Waste Management Phoenix Open: Rejuvenated Kuchar value to go in again

Golfer Matt Kuchar
Matt Kuchar - fancied to go well again in Phoenix

The PGA Tour stops off in Arizona this week for one of the season's most entertaining tournaments. Read our man's comprehensive preview ahead of Thursday's start here...

"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."

Tournament History

First staged 87 years 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 has a unique atmosphere and it's a tournament that often produces a dramatic finale. The last three editions have all gone to a playoff.

SCOTTSDALE 16th HOLE.jpg

Venue

TPC Scottsdale, Scottsdale, Arizona

Course Details

Par 71, 7,261 yards
Hole averages in 2018 - 70.32

TPC Scottsdale underwent a bit of a renovation before the 2015 renewal. Some of the greens were remodelled and all of them were resurfaced. Over 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 31st time. It's a links style desert track with an exciting finish. The 15th is a reachable par five with water in play (averaged 4.78 last year) and the 17th is a drivable par four play (averaged 3.63 12 months ago) but that too has water in play.

The 17th is the hole that tripped up Rickie Fowler three years ago 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. Nobody bettered 64 last year but there have been four rounds of 60 here, the last by Phil Mickelson, six 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 throughout the event with live Featured Group coverage on Sky starting at 14:30 on Thursday afternoon. The full live coverage starts at 20:00 (UK and Ireland time).

Last Five Winners

2018 - Gary Woodland -18 (playoff)
2017 - Hideki Matsuyama -17 (playoff)
2016 - Hideki Matsuyama -14 (playoff)
2015 - Brooks Koepka -15
2014 - Kevin Stadler -16

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. Gary Woodland ranked eight for Driving Distance last year but the man he beat in a playoff, Chez Reavie, only ranked 57th and while the front two ranked a respectable 19th and 10th for Driving Accuracy, five of the eight players that finished inside the top five and ties ranked between 39th and 54th for D.A.

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.

Woodland ranked fourth for Greens In Regulation last year, Hideki Matsuyama ranked number two for GIR when he defended his title in 2017 and he topped the GIR stats in 2016. Brooks Koepka ranked fourth for GIR when winning in 2015 and Kevin Stadler only ranked 10th five 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 is 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 six of the last seven winners have ranked inside the top-seven for Par 4 Scoring. Woodland ranked fourth last year and Matsuyama ranked number one in 2016 but only 10th in 2017. However, the runner-up, Webb Simpson, and the third, Louis Oosthuizen, ranked third and first.

Is There an Angle In?

Anyone that enjoys desert golf has to be considered and given the Desert Challenge, won two weeks ago by outsider, Adam Long, 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 Desert Classic fairly recently and a number of players have come close to winning both. Dufner, who won the Desert Classic 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 Desert Classic in 2007, and Justin Leonard is another win the Desert Classic and finish second in Phoenix. Jesper Parnevik, John Rollins and Ryan Palmer have all finished runner-up at both events.

Josh Culp's Future of Fantasy website (here) 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.

Current Form is not Essential

Woodland had been showing a bit of form before taking the title 12 months ago. He'd finished seventh at the Sony Open and then 12th at the Farmers Insurance Open but don't get too hung up on current form as recent winners haven't always telegraphed their wellbeing.

In his only start in two-and-a-half months, prior to winning here for the first time in 2016, Hideki Matsuyama (pictured below) had missed the cut at the Farmers and although he finished the year really well, and finished second at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in his first start in 2017, he didn't suggest a successful defence was imminent when he finished 27th at the Sony and 33rd at the Farmers.

Hideki Matsuyama putts 1280.jpg

The 2015 winner, Brooks Koepka, hadn't played anywhere for two months, having finished 19th in the Nedbank Golf Challenge on the European Tour in his penultimate start, Kevin Stadler's sole start in almost three months before his win here in 2014 had been a 78th placed finish in the Desert Classic two weeks previous and after a couple of months off, Phil Mickelson won here following a 37th at the Desert Classic and a 51st at the Farmers.

The 2012 winner, Kyle Stanley, had finished runner-up at the Farmers the week before he won this but his victory was still extremely implausible. In search of his first PGA Tour title, he'd led the Farmers by three with a hole to play but having been matched for plenty at 1.011/100, he made a triple-bogey eight at the par five 18th before losing a playoff to Brandt Snedeker. Heaven knows how he lifted himself to win the following week!

