It’s Stadium Hole Time As Ollie Noonan Previews The Phoenix Open
The Super Bowl and the Waste Management Phoenix Open have become inexorably linked in the US Sporting Calendar, with event embracing the tailgating culture and encouraging fanaticism – especially on the infamous amphitheatre 16th hole, where 100,000 fans holler or howl dependent on the accuracy of the par 3s tee shot.
This spectacle, combined with the drivable par 4 17th, has served to create much drama in recent times with four of the previous nine editions being settled via playoffs, and only one (2013) being settled by more than a solitary shot. If you’re gearing up for a long night watching the game in Atlanta, you’d be well advised to stick the golf on first as a precursor.
TPC Scottsdale has undergone some renovation in recent times, stretching the par 71 course out to 7266 yards and renewing the greens with an overseeded Bermudagrass mix, but the key factors in enabling success here remain largely the same they have done since the course was first installed as host in 1987 – get the ball as far down the fairway off the tee and leave yourself in the right areas on the greens with your approach shot. Of the past five winners, none of have ranked outside the top 10 for proximity of approach during the week of their win, so clearly the winner here will need to be dialled in with their irons, whilst taking advantage of a set of gettable par 5s and the risk/reward 17th is also a pre-requisite.
Scottsdale has tended to be a horses-for-courses type track down the years, with certain players embracing the desert conditions and the altitude, whilst employing a little local knowledge. There’s no doubting the fact that the likes of Brendan Steele, Martin Laird and Hideki Matsuyama will be very popular in the market given their positive results here in the past, but the first two have some forms concerns coming in, whilst Matsuyama might just be prone to a bit of a bounce after a strong run at Torrey Pines. His price is possibly the most interesting aspect of all this week given his course form line of 4-2-1-1-WD, but I feel it’s a bit too skinny given a slightly more medium-term review of his recent form.
Jon Rahm heads the betting after his impressive start to the season, and he’ll enjoy raucous support having attended nearby ASU as an amateur. Indeed, it was as an amateur that Rahm finished 5th here on debut, highlighting the incredible potential which he has since gone on the harness. He opened with a -10 on the Torrey Pines North but was somewhat stuck in neutral thereafter, and the worry is that media commitments, the pull of friends and the general exertions of playing his fourth week in five might prevent him from finding that extra gear to the winners circle. He’s bound to play well but at 9.0, I would be content to let him win.
JT Due A Bounce Back Week
Next up is Justin Thomas at 12.0. Thomas’ form line here is a somewhat underwhelming 17-MC-MC-17, but a deeper dive shows more promising signs for the world number 4. Last year, he leads the field in proximity to the hole but was let down by a lack of concentration as he recorded 20 birdies and an eagle on the week to highlight his scoring potential but also ran up a triple and two doubles to knock him out of contention.
He’s won 8 of his past 53 starts (a 15% clip) and really should thrive in the atmosphere on a course where his advantages in total driving and approach play should suit. Last week we saw the two highest ranked players in the field win the events on the European and PGA Tours and I believe there’s a decent chance of born winner Thomas making it a hat trick this week.
Following JT in the market is the aforementioned Matsuyama, followed by last year’s champion Gary Woodland, three-time winner Phil Mickelson, recent winner Xander Schauffele and perennial underachiever Rickie Fowler. Mickelson makes his 30th start at the event, and he has obvious claims given his course record, his return runner up finish at the Desert Classic and his wonderful wedge play. However, I wonder if he isn’t just a little bit too short at 26.0.
Gary Woodland finished like a train at Torrey Pines to end up tied for 12th but he wins too infrequently to justify support at 23.0, even at a course he’s enjoyed in the past, and Fowler might be better played each way than on the exchange given his propensity to find ways to avoid winning. Schauffele is an interesting runner, given his impressive start to the year and positive debut at the course last year, but I can’t help but feel he gets inspired more for the premium events – Brooks Koepka lite – and we’ll be better placed supporting him at bigger odds for bigger events.
Back To The Well With Finau
That leaves me once again supporting Tony Finau instead, at a very fair 25.0. The Utah man couldn’t get the flat stick rolling on the Poa Annua greens at Torrey Pines last week, finishing 68th of the 73 who played the weekend in the SG: putting stats, but his tee-to-green game was impeccable as he led the field in that category. Whilst his record at the course is poor by his standard, having missed three cuts since a tie for 22nd on debut, his game has improved year on year and the quality of his long game undoubtedly should translate.
If he’d had one top 10 on his resume instead of the missed cut, he’d almost certainly be 5 points shorter. As I wrote last week, it feels like win number two is just around the corner and whilst he never really threatened last week, I was encouraged enough to give him another go at a slightly bigger price, in what amounts to a weaker field.
Taking A Flyer On Mullinax
Another man, much further down the betting list, who experienced similar putting woes to Finau last week, is Trey Mullinax (251.0). The University of Alabama stand-out tied for 25th at Torrey Pines, despite ranking 60th for SG: putting as he struggled with the Poa Annua greens. However, his long game was outstanding and he ranked 2nd for strokes gained approach and 5th in strokes gained tee-to-green. The 26-year-old has experienced some moderate success in the early throes of his PGA Tour career, but big things are expected of the big hitter and this could be the year he begins his ascent to the upper echelons, having acclimatised himself with the week-to-week rigour of Tour life.
A tie for 9th at the 2017 US Open, his major debut, highlighted his talent, as did a runner up finish last season at the Valero Texas Open, with host venue TPC San Antonio being another course featuring overseeded Bermuda grass. Our old friend Josh Culp has Mullinax ranked 10th on the list of Overseeded specialists, picking up an additional 0.71 strokes per round on Overseeded greens so the greens will be much more to his liking, and he has every chance of advancing his positive form line trend reading T57-T34-T25 over the past three weeks.
- Justin Thomas – 3 points @ 12.0 (lay 5 points @ 3.0)
- Tony Finau – 2 points @ 25.0 (lay 4 points @ 5.0)
- Trey Mullinax – 1 point @ 251.0 (lay 10 points @ 11.0)