Just like this week’s European Tour event, this long-running PGA Tour fixture, previously known as the Phoenix Open, is played in the desert, this time in Arizona. However, that’s where the comparison ends because the Scottsdale experience, with its huge, noisy crowds is a distinctly American experience. Low-scoring events can often be dull, but the various risk reward holes on this course, along with the electric atmosphere, always make for compelling viewing.
Over the years, it has proved ideal for the best player ever to play college golf at Arizona State University, Phil Mickelson. Lefty opens his 2009 campaign and unsurprisingly, the betting revolves around him. From a purely neutral perspective, this presents something of a dilemma. He’s won twice here, finished runner-up last year and made the top-10 in five of the last six, so there’s no worries on the course form front. On the downside, he hasn’t won anywhere since May, nor on his seasonal debut since 2004.
A strong case could therefore be made for either side of the argument, but my personal experiences of backing Mickelson make the decision a no-brainer. Whereas I’ve repeatedly won opposing Lefty in match bets over the years, particularly on his rare overseas excursions, he’s never won a tournament where I broke those lifetime habits to back him. And even besides those negative personal experiences, its always bemused me how punters could bear to back a player in single figures who has thrown away so many tournaments over the closing holes.
Its not entirely implausible that this will be the last time Mickelson starts favourite at Scottsdale, if Anthony Kim and CAMILO VILLEGAS retain this commitment on their schedules. This rapidly progressing pair have won three PGA Tour titles since Mickelson’s last, and look well on the road towards global domination. Kim pulled out of last week’s event with a shoulder injury, but the swift return suggests it was nothing too serious. There’s no bigger fan of Kim than me, but for now I would rather take the inevitably short prices about him on tough, championship courses where his long game supremacy comes to the fore. Furthermore, he’s done little on either previous visit to suggest this is his ideal event.
Villegas looks better value at 18/1. The Colombian thrilled the Scottsdale crowds when finishing runner-up on his course debut back in 2006, at odds of 200/1. We won’t see those again for a long time, and that previous effort must bode extremely well for his chances now. As we’ve seen in recent years, there’s a marked advantage to the very longest hitters around Scottsdale, with the monster-hitting, somewhat one-dimensional JB Holmes winning two of the last three renewals. Villegas seems at his best on courses where he can let rip and attack, so there seems every chance he can add to the consecutive titles won in the late summer.