Friday, February 2, 2018

Preview: Waste Management Phoenix Open

By Kevin Krest

Last Week

For the second consecutive week, it took extra holes and an additional day to decide the outcome of the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in La Jolla. Jason Day outlasted Alex Noren in a 6-hole playoff that concluded on Monday after Ryan Palmer was eliminated on the first extra hole. Noren and Palmer had to survive a marathon 18th hole when J.B. Holmes took an unbelievable seven minutes to hit his second shot at the par 5. Day looked as though he would have to withdraw after back problems plagued him throughout his opening round, but he rebounded for his first PGA Tour win since the 2016 Players Championship.

The other story of the week was the return of Tiger Woods, who despite driving difficulties, still shot 3-under par for the week and finished in a very respectable tie for 23rd place. It was the first time he'd played on the weekend in an official Tour event since the 2015 Wyndham Championship. From what I could tell, Woods looked sharper than expected around the greens and if he can start hitting fairways, arguably the best player of all-time should be able to contend for wins this season.

This Week

Waste Management Phoenix Open
Scottsdale, Arizona
The Stadium Course at TPC Scottsdale - Par 71

The par 3 16th hole at the Waste Management has taken on a life of its own, with its unique stadium environment that accommodates up to 16,000 spectators. There are 278 suites and 3,700 general admission seats in a structure that in places is three stories high. Not unlike how the island green 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass defines The Players Championship, the 16th at the Waste Management is definitely on the players' minds as they make their way through the back nine.

In addition to the raucous fans, caddies regularly engage in races to see who can reach the green first. The players themselves embrace the hole with varying degrees of enthusiasm, but some, such as Rickie Fowler encourage the boisterous behavior. In terms of total attendance, the traditional Super Bowl weekend date for the tournament results in the highest numbers on Tour, last year reaching a record 655,434 for the week. Saturday's attendance of 204,906 was also a single-day record.

History

The Phoenix Open dates back to 1932 when it was originally called the Arizona Open. After some stops and starts, the tournament has been held continuously since 1944 and at its current location since 1987. Although five of the last 10 events, including the last two, have been decided in a playoff, historically the requirement of extra holes was rare. There have been number of blowout victories, with Johnny Miller holding the record with a 14-shot victory over Jerry Heard in 1975.

Arnold Palmer bested four players, including Jack Nicklaus, by 12 strokes in 1962, his second of three consecutive Phoenix Open wins. In 1997, Steve Jones beat Jesper Parnevik by 11, Mark Calcavecchia shot a tournament record 256 in an 8-shot win over Rocco Mediate in 2001 and J.B. Holmes beat a quintet of players by 7 strokes on his way to a victory in 2006. In each of the last two years, Hideki Matsuyama has won in a playoff after finishing in a tie for second in 2015. In addition to those already mentioned, past winners include some of the other great players of the game: Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, Jimmy Demaret, Billy Casper, Jack Nicklaus, and Phil Mickelson.

2018 Field

* Twenty of the top 23 finishers from last year's tournament are in the field

* Five of the top 10, 14 of the top 20, and 39 of the top 50 in FedEx Cup points

* Four of the top 10, seven of the top 20, and 20 of the top 50 in the World Golf rankings

* Nineteen countries represented

* Six colleges have four or more former players represented: Oklahoma State (6), Georgia Tech (5), Georgia (5), Arizona State (5), Florida (4), UNLV (4)

Oldest Player

Steve Stricker (50)

Youngest Player

John Oda (21)

Major Champions

Phil Mickelson (5), Jordan Spieth (3), Bubba Watson (2), Zach Johnson (2), Retief Goosen (2), Justin Thomas, Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson, Lucas Glover, Geoff Ogilvy

Total Tour Victories

307 (Phil Mickelson, 42)

Total Major Victories

19 (Phil Mickelson, 5)

Past Champions

Phil Mickelson (3), Hideki Matsuyama (2), Kyle Stanley, Hunter Mahan, J.B. Holmes (2), Aaron Baddeley

Who's Hot

Ryan Palmer came into this year with on a major medical extension and had six starts to earn enough money to gain exempt status for the rest of 2018. Two weeks ago at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his tie for 20th did the trick. With the pressure behind him, he played well enough to win at last week's Farmers Insurance Open, but bowed out of a three-way playoff on the first extra hole. The three-time winner on Tour has also been dealing with his wife's cancer, which is now in remission, as well. He has risen to No. 31 in the FedEx points standings and if he has enough left in the tank after starting his fourth tournament in a row, Palmer could be a big factor this week.

Who's Not

Nick Watney, a five-time winner on Tour, hasn't won since 2012. His best finish this season is a tie for 50th at the CareerBulder and he's mired in 176th place in the FedEx Cup race. Last season, he qualified for the FedEx Cup playoffs after coming off an injury that shortened his 2016 season, but only made 14 cuts in 23 events and didn't make it past the first playoff event. If he is to stay eligible for the Tour, he'll need to get the health problems behind him and start making birdies. On a course where the winning score is generally around 15 to 18 under par, maybe he'll be able to find the old magic that landed him on the 2011 Presidents Cup team.

What to Look For

Last week, Jon Rahm looked to be in position to take over the top spot in the world, but an 8-over par weekend left him in a tie for 29th at the Farmers and still at No. 2 in the world. Despite his problems in San Diego, I still have to look at Rahm as one of the favorites this week. The Spaniard was a sensation at Arizona State in nearby Tempe, Arizona and knows how to play desert golf. He finished in a tie for 16th last year, but his game has improved since then. I also like the way Tony Finau and Austin Cook are playing this season. With Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler, and Hideki Matsuyama also in the field, this could shape up for quite a finish shortly before Super Bowl LII kicks off.

Kevin Krest is the author of the entertaining PK Frazier series of sports suspense novels and the co-host of the weekly "The Cold Hard Truth: On Sports" broadcast. His books can be found on Amazon.com.

Contents copyright © Sports Central 1998-2017