The 2014 Waste Management Phoenix Open promises to be another memorable stop early in the the PGA Tour season.
With enthusiastic galleries—most notably in the renowned par-three 16th hole grandstands—a slew of stars in the field and a superb Arizona venue in TPC Scottsdale, the stage is set for another thrilling week of golf.
Reigning champion Phil Mickelson won last year's event by four strokes, taking home the trophy in wire-to-wire fashion thanks to an opening-round 60 on the par-71 course and brilliant play from then onward.
Unfortunately, the 43-year-old Mickelson is struggling with back problems and had to withdraw from last week's Farmers Insurance Open after the second round. The ailment may prevent him from defending his title.
A decision would have already been made by Lefty if this were any other tournament, but the Arizona State graduate expressed a passion to tee it up because of his local ties, per Golfweek.com's Brentley Romine:
If it was any other tournament I’d skip it. But I’m defending, it’s my second hometown and I love the event. I’ll have a light practice session and if it goes well I may try to play...I’m itching to play...But I have to look at the big picture. I have a number of tournaments I want to play and play well this year, including the majors, so I have to be realistic about how I feel in the short term.
That will be one storyline of interest to follow, especially if the super popular Mickelson is able to put together a gutsy performance, fight through the pain and get himself in contention on the weekend.
Also of note is this past Sunday's winner, Scott Stallings, one of the more underrated American players and owner of three tour victories. He's struggled with consistency, so he's worth checking out in the first two rounds alongside bigger names in compatriots Rickie Fowler and Hunter Mahan.
Let's take a closer look at when and where to catch this unique event, along with some of the trios to watch for in the first 36 holes.
Note: Statistics and information are courtesy of PGATour.com unless otherwise indicated.
When: Thursday, Jan. 30 through Sunday, Feb. 2
Where: TPC Scottsdale in Scottsdale, Ariz. For course information, click here.
Tee Times: First group is off at 7:30 a.m. MST. For a complete list of tee times for the first two rounds, visit PGATour.com.
Purse: $6.2 million
FedEx Cup Points: 500
|Thursday, Jan. 30||3-7 p.m.||Golf Channel|
|Friday, Jan. 31||3-7 p.m.||Golf Channel|
|Saturday, Feb. 1||1-2:30 p.m.; 3-6 p.m.||Golf Channel; CBS|
|Sunday, Feb. 2||1-2:30 p.m.; 3-6 p.m.||Golf Channel; CBS|
Marquee Groups to Watch
No. 16: Webb Simpson, Ian Poulter and Keegan Bradley
Despite taking part in only four official events before this week, Simpson has managed to ascend to fifth in the FedEx Cup points standings in 2013-14 thus far.
That includes a victory at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, a tie for third in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and a tie for seventh in the McGladrey Classic. It was key for Simpson to back up his triumph at the 2012 U.S. Open, and he did that with the aforementioned win in October and has been in fine form since.
Poulter is never shy in speaking out, and he had to swallow a tough tie for 47th after a final-round 76 at Torrey Pines on Sunday. The Englishman took to Twitter to criticize his play:
Absolutely headless about today's round. Two 3 putts from 3ft which never happens both on par 3's for double. 5 over on the par 3's today.— Ian Poulter (@IanJamesPoulter) January 26, 2014
Now is a good time for the Team Europe Ryder Cup star to get back on track. His runner-up finish at the WGC-HSBC Champions event in November still has him in fine shape.
Then there's Bradley, a long hitter against the mold of his two playing competitors who fired a second-round 63 on the Stadium Course in 2013. He's also oozing with confidence, per Golf Channel's Jason Sobel:
Here's one for the fantasy geeks. Keegan Bradley just said, "You better be picking me this week on your Twitter blogs or whatever."— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) January 28, 2014
With four official results all inside the top 20 this season, the fiery 27-year-old is bound to break through for another win.
No. 17: Ryan Moore, Phil Mickelson and Bill Haas
Rounds of 66-66-65-65 got Moore a solo fourth finish at this tournament last season. With three top-10s and a win already on the young season, this could finally be the year the decorated amateur puts all the pieces of his game together to become an elite force on the top circuit.
The Mickelson story has been covered in considerable depth already. This is as important as a non-major tournament can get for Phil the Thrill. With his aggressive style and way with the crowd, spectators will be hoping he's fit enough to compete.
After finishing tied for sixth at the birdie-fest that is the Humana Challenge, Haas didn't manage to break 70 last week in an underwhelming T-43 effort.
This is the ideal spot for Haas to get right after that setback because he also enjoyed a strong finish here in 2013 (tied for sixth) and failed to break 70 just once in those four rounds.
As consistent as Haas was with nine top-10s in the previous campaign, it's only a matter of time before he starts making noise again.
No. 26: Harris English, Brandt Snedeker and Lee Westwood
One of the most dangerous young guns on tour is the 24-year-old English. With booming tee shots, precise iron play and a delicate touch on and around the greens, the ex-University of Georgia star has all the tools to be great.
In the early going English ranks 136th in strokes gained putting, which is slightly misleading because of how well he's struck the ball. He's still fifth in birdie average, seventh in scoring average and 14th in birdie-or-better conversion percentage.
Who will win the Waste Management Phoenix Open?
A surprise flop at Torrey Pines this past week saw Snedeker miss the cut, but he salvaged a 72 in Round 2 after opening with a 77. The brilliant putter was a runner-up at the Farmers Insurance Open and this event last season, so perhaps his luck will be better in Scottsdale than it was in La Jolla.
The course isn't all that long, measuring at 7,216 yards. That makes it easier on Snedeker to hit shorter irons to the green and gives his perpetually hot flat iron a ton of looks at birdies.
A longtime European Tour veteran, Westwood has claimed victory just twice on this side of the pond. As one of the best players never to have won a major, time is running short for Westwood to make it happen.
Getting off to a rough start this season isn't helping matters, so playing well here is vital to generate some momentum.
No. 27: Patrick Reed, Gary Woodland and Bubba Watson
Reed won the Humana Challenge by posting 63s in the first three rounds before settling for a 71 on the final day. That was the last time he appeared on the course, so it will be exciting to see what he has in store for an encore.
After a couple seasons of struggling through injuries and missing action, health has finally been restored for Woodland, and it's showing on the scorecard. Woodland lost a playoff at the CIMB Classic and was in contention before double-bogeying down the stretch at Torrey Pines.
The exceptional athlete traditionally struggles with putting, but he made a ton of clutch par saves to keep himself in the hunt. Golf Channel's Kelly Tilghman was impressed:
Gary Woodland has 9 one-putts so far today. Last time I had 9 one-putts there was a clown's mouth & a windmill on the course.— Kelly Tilghman (@KellyTilghmanGC) January 26, 2014
Although the solid display didn't result in a victory and saw Woodland fall to tied for 10th in a log-jammed leaderboard, it could be a turning point to launch him into a successful 2013-14.
Who doesn't like to watch Watson play "Bubba Golf" and stubbornly stick to his grip-and-rip, crafty philosophy?
Watson shot a final-round 64 in the tournament last time out, so the 2012 Masters champion has some positivity to draw on as he searches for his swagger in his second start of the calendar year.