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Stat attack!: Phoenix Open preview

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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.