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In what can only be described as a particularly crazy tournament, Brandt Snedeker (we were on him when he lost the Sony Open play-off to Fabian Gomez) - who was trading at 1000 on Betfair at one point - won the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines yesterday. An incredible round by Brandt on a test which he aptly described as a 'U.S. Open set-up in British Open conditions' deservedly won him the title, although he lost a night's sleep worrying about it! An Open Championship contender for sure moving forward. Jimmy Walker brought home place each-way profit though and joins the list of Reed and Snedeker who've gone close for us on the West Coast Swing.
Over on the European Tour, Paul Williams previews the Dubai Desert Classic - you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Before we move onto TPC Scottsdale, for the 4th successive year we're running our popular Majors Competition in association with bet365 with an increased £250 free bet prize fund up for grabs. 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 wind and rain of Torrey Pines we travel back to the desert for the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Expect dome-like playing conditions and over 500,000 fans at TPC Scottsdale for what is always a lively encounter at altitude.
Course Guide: Last year the PGA Tour professionals in the main 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.
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.
Stadium Course Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for the Stadium Course at TPC Scottsdale and how they compare to recent courses we have seen on the west coast swing:
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. New green complexes - which were in the first months of root establishment - weren't as receptive as the professionals liked last year, but then the rain came to soften the course.
It's hard to get a true reflection of how the new Weiskopf-inspired Stadium Course played in its first year as rain throughout Friday's play sent scoring skywards. However his changes definitely look to have made the course more of a challenge. Indeed historically, 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. The reason for this is two-fold: firstly green complexes prove difficult to hit - the Stadium Course ranked as the 14th most difficult course on Tour in 2015 for Greens in Regulation percentage - and secondly getting the ball close to pin positions is tricky as the course ranked as the 8th most difficult for Proximity to Hole. This combination is never a recipe for super-low scoring. Throw in the fact that scrambling is relatively easy here (7th easiest on Tour last term) and 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 specialist Bubba Watson who must love attacking a set of par-5s which read 558, 558 and 553 yards on the scorecard.
Winners: 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 Bubba Watson (Predictor Number 1), Brooks Koepka, Brendan Steele, Scott Piercy and Webb Simpson.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10 tournament window that stretches back to the CIMB Classic / Turkish Airlines Open and includes both 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: 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: 67/1. For a summary of winners' odds on the PGA Tour for the past 5 years based on the 2015 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast: The latest PGA Tour weather forecast for Scottsdale, Arizona is here. 12 months ago the unlikely scenario of rain in the Grand Canyon State reared its head and softened the course considerably. 2016 should see a return to almost dome-like conditions with precipitation being no concern at all for tournament organisers. Instead a consistent 8-11 km/h north-easterly breeze will feature as will temperatures up to 23 degrees Celsius. Scoring is often lower for the afternoon starters here as the air warms.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 6 winners of the Waste Management Phoenix Open since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this desert test:
Tournament Skill Averages:
So let's take a view from players as to how the Weiskopf changes have changed the course setup and what skill sets it favours:
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."
Martin Laird: "Obviously two or three holes that have changed quite a bit, but a lot of it is little tweaks, and visually now it's fantastic. Every hole looks great. Change in the bunkers really made a difference. I mean, I like every single thing they did. That's not often you hear that when guys make changes, and that said, I think it needed it. I think it came out fantastic. You know, it's basically the same golf course, just, you know, just gotta really figure out maybe 3, 4, and 14. Apart from that, they are all kind of the same, you know. Some of the tee shots are a little tighter now, which I think is good. Needed a little, to be toughened up a little, but I really like the changes, and I think everyone I've talked to likes the changes. I think it's pretty much unanimous. The course is in great shape, too. It's fun."
Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 6 winners:
For the record, here's the breakdown of altitude golf course resorts on the PGA Tour since 2012. Naturally 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 required here as both Kyle Stanley and Brooks Koepka won on their course debut.
Looking at incoming form for winners, 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. Other form as below:
Bookmaker Offers. A number of bookmakers have extended their each-way terms again this week:
My selections are as follows:
Hideki Matsuyama carried our cash here last term and came within a stroke of winner Brooks Koepka. I'm happy to get on board the World Number 19 at a similar price 12 months on - as we know that the 23 year-old simply loves a ball-striking test which features Bentgrass (or in this case plays like Bentgrass) putting surfaces. On that basis we can totally disregard last week's missed cut at Torrey Pines (he was as short as 20/1 with some firms), although it was interesting to note that he shot -4/68 on the Bent Poa greens of the North Course which placed him tied 8th on Thursday night and we can also disregard his poor performance at Albany. You see Hideki really struggles to putt on anything with grain, so his last 2 performances have simply increased his price this week. From there his form reads 2(Dunlop Phoenix)-WD(Sheshan)-5(Kuala Lumpur)-17(Silverado)-12(East Lake)-7(Conway Farms)-25(TPC Boston). Typically consistent, typically Hideki.
