Waste Management Phoenix Open: Steele value to contend again

Brendan Steele - fancied to go well by The Punter
Brendan Steele - fancied to go well by The Punter

Steve looks ahead to this week's PGA Tour action in Phoenix where he fancies Brendan Steele to figure once more. Read his in-depth preview here...


"Steele has held his form nicely since winning the Safeway Open in October and his sixth placed finishes at both the Tournament of Champions and the aforementioned Career Builder Challenge are especially encouraging. He’s played well here when not at his best and with course form figures that read 53-5-6-6-26-17, I thought he was well worth following in the place markets especially."

Tournament History

With its raucous crowds, especially alongside the par three 16th hole, the Waste Management Phoenix Open is somewhat bizarrely nicknamed "The Greatest Show on Grass".

It was first staged in 1932 when known as the Arizona Open and it's one of the oldest events on the PGA Tour.


Venue


TPC Scottsdale, Scottsdale, Arizona


Course Details

Par 71, 7,266 yards
Stroke Index in 2016 - 71.03

TPC Scottsdale underwent a bit of a renovation before the 2015 renewal. Some of the greens were remodelled and all of them were resurfaced. More than 100 yards was added in length and new bunkers were added too but the changes haven't make a significant difference to the scoring.

Best known for its barmy par three 16th hole, this stadium course was built specifically for this event and this year it hosts the event for the 29th time. It's a links style desert track with an exciting finish. The 15th is a reachable par five with water in play (averaged 4.82 in 2016) and the 17th is a drivable par four play (averaged 3.78 in 2016) but that too has water in play. The hole tripped up Rickie Fowler last year when he found the drink with his drive having been matched at just 1.031/33 in-running and Martin Laird also found the water in 2015 when leading and having been matched at odds-on.

Even though the course has been tweaked and lengthened, look out for low scores; there have been four rounds of 60 here, the last by Phil Mickelson, four years ago.

The Bermuda greens are of an average size and they typically run at around 12.5 - 13 on the stimpmeter.


Weather Forecast


TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting on Thursday


Last Five Winners

2016 - Hideki Matsuyama -14 (playoff)
2015 - Brooks Koepka -15
2014 - Kevin Stadler -16
2013 - Phil Mickelson -28
2012 - Kyle Stanley -15


What Will it Take to Win the Waste Management Phoenix Open?

Neither length nor accuracy appears critical here and up until 2010 putting was the most important stat but that's changed of late. Hitting plenty of greens is the key to success now.

Hideki Matsuyama ranked number on for Greens In Regulation and four of the first five home ranked inside the top-eight for that stat. Brooks Koepka ranked fourth for GIR when winning in 2015 and Kevin Stadler only ranked 10th three years ago but had the runner-up, Graham DeLaet, took the title he'd have been the fourth winner in five years to win the tournament ranking number one for greens hit.

Scoring well on the par fours is always key but especially so this week and the last six winners have all ranked inside the top-seven for Par 4 Scoring. Matsuyama ranked number one for this key stat also.


Is There an Angle In?

Given the Career Builder Challenge, won two weeks ago by Hudson Swafford, is also played in the desert and as part of the West Coast Swing, it's perhaps not surprising to see that a number of players have performed well at both events.

Phil Mickelson, Mark Wilson and Kenny Perry have won both this event and the CBC fairly recently and a number of players have come close to winning both. Jason Dufner, who won the CBC last year, was beaten in a playoff here by Wilson in 2011, Charley Hoffman was beaten by Perry in extra time here, two years after he'd won there, and Justin Leonard is another to have finished second here and won the CBC.


Is There an Identikit Winner?

On occasions, this has been an out-and-out birdie-fest and two tournament specialists, Mark Calcavecchia and Phil Mickelson, have both won the event with ridiculously low 28-under-par totals but after the changes to the course it might not have been a coincidence that two of the world's best fought out the finish last year.

Matsuyama and Flower played off after reaching just 14-under-par and only other players to get it to double-figures under-par were Harris English, Danny Lee and Boo Weekley.


In-Play Tactics

Although last year's playoff protagonists were tied for the lead after round one, this is definitely one of those events where the winners can come from a long way back.

When Phil Mickelson won here for the first time in 1996 he sat in 30th after round one and he was down in 40th place after an opening round of 73 when he won the second of his three titles 12 years ago. And in the last eight years, four winners have also started very slowly.

Koepka was matched at 320.0319/1 in-running in 2015, as he trailed by seven strokes after rounds one and two. Kyle Stanley was tied 33rd and five back after round one in 2012, Hunter Mahan was tied for 29th and six back after round one and seven adrift at halfway in 2011. And Kenny Perry sat 74th and seven back after round one in 2009, so don't give up if your picks start sluggishly.

