in the city. 5th here as an amateur 2 years ago, Rahm spent 60 weeks as World Amateur Number 1 and just a look at his amateur history shows back-to-back wins plus victories in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Utah. Yes it's a different level but he was still competing against the likes of DeChambeau, Hossler, McNealy, Pan, Schniederjans, Shelton and Wise.
By watching and listening to the 22 year-old Spaniard, you just get the feeling that this guy is going to be special. He's focused, professional, determined, driven and learns quickly. I'd be surprised if he celebrates too much and takes his eye off the ball, and it's clear that he has a great power packed, high ball flight game for TPC Scottsdale.
I'm also adding Keegan Bradley to the Scottsdale squad. A fast-finishing 4th at Torrey Pines last week, 'Keegs' has a half-decent record at TPC Scottsdale with 4 top 25 finishes from 5 appearances. You would expect Bradley to go well here as his ball striking has always been top-notch, but naturally it's the recalcitrant putter which has been the issue of late. As I highlighted towards the end of 2016, things seem to be warming on that front though and it was noticeable that Bradley was 4th for Greens in Regulation last week, but also 5th for Putting Average. Nick Faldo in his telecast on Sunday night mentioned that he thought that Bradley would be 'finished' after the anchor belly putter was banned, but with his PGA Tour exemptions due to end at the close of the 2017 season, Bradley has started to perform: 22nd at Silverado, 6th at Kuala Lumpur GC, 7th at TPC Summerlin, 15th at El Camaleon and last week's 4th, highlight a player in the ascendancy. Comfortable at altitude even in his web.com days, Bradley could surprise again this week.
Pat Perez has numerous top finishes in the desert and is playing some of the best and most consistent golf of his career at present. A winner of the 2009 Bob Hope Classic in nearby La Quinta, Perez has also finished 6th and 7th (2007 & 2008) at Grayhawk GC, 2nd at Montreux (2011) and 7th at TPC Summerlin as recently November. Perez was born in Phoenix, went to Arizona State University and today is a Scottsdale resident so his liking for desert golf should not be a surprise. Undoubtedly though since his return form a shoulder injury in the autumn, Pat has played some of his best golf. The aforementioned 7th in Las Vegas was the pre-cursor to a popular 2nd PGA Tour victory at El Camaleon where he shot -21/263 into the bargain.
Perez 2017 has seen Perez kick-on and mix it at a high level with 3rd at Kapalua and last week's 4th at Torrey Pines. Perez is now at 71st in the OWGR and is not a million miles away from qualification for WGC events in Mexico and Austin. 17th in Bogey Avoidance, 19th in Par Breakers, 25th in Ball Striking, 42nd in Going for the Green and 19th in Putting Average highlight a player who can be competitive at TPC Scottsdale and he was 11th here back in 2014 when in similar form. Perez would have been disappointed with his finish that year as he was 3rd after Round 1 and 5th after 36 holes. Seems more comfortable when in contention right now and could well be a factor on home turf.
Sean O'Hair is having a real renaissance and it's amazing how one performance in a huge tournament can add momentum, 2nd at The Barclays played at Bethpage Black shot O'Hair into the Tour Championship, guaranteeing outings at The Masters, U.S. Open, Open Championship and WGC Mexico Championship. Not too shoddy. The 34 year-old could have rested on his laurels after such a coup, but the new season has already seen him finish 10th in Las Vegas, 11th in Waialae and 9th in his last event at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Those outings have seen scores of -14/270, -14/266 and -14/274 - consistency and a score that would get the 4-time PGA Tour winner right into the mix this week. I can't give you excellent course form as O'Hair has only delivered a single top-25 here in 9 appearances, but for me this is a case of a player arriving at a venue with a game that really suits right now. 16th in Par Breakers, 23rd in Ball Striking, 61st in Apex Height, 11th in Going for the Green and 29th in Putting Average undoubtedly highlight a player who can be competitive at TPC Scottsdale. The toughening-up of the course with the Weiskopf re-design will only play to O'Hair's strengths.
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