With the Monday finish of the Farmers Insurance Open barely in our rearview mirror, it’s time to soldier on with the Waste Management Phoenix Open (WMPO). Brooks Koepka is set to defend his only PGA TOUR title in the Arizona desert, and here is a preview and power ranking to get you off and running with your research.
Before we turn our back completely on the Farmers Insurance Open, it might be best to offer a few thoughts on what transpired at Torrey Pines.
A Monday finish in and of itself is not a huge ordeal for PGA TOUR players to overcome, especially with the close proximity of the two tournaments that we have in play these two weeks. That said, it was just as much the wind as it was the rain that forced a choppy final round spread across two days. Rain doesn’t tend to leave a lasting impact on PGA TOUR players, but wind could cause some collateral damage.
The scoring average of the final round was through the roof. That means the current form entering the WMPO is a bit of a problem. Is it worth fading a player who failed to break 80 in the British Open conditions of Torrey Pines on Sunday and Monday when they won’t see anything like that in Scottsdale? The short answer is, maybe. The score itself isn’t the problem, rather how the player will bounce back from that score. Perhaps the second part of that question involves how a player’s swing held up under those conditions. At times, players will fall into bad habits in bad wind that take a few weeks to undo. There is also the issue of doubting one’s self, and other confidence issues related to closing. Scott Brown’s 87 will take some time to heal.
Familiarity is the friend of punters and gamers, and the WMPO has that to offer. TPC Scottsdale has served as the host and sole venue since 1987. There is no course rotation to worry about this week, or multiple venues for which to prepare, and we have plenty of history from which to study.
TPC Scottsdale is a par-71 layout, stretching out to a modest 7,266 yards. It features three par 5s, 11 par 4s and four par 3s. The par-4 17th is a drivable par 4, but several of the par 4s are quite long. Every golf fan on the planet is well aware of the par-3 16th, that is roughly a 9-iron but has the added stress of 100,000 people watching in a stadium atmosphere.
As a general rule, this layout has been quite kind to bombers. J.B. Holmes is a multiple winner, Bubba Watson has finished runner-up multiple times of late, Koepka is defending and is a bomber, and Kyle Stanley is another bomber that is a winner here. Oh, and Phil’s won three times here as well. Not only is length a big help on the par 5s, there are also several par 4s where a long driver can carry the trouble that others cannot.
It seems obvious, but course history should be heavily studied in advance of this tournament.
The Stats Say
Driving distance matters, so we have to take a look at that. In addition, both par 4 and par 5 scoring should be studied, as well as par breakers.
Here is what this week’s formula has spit out!
1 Bubba Watson – Bubba golf is a pretty natural fit for this layout. He’s been rewarded with runner-up finishes in his last two trips, and three top fives in his last four. We haven’t seen him since a pedestrian T10 in Kapalua, but he should be ready to rumble in the desert.
2 Brooks Koepka – When last we saw this week’s defending champion on the PGA TOUR, he was lighting up the Hyundai Tournament of Champions to the tune of a T3 finish. Current form collides with course history and a nice stats match at TPC Scottsdale.
3 Brandt Snedeker – The winner of the Farmers Insurance Open after making the cut on the number, Sneds has now gone T3, P2, Win in his last three starts. His history in the WMPO isn’t bad either. He’s made eight of nine cuts with four top 10s and one runner-up finish.
4 J.B. Holmes – Bomber won here in his first try, much like Koepka, and also added a second win and a T5. The horse-for-course trend hasn’t maintained the pace of late, with a MC-T58-T66 run in his last three tries perplexing everyone who views him as a great fit. His T6 at the Farmers Insurance Open last week is a tasty lead in to this event.
5 Jason Dufner – Playoff winner at the CareerBuilder Challenge enters with momentum. His history in the WMPO has been a bit sporadic. He’s made three of his five cuts, but two of the paydays have resulted in top 10s including a runner-up. Ranks seventh in par breakers and third in par 5 scoring average, despite not being known as one of the longer hitters on TOUR.
6 Hideki Matsuyama – Yes, he missed the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open, but he did open with a solid 68. His history in the WMPO is exceptional, with a T4 in 2014 improving to a T2 last year. It’s obviously not a fluke that he’s performed that well on two occasions, as his stats are a nice match as well.
7 Kevin Kisner – We’ve learned in the last few months that bad course history is not necessarily a problem for the current version of Kevin Kisner. That said, it must be pointed out that his two previous trips resulted in a T55 and a MC. Of much more weight is his current form, which includes top-10 finishes in both of his 2016 starts.
8 Phil Mickelson – It would be natural to feel burned by Mickelson after his meltdown in the second round on the North course at Torrey Pines. That really doesn’t matter. Lefty is nothing if not unpredictable from one week to the next. He’s a three-time winner of this event and has five really good rounds and one really bad round under his belt in 2016.
9 Ryan Palmer – A couple of top 20s to start the year are enough to earn a spot inside the top 10 of this ranking considering his T2 at TPC Scottsdale last year. In fact, he has three top fives in nine trips to the WMPO. Ranks inside the top 10 in driving distance, par breakers and par 5 scoring average.
10 Rickie Fowler – Similar to Phil, his letdown at Torrey Pines shouldn’t erase his win overseas and a fifth-place finish at Kapalua. Trust his class and the runner-up finish he scored here earlier in his career.
11 Webb Simpson – Managed a pair of top 20s to kick of 2016 despite doing battle with his putter over the last year. When that matches up with top 10s in his last three WMPO appearances (2011, 2012 and 2014), one can be cautiously optimistic regarding his fortunes this week.
12 Zach Johnson – After a long layoff from TPC Scottsdale, ZJ returned to score a share of 10th last season. His length off the tee is a bit of a concern, as is MC in the CareerBuilder Challenge, but class is permanent.
13 Charles Howell III – Three top 20s to kick off the 2016 portion of the season and a history that includes six top 25s in 14 starts in the WMPO pretty much says it all. Expect a non-competitive top 20.
14 Shane Lowry – Tied for 13th at the Farmers Insurance Open and is off and running in 2016. He’s never played TPC Scottsdale, but that shouldn’t be a huge concern. Maybe not time to blow a one-and-done on him, but certainly valuable as a sleeper among the elite players.
15 Gary Woodland – He would have potentially earned a little more love had he not fallen apart in the Farmers finale, but he’s got to bounce back from that. When one considers the bomber angle, he’s a great fit. Best finishes in the WMPO include a T5 in 2011 and a T16 in 2013.
Worth a Mention
In no particular order, the following six guys have all of the attributes of budding young WMPO regular contenders. In fact, they are quite similar to a J.B. Holmes or Brooks Koepka when they broke through here. They are Daniel Berger, Tony Finau, Smylie Kaufman, Patton Kizzire, Hudson Swafford and Justin Thomas.
Granted, Kaufman and Thomas have already won this year and could easily be ranked inside the top 15. In fact, a case could be made for all six inside the top 15.
Check back Tuesday evening for Playing the Tips and see how the Rotoworld staffers set the lineups for this week’s games.
Best of luck to all!