TPC Scottsdale has been a graveyard for third round leaders in recent years with the impressive Lefty being the only exception. He calmly converted his six-shot lead four years ago but six of the last seven third round leaders have made a right pig's ear of getting home.

Danny Lee led by three after 54 holes last year and he was matched in-running at just 2.26/5 early on in round four but he was soon caught and passed. And he was the second player in two years to give up a three-stroke 54-hole lead...

As previously stated, Martin Laird hit a low of 1.910/11 two years ago with just two holes to play, having led by three at the start of the day, but he bogeyed the 17th and then double-bogeyed the last.

Bubba Watson traded at just 1.528/15 two years ago before messing up late on, Spencer Levin tamely relinquished a SIX-stroke lead in 2012, when he shot 75 in round four, and prior to him, Tommy Gainey shot 75 to fall from first to eighth. And Brandt Snedeker suffered a complete meltdown in 2010, shooting 78 and eventually finishing 43rd!

Taking on the third round leaders has been a licence to print money of late so bear that in mind when assessing the situation on Sunday morning.

If you're planning to bet in-running, the par four 14th was the toughest on the track again last year but it's sandwiched between a pair of much easier holes. The par five 13th was the second easiest hole on the course last year and the par five 15th isn't much harder. The players then face the infamous cauldron of the short par three 16th before they take on the drivable par four 17th. That hole ranked as the third easiest hole on the course last year but remember, it tripped up Fowler last year, Laird in 2015 and I have very painful memories of Yang going odds-on before blowing the event there in 2010 too.

The final hole is a tough par four (second toughest the last two years) so a par is by no means a given there.


Market Leaders

Jordan Spieth heads the market and rightly so. After a somewhat subdued 2016, he's started 2017 well and he was a big eye-catcher at the Sony Open, where he ranked first for Greens In Regulation when finishing third behind his good friend, Justin Thomas.

Spieth was seventh here in his only previous visit two years ago and it would be no surprise to anyone if he were to go on and win. He has to be afforded plenty of respect now that he seems to have found some consistency with his irons and 10/1 on offer with the Sportsbook looks more than fair.

Hideki Matsuyama clearly likes it here. Not only did he win the event 12 months ago, he also traded at odds-on in 2015 when finishing second and was fourth on debut in 2014. He was in incredible and and almost unstoppable form before Christmas but after finishing runner-up to Thomas at the Tournament of Champions, he seems to have gone off the boil - finishing 27th at the Sony Open and only 33rd at the Farmers.

Admitedly, those aren't events at which he's prospered previously but his very recent form and the fact that he's attempting to defend, are legitimate concerns and I'm happy to leave him out of my plans before the off.

Justin Thomas will pitch-up at Scottsdale in search of a hat-trick of wins having won both the year's first two events in Hawaii. I suspect he was more than ready for a break after such a start to the year but whether two weeks off has been beneficial or not is yet to be seen and I suspect he may have lost momentum. This is Thomas' third appearance here and he needs to improve considerably on last year's performance as he missed the cuts with a pair of 72s. He was 17th on debut in 2015.


Selections

I couldn't resist a small saver on Spieth at 10/1. He's bound to be inspired by Thomas's escapades and Jon Rahm's fabulous victory on Sunday will also inspire. If he plays like he did in Hawaii it's impossible to envisage him not contending and I've a feeling we could see the 2015 Spieth in attendance.

I backed Jon Rahm in the desert at the Shriners Hospital for Children Open in November and I'd been waiting for this event for him too so I was a little miffed to see him win from off the pace on Sunday.

He finished fifth here as an unconsidered 1000.0 amateur in 2015 and I thought this might be where he got off the mark on the PGA Tour. The world and his aunt now knows how much talent this lad has and I was a little bit surprised to see one or two firms open at 25/1 about him on Monday.

Those prices have now gone but I was happy to make a modest investment at 24.023/1 just in case he goes in again. It's notoriously hard to win back-to-back but Thomas has already done it this year and I couldn't let him go unbacked.

I'm never entirely convinced by Brendan Steele in-contention and I think he should have won more than the two PGA Titles he's so far claimed but I'm happy to play him here modestly in the win market and more robustly in the three different place markets.

Steele has held his form nicely since winning the Safeway Open in October and his sixth placed finishes at both the Tournament of Champions and the aforementioned Career Builder Challenge are especially encouraging. He's played well here when not at his best and with course form figures that read 53-5-6-6-26-17, I thought he was well worth following in the place markets especially.


Selections:
Jordan Spieth @ 10/1 (Sportsbook)
Jon Rahm @ 24.023/1
Brendan Steele @ 46.045/1

Brendan Steele in the top five, top ten and top 20 markets @ 9/1, 4/1 and 15/8 (Sportsbook)

I'll be back on Thursday afternoon or Friday with the In-Play Blog.


*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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