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From the highs of Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi, we plunged into despair last week with both Andy Sullivan in Dubai and Marc Leishman in San Diego taking away decent each-way returns with poor play down their respective final hole par-5s. Thin margins in this game as always. Jason Day rightly triumphed at Torrey Pines taking his 11th PGA Tour title after a tough 18 month winless period, whilst Alex Noren gave us and the American golfing public notice that they may well have to face a challenge in Paris this September. Day’s late 2017 progress married-up perfectly with his arrival at what must be one of his favourite golf courses, so 22/1 was a great price in hindsight.
From the majesty of the classical 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’s always a lively encounter at altitude on Super Bowl weekend.
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 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 the 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. 2017: 70.19 (-0.81), Rank 33 of 50 courses.
Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for the Stadium Course at TPC Scottsdale and how they compare to recent courses on Tour:
Course Designer Links: For research purposes other Tom Weiskopf designs include (including re-designs):
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 -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 3 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 tougher proposition than the previous set-up. Whilst greens aren’t that difficult to hit for the very best ball-strikers, interestingly getting the ball close to the hole is the real difficulty of the course. Proximity to Hole rankings of 8th (2015), 2nd (2016) and 6th last year highlight the fact that putters find it very difficult to be able to make the difference with their short game.
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, Rickie Fowler 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: 2017: Hideki Matsuyama (-17); 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).
Published Predictor Model: Our published predictor is available here. You can build your own model using the variables listed on the left hand side.
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, plus the Hero World Challenge. Players must have played in a minimum of 2 Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners & Prices: 2017: Matsuyama 11/1; 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: 53/1. Past 4 Renewals Average: 50/1.
2017: Thursday: Sunny, with a high of 67. Wind NW 7-12 mph. Due to darkness, round one was suspended for the day at 6:04 p .m. with nine players remaining on the course. Friday: Round one resumed at 8 a.m. and concluded at 8:28 a.m. Sunny, with a high in the low-70s. Wind NW 8-12 mph. Saturday: Sunny, with a high of 74. Wind light and variable 5-7 mph. Sunday: Sunny, with a high of 76. Wind SW 4-8 mph.
2016: Thursday: Sunny, with a high of 67 degrees. Wind NE 5-10 mph. Friday: Sunny, with a high of 64 degrees. Wind NE 5-10 mph. Due to darkness, round two was suspended for the day at 6:12 p.m. and resumed at 8 a.m. Saturday morning. Saturday: Sunny, with a high of 77 degrees. Wind SW 4-8 mph. Sunday: Sunny, with a high of 78 degrees. Wind SW 4-8 mph.
2015: Thursday: Partly cloudy with a high of 76. Wind SW at 7-12 mph. Friday: Cloudy, with a high of 60. E wind at 5-10 mph with periods of light showers throughout the day. Saturday: Mostly cloudy, with a high of 57. Wind light and variable. Sunday: Sunny, with a high of 68. Wind WSW at 6-8 mph.
Weather Forecast: The latest weather forecast for Scottsdale, Arizona is here. Scottsdale has been typically dry over the winter, so I’m not expecting the -17/267 we saw 12 months ago, when the course was a little softer. 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 3 winners of the Phoenix Open since the course re-design in 2014 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 TPC Scottsdale sets up and what skill sets the course favours:
Jordan Spieth: “Yeah, I’ll play the 17th aggressively. I’ll try and knock it on the green. If I get out of position, you can always make par unless you hit it obviously in the water. You can still make par from there. They get that pin way in the back in that little sliver, and I’ll probably still try and hit driver up the green. If it goes offline and I can’t get next to the hole, then you hit it to about 20 feet and two-putt and don’t do anything more. I saw quite a few shots in my experience last time, including my own, and I think I made par to that hole by playing conservatively, and that’s fine. I think if you play the hole 2-under for the week, you’ve done a good job. So it will be a good test this week. These greens are very pure. If you’re putting well, you can really putt well out here. It’s not Poa annua.“
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 Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 8 Phoenix Open winners:
Incoming form of winners since 2010:
First Round Leader Analysis: First round leader(s), their group and winning score since 2010.
For the record, here’s the breakdown of altitude golf courses on the PGA Tour since 2012.
