There are two great tournaments on the main tours this week but the locations and atmospheres will be like chalk and cheese. The Phoenix Open on the PGA Tour attracts huge and boisterous crowds. The Saudi International will be played in front of a smaller and more restrained audience. However, it steals the show in terms of the field because the winners from last week have both entered. Bryson Dechambeau and Justin Rose won their events and head the betting in Saudi Arabia this week.
The field for the Phoenix Open is not too shabby and the players will be aware of the unique demands of the tournament. Jon Rahm has the personality to cope with the crowd and can continue his fine run of form by winning for the third time on the PGA Tour. He has a good all round game but was not able to beat Rose mainly at the top of his game in the Farmers Insurance Open on Sunday. The tournament attracted decent crowds but the atmosphere was sedate compared to this week in Phoenix.
The tournament has had a few title sponsors but one common feature since 1987 is the host course at the TPC of Scottsdale in Arizona. The event has since become renowned for the numbers that turn up, especially over the weekend. Over 500,000 spectators attend over four days. Particularly notorious are those in the grandstands around the par 3 16th where players hit their tee shots to a sudden explosion of noise from the well lubricated galleries. Rahm loves desert golf and has made the top 11 in three outings on the course. He is a graduate of the University of Arizona.
The TPC at Scottsdale is a stadium course in the desert. There are lots of bunkers and waste areas and water is in play on several holes. The exposed stretch around the turn is the most difficult and the last three holes are demanding. Any player in contention will be straining not to drop shots. The greens are mainly Bermuda in composition and above average in size. Rahm played well last week but couldn’t hole anything in the final round and never quite got on level terms with Rose. The world number one has travelled so Saudi Arabia so Rahm can be the desert king.
Rose is the joint favourite with Dechambeau who has won four times in his last nine starts. He applies a very scientific approach to golf which is paying dividends. The market leaders will be competing against winners of three of the four majors last season. Patrick Reed won the US Masters and Brooks Koepka won the US Open and PGA Championship. Only Open champion Francesco Molinari is missing from the current holders of the four majors. Matt Wallace is good enough to win at this level and the English player will not lack for self belief.
The tournament is being staged for the first time and the sponsors have been rewarded with an outstanding field for this time of the year in the Middle East. Four of the top five players in the world are competing and the line-up also includes eight major champions and nine players from last year’s Ryder Cup. The organisers have invited a varied cast of local talent and professionals from the international game. Wallace can beat the world class seasoned pros and the inexperienced rookies. He has the talent and confidence to win his fifth European Tour event in less than two years.