The Waste Management Phoenix Open preview with Skeeter McGillicuddy
The PGA Tour’s equivalent of the WWF this week is the Waste Management Phoenix Open (surely the sexiest sponsorship in golf) where it will get rowdy (Roddy Piper).
While the faux shenanigans surrounding the 16th tee are uniquely American and well documented – there is a tournament to be won here.
TPC Scottsdale is a well known animal at 4000ft above sea level and 7,200+ yards Par 71. The 16th is a focal point for sure but down the stretch perhaps the driveable par four 17th will prove decisive. Since Weiskopf’s revamp for the 2015 event the list of winners appears to favour power even more than previously. Koepka. Matsuyama twice, and Woodland scream power. Shorter hitters have fared well – they just rarely win. The key is tee to green play. Despite the middling teens under par scoring the winners have posted the reality is the greens are big and it’s more about quality ball striking. Of course someone could freak it and scramble all week but the trends suggest a player who stripes it and putts reasonably will prevail.
Last week Rose just outplayed the field with great tee to green play and solid putting. He made some significant errors but with his super reliable swing was able to confidently stride on knowing he was unlikely to breakdown too often. That confidence got him over the line. Hideki in contrast finished well but either made tee to green mistakes or just couldn’t find the bottom of the hole.
He has thus earned his place in the market being a two-time winner. Thomas has somewhat indifferent form here and I’m slightly perplexed by his market position. Rahm heads the market, is a de facto local, and has three solid efforts to his name – and yet he flatters to deceive too often for me at the price to even consider here.
Xander makes his debut and posted his first ever decent finish at Torrey Pines but is short enough for me.
Gary, Rickie, Webb, Finau all have solid credentials but no thanks. Milky was super impressive down the stretch at the Desert Classic but was out chipped and putted by the winner, Long. Kuch on paper looks nailed on for a top ten.
The shortlist is less than short this week so I’ll not bother. Given the credentials required and to my mind the weaknesses of so many heading the market the approach this week will be to focus on the win market across a wider group of players.
Keegan Bradley: 1pt win at 85 BF
Sung-Jae Im 1pt win at 95 BF
Cameron Champ 1pt win at 75 BF
Tyrell Hatton 1pt win at 100 BF
Luke List 1 pt win at 100 BF
Keith Mitchell 1pt win at 210 BF
Keegan Bradley (last week) won for us in the 2018 play offs and could well do the same for us again this week. Long and straight and hitting tons of greens he has posted some pretty consistent scores since his win at the BMW…17th, 15th, 27th and 29th. He’s by some measures the leading driver out there over the last 6 months and combines this with a great strike rate into the greens. The one concern is a 2019 -1.296 stokes gained putting over 8 measured rounds. His putting is well documented here and while he’s not in the same form on the greens as at the BMW he is scoring. Forty under for his last 5 events for a 69.5 adjusted scoring average he comes to Torrey Pines off the back of a 5th last year and a 4th in 2017 when his game was poor and this when the changes had been made to the North course. To me this is testimony to his long game in the light of his putting doldrums. Finally he has a victory on these Poa Annua surfaces. Bradley was verging on a top 10 deep into Sunday at Torrey Pines when he somewhat imploded in a bid for an even better finish. I love that. He is driving it well and hitting greens and while his course / event performance isn’t great its not so bad either.
Sung-Jae Im (last week) from last year is a serious talent coming off a great year on the Web.com tour. A Web.com tour that seems to have thrown up some really solid main tour prospects – the aforementioned Champ amongst them. There appear to be no real weak parts to his game. Longish, he is also straight and hits geens with his short-term 2019 PGA Tour season stats mirroring his deeper Web.com stats. Mid – high 60’s for fairways and low 70’s for greens. A really solid 15th at the Shriners with 21 birdies where he started off slowly but then posted two career equalling low rounds of 65 over the final three days, he can clearly putt to go with his impressive tee to green game. He’s already posted a 4th placed finish the Safeway and is the 94th ranked player in the world – that is temporary. Now is the time to get on this winner in waiting. Im started the Myakoba with a 5 under 66 and promptly missed the cut. Since then he is 39 under for his last 12 rounds for and ever improving 37th, 16th and 12th. I’m is not a bomber despite averaging over 300 off the tee so he won’t overpower the course. He’s just an emerging talent in impressive, progressive form and he’s going to win one day. Let it be now! Im hardly disgraced himself first time out at Torrey Pines. Nothing for me has changed in that he’s an immense talent who will win.
Cameron Champ(last week) has the best name ever for a winner (short of winner) and is just awesome. 320 off the tee and 62% of fairways and 76% of greens looks on paper to be the perfect profile for a modern Tour player. If anyone can overpower a course it’s him. His club head speed is off the scale and yet he’s won and done so hitting so many greens. In 14 events he has won, had 3 top 10’s and shot a 62. The only weakness would appear to be his chipping. Ranked 4th in stokes gained off the tee and 23rd in strokes gained overall Torrey pines looks ideal for him to melt it off the tee and munch it out of the rough. Even with all his power and impressive tee to green game he’s 25th in strokes gained putting. Missing the third round cut at the Sony could well be a blessing and with 10 days off he’ll have had time to recharge the batteries. The 40/1 may look the best bet of the season! Like Im Champ had an awkward start to his South Course debut at Torrey Pines and missed the cut. And like Im his credentials look impeccable to me once again.
Tyrell Hatton is the 39th best player in the world and heads back to the US tour this week for his debut in this event. Hatton runs hot and cold no doubt and none of his 2019 stats particularly jump off the page to make a case – aside from his 4.75 birdies per round. What Hatton brings to the table is quality ball striking combined with potential brilliance on the green. TPC is a ball-strikers course but you still have to make some putts and any player who has lead the tour in putting can seriously putt. A speculative wager but at triple figures worth the punt.
Luke List makes our team based on his length (ranked 4th at nearly 316) and his ball striking (ranked 10th this season tee to green). At nearly 75% greens in regulation he must be doing a lot right. A middling 40th last week he’s a player inclined to miss cuts but at the price we can accept that risk. He’s an improver all round and after two missed cuts here in 2016 and 2017 he posted a 26th last year. A player who has never posted positive strokes gained putting figure in a full season, he’s doing just that in this early part of the 2019 season.
Keith Mitchell may have seasoned golf fans scratching their heads and there is a reason he is 200’s. In the spirit of the occasion Mitchell makes something of a case for inclusion – at the price. Mitchell currently ranks 4th in the all-important strokes gained tee to green category. Coming off his best ever year in 2018 with a 2nd, 3rd and a 6th Mitchell has taken that form to an extent into 2019. He’s yet to post better than a 14th but also has a 16th and 22nd. Hardly setting the world on fire it has to be remembered this will be only his 37th tour start. Aside from the aforementioned 4th in the strokes gained tee to green category he boasts 11th in strokes gained off the tee and 5th in stokes gained around the green. There is no denying that putting is not his strength so he will need that week on the greens.