Matsuyama has always played well on the west coast since he touched down on the PGA Tour. 3rd at CordeValle (2014), 4th at Riviera (2015), 3rd at Silverado (2015), 10th at TPC Summerlin (2015) plus 4th and 2nd here at TPC Scottsdale (2014/15) are a fantastic set of results and you can throw in a 3rd at Kapalua last year - another true ball-striking test on his nemesis Bermudagrass greens. So he loves the west coast swing and for me he must be driven to add to his single PGA Tour title which he gained at Muirfield Village in 2014. TPC Scottsdale will provide him with his best chance this side of Augusta. RESULT: Winner
Sometimes you simply can't beat a 'horse for a course' - Brandt Snedeker, K.J. Choi and Jimmy Walker all highlighted that aptly last week. Ryan Palmer certainly can't be placed at the same level as these three, but on the right course, when he's in the right form, he's extremely dangerous. A streaky scorer (10th Par Breakers in 2015/16), who has the perfect attributes of ample power from the tee (5th Driving Distance), a high ball-flight (24th Apex Height) a strong tee-to-green game (24th Ball Striking) and the in-built desire for risk and reward (8th Going for the Green). I won't waste your time waxing lyrically about Palmer's abilities as we all know them - safe to say he thrives in the desert - and although he hasn't won since 2010, he has delivered 5 each way payouts from 11 appearances across PGA West and here at TPC Scottsdale. Undoubtedly he's playing some lovely stuff right now (3rd for All Round last time out at PGA West) and Ryan, as quoted above in this preview, is a supporter of the Weiskopf changes. Due another contending performance. RESULT: T24
Scott Piercy appears in the Top 20 of all 3 rolling skill-sets this week and that's definitely the green light for me to get involved with a player who has 3 Top 10s and a further 2 Top 20s at TPC Scottsdale from 7 appearances. The Las Vegas, Nevada resident has always been a desert specialist and we all know that an in-form Piercy is a dangerous proposition with his power and streaky scoring prowess. Indeed the 3-time PGA Tour winner's victories have come at -15/273, -17/263 and -19/265 respectively across Montreux (2011), Hamilton G&CC (2012) and Grand National Lake Trail (last July). Since that impressive win at the second category Barbasol Championship, Scott has continued to produce the top-level golf he played for 12 months between the summers of 2011/2012. Back then not only did he win the RBC Canadian Open but 3rd at Deere Run, 6th at TPC Summerlin, 2nd at Mission Hills (WGC HSBC), 3rd here at TPC Scottsdale, 5th at TPC Four Seasons and a career-best 5th at Oak Hill in the 2012 PGA Championship saw Piercy well within the Top 50 of the Official World Golf Ranking.
Now recovered from an injury to his right arm sustained in early 2013, Piercy is very much on the upward trajectory and 3rd at Conway Farms in the PGA Tour PlayOffs delivered a prized spot at East Lake and invites into all of the 2016 Majors and WGCs. Scott led recently in Kuala Lumpur, finishing 7th, and caught the eye at Waialae where rounds of 65, 65 and 66 delivered a comfortable 12th place. 6th (2009), 8th (2010) and 3rd (2013) here at TPC Scottsdale and also has 3 further Top 10 finishes at TPC Summerlin on top of that victory at Montreux in 2011. Should be looking forward to the calm desert conditions this week. RESULT: T45
As regulars know, Russell Henley is a player I monitor closely and undoubtedly the Georgian, who lives in South Carolina, has a touch of class about him. Known primarily as a putter, at this moment in time Henley is one of the longest and most consistent ball-strikers on Tour. As we know, that's a mix that pays huge dividends at TPC Scottsdale. A format that rewards power with its intriguing mix of risk-and-reward holes should be right up Russell's street, especially as he sits 27th in Driving Distance, 31st in Driving Accuracy, 4th in Ball Striking, 33rd in Greens in Regulation and 31st in Going for the Green 2016 PGA Tour skill categories. Yes it's early in the season and stats can be very misleading, but what's for sure is that Russell is hitting the ball much better than he was entering the same tournament 12 months when he showed his aptitude for the course when he produced a bogey-free -6/65 on Saturday to fire himself into Sunday's third last group.
So what about recent results? Well a missed cut at Waialae and 49th at PGA West (he did make 13 birdies in his last 36 holes as his putter warmed) doesn't set the pulse racing, but as per previous winners of this tournament, Henley finished last year strongly with 6th at Sea Island and an interesting 10th in desert /altitude conditions at TPC Summerlin. Prior to that 12th at Whistling Straits, 17th at Firestone and 20th at St Andrews shows a player who's confident to mix it at the highest level. In June he also finished 5th at Old White TPC (at altitude) plus a Top 10 finish at Willow Creek CC on the web.com in 2012, allied to TPC Summerlin and his contending 54 hole performance here last year, highlight a player who is happy in the desert. I also like the fact that at 74th in the world and with no Top 30 FedEx Cup exemption from 2015 to sit back upon, the carrot of a pair of WGC events is just over the horizon. RESULT: MC
I'll close with Patrick Rodgers who must be inspired right now by recent performances of the new breed both sides of the Atlantic. Thomas Pieters, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Emiliano Grillo, Smylie Kaufmann and close buddy Justin Thomas (they share a house in Jupiter, Florida) have all won in recent months and for me Rodgers' talent shines like a beacon.
The 23 year-old has always been in the golf spotlight since he equalled the number of wins acquired by Tiger Woods when studying at Stanford University. A Ben Hogan Award winner and 2-time Walker Cup team member, Rodgers was the Number 1 ranked golfer in the World Amateur Golf Ranking for 16 weeks in early 2014. 2015 saw Patrick capture his first professional title in only his second web.com Tour appearance in Columbia, with a promotion to the main Tour being taken in his stride. Finishing 2nd to none other than Rory McIlroy in only his tenth PGA Tour professional start at the classical Quail Hollow marked him out as an outstanding prospect, but it's his desert outings that I find interesting for this week. 3rd at Montreux in August marked him as a player who goes well on low scoring, ball-strikers tracks. Since then further decent finishes in California and Nevada, namely 6th at Silverado and 13th at TPC Summerlin which requires a really hot putter mark Rodgers out as a confident young talent. Will be glad for his outing last week at Torrey Pines and the big hitter is out from 66/1 last week to a tasty 125/1 on a course that suits. RESULT: T17
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