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 well thrive on Weiskopf’s design which features relatively large and flat green complexes. The re-laid greens themselves are quite tricky as they feature a TifEagle Bermudagrass base 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 2018. Course experience is not essential here as both Kyle Stanley and Brooks Koepka won on their course debut.
Hideki Matsuyama has dominated in Scottsdale over the past 2 renewals and naturally goes for the 3-peat this week, something we shall see a few times this season with Daniel Berger and Jhonattan Vegas later in the summer. Hideki will have a chance to become the first player since Steve Stricker in 2009-10-11 to win the same tournament (John Deere Classic) at least three times in a row. With 5 PGA Tour wins to his credit including a couple of WGCs, Hideki – who has 14 total career wins – is not shy of winning. On a course that sets up perfectly for him, naturally he has a real chance this week.
Looking at the incoming form of recent winners, Hideki 12 months ago had finished 33rd at Torrey Pines and 27th at Waialae prior to arriving in Arizona, allowing his odds to grow to 11/1. Prior to that 4 wins and 2 runner-up positions including season-opener Kapalua had made him the hottest player on the planet. 2016 had seen him miss the cut at Torrey Pines on his 2016 debut, but 2nd at the Dunlop Phoenix in Japan and 5th at the CIMB Classic in Kuala Lumpur at the latter end of 2015 had shown promise in low-scoring events. Brooks Koepka had started the 2014/15 PGA Tour season strongly with 8th at Silverado and 4th at TPC Summerlin followed by his first main Tour 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.
My selections are as follows:
Rickie Fowler 2.5pts EW 14/1 with Betfair
Rickie Fowler is a true course specialist who has a fantastic chance of winning his 5th PGA Tour title this week. Asked about his thoughts on TPC Scottsdale 12 months ago after he finished 2 shots behind Hideki Matsuyama and Webb Simpson, Rickie answered, “Yeah, nice to do that after missing the cut last week. Always play well here. I feel comfortable here in the desert. We will keep knocking at the door. We will get this one at some point.”
Last week’s missed cut at Torrey Pines was hardly a surprise with his form there now over his last 4 San Diego appearances reading MC-MC-61-MC and in my view he has an excellent chance of picking up a big win this week. If truth be told, you can ask serious questions about the top 3 in the betting this week. I’m not sure Jordan Spieth has the absolute firepower to win here and his re-engineered putting stroke looks a weakness. Hideki Matsuyama finished strongly last time out at Torrey Pines, but his hallmark driving prowess seems to have deserted him of late. He’ll also have plenty on his plate this week, with all the media talk of the 3-peat sure to raise pre-tournament expectations, as did Jon Rahm in San Diego. Cruising in 2nd place at the Farmers and as short as 2/1 to win on Saturday morning, he 100% collapsed over the weekend. It could well have been the weight of expectations, but it will be fascinating to see how he bounces back after his first real professional hiccup.
So Fowler isn’t in a bad space at all this week. No expectations plays into his hands and his game marries-up perfectly for the TPC Scottsdale test. 2nd here in 2010, Rickie should have won here in 2016 when finding the water at the driveable par-4 17th when in control of the tournament. So with that disappointment being pointedly mentioned to Rickie in the pre-event build-up, a fast finishing 4th 12 months ago was a decent result following inbound form of MC-36th. 12 months on and Fowler enters with more confidence: 4th at Kapalua where DJ dominated, 1st in Albany beating an elite field with a closing round -11/61 and 2nd at El Camaleon after 2 months of no competition is a solid base to build on from this week. At an event where he thrives on the atmosphere and the fact that his family attend, I can’t ignore the World Number 7 this week. RESULT: T11
Justin Thomas 2pts EW 16/1 with Betfair
I’m going for a two-pronged approach at the top of the market with Justin Thomas backing up Rickie Fowler. With in-your-face form hardly a guaranteed indicator of the champion here, Thomas has started the year with understated 22nd and 14th place finishes across the Aloha swing. Hardly a disaster especially when you add in the fact that he won on his last 2017 PGA Tour start, at altitude, in South Korea. Look at his season-long statistics and it’s a veritable feast in terms of TPC Scottsdale success: 35th for Driving Distance, 15th for Ball-Striking (telling here), 47th for Greens in Regulation, 3rd for Going for the Green, 7th for Par Breakers and 24th for Putting Average is a perfect recipe for success here and in his last appearance at Waialae he hit a couple of eagles and was tied-4th for bogeys conceded.
