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Waste Management Phoenix Open: Rahm to make amends after disappointing weekend

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It's one of the most eagerly awaited tournaments on the PGA Tour calendar and Steve Rawlings teams up with Paul Krishnamurty to provide Betting.Betfair's in-depth preview...

"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 five years ago but seven of the last eight third round leaders have made a right pig's ear of getting home."

Tournament History

First staged in 1932 and known as the Arizona Open, the Waste Management Phoenix Open is one of the oldest events on the PGA Tour.

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".

Venue

TPC Scottsdale, Scottsdale, Arizona.

Course Details

Par 71, 7,266 yards
Stroke Index in 2017 - 70.19

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 were added in length and new bunkers were added too but the changes haven't made any 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 30th time.

TPC-Scottsdale-640.gif

It's a links style desert track with an exciting finish. The 15th is a reachable par five with water in play (averaged 4.81 in 2017) and the 17th is a drivable par four (averaged 3.62 in 2017) but that too has water in play. The hole tripped up Rickie Fowler two years ago when he found the drink with his drive, having been matched at just [1.03] 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. A solitary 63 by John Peterson in round three was the lowest anyone could muster 12 months ago but there have been four rounds of 60 here, the last by Phil Mickelson, five years ago.

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

Weather Forecast

TV Coverage

Once again, there will be some live Featured Group coverage on Sky starting at 14:15 on Thursday afternoon and the full live coverage starts at 20:00 (UK and Ireland time).

Last Five Winners

2017 - Hideki Matsuyama -17 (playoff)
2016 - Hideki Matsuyama -14 (playoff)
2015 - Brooks Koepka -15
2014 - Kevin Stadler -16
2013 - Phil Mickelson -28

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

What you do off the tee here is largely irrelevant and neither length nor accuracy appear critical. Hideki Matsuyama, when making a successful title defense 12 months ago, ranked 18th for Driving Distance and sixth for Driving Accuracy and that was an improvement on his driving from 2016 when he ranked 35th for DD and 45th for DA. Webb Simpson made the playoff ranking just 71st for DD last year and Harris English (third in 2016) and Byeong Hun An (sixth last year) have both recently placed ranking 65th for DA.

Up until 2010 putting was the most important stat but that's changed completely of late and hitting plenty of greens is the key to success now.

Hideki Matsuyama ranked number two for Greens In Regulation last year and he topped the GIR stats in 2016. Simpson ranked 17th but five of the first six ranked inside the top ten last year and 12 months earlier, 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 four 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. GIR in far and away the most important of the main stats.

Scoring well on the par fours is always key but especially so this week and five of the last six winners have all ranked inside the top-seven for Par 4 Scoring. Matsuyama ranked number one in 2016 but only 10th last year. However, the runner-up, Simpson, and the third, Louis Oosthuizen, ranked third and first.

Is There an Angle In?

Josh Culp's Future of Fantasy website is a great research resource and it's worth checking out the Bermudagrass stats there. Josh lists the top-25 performers on Bermuda since 2014 and it's no surprise to see Matsuyama and Fowler listed, along with a number of other players that have performed well here.

Anyone that enjoys desert golf has to be considered and given the Career Builder Challenge, won two weeks ago by Jon Rahm, 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 have we witnessed a bit of a change in the last two year?

It's early days, but the two editions since the redevelopment have produced two high-quality leaderboards, suggesting that although the scoring here is still low, the course being tougher is advantageous to the very best players.

Although not (yet) a major winner, Matsuyama is straight out of the top drawer and he was followed home by a pair of major champions in Simpson and Oosthuizen, with the 2016 runner-up, Rickie Fowler, placed again in fourth.

In-Play Tactics

Matsuyama was never outside the front-three places last year but Simpson, who hit a low of [1.45] in the playoff, trailed by six after rounds two and three and he was matched at [500.0] in-running. 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 13 years ago. And in the last nine years, four winners have also started very slowly.

Koepka was matched at [320.0] 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 five years ago but seven of the last eight third round leaders have made a right pig's ear of getting home.

Byeong Hun An only led by one through 54 holes last year but he moved three clear and was matched at just [1.47] before becoming the latest third round leader to implode.

Danny Lee led by three after 54 holes in 2016 and he was matched in-running at just [2.2] 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...

Martin Laird hit a low of [1.9] three 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 [1.52] three 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 again last year but remember, it tripped up Fowler two years, Laird in 2015 and I have very painful memories of Yang going odds-on before finding the water and blowing the event there in 2010 too.

The final hole is a tough par four (second toughest in 2015 and 2016 and sixth hardest last year) so a par is by no means a given there.

***Steve returns from holiday on Thursday, when he'll kick-off this week's in-play blog as usual. Comments below are from Paul Krishnamurty***

Market Leaders

The Phoenix always attracts a field of the highest quality and this year is no exception, with five of the world's top-seven in attendance, all trading below [20.0]. Currently edging a tight battle for market supremacy is Hideki Matsuyama at odds of [11.0]. That's perfectly understandable given course form figures of 4/2/1/1 and to win an event of this stature three years in succession would be a remarkable achievement. The Japanese star hasn't contended seriously in either start so far this year, but fourth at Kapalua and 12th at Torrey Pines nonetheless represents a solid standard.

Likewise ninth and 18th in the two Hawaii events is hardly exciting by the exalted standards of Jordan Spieth but it bodes well that he topped the greens in regulation in both. His two previous Scottsdale attempts yielded top-nine finishes and he's currently trading at [11.5].

If this market had been formed on Saturday morning, Jon Rahm [12.5] would probably been favourite but chasing the world number one spot appeared to get the better of him. While his slippage at Torrey Pines was quite shocking, it surely represents a mere blip and, having finished fifth and 16th previously at Scottsdale, the Spaniard is liable to make another strong bid.

Rickie Fowler enjoys this challenge in the desert and has three top-four finishes to his name here, including the last two renewals. However last week's missed cut is a slight worry and what is frankly a dismal conversion ratio for an elite player makes Rickie hard to recommend by comparison to the other market leaders.

Few if anybody finished 2017 stronger than Justin Thomas but the USPGA champion has yet to find top gear this term. He's available to back at [18.0] on a course where his previous figures are MC/MC/17. Hardly a recommendation.

Selections

I know Steve is keen on Rahm at [12.5] and he'll doubtless elaborate further when resuming the in-play blog later this week. This event has certainly favoured elite players in recent years but you can't back them all, especially when the leading quintet take out over a third of the entire book.

If forced to pick one, I'd go for Spieth but it probably makes more sense to wait and see how that quintet sort themselves out in-running over the first two days. This is an event to take inflated prices in-running rather than short odds pre-tournament. I'll doubtless be picking at least one player in triple-figures when writing Find Me a 100 Winner later.

At this stage, I'll just mention one pick. J.B. Holmes is a twice former winner of this title and has a couple of further top-six finishes among his record. He's always been a very streaky type but well capable of winning when in form, so last week's return to contention at Torrey Pines could be significant.

Selections

Jon Rahm @ [12.5]
J.B. Holmes @ [48.0]


*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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