In-Play Tactics

Woodland sat eighth and three adrift with a round to go before shooting a seven-under-par 64 in round four (the joint lowest round of the week) to get in to the playoff and this is definitely one of those events where the winners can come from a long way back.

Matsuyama was never outside the front-three places in 2017 but the runner-up, Webb Simpson, who hit a low of 1.454/9 in the playoff, trailed by six after rounds two and three and he was matched at 500.0499/1 in-running.

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 14 years ago. And in the last ten 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. 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 slowly.

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

Course specialist, Rickie Fowler, fell from first to 11th last year and although Byeong Hun An only led by one through 54 holes in 2017, he moved three clear and was matched at just 1.4740/85 before imploding.

Danny Lee led by three after 54 holes in 2016 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 - Martin Laird hit a low of 1.910/11 four 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 five 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 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 three years ago and Laird in 2015. 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 used to be a tough par four (second toughest in 2015 and 2016) but it's not quite as tricky now. It was the sixth hardest in 2017 and the eighth hardest last year.

Market Leaders

With event form figures reading 5-16-11 and current form figures reading 8-6-5, since he returned to action following the festive break (and remember, he won the Hero Challenge before Christmas), it's impossible to crab the chance of desert-golf specialist Jon Rahm (pictured below), and he's a fair price at 9.08/1.

Jon-Rahm-640.gif

I have slight reservations about how he'll lift himself after Sunday's disappointment, given he finished a little weakly after getting to within a stroke of the eventual winner, Justin Rose, on the front nine but he has a favourite's chance and it would be a surprise if he didn't contend.

Justin Thomas has a mixed bag of results here since he debuted in 2015, with a pair of missed cuts sandwiched between a pair of 17th placed finishes. He's taken a couple of weeks off since finishing 16th at the Sony Open (an event he's won before), following a third at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. That might just have given him a chance to hone his game a little and to refresh but others are preferred at the prices.

Hideki Matsuyama is a fascinating contender. He had to withdraw from the event 12 months ago through injury when bidding to win it for the third time in-a-row, so he clearly loves the venue and he improved considerably on anything he's done in months when third on Sunday at the Farmers.

Thanks mainly to injury, he hasn't won anywhere since that last victory here or since he lost his way at 2017 USPGA Championship (having traded at odds-on) and that's a bit of a concern. How highly should we rate that course form though? This is a track that produces more than its fair share of repeat winners and should Matsuyama become the fifth player to win it three times it wouldn't be a huge shock. He's too short for me at 14.013/1 though.

Selections

I was a little surprised to see Phil Mickelson as big as 30.029/1 on Monday (one firm opened up 33/1) given his performance last time out in the Desert Classic where he hit more than 80% of greens and where he ranked second for Par 4 Scoring.

He was clearly in decent form there and had he not been so gun-ho off the tee on Sunday, or had he putted only slightly better (33 putts on Sunday), he'd have won the event for a third time. As already highlighted above, this tournament correlates superbly with the Desert Classic so I though he was a very straightforward selection at that price and I wouldn't be at all surprised if he were to become the first man to win it four times, following success in 1996, 2005 and 2013. Phil is also a pick for Dave Tindall in his each-way column.

Webb Simpson is hard to pass over given his course and current form but he's just short enough at 28.027/1 whereas recent two-time winner, Matt Kuchar, is big enough to chance at 36.035/1.

Since turning 40 in June last year, Kuchar has found a new lease of life and he's won two of his last four starts worldwide, bagging both the Mayakoba Golf Classic in November and the Sony Open last time out. He's far from the first top-rate player to become comfortable in-contention with age and his Indian summer could very easily be extended here at a venue he enjoys. Kuchar was ninth in 2017 and fifth last year so the remodelling of the track hasn't bothered him one iota and he looks worth chancing at a juicy price.

And finally. given current form hasn't been imperative of late, I'm more than happy to throw a few pounds at course specialists, Brendon Steele and Scott Piercy.

Selections:
Phil Mickelson @ 30.029/1
Matt Kuchar @ 36.035/1
Brendon Steele @ 140.0139/1
Scott Piercy @ 180.0179/1

I'll be back later with my Saudi International preview.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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