After a few full-field events, the TOUR trims the field to just 132 golfers this week at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. The People's Open. It's the most-attended golf event every year and has won PGA TOUR Tournament of the Year four times since 2014.
That makes it one of the tougher fields to crack for Korn Ferry Tour grads. As I write this, only one (Mark Hubbard) of the 35 committed grads got into the field through the KFT Category. There are a few others that squeezed into the field through another exemption category (Scheffler/KFT leader, Harrington/sponsor exemption, Cappelen/sponsor exemption, Murray/medical, Hossler/Farmers Top 10) but extremely tough overall.
As a result, that also makes it one of the tougher Monday Qualifiers to get through as many of the alternates will make the trip here and try to play their way in. There are also just three spots up for grabs (instead of the usual 4).
For gamers, a smaller field means less cut carnage. With top 65 and ties playing the weekend, at least 50 percent of the field will get four rounds this week, unless the cutline falls perfectly on 65 names.
The host venue is TPC Scottsdale which has been the case since the year I was born (1987).
As you can expect, there have been plenty of tweaks to the Tom Weiskopf design since then. Initially a sub-7000 layout, it now plays to 7,261 yards as a par 71 on the scorecard. The biggest changes came in 2014 when Weiskopf returned to update the course to account for the current state of distance.
The course has been extremely consistent in producing a winning score in the 14-to-18-under range. Eleven of the last 12 champs have landed in this range. The outlier was Phil Mickelson in 2013 who ran wild with a 28-under winning tally. It's no surprise to find out that Mickelson owns two shares of the course record here (60). He fired an 11-under 60 en route to the 28-under win but already had a 60 on his resume (2005). He also won that 2005. Lefty is surprisingly skipping the event this year to go play the Saudi International over the Euro Tour.
Strategy-wise, driving is so important here. You can use the Bubba approach to bomb and gouge and hope to get lucky in the native area or you can be short but extremely accurate and still get the job done. Based on the golfer quotes, more golfers choose the former, hitting a lot of drivers to give them shorter clubs in hand for their approach shots.
That leads to a very high percentage of greens hit (about 67%). It helps that the green sizes are larger than TOUR average (about 7,100 square feet vs 6,500 average). That makes it rather easy to land greens in regulation, despite the firmness.
Golfers that aren't first-class from tee-to-green will still have a chance to compete this week if they are elite with the flat stick or catch a hot putter. With the field averaging 2/3 of the greens in regulation, there are plenty of chances to roll the rock.
For turf talk, we'll see a Bermuda base is that still trying to grow out of dormancy. To account for that, all the turf is overseeded with perennial ryegrass. The greens get a blend of velvet bentgrass, rye, and poa trivialis while the fairways and rough are just ryegrass and fine fescue. The greens will really be popping while the brown Bermuda will be completely hidden except for well off the fairways.
Other aspects to note are the morning versus afternoon splits here. We typically see cool mornings at this time of year but it warms up very quickly in the late morning and early afternoon. You'll see the ball fly further in the afternoon and it's one of the rare events where an afternoon tee times can actually be better than the morning. Something to note for first-round leader bets. The course is also 1,500 feet above sea level so that can mess with club selections just a bit.
Sifting through some past quotes, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play.
Bubba Watson: "You can play out of the rough here, which I’m in a lot. The greens are very receptive, so even out of the rough I can hit some high shots and get them to stop on the greens. "
Beau Hossler: "I think you got to stay patient out here. The golf course has a lot of holes that you can be aggressive on with wedges, but at the same time there’s some really meaty par-4s that you got to try and make pars on. So I think it’s kind of trying to pick your spots and then realizing that the greens are pretty good and you can make a lot of 20 footers out here if you’re rolling it well"
Chesson Hadley: "I would say, tee to green it’s very, nothing about that is tricky or deceiving or anything. You do need to hit your shots the way you want to hit them, but these greens are tough to read and they’re fast and they’re very pitched and there’s some roll offs here and there and some tricky breaks. "
Rickie Fowler: "I have played well in the desert since I was a junior golfer. Being here, I like the golf course. It’s fun to play. If you get it going, drive it well, you can make a lot of birdies."
Martin Laird: "early in the morning it’s playing long, really long. 11th hole yesterday I had 3-wood/wedge, and today I had driver/6-iron. That just shows you the difference starting early as opposed to in the afternoon."
Overview: Comfort in the desert is a big plus, as mentioned by Fowler. Hossler talks about staying patient and letting the birdies come to you. For Hadley (and many others) the greens can be very tricky. Laird talks about the morning versus afternoon conditions like I previously mentioned.
Looking at grass types, geography, course attributes, and past performance, here are a few courses/events that I think could prove to be a good pointer this week:
Quail Hollow (Wells Fargo)
TPC Sawgrass (PLAYERS)
Kapalua (Tourney of Champs)
Torrey Pines (Farmers)
TPC Summerlin (Shriners)
Augusta National (Masters)
We see location being important (Torrey, Summerlin, Kapalua all out West) but also overseeded rough (Quail, Augusta, Sawgrass) and Heavy Driver Usage (Quail, Kapalua, Torrey, Augusta).
Thursday: Morning temps in the mid 50s before warming up to 70 degrees in the afternoon. Calm Winds.
Friday: Mid 50s in the morning before warming up to 71 degrees. Calm Winds.
As expected based on year's past, the mornings are very cold here but temps warm up by lunch hour. There are no concerns about wind right now.