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Rahm favored in raucous Phoenix Open

By Wes Reynolds  () 

Waste Management Phoenix Open

 

Marc Leishman (50/1) shot a 65 Sunday to win the Farmers Insurance Open by one stroke over Jon Rahm last weekend in San Diego. Our tips of Brandt Snedeker (T3), Tom Hoge (fifth) and Tony Finau (T6) were in contention over the weekend but came up short. This week Rahm, who played at nearby Arizona State, leads the field in Phoenix as the 7/1 favorite. Justin Thomas, a winner already in 2020 at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, finished third last year and follows at 9/1. Webb Simpson (14/1) lost a playoff here in 2017 to eventual champion Hideki Matsuyama (16/1). Defending champion Rickie Fowler (16/1) missed the cut last week at Torrey Pines but has a win and two runners-up here. Xander Schauffele (18/1) also missed the cut last week in his home event but did knock down a top-10 finish here last year.

 

The Event

 

The Waste Management Phoenix Open began in 1932 as the Arizona Open. The tournament alternated between the Phoenix Country Club and the Arizona Country Club until 1975, when the latter took over as host until 1987. The event then was moved to its present home, the Stadium Course at TPC Scottsdale. This is the best-attended event in golf, as the weekly attendance usually exceeds 500,000. The signature hole is the 16th. Nicknamed “The Coliseum,” it is a 162-yard par-3 with a party atmosphere as many college students from Arizona State flock to the course. Poor shots are jeered, while good or great shots are met with raucous cheers. It’s almost as if “Happy Gilmore” comes to life here. Since 1973, the tournament has been held on Super Bowl weekend. Many big names have won here, including three-time winners Arnold Palmer (1961-63), Gene Littler (1955, ’59, ’69), Mark Calcavecchia (1989, ’92, 2001) and Phil Mickelson (1996, 2005, ’13). Others to win here include Byron Nelson (1939, ’45), Ben Hogan (1946-47), Jimmy Demaret (1949-50), Billy Casper (1957), Jack Nicklaus (1964), Johnny Miller (1974-75) and Vijay Singh (1995, 2003). The tournament scoring record of 28-under 256 is shared by Calcavecchia in 2001 and Mickelson in 2013. The course record of 11-under 60 is shared by Grant Waite in 1996, Calcavecchia in 2001 and Mickelson in ’05 and ’13.

 

The Course

 

The Stadium Course at TPC Scottsdale was designed in 1986 by Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish. It was redesigned in 2014, with the course lengthened and the greens resurfaced, making the low scoring of the records listed previously fairly obsolete. This Weiskopf design is more difficult than last week’s at the Torrey Pines North Course. The track plays as a par-71 of 7,266 yards. TPC Scottsdale is about 1,250 feet above sea level, so the ball will travel about 2% farther. The fairways and greens are Bermudagrass. The greens are relatively fast (12-13 on the Stimpmeter). The back nine is the showcase of this course, particularly the last four holes. The 15th is a reachable par-5 with water lurking on the entire left side. The 16th is the par-3 amphitheater with a 20,000-seat grandstand. The 17th is a drivable par-4 with water, and the closing 18th contains water and deep bunkering.

 

Greens In Regulation has been the most important metric in determining a winner in recent years. Here is where the last five winners ranked in the field those weeks:

 

2019: Rickie Fowler 72.2% (13th)

2018: Gary Woodland 77.8% (4th)

2017: Hideki Matsuyama 80.6% (2nd)

2016: Hideki Matsuyama 77.8% (1st)

2015: Brooks Koepka 75.0% (4th)

 

Strokes Gained: Approach and Strokes Gained: Tee To Green for the tournament have also been indicative of finding winners in the last four years:

 

Year

Winner

SG: Approach

SG: Tee To Green

2019

Rickie Fowler

17th

19th

2018

Gary Woodland

2nd

2nd

2017

Hideki Matsuyama

1st

1st

2016

Hideki Matsuyama

4th

1st

 

Fowler was a bit of an outlier for these ball-striking statistics. He won with an outstanding putting performance, ranking first in the field that week in Strokes Gained: Putting.

 

Recent History/Winners

 

2019: Rickie Fowler (-17/267); 22/1

2018: Gary Woodland (-18/266); 50/1*

2017: Hideki Matsuyama (-17/267); 11/1**

2016: Hideki Matsuyama (-14/270); 25/1 ***

2015: Brooks Koepka (-15/269); 40/1

2014: Kevin Stadler (-16/268); 125/1

2013: Phil Mickelson (-28/256); 25/1

2012: Kyle Stanley (-15/269); 66/1

2011: Mark Wilson (-18/266); 80/1****

2010: Hunter Mahan (-16/268); 66/1

 

* - playoff win over Chez Reavie

** - playoff win over Webb Simpson

*** - playoff win over Rickie Fowler

**** - playoff win over Jason Dufner

 

Selections

 

Hideki Matsuyama 16/1

Matsuyama is a two-time winner here and loves this track. His ball striking is very good as usual to start the season, but putting is always his weakness. However, this course tends to negate his putting disadvantage since he rates highly in SG: Approach, Proximity to the Hole and SG: Tee To Green.