Asked for his views at Waialae about his current play, the 7-time (yes I know in only 3 seasons) PGA Tour winner replied, “I played well this week. I’m pretty disappointed with where I’m going to end up finishing. I played way better than this. I should have had a chance coming down the back nine. I couldn’t get the speed matched up. I had a problem with that all week. I don’t know if that’s just from being a little rusty or maybe not practicing it as much. But there’s nothing to really be too upset about my game. For the first two events back and kind of where I felt coming here, I’m in a great spot for the rest of the year. I just need to tighten things up a little bit.“
Some will point to 2 missed cuts here across his 3 appearances highlighting that TPC Scottsdale doesn’t suit, but I don’t buy that at all. On debut here as a Tour rookie in 2015, Thomas shot 67/68 to be 3rd at half way. -2/69 on the Saturday placed him in the 3rd-last group on Sunday, but a 72 on Sunday saw him drop to 17th. 3 years down the line I don’t see the same thing happening again! His results profile also stacks up well with both Hideki Matsuyama and Brooks Koepka, who have won the 3 titles played here since the re-design. From last year think Erin Hills and Quail Hollow where Thomas fired a U.S Open record low -10/62 on his way to 9th behind Brooks and fended off Hideki amongst others in North Carolina to win the PGA Championship. Wins at TPC Kuala Lumpur (2015/16) a victory at Kapalua (2017) and a top-3 in California at Silverado marry up well with both Matsuyama and Koepka. I think Justin is close and TPC Scottsdale is a track where he can certainly win. RESULT: T17
Scott Piercy 1pt EW 66/1 with Coral
Scott Piercy is a decent shout for this week as the Las Vegas resident always tends to show well in his native environment. Scott has always been a player who, once confident, can perform at a high level for a prolonged period of time. Bentgrass, desert and altitude positive, Piercy thrives in receptive, low-scoring conditions and the Stadium Course has always been a happy hunting ground with finishes of 6th (09), 8th (10), 3rd (2013) and 15th (2014). Piercy showed on his last outing at PGA West that he’s striking the ball very nicely at the moment and undoubtedly when confident, Scott mixes it with the very best. 5th at the 2015 PGA Championship at Oak Hill, 2nd at the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont and 2nd at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational are results that jump from his CV. They also link well with the likes of Mahan, Mickelson, Koepka and Matsuyama who have all lifted this trophy since 2010. 3rd at Conway Farms in 2015, 3rd at Silverado in 2016 and top 10s across TPC Kuala Lumpur continue to correlate well and Scott is a danger right now sitting 21st in Par Breakers, 15th in Strokes Gained on Approach, 9th in par-5 Birdie or Better and 34th for Putting Average on the PGA Tour. He’s also a 3-time PGA Tour winner who wins when his confidence is boosted by a warm putter. RESULT: MC
Chesson Hadley 0.5pt EW 125/1 with Unibet
The predictor model is well worth taking note of recently. Jason Day was 3rd in last week’s published predictor, Patton Kizzire was 3rd for the Sony Open and Dustin Johnson was 2nd for the Sentry. I never snared Rahm with my ratings for the CareerBuilder, but Andrew Landry who was runner-up at 200/1, was within the top 10. So Chesson Hadley shines like a beacon this week with 125/1 around at the time of writing for the talented 30 year-old. The Raleigh, North Carolina native had played well on his return to the PGA Tour and he has a penchant for playing well on the West coast and in the desert. 5th (2013) and 4th (2017) at TPC Summerlin highlight a liking for desert golf and 3rd at Silverado in California last autumn could well have been Hadley’s 2nd PGA Tour victory. His form was always going to cool from its autumn peak, but 42nd at the CareerBuilder and a creditable 23rd at Torrey Pines last week which featured an under par closing round in hard conditions will likely boost him. He clearly likes tests where scoring is possible and he has enough of a game to take advantage of the short par-4s and par-5s this week. RESULT: T5
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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 10:45GMT 30.1.18 but naturally subject to fluctuation.
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