The Punter

Phoenix Open: Accurate approach play the key to success at Scotsdale

The 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale
The iconic 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale

After a fortnight in Hawaii and three weeks on the Californian coast, the PGA Tour heads for the Arizonian desert for the Phoenix Open so read Steve's comprehensive preview ahead of Thursday's start here...

  • Sheffler seeking a hattrick of wins

  • Course specialists command plenty of respect

  • American Express form worthy of consideration

  • Read my preview of the Qatar Masters here


Tournament History

Originally called the Arizona Open and first staged 92 years ago, the Waste Management Phoenix Open is one of the oldest events on the PGA Tour.

Famous for its raucous crowd alongside the infamous par three 16th hole, the Waste Management Phoenix Open, is an enjoyable event that nearly always produces a tight and tense finish.

Scottie Scheffler won his first PGA Tour title at this event two years and after his successful title defence 12 months ago he'll be bidding to rack up the hattrick this week.

Venue

TPC Scottsdale, Scottsdale, Arizona.

Course Details

Par 71, 7,261 yards
Hole averages in 2023 - 70.99

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 36th time. It's a links style desert track with an exciting finish. The 15th is a reachable par five with water in play (averaged 4.89 last year) and the 17th is a drivable par four (averaged 3.75 12 months ago) but that too has water in play. And it nearly always has a say in who lifts the trophy.

The 17th is the hole that tripped up the 2019 winner, Rickie Fowler, eight years ago when he found the drink with his drive, having been matched at just 1.031/33 in-running, but it won him the event five years ago when Branden Grace found the drink, having hit a low of 1.42/5.

TPC SCOTTSDALE 2023 1.jpgMartin Laird also found the water in 2015 when leading and having been matched at odds-on but it was where Brooks Koepka sealed the deal three years ago when he holed out for an eagle two.

The course was tweaked and lengthened prior to the 2015 edition but low scores are still possible. Jordan Spieth hit a ten-under-par 61 in round three to hit the front in 2021 and there have been four rounds of 60 here, the last by Phil Mickelson, 11 years ago.

The Bermuda greens are of an average size and they typically run fast at around 12 on the stimpmeter.


Weather Forecast


TV Coverage

Live on Sky all four days, starting at 15:30 on Thursday.

Last Eight Winners with Pre-event Prices

  • 2023 - Scottie Scheffler -19 14.013/1
  • 2022 - Scottie Scheffler -16 26.025/1 (playoff)
  • 2021 - Brooks Koepka -19 50.049/1
  • 2020 - Webb Simpson -17 24.023/1 (playoff)
  • 2019 - Rickie Fowler -17 16.015/1
  • 2018 - Gary Woodland -18 70.069/1 (playoff)
  • 2017 - Hideki Matsuyama -17 12.011/1 (playoff)
  • 2016 - Hideki Matsuyama -14 27.026/1 (playoff)

What Will it Take to Win the Phoenix Open?

As demonstrated by Scottie Scheffler 12 months ago, length off the tee has proved slightly more important than accuracy at TPC Scottsdale.

The defending champion ranked 26th for Driving Distance and only 47th for Driving Accuracy when defending the title and the eight winners before him averaged 16.6 for DD and 21.1 for DA so neither metric is crucial.

Up until 2010 putting was the most important stat but as Justin Ray's tweet below from two years ago demonstrates, accurate iron play has been the been the key here for the last decade or so and Scottie demonstrated that perfectly 12 months ago. He ranked third for Greens In Regulation and first for both Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green and SG: Approach.

Strong putting might not be as crucial as it once was here, but it never hurts. The first three home last year ranked 13th, first and ninth for Putting Average and 12th, fourth and seventh and when he won the title for the first time in 2022, Scheffler ranked number one for PA and second for SG: Putting.

In addition to putting nicely, something that now must feel like a distant memory given his recent woes on the greens, Scheffler has played the par fours better than anyone else over the last two years.

He's ranked number one for Par 4 Scoring in each of the last two years and that's always an important stat given ten of the last 11 winners have ranked inside the top-seven for Par 4 Scoring.

Is There an Angle In?

Anyone that enjoys desert golf must be considered and given the recent American Express, won three weeks ago by Nick Dunlap, 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 all won both this event and The American Express fairly recently and a number of players have come close to winning both.

Jason Dufner, who won the American Express in 2016, 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 The American Express in 2007, and Justin Leonard is another to win The American Express and finish second in Phoenix.

The 2022 playoff protagonists here, Scheffler and Patrick Cantlay, have both traded at odds-on in-running at The American Express (Scheffler in 2020 and Cantlay in both 2021 and 2022) and Cantlay, Jesper Parnevik, John Rollins and Ryan Palmer have all finished runner-up at both events.

Is There an Identikit Winner?

Kevin Stadler, ten years ago, is the last big-priced victor and we've seen plenty of high-class winners of late with lots of major champions taking the title.

Rickie Fowler, once dubbed the best player not to have won a major, is the only winner in the last nine years who hasn't won one.

This is a horses for courses track and already this century we've witnessed as many as seven players take the title at least twice.

scottie scheffler wins phoenix open 2023.jpg

Scheffler and Hideki Matsuyama, in 2016 and 2017, like Johnny Miller in the 1970's, have won the event back-to-back and Arnold Palmer won the tournament three time in-a-row in the early 1960s.

Miller's successful defence in 1975 was an emphatic one given he won by 14 strokes but incredibly, he's not the only US Open winner to win by a double-figure margin. Steve Jones romped to an 11 shot win here in 1997!

Winner's Position and Price Pre-Round Four

  • 2023 - Scottie Scheffler led by two 2.285/4
  • 2022 - Scottie Scheffler tied third - trailing by two 8.615/2
  • 2021 - Brooks Koepka tied 7th - trailing by five 46.045/1
  • 2020 - Webb Simpson solo 2nd - trailing by one 3.711/4
  • 2019 - Rickie Fowler led by four strokes 1.422/5
  • 2018 - Gary Woodland tied 8th - trailing by three 42.041/1
  • 2017 - Hideki Matsuyama tied 3rd - trailing by four 8.415/2
  • 2016 - Hideki Matsuyama tied 2nd- trailing by three 5.85/1

In-Play Tactics

Scheffler was tied for sixth and three back after round one and he led all the way after that but don't panic if any of your picks start slowly this week, as they might not necessarily be down and out.

Scottie Scheffler was matched at a whopping 300.0299/1 when he trailed by nine strokes at halfway two years ago and he's far from the first to rally from off the pace...

Having sat outside the top-20 and five off the lead after round one, Koepka was matched at a high of 180.0179/1 in-running in 2021 and he was matched at 320.0319/1 when he won the event for the first time in 2015, when he trailed by seven strokes after rounds one and two.

And having ended the first round tied for 66th and ten off the lead, the 2020 winner, Webb Simpson, was matched at 250.0249/1.

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.

Although Rickie Fowler was in front through 54 holes four years ago, he was a very lucky winner in the end and TPC Scottsdale has been a graveyard for third round leaders in recent years.

Fowler opened up the 2019 renewal with rounds of 64, 65 and 64 to take a four-stroke lead into Sunday but he needed Branden Grace to mess up the 17th hole to eventually get him across the line, having double-bogeyed the fifth, tripled the 11th and bogeyed the 12th.

Despite last year's result, stress-free finishes are rare at Scottsdale and Phil Mickelson, when six clear in 2013, is the only other 54 hole leader to go on to win in the last 13 years. Plenty of players have messed up in front here recently and 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.

I'm away for a week so apologies, but they'll be no selections from me but do look out for Dave Tindall's each-way column.


*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter


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