Waste Management Phoenix Open Preview, Picks & Analysis
The Waste Management Phoenix Open is a one-off, as anybody who has ever watched it will know. This is the tournament that attracts massive crowds and is always held on the same weekend as the SuperBowl. And, of course, many of those blue-collar fans are alcohol-fuelled in a pretty spectacular fashion.
Many PGA Tour players refuse to compete here, unable to cope with the barracking that goes hand in hand with poor shots. And then there are those who love it, including Rickie Fowler, who won it last year after doing his very best to throw it away.
The American was cruising to victory until a bizarre rules infringement at the par-four 11th hole. Fowler thought he had recorded a six, which was bad enough, but PGA Tour vice-president of rules and competition Slugger White had to inform him that he had actually taken seven.
“I hope I never have to go through that again,” Fowler said when it was over, and he had secured his fifth TOUR win and the first witnessed by his father, Rod, and maternal grandpa, Taka.
On a course where he has often struggled horribly, Fowler survived the disaster, making clutch birdies on the 15th and 17th holes in a final-round 74 to beat Branden Grace (69) by two. Justin Thomas, Fowler’s friend and roommate for the week, shot 72 to finish third. In breaking a near two-year drought, He also bucked a trend that had seen him convert only one of his last six 54-hole leads/co-leads to victory on TOUR.
But back to the 11th hole. “Pretty much everything that could go wrong went wrong,” Fowler said. The saga began when Fowler’s approach to the 483-yard hole came up short. He got too aggressive with his third, which skidded through the rain-soaked green, trickled down the hill behind it, and tumbled in the pond.
“The ball looked like it was on ice,” he said.
The shot was overdone, but slightly unlucky. Had the ball veered just a touch to the right, it would have caught the sand, from where he might’ve gotten up and down for bogey. Fowler took a drop at the water’s edge and walked up the hill to look at the green. Having turned his back, the ball that was at rest rolled down the hill and into the water. After some discussion with White, it was determined that Fowler would be penalised one more shot for the ball going in the water. He hadn’t hit it there, but it had been in play. Sometimes, as we all know only too well, the rules of golf are just plain bonkers.
“That’s an interesting one,” Fowler said of the rules of golf, which the governing bodies have tried to simplify and make more user-friendly. “We did nothing to cause it to happen, and it’s a one-shot penalty.”
He dropped again, chipped his sixth shot onto the green, and rolled in a 17-foot putt for seven, or what he later called “a really good triple.”
Grace birdied the 13th hole, Fowler bogeyed the 12th, and just like that he’d gone from five ahead to one behind in less than an hour.
It was all slipping away. With his parents, Lynn and Rod, and grandparents, Jeanie and Taka, watching, Fowler dug deep to exorcise the demons of his defeat by Hideki Matsuyama in 2016. That day Fowler knocked his drive over the par-four 17th and into the water in regulation play, and then hooked a three wood into the water on the same hole in the playoff. He’d choked back tears afterwards, so badly had he wanted to win in front of his dad and grandfather. Fowler was runner-up to Hunter Mahan in 2010 and two years ago had another chance to win yet but bogeyed three of the final four holes and finished in a tie for 11th place. So he definitely felt that the tournament owed him something.
Fowler reached the green in two at the par-five 15th, his second shot from 239 yards clearing the hazard and leaving him with a two-putt birdie from 50 feet. He was tied with Grace, who was beginning to falter ahead of him. Fowler saved par from just right of the 16th green. He drove the green on 17, the hole that had tormented him for years. Again, he needed only two putts for another birdie. He was back to 17 under, two ahead of Grace, who’d bogeyed 17.
“To hit the shots that he did on those holes, after everything that had happened, was amazing,” said friend Aaron Baddeley, who lives five minutes from the course and had driven over to see Fowler win. (Baddeley had done the same thing in 2016 and 2018, only to wind up giving condolences instead of congratulations.)
Thomas said he believed Fowler’s win, under such harsh conditions and with bad breaks, will do more to steel him for future battles than had he coasted to victory. “It was insane,” Thomas said of the events at the 11th hole.
The winner didn’t dispute that, or the fact that everything had turned out well in the end. “I finally got it done,” said Fowler.
Fowler missed the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, as did Xander Schauffele, and both players will be looking to make up for that this week.
Waste Management Open Tips & Picks
Collin Morikawa. Keep your eye on this young man
Rickie Fowler. Will want to put his Torrey Pines disappointment behind him
Justin Thomas. Looking for yet another victory
Waste Management Open Fantasy Picks
Collin Morikawa. A massive talent with a glorious swing
Rickie Fowler. Has a brilliant record here
Justin Thomas. As good a player as there is anywhere on the planet
Xander Schauffele. Hoping to bounce back from a missed cut
Viktor Hovland. A certain winner at some stage this season
Jordan Spieth. Whisper it, but there are some encouraging signs from the three-time major champion
Gary Woodland. A good old boy who will thrive here
Hideki Matsuyama. Former winner
Bubba Watson. Adores this event - and venue
Bryson DeChambeau. Showed some great form in Dubai
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