Phoenix Open Preview, Picks & Analysis
Post by Sports Writer Derek Clements
IT IS the one week in the season when etiquette is put to one side, when tens of thousands of spectators pour the contents of tens of thousands of beer down their throats and let the world's best golfers know precisely what they think of their efforts at the par three 16th at TPC Scottsdale. Yes, it can only be the Phoenix Waste Management Open, the world's loudest golf tournament.
Many tour professionals hate the event, but just as many love the atmosphere generated by the 500,000-plus fans who hoot and holler for all four days. Last year's record attendance was 618,000. "Quiet please?" You must be joking.
It was won in 2010 by Hunter Mahan, 2011 by Mark Wilson, 2012 by Kyle Stanley, 2013 by Phil Mickelson, 2014 by Kevin Stadler, 2015 by Brookes Koepka and 12 months ago by Hideki Matsuyama. Mickelson also won here in 1996 and 2005 and was a runner-up in 2008. JB Holmes is another course specialist, winning in 2006 and 2008, while Bubba Watson was runner-up in 2014 and 2015, and Rickie Fowler has also been second on two occasions.
Mickelson, Holmes, Watson, Fowler, Mahan, Koepka - one thing they all have in common is that they are what you might call "people's champions", golfers who interact with the galleries, who love the adulation and adore the limelight. It is interesting to note that when Tiger Woods was planning his comeback schedule, he opted to give this place a miss. We should not be terribly surprised. Not everybody enjoys being booed by spectators when a shot goes wrong. And not everybody enjoys exchanging high fives with just about every single one of the 20,000-plus people who surround the 16th hole, turning its 162 yards into a spectacular amphitheatre.
TPC Scottsdale measures 7,266 yards and is a par 71 which was subjected to a $12m upgrade three years ago.
Last year, Francesco Molinari recorded a hole in one here and he later described the crowd reaction as the best he had ever experienced, saying that it sent a tingle down his spine. Of course the downside to this is that it can be extremely difficult to get a check on your emotions for the holes that remain.
Mickelson, Holmes and Fowler cannot get enough of it, however, and that is why they are probably the men to watch in Phoenix, along with everybody else who hits the ball a long way for TPC Scottsdale is a course that, in the main, suits golf's bombers. In saying that, you could never in a million years describe Mark Wilson as a big hitter.
If there is one man who feeds off positive vibes more than anybody else, it is Watson. The two-time Masters champion has struggled in recent months. Despite being ranked seventh in the world at the time, he was overlooked by Davis Love for last year's US Ryder Cup team, and it hurt him deeply. He volunteered to help out as a vice-captain but was clearly uncomfortable in that role. What probably made matters worse for Watson were reports that he was one of the most unpopular individuals on the PGA Tour among his fellow professionals. You would need to have a heart of stone not to be affected by that, and Bubba does not. He is an emotional man who has a habit of opening his mouth before engaging his brain, but he is also a huge talent who has made the most of an industrial golf swing that allows him to strike a golf ball into the middle of next week.
Watson is in need of a performance to boost his flagging morale and there is nowhere better designed to give him the platform to do precisely that than TPC Scottsdale. He has finished in the top 15 in each of the past four years.
Matsuyama is not a typical Phoenix Open winner. Don't get me wrong - of course he strikes the ball a long, long way. But he is a typically reserved Japanese man and is not somebody you would imagine would be especially comfortable in such a febrile environment. It is a measure of the man and his powers of concentration that he was able to upset the odds 12 months ago. And it proved to be the springboard for an incredible 12 months for Matsuyama, who is now looking like the man most likely to when it comes to adding a major to his resume.
The Japanese golfer only won because Rickie Fowler suffered a meltdown that included putting his ball into the water at the par-four 17th hole, resulting in a three-shot swing in favour of Matsuyama. In the end, Fowler had to birdie the final hole to force a playoff, during which he once again found the lake at the 17th. Fowler should be a contender this week but his game is not in a good place, and neither is his mind.
Also in the field in Justin Thomas, the other man of the moment. Thomas is an incredibly impressive golfer. There is not much of him, but he possesses amazing clubhead speed and regularly achieves distances from the tee that seem to defy logic. He gives himself lots of birdie opportunities.
Brandt Snedeker has produced some decent finishes in Phoenix, as has Ryan Palmer, and they will surely feature again this time. The Phoenix fans love Snedeker because he just gets on with things, wasting little or no time. And they adore Palmer because he is a "good ole boy" and, well, because he is called Palmer. Arnie won this tournament in 1961, 1962 and 1963, when he was at the very peak of his powers, and his name is etched into the very fabric of the Phoenix Open. The locals would enjoy cheering his namesake to victory, and Palmer is due a good tournament.
Andrew "Beef" Johnston missed the cut at Torrey Pines last week but will surely adore the atmosphere in Phoenix and may just enjoy a decent week. Mickelson is playing here for the 28th consecutive year, bidding to become the first four-time champion.
To Win: Bubba Watson. Time to see Bubba bubbling again
Each Way: Phil Mickelson. His game is not far away
Each Way: Justin Thomas. The form man
Bubba Watson. Really needs a win
Phil Mickelson. Lots of noise if Lefty finishes first
Justin Thomas. Could run out of steam
J B Holmes. A good ole boy
Hideki Matsuyama.Probably due another win
Brandt Snedeker. Playing some glorious golf
Harris English.Finding some consistency at last
Brooks Koepka. Likes the course and the atmosphere
Jon Rahm. What chance another win?
Ollie Schniederjans. Young man with a BIG future
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