The Phoenix Open at Scottsdale, Arizona attracts huge crowds that get more vocal and raucous as the day goes on. It takes a player with the temperament to deal with the noise from the spectators and Jordan Spieth fits the bill. Even though he is number three in the world rankings at his best Spieth is the best player in the world. He can confirm that status by winning the Phoenix Open for the first time.
The tournament has been played under various guises but has always been at the TPC of Scottsdale since 1987. Over 500,000 fans attend over four days. Particularly notorious are those in the grandstands around the par 3 16th where players hit their tee shot to a sudden explosion of fans from the well lubricated galleries. The biggest sound was generated when Tiger Woods had a hole-in-one on the hole.
The TPC of 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, particularly if the wind blows and the closing 3 holes are also tough when conditions are not benign. The 16th is a unique challenge, the next is a driveable par 4 with water on both sides and the closing par 4 yields very few birdies when the pin is tucked away. The greens are above average in size.
Rather than one specific attribute course form is often a good guide. The course itself doesn’t set any distinctive demands, except perhaps for a player’s short game to be in order, but the atmosphere is unique and those who relish the boisterous crowds have a significant advantage. Spieth takes everything in his stride and buys into the environment rather than blaming the buzz for any poor shots. Players need to go low to win and the average winning score over the last 10 years is 17 under par.
Perhaps due to the nature of the location and spectators wide margin wins are rare. Since 2008 there have been five playoffs and four wins by one shot. Phil Mickelson is a three-time winner so he clearly is comfortable on the course but he is no longer a genuine contender. Hideki Matsuyama has won the last two Phoenix Open’s and no other player has won two on the bounce since 1950. However, he is not playing well enough to achieve a rare three-peat in the same tournament.
Jon Rahm has suddenly appeared at number two in the world rankings behind Dustin Johnson and has course form at Scottsdale. He has a game suited to all types of the course and won’t be fazed by the hullaballoo. He is playing in the state where he went to university and was tied fifth as an amateur in 2015. Rahm made the top 20 last season and his recent form figures read Win-2nd-Win. Mental letdown could be an issue this week and then