 

Bubba Watson 38/1

On the surface, it would seem that the sometimes hot-tempered Watson wouldn’t fit with edgy Phoenix crowds, but he has a very good record at TPC Scottsdale. Watson was back-to-back runner-up here in 2014-15. He also has top-5 finishes in 2012 and last year, when he was fourth. He was a relatively quiet sixth last week at Torrey Pines and shot 67, 69 and 69 on the more difficult South Course. But a 1-over 73 on the easier North Course kept him from ending up atop the leaderboard. Watson was third in SG Off the Tee, sixth in SG on Approach, second in Greens in Regulation and first in SG Tee to Green last week.

 

Branden Grace 54/1

Grace won for the first time in just over two years, emerging victorious at his home South African Open three weeks ago. He was runner-up in Phoenix last year in his course debut despite being well out of form at the time.

 

Byeong Hun An 90/1

He became the youngest winner of the U.S. Amateur in 2009 at 17. But the putter always seems to hold him back from potential greatness. However, he has a good pedigree and likes desert golf. An finished sixth here in 2017 and has been top 25 in all three appearances at TPC Scottsdale.

 

Chez Reavie 100/1

Reavie has gone fourth and second the last two years, losing in a playoff to Gary Woodland in 2018. He lives in Scottsdale, so this is a home game for him. Reavie rated second last season on the PGA Tour in Proximity to Hole, which will be very important on the faster greens this week.

 

Max Homa 100/1

Homa tied for ninth last week in San Diego. He has ranked top 10 in the field in Greens In Regulation for three of his last four starts.

 

Daniel Berger 115/1

Berger has three finishes of 11th or better in his five appearances at TPC Scottsdale.

 

Saudi International

 

The Middle East swing concludes this week with this second-year event in Saudi Arabia. Last week, Australian Lucas Herbert garnered his first European Tour win in a playoff over South African Christiaan Bezuidenhout in a battle of 200/1 + shots. Our tip, Adri Arnaus, tied for third at 100/1. This week’s field at the Saudi International has an American flair as defending champion Dustin Johnson is the favorite at 7/1. He is followed by Brooks Koepka at 12/1 and Patrick Reed at 14/1, off a tie for sixth last week at Torrey Pines. Several European Tour regulars are priced at 25/1, including Sergio Garcia, Victor Perez, Henrik Stenson and Shane Lowry.

 

The Event

 

The Saudi International is held in King Abdullah Economic City, which was established and developed in 2005. The city is along the coast of the Red Sea. This event is not without controversy, as Saudi Arabia’s political and human rights issues have been well documented. Nevertheless, it has not prevented big-time names from traveling there and scooping up some extra appearance fees.

 

The Course

 

The Royal Greens Golf and Country Club was built in 2017 and designed by Dave Sampson of Euro Golf Design. The track is a par-72 for members but will play as a par-70 for the pros, as the par-5s on the ninth and 13th holes are converted to par-4s for a 7,010-yard layout. The course has 12 par-4s that average only about 420 yards, and four measure less than 380 yards. The layout is built around four lakes, with some holes playing toward and alongside the Red Sea. Native desert areas, waste areas and drainage ditches await poor shots. With several doglegs, the course will demand some strategy. Nevertheless, this is a shorter layout, so wind has to be its primary defense, and early forecasts project the wind to be fairly benign. Strokes Gained: Off The Tee and wedge approach shots look to be the key characteristics for success.

 

Recent History/Winners

 

2019: Dustin Johnson (-19/261); 7/1

 

Selections

Victor Perez 25/1

The 6-foot-6 Frenchman was one of the better drivers and ball strikers on the European Tour last year in his rookie season. He ranked sixth in SG: Off The Tee (+ 0.77 per round), 11th in SG: Approach (+ 0.92) and ninth in SG: Tee To Green (+ 1.47). Perez tied for second two weeks ago in Abu Dhabi and posted a respectable 13th here last year.

 

Tom Lewis 32/1

The Englishman tied for third last week in Dubai after a missed cut in Abu Dhabi. He also finished third here last year. Lewis is balancing the two major tours as he earned his PGA Tour card by playing the back end of the Korn Ferry Tour. Lewis is ranked 50th in the OWGR and is looking to lock up a spot to play his first Masters. The top 50 in the OWGR not already qualified are awarded Masters invitations.

 

Thomas Pieters 35/1

Pieters has had a disappointing Middle East swing, finishing 30th in Abu Dhabi and 37th in Dubai, but he should fit the profile here despite finishing 22nd last year. Pieters rated second on the European Tour in SG: Tee To Green (+ 2.08) and in SG: Approach (+ 1.29). He was also sixth in Driving Distance (311.84 yards), and last year’s leaderboard at Royal Greens was peppered with bombers off the tee.

 

Adri Arnaus 65/1

Arnaus hung in there all Sunday in very tough conditions only to come up short and tie for third last week. He found the water on the 18th, and that kept him from joining the playoff. The Spaniard ranks first in SG: Off The Tee (+ 1.99) and third in SG: Tee To Green (+ 3.08). He’s also another bomber who could go low here.

 

Min Woo Lee 70/1

The bomber pattern continues with Min Woo Lee. He rates third in SG: Off The Tee (+ 1.50), fifth in Driving Distance (333.13 yards) and eighth in SG: Tee To Green (+ 2.82). Lee shot 63-63 in the final two rounds here last year to finish fourth.

 

Romain Langasque 85/1

He was just a couple of shots out of the lead for the final round last week in Dubai, but he struggled in the windy conditions and shot 76 to tie for 27th. His play was much better than his results last week.

 

Ryan Fox 105/1

The Kiwi was second in Driving Distance on the tour last year behind Min Woo Lee. Fox finished sixth here in 2019.

 

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