Two-time FedExCup champion Rory McIlroy and defending champion Webb Simpson lead a star-studded field heading to TPC Scottsdale for this year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open.
Playing no fewer than nine events in 12 weeks, Rory McIlroy will tee it up in Phoenix for the first time in his career, though the usually raucous grandstand will be all but empty this time around due to Covid-19 restrictions.
Fellow FedExCup winner Justin Thomas is looking to improve on his T3 finish in Phoenix from 2020 while Arizona State alum Jon Rahm is looking to keep his stretch of solid play going having notched three straight top-10 finishes on tour.
Course: Stadium Course at TPC Scottsdale
Length: 7266 yards (Par 71)
Architect: Jay Morrish and Tom Weiskopf
Even with the Saudis putting up some gigantic appearance fees seeing the likes of DJ and Bryson taking the trip overseas we still get a stellar field for what is usually one big party but like everything else it will be a little different this year.
But for the first time since last March a small number of fans – just 5000 each day – will be allowed in to watch the likes of Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas and Rory teeing it up this week.
The Stadium course got toughened-up in 2014 and since then the winning score has hovered around the -15 mark.
Despite the average length of drives being almost 15 yards longer than the average on tour, the course seems to not demand you being a bomber to compete as we saw last year when Webb Simpson won but it does help of course.
The large Bermuda greens are flat and leads to the around the green game being less important this week while the fairways are average in width and protected by bunkers, medium-long rough and water on six holes.
If the players go severely offline the desert awaits where you can get a decent lie but also end up having to take an unplayable from a cactus.
All in all, I see this course as a solid all-around test so I will more be looking for guys with a solid game with no real weaknesses than a specialist in one part of the game.
Here are some of the things I will be looking at/for:
- Good drives
- Proximity 150-175 and 175-200 yards
- Par 4 scoring
- Par 5 scoring
- Bermuda putting
Rory has started the year being in contention and leading into Sunday in back to back weeks (he led in Dubai and was 3 shots back at Torrey Pines) but a couple of underwhelming final days saw him only manage a 4th and a 16th from the two starts.
However, his game has been as solid as ever, gaining in every category last week and with every other player this would have meant lower odds the next week.
But because of the immense expectations of Rory, we instead get an almost 50% increase and then we must pounce and just cross our fingers that third time is the charm and that he will get it done on his first visit at this tournament – something I think could be an advantage since the course will look drastically different without the several hundred thousand of fans and without stands present.
The four-time major champion can win at any type of track but a course where you have to score on the par 5s and will have more short to mid irons than wedges into the greens should set up well for the Northern Irishman.
This is a pure value play on the former world number one who just should not be priced this high.
We can very well see another missed cut from Brooks but on the course where he got his first-ever PGA Tour victory and who should really fit his game when in form this could also be the return to glory.
Even in the lackluster form of late he ranks 2nd in proximity from both 125-150 and 150-175 yards and we know he is an excellent driver of the golf ball and dominates the par 5s when in form, so let us hope he has found just a little something over the last week because then he suddenly goes from an out of form golfer with 3 straight missed cuts to one of the favourites.
After really struggling all fall, Max reportedly found something at the end of last year leading to his first top 15 since July at the OHL in the middle of December.
The Californian seems to have continued his progression over the Christmas break starting the new year with a T21 and a T18 in his first two starts, especially last week were encouraging with Homa gaining almost 5 strokes with his approaches in the three measured rounds.
Now back at a course where he has had some success with a T26 two years ago and a 6th last year, this should be a good spot for getting his second victory or at least his first top 5 since July last year.
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