The PGA Tour makes its way to the desert this week for the loudest tournament on the schedule at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
If you are looking for something to take your attention away from the 20 hours of pregame coverage of the Super Bowl, this event is just the ticket.
The field, which is sometimes hit or miss (not all tour players enjoy the raucous atmosphere, mostly the stuffy Europeans), is loaded with names like Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas, and last week’s winner Joh Rahm, among others.
Unlike Torrey Pines last week, TPC Scottsdale is susceptible to low scores. The winner is oftentimes 20-under and the back-nine is filled with exciting par-5’s and the driveable par-4 17th always factors in to the outcome of the tournament.
Phi’s 60 in 2013’s first round (or 59 1/2 as some refer to it) is an example of the potential for players to go low. Mickelson also tallied a 60 in the second round in 2005. Both rounds were en route to two of his three victories in the desert.
You can’t talk about TPC Scottsdale without talking about the par-3 16th. It maybe the most popular non-major hole in golf. The par-3 is one the best spectacles in the sport, but it did not start out that way.
On the surface, the hole is fairly boring – it’s short with no water hazard, what is so special about that?
Well, not much really, until a TGI Friday’s put an outdoor bar behind the teeing area in the late 1980s. It immediately became the spot where a ton Arizona State students would hang out during the tournament.
That was the origin of the raucousness and is has not stopped since. Tiger’s hole-in-one in 1997 added to the lure of the hole and today the 16th is completely surrounded by grandstands and has a coliseum-type feel.
For as popular as the hole is to be a spectator, it is actually sneaky tough. The green pitches front-to-back and because of the desert air, the green often dries out very quickly. Which makes it difficult to pros to hit it close, even when they have a nine-iron or wedge in their hands.
The 16th gets all of the press, but the 17th hole is one of my favorite holes on the PGA Tour. As mentioned earlier, it is a short par-4 that most of the field can drive. Through the first three rounds, it is an easy birdie for most players.
However, on Sunday, the traditional pin placement is in the far back-left corner of the green, just steps away from the water. This location brings the water into play for players going for the green and those laying up. Even if a player hits the green, because of the shape of the surface, they may have to chip the ball from the putting surface to get it close.
Last Year’s Event:
Hideki Matsuyama earned his second PGA Tour win in last year’s event after catching 54-hole leader Rickie Fowler on the back-nine and clinching the victory on the fourth playoff hole.
For most of the final round, it seemed that Fowler had the tournament in the bag, but a fast-charging Matsuyama made clutch putt after clutch putt in regulation and during the playoff. The 17th hole proved to be a pivotal turning point as Fowler came to the tee with a two-shot lead, but Matsuyama birdied the hole, while a poor drive caused Fowler to bogey.
Both players put on a spectacular putting display in the playoff, but Fowler cracked first as he hooked his drive into the water on 17 (the fourth playoff hole), while Matsuyama parred the hole to win.
Most Memorable Moment:
The one moment that sticks in everyone’s mind when they think of the Phoenix Open is Tiger’s hole-in-one and the reaction that followed it. This was in 1997, when Tiger was still an up-and-comer. He had a lot of hype, but hadn’t accomplished a ton yet.
Woods was playing with Omar Uresti and Uresti hits it to about five feet – pretty good shot. In an interview, Toledo said he remembered thinking to himself, ok kid how do you like that, let’s see where you hit it. And this was the result.
All of these memorable moments will include Tiger, but ironically, he rarely competes in this tournament and is playing in Dubai on the European Tour this week.
This incident occurred at the 1999 Phoenix Open and was one the strangest episodes of Tiger’s career. He pulls his tee shot on the par-5 15th. His ball was behind a mammoth rock, but because it was technically a lose impediment and he was in a desert waste area, not a bunker, a group of fans could help him move the rock.
That’s exactly what happened and with the rock removed, he had a clear look at the green. Former CBS commentator Ken Venturi was apoplectic that this wasn’t a penalty.
The only time Tiger played at Phoenix since 1999 was two years ago. Tiger actually finished in dead last place after two rounds, failed to make the cut, and had one of the most cringeworthy chipping yips episodes you’ll ever see.
Gary Woodland: Woodland is one of the longest hitters on the PGA Tour and his length will come in handy in taking advantage of the par-5’s. With Woodland, it comes down to 150 yards an in. If he dialed in with his short iron and wedge game, expect a top-10.
Otter Room Pick:
Phil Mickelson (-15): This admittedly might be a homer call, but I am going with Phil. He has always played well on the west coast and has three wins in this event. His game is also rounding into form, after a solid season debut at the CareerBuilder, he played well on the weekend at Torrey Pines last week.
The Arizona State grad is always a fan-favorite wherever he plays, but especially in the Phoenix area. His first win was in 1996, where he out-dueled Justin Leonard (the two most decorated young players on tour at the time). His second win came in 2005, when he won comfortably over Kevin Na.
Phil won his third title in 2013. He started that event with the aforementioned 59 1/2 in the first round and overcame a challenge from Brandt Snedeker in the final round to notch the victory.
These two videos also illustrate the change in spectating options on the 16th hole.
Stay tuned to The Otter Room Sunday for a complete recap of the Waste Management Phoenix Open