No matter how immaculate a golf course is manicured and prepared, there is a phenomenon that no grounds staff or PGA TOUR official can avoid or baby – the learning curve on new or unfamiliar greens. This isn’t to say that they’re not aware of it or even try to hide it, but entrants who take notice can prioritize their game plan accordingly.
Excluding the last three majors of every season where the world’s best clash on a nomadic series of host tracks, we’re more likely to observe ball-strikers rising on leaderboards on other migrating tournaments (e.g. RBC Canadian Open, THE NORTHERN TRUST, BMW Championship) than a West Coast Swing staple like the Waste Management Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale’s Stadium Course. However, when a customary stop is redesigned, as this one was in 2014, its greens are almost always upgraded with the newest in drainage and grass. Even if one was torn apart and rebuilt exactly to spec, every green has a soul. A veteran would immediately notice and feel the difference between the original and the replica. Thus begins retraining and education of undulations and speed.
For the first few editions, a modernization neutralizes previous advantages of experience, which softens the blow the best putters can throw. Until separation occurs over time – and it will – the premium is on navigating TPC Scottsdale with precision and patience. This approach is widely evident in the identifiers of success in the 2016 edition of the WMPO, just the second since Tom Weiskopf updated his original collaboration with Jay Morrish.
TALES OF THE TAPE
STAT HIDEKI MATSUYAMA (2016) Brooks Koepka (2015) Distance of All Drives 25th 5th Driving Accuracy T44 T47 Greens in Regulation 1st T4 Proximity to the Hole T6 11th Putting: Birdie-or-Better % T16 T13 SG: Off-the-Tee 10th 19th SG: Approach-the-Green 4th 21st SG: Around-the-Green 9th 7th SG: Putting 29th 18th SG: Tee-to-Green 1st T4 Scrambling 16th T2 Bogey Avoidance T3 T6 Par-3 Scoring T32 T8 Par-4 Scoring 1st 1st Par-5 Scoring T12 T60
Golfers in this week’s field inside the top 10 in the following categories in last year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open:
GREENS IN REGULATION
RANK GOLFER TOURNAMENT FINISH 1 Hideki Matsuyama Win T2 Ryan Palmer T24 T2 Bubba Watson T14 T2 Boo Weekley 5th T6 Chad Campbell T17 T6 Harris English 3rd T6 Rickie Fowler P2 T6 William McGirt T24 T6 Phil Mickelson T11 T6 Patick Rodgers T17 T6 Willy Wilcox T6
PROXIMITY TO THE HOLE
RANK GOLFER TOURNAMENT FINISH 1 Bubba Watson T14 2 Boo Weekley 5th 3 Geoff Ogilvy T51 4 Tyrone Van Aswegen T17 5 Phil Mickelson T11 T6 Emiliano Grillo T45 T6 Hideki Matsuyama Win 8 Ryan Palmer T24 9 Jason Bohn T37 10 Shane Lowry T6
STROKES GAINED: TEE-TO-GREEN
RANK GOLFER TOURNAMENT FINISH 1 Hideki Matsuyama Win 2 Rickie Fowler P2 3 Bubba Watson T14 4 Boo Weekley 5th 5 Ryan Palmer T24 6 Harris English 3rd 7 Danny Lee 4th 8 Phil Mickelson T11 9 Patrick Rodgers T17 10 Keegan Bradley T24
RANK GOLFER TOURNAMENT FINISH T1 J.B. Holmes T6 T1 K.J. Choi T17 T3 Rickie Fowler P2 T3 Colt Knost T24 T6 Hideki Matsuyama Win T6 Jon Curran T11 T6 Harris English 3rd T6 Phil Mickelson T11 T6 Ryan Moore T11 T6 Kevin Na T24 T6 Brendan Steele T17 T6 Tyrone Van Aswegen T17
While the persnickety analyst would eliminate all results prior to 2015 due to the redesign, that would also ignore the timeless emotion and anxiety of the par-3 16th hole. Strategy on the drivable, par-4 17th is no bargain, either. Weiskopf didn’t fool with modifying what already worked at the WMPO, so those featured below survived and advanced through the ringer of the closing holes.
Drives that don’t come to rest in the fairway may find three-inch rough. It’s been a relatively wet winter in the Valley of the Sun, but gnarly won’t necessarily be a modifier to describe many lies. With greens prepped to run 11½ feet on the Stimpmeter, the course will reward good, solidly struck shots and bold strokes on the greens.
HORSES FOR COURSES
Selected golfers with multiple cuts made sorted by rank on the tournament's money list.
RANK PLAYER CUTS MADE/STARTS TOP-10s BEST FINISH LOW ROUND AVERAGE 1 Phil Mickelson 21/27 10 Win (x3) 60 (x2)* 69.26 2 J.B. Homes 8/11 4 Win (x2) 64 69.18 5 Hideki Matsuyama 3/3 3 Win 63 67.50 6 Bubba Watson 9/10 4 T2 (x2) 64 (x2) 68.34 18 Ryan Palmer 8/10 3 T2 (x2) 62 69.58 23 Ryan Moore 9/11 3 4th 64 69.58 32 Brendan Steele 6/6 3 T5 62 68.50 35 Harris English 5/5 2 3rd 65 68.85 46 Webb Simpson 5/6 3 T8 (x2) 65 69.14 49 Bryce Molder 7/8 2 T6 64 69.60
* - Mickelson first shot 60 in the second round in 2005. He matched it in the first round in 2013.
Sorted by best finish, selected golfers who are either finally finding form on the course or are still relatively new to the tournament but have enjoyed some success.
PLAYER CUTS MADE/STARTS BEST FINISH LOW ROUND Brooks Koepka 2/2 Win (2015) 64 Rickie Fowler 6/8 P2 (2016)/2nd (2010) 62 Graham DeLaet 3/6 T2 (2014) 65 (x2) Martin Laird 5/8 T3 (2011) 64 Danny Lee 1/4 4th (2016) 66 Boo Weekley 5/7 5th (2016) 65 John Huh 2/5 T6 (2016) 66 Shane Lowry 1/1 T6 (2016) 65 Willy Wilcox 1/1 T6 (2016) 65 Jordan Spieth 1/1 T7 (2015) 65 Zach Johnson 5/7 T10 (2015) 66 (x5) Brian Stuard 3/3 T10 (2015)
64 Daniel Berger 2/2 T10 (2015)
65 Robert Streb 2/2 T10 (2015)
OTHER SIGNS OF COMFORT
Sorted by most recent top 10s, selected golfers for whom it's been a few years since their last.
PLAYER CUTS MADE/STARTS TOP-10s LAST BEST FINISH Hunter Mahan 8/10 3 2014 (T4) Win Scott Piercy 7/8 3 2013 (3rd) 3rd Matt Every 4/5 2 2013 (T9) T8 Padraig Harrington 1/4 1 2013 (T9) T9 Kyle Stanley 3/5 1 2012 (Win) Win Ben Crane 7/11 2 2012 (2nd) 2nd Spencer Levin 2/5 1 2012 (3rd) 3rd Kevin Na 10/11 4 2012 (T5) T2 Mark Wilson 7/9 2 2011 (Win) Win Gary Woodland 6/7 1 2011 (T5) T5 Vaughn Taylor 5/7 1 2010 (7th) 7th Camilo Villegas 5/10 2 2010 (T8) T2 Charley Hoffman 6/10 1 2009 (P2) P2 Brian Gay 12/14 1 2009 (T6) T6 Matt Kuchar 5/7 1 2009 (T6) T6 Aaron Baddeley 9/14 1 2007 (Win) Win J.J. Henry 8/14 1 2006 (T2) T2