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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Waste Management Phoenix Open - Preview

While every stop on the West Coast Swing offers a unique trait that makes each tournament stand out, the Waste Management Phoenix Open has a way of shining a little brighter than the rest by offering a taste of what makes several of the other tournaments great.

Nothing can replicate the history and scenery that Pebble Beach offers. Along with Pebble, Riviera and Torrey Pines South have each hosted major championships. 

While I doubt anyone would want to see another birdie fest to the degree of the Humana Challenge, the Waste Management Phoenix Open offers birdies and eagles, as well as a desert setting somewhat similar to PGA West. 

It offers a memorable course (TPC Scottsdale), or at least a recognizable final four holes. The par-5 15th is a true risk/reward par 5 that features water in play on ever shot. The par-3 16th is unlike any other atmosphere in golf. The par-4 17th is reachable off the tee, and the par-4 18th is a challenging final hole unless you have the length of a Kyle Stanley or J.B. Holmes to take all the danger out of play with a bomb off the tee.

Not that it matters, but it's turning into my favorite stop on the West Coast Swing. Not my favorite course, as that is reserved for Riviera, but the mixture of excitement, course, scoring and a traditionally strong leaderboard are hard to beat.

TPC Scottsdale is a par-71 of 7,216 yards. That would be considered average length by TOUR standards for a par-71 layout. While it features just three par 5s, the par-4 17th essentially makes up for it as a fourth easy birdie opportunity. 

I want to stress that this is not just a regular birdie fest along the lines of a Humana. There are four of what I would consider strong par 4s, and the par 3s are also challenging enough to keep the field honest. That's probably the biggest reason why the past champions of this event aren't viewed as one-hit wonders or guys that just caught lightening in a bottle. They are solid players, and sometimes stars.

So what does it take to contend at TPC Scottsdale?
  • A player has to score on the easy holes. Par 5 scoring is critical, as the three par 5s essentially hand a player plenty of easy birdies. Playing the par 5s in 8- to 10-under is a big deal.
  • Survive the par 3s. They aren't unfair or overly daunting, but playing the par 3s at even for the week would be a worthy goal. There are enough par 4s and 5s to score on, just don't trip up on the par 3s. 
  • Be patient and stick to the green lights on the par 4s. This is the reason I think TPC Scottsdale gets a nice leaderboard. With the exception of the par 5s and the par-4 17th, a player needs to exercise patience and wait on what the course gives. 
  • Long is good. When you have recent winners like Mickelson, Stanley, Mahan and Holmes, that counts for a trend. The advantage comes on the most difficult par 4s, as well as making the par 5s even easier. The par-4 eighth, ninth and 18th holes all benefit from long and accurate drives. 
  • Form is important, Looking back at everyone who has finished inside the top 10 since 2011 (33 players) only three hadn't made a PGA TOUR cut prior to their start at the WMPO. Padraig Harrington (T9 in 2013) was making his first start of 2013, D.J. Trahan (4th in 2012) had missed two cuts and Tommy Gainey (T8 in 2011) had missed three cuts. Further, 74 percent of those earning a top five in that span (14 of 19 players) had at least picked up a top 25 earlier that year. Seven of those 14 had a top 10. The short version is, if a player didn't get a top 25 at the Sony Open, Humana Challenge or Farmers Insurance Open, go ahead and lay off, with few exceptions.
  • If you are looking for additional stats, GIR and proximity tend to stick out. 

We will be back tomorrow with our power rankings. Until then, happy research!

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