Stat attack!: Phoenix Open preview

By John AntoniniJanuary 28, 2014, 8:35 pm

It’s fitting that on Super Bowl week the most raucous crowds and loudest galleries the PGA Tour sees all year fill TPC Scottsdale for the Waste Management Phoenix Open. And the fans, who are lathered in what can be described as a football frenzy, have plenty to cheer about. The birdies come fast at furious. Last year the course was one of four to average less than 70 strokes per round every day, and it yielded the third-fewest birdies and eagles of any course even though the field was only 132 players deep.

Tournaments with scoring averages in the 60s every round in 2013:

 Tournament  First  Second  Third  Fourth  Total
 WMPO  69.02  68.90  69.37  68.53  68.95
 Sony Open  69.79  68.72  68.16  68.27  68.90
 Humana Challenge  69.24  68.80  68.96  67.80  68.82
 Deutsche Bank  69.11  69.48  68.21  69.97  69.21

PGA Tour courses giving up the most eagles and birdies in 2013:

 Most Birdies  Most Eagles
 TPC Deere Run - 1,930  Glen Abbey - 61
 Glen Abbey - 1,747  Riveira C.C. - 58
 TPC Scottsdale - 1,746  TPC Scottsdale - 50

Phil Mickelson was the star a year ago, shooting the third-lowest aggregate score in PGA Tour history (256), and he tied his career low round with a 60 on Thursday, one of a Tour-best four 60s to be shot at TPC Scottsdale.

Lowest 72-hole aggregate in PGA Tour history:

 Score  Player  Tournament
 254  Tommy Armour III (64-62-63-65)  2003 Texas Open
 255  Steve Stricker (65-67-61-62)  2009 Bob Hope
 256  Mark Calcavecchia (65-60-64-67)  2001 Phoenix Open
 256  Russell Henley (63-63-67-63)  2013 Sony Open
 256  Phil Mickelson (60-65-64-67)  2013 WMPO

Best 18-hole scores in Phoenix Open history (all 60):

 Player  Round  Year
 Phil Mickelson  First  2013
 Phil Mickelson  Second  2005
 Mark Calcavecchia  Second  2001
 Grant Waite  Fourth  1996

Mickelson, who also won at TPC Scottsdale in 2005 and 1996, is the leading career money winner at the Phoenix Open. In addition to Mickelson, who is battling a sore back that caused his withdrawal from last week’s Farmers Insurance Open after two rounds, five other players on this list are in the field. J.B. Holmes, the 2008 and ‘06 champ and the tournament’s second-leading money winner, recently returned to the Tour after missing almost a year with a broken ankle. Also in the field this week are Vijay Singh, Mark Calcavecchia, Mark Wilson, Hunter Mahan and Kevin Na. All but Na are past champions.

Career money leaders at the Phoenix Open:

 1. Phil Mickelson  $3,694,783
 2. J.B. Holmes  $2,274,781
 3. Kenny Perry  $2,146,161
 4. Vijay Singh  $2,144,583
 5. Chris DiMarco  $1,685,455
 6. Mark Calcavecchia  $1,644,424
 7. Rocco Mediate  $1,550,128
 8. Mark Wilson  $1,425,467
 9. Hunter Mahan  $1.391,955
 10. Kevin Na  $1,368,391

Mickelson's four-stroke victory in 2013 was the result of leading the WMPO in greens in regulation and proximity to hole on approach shots. Since the start of 2013 only four tournament winners led the field in proximity to the hole on approach. Seven winners led in GIR. Mickelson is the only one to lead in both categories. 

This explains why Mickelson led the 2013 WMPO in birdies with 29. (And, yes, most tournament winners lead the field in birdies.) Which is why this week’s fantasy focus will look at the PGA Tour’s 2013-14 leaders in birdie average. Among the top 15 in that stat, here’s who is in the field at Scottsdale.

• Webb Simpson: The Tour leader with 5.63 birdies per round, Simpson has two top-10s at Phoenix, but he’s only made three cuts in five starts.

• Jason Bohn: Maybe a surprise at 5.06 birdies per round, he’s only made three cuts in eight previous starts at the WMPO.

• Patrick Reed: The Humana champion is T5 on tour in birdies. He is making his debut at the TPC Scottsdale.  

• Harris English: After a strong start to his season, does he still have momentum after taking last week off? He was T-15 at Scottsdale in 2012.

• Gary Woodland: How he recovers from last week’s final round is important. He’s 12th on Tour in GIR and he’s never missed the cut at Scottsdale in four tries.

• Billy Horschel: With top-25 finishes the last two weeks and a T-11 in his WMPO debut in 2013, he’s a solid pick.

• Matt Every: Another solid pick. Every is T-10 on Tour in birdies per round and has top-10s at Phoenix in his two previous starts.

• Ryan Moore: He hasn’t played since Maui, but he’s third on Tour in GIR. He has a strong record at Scottsdale with a solo fourth in 2013 and a T-6 in 2009.

• Ryan Palmer: He’s been hot (second at Humana, T-8 at Sony), is 14th on Tour in birdies and was fifth at Scottsdale in 2013 and T-2 in 2006.

• Brian Stuard: After three consecutive top-10s, he was T-28 at Torrey Pines and Scottsdale doesn’t bring many fond memories (T-70 in 2010, in his only start).

ONE FINAL NOTE: Mickelson, Pat Perez and Joey Snyder III all attended Arizona State University in nearby Tempe. They will be joined in the Waste Management Phoenix Open field by current ASU freshman Ki Taek Lee, who won the Monday qualifier with a 65 at McCormack Ranch. Lee birdied the 17th hole and eagled No. 18 to advance.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.