Though this tournament, including under the guise of the Arizona Open, pre-dates the Second World War, the modern inception of the Phoenix Open should really be traced back to 1987. That’s when the event moved to Scottsdale GC, the stadium course famous for attracting the biggest, and noisiest crowds of the season. Half a million spectators are usually present over the weekend, with the par-3 16th hole always providing a particularly memorable experience due to its extraordinary atmosphere.
There’s no particularly obvious trend to be found amongst recent winners, besides the fact that eight of the last ten Scottsdale champions were American and one of the other two, Aaron Baddeley, was based locally. Both fancied players and outsiders have thrived in roughly equal measure.
Course and stats
The fact that one-dimensional, huge-hitting JB Holmes has won twice shows that extreme driving distance can offer a significant advantage, but equally several straight-hitting, experienced types have won. PGA Tour veterans to have won here in the past decade include Vijay Singh, Tom Lehman, Mark Calcavecchia and last year’s champion, Kenny Perry.
The key characteristics at Scottsdale are the risk-reward nature of numerous holes, particularly the driveable par-4 17th. Historically, this event has produced low scores, but the last two winning totals were both a more moderate -14. Shots come and go pretty quickly around here. The most important stats over the years have been scrambling and putting average.
It’s hard to pierce any holes in the Colombian’s form, as he would have rated a worthy champion last week and lost nothing in that marathon semi-final defeat to Paul Casey. Villegas wowed the huge crowds here on his debut in 2006, and with his extreme length and attacking style has always struck me as a future Scottsdale winner. His three subsequent visits have produced surprisingly little, but he’s never been particularly consistent and might be worth following now in the hope that he’s on a hot streak.
1.5pts ew BRIAN GAY @ 35/1 (BET365, TOTE, CORAL)
Losing to matchplay master Casey last week was nothing to be ashamed of, especially given Gay’s severe disadvantage in the driving distance department for that match. His two earlier wins were impressive enough, and a continuation of the encouraging form shown over the previous fortnight on less suitable courses than this one. Gay’s short-game prowess must make him a serious candidate around Scottsdale, where he’s made the last three top 25s, with a personal best of sixth last year.
1.5pts ew MATT KUCHAR @ 40/1 (GENERAL)
Kuchar makes the staking plan for the third time in his last four starts, and is still showing a profit after finishing runner-up at the Bob Hope Classic. He can be forgiven failure at Pebble Beach as he pulled out midway with illness, but was sufficiently recovered to take his place in the Dove Mountain line-up. Again, Kuchar’s classy touch around the greens is a pivotal asset for Scottsdale, and explains why he finished sixth last year.
1pt ew BRANDT SNEDEKER @ 50/1 (GENERAL)
Another fine short-game exponent, Snedeker has looked a winner in waiting for months. He hasn’t finished outside the top 25 this season, or indeed missed a cut since last August. His best effort this season was to get beaten by a single shot at Torrey Pines when carrying this column’s cash, and having already made a top ten at Scottsdale, this emerging player rates solid each-way value.
1pt ew RICKIE FOWLER @ 80/1 (GENERAL, 100/1 EXTRABET)
It may be asking too much to expect consistency from Fowler at this very early stage of his career, but he’s certainly shown enough already to warrant support at these sort of odds under the right conditions. Rickie has contended in three of his eight starts since emerging during last year’s Fall Series, and looks well up to winning in his first full season. Notably, his best effort to date also came in the Arizona desert, when losing a play-off for the Frys.com Open.
1pt ew KEVIN SUTHERLAND @ 80/1 (GENERAL)
Experienced players with similar profiles to Sutherland have often thrived at Scottsdale, and Kevin himself has registered four top tens and six top 25s here this century. Prior to missing the cut last time out, he’d looked in good nick, with three consecutive top 20s.
0.5pt ew BUBBA WATSON @ 90/1 (BET365, PADDY POWER, STAN JAMES)
If massive-hitting JB Holmes can win here twice, then Scottsdale certainly looks the type of venue where Bubba could land his first PGA Tour victory. He’s already shown some promise here, finishing eighth on his course debut in 2007 and comes into the argument on the basis of a narrow defeat at the Bob Hope Classic.