The Waste Management Phoenix Open
Last week at The Farmers Insurance Open marked the start of Tiger Woods’ bid for major success in 2013. The former world number 1 stormed to the title with victory never really in doubt once he hit the front. Is he back? Well 4 titles last year and 8 top 4 finishes suggests he already was. The key for me is whether his driver works well or not. The driving demons came back to haunt him on his last round at the Farmers, with a few bogeys and doubles appearing on his scorecard. But his putter was working well and the infamous Tiger chipping game was back on song. He will be in contention at the majors for sure but will he creep closer to Jack Nicklaus’ 18 major wins? That remains to be seen.
The PGA Tour moves to Arizona this week and one of the more interesting courses on the Tour, TPC Scottsdale. The distance is pretty standard at 7,216 yards but as with every tournament accuracy off the tee and GIR is important. Driving accuracy on average was down the last 2 years showing fairways are not as easy to find as they used to be. The altitude here plays a factor with the ball flying that little bit further. Big hitters will find the course easier on a whole but play around the green and good usage of irons will be essential. Large, fast greens will feature prominently too.
This course is noted for the quite special par 3 16th. Surrounded by 20,000 spectators, the players have to prove their worth and get it close or risk a chorus of boos from the Scottsdale faithful. Some have described the 16th as “one big party” on this “amphitheatre” like hole. There have been some incredible scenes there over the years, most notably Tiger Woods’ hole-in-one back in ’97. Or there was Ian Poulter’s one-finger salute to the gallery after a disaster putt 3 years ago. On average the Phoenix Open gets around 500,000 spectators making it a tournament for the showmen on the tour. Bubba Watson, a man you could certainly put into that bracket, has already been tweeting this week about the 16th saying “Thinkin about what do on 16th on Friday, anyone got any ideas? #whatwouldbubbado”. Expect a few tweets from @DownThe18th on when the field moves through the 16th this week! Given the size of the tournament, you can expect one of the ‘big-names’ on the tour to take this one.
Bubba Watson (18/1 Paddy Power)
We have to start by saying he was our favourite last week at the Farmers Insurance but pre-tournament flu meant he had to withdraw much to our dismay! But this tournament is made for Bubba. Big crowds, huge atmosphere and pressure holes in which big personalities will thrive off. Being a local lad, born and bred in Scottsdale, Watson knows the course well and has been a solid performer at this tournament for years. 5th place here last year shows his game suits this course well and he recorded an 8th place in his first ever play here back in ’07. Of course his Masters win last year will fill him with loads of confidence going into 2013. The American was 2nd last year in GIR on the tour which is quite some feat for such a big hitter. And when he does stray off the green fear not as he was 1st in finding the greens from places other than the fairway in 2012. We can certainly see Bubba doing well in his back yard and watch out for his antics on the 16th this week!
Rickie Fowler (16/1 Paddy Power)
Fowler is one that will definitely win one or two tournaments this year and he possesses that flair and character to win this Phoenix Open. We backed Fowler last week and what a 4 days he had. He started with an atrocious rock bottom round of 77 and then went about climbing the leaderboard in stunning fashion and but for a birdie on the last from Nick Watney, he would have had a T5 e/w finish. Fowler is a DownThe18th ‘player to watch’ this year and his 2 top 10 finishes at the end of 2012 showed his game is starting to come together. The young American certainly enjoys it at TPC Scottsdale with a 26th in ’12, 13th in ’11 and a solo 2nd back in 2010 on only his second appearance at the tournament. 2 T6’s to start 2013 shows Fowler means business and as long as he can keep a poor round off his card we think he will go very close this week.
Robert Garrigus (33/1 Paddy Power)
The big hitting American is someone who took our fancy at the Humana Classic at the start of the month and he put in a steady performance with a T16 -20 and followed that up last week with a T6 -8 at the Farmers Insurance. So Garrigus’ game is definitely on it at the moment. As we stated earlier it’s not imperative that you hit the ball long here but it certainly helps! He is 5th in driving distance on the tour this year and pair that with his 5th place in GIR, he possesses some impressive stats. Garrigus also finds himself 3rd in scrambling on the tour this year, so as long as he holes some putts, this could again be one where the big man goes close. His course form is slightly worrying with 3 missed cuts in 5 years but we’re sure his form this year will cast any doubt he has aside. He did have an 11th place finish here back in ’07 which means he can hold his own round the course.
Ryan Palmer (66/1 Paddy Power)
For the odds that he finds himself at, Palmer is a great e/w shout. His last tournament, The Humana Challenge, culminated in a T6 -23 and a cool $200,000 pay-out. His course record around Scottsdale is not to be sniffed at, with a 2nd place finish back in ’06 in only his second appearance at the Phoenix Open. He has since followed that with some solid golf around the course, best of which was 11th place in 2010. As for current form, Palmer has some impressive stats about him. He is currently driving it significantly longer than anyone else on the tour, some 8 yards on average longer than the man in 2nd place. Distance is not imperative as I’ve said, but it will help! He is 5th on the tour in GIR % which is vital on any course and shows he will always give himself a chance for birdies. Palmer also finds himself 2nd in birdies on par5’s this year, of which there are 3 on this course and they will need to be taken advantage of. He was also ranked 8th in 2012 in birdie average, so he certainly knows how to gain a shot or two. We think Palmer can shock a few here and sneak under the radar.
Ryan Moore (66/1 Paddy Power)
Ryan is another one of these golfers we will always fancy whatever the course. His odds are very tempting for such a great talent who has experience of winning on the tour. We have always had a soft spot for him after watching all 4 days of the Justin Timberlake Open towards the back end of last year where he played some scintillating golf and won convincingly. In the first 3 months of 2012, Moore brought home 8 top 10 finishes which only Rory Mcilroy bettered. This shows he likes to play his best stuff at the start of the year. Saying that, Moore hit a hot streak of form towards the end of 2012 finishing T10 in both Deutsche Bank Champs and The BMW Championship. He followed those with a T3 at The Tour Championship and he finished the year in style at The Justin Timberlake. At only 30, Moore can go a long way in the game and again we will be shocked if he doesn’t pick up a couple of tour wins along the way this year. His 11th place finish in last year’s FedEx Cup playoffs means he will now ply his trade in all 4 majors this year as well as World Golf Championship events. He has said he will take a lot more breaks this year thus focusing on his stronger events. As for course form, he had a very tasty 6th place in 2009 followed by a solid 14th in 2010, so he knows his way around this place. The American has missed the last 2 PGA Tour events as a result and will be fresh going into the Phoenix this week. We like him and think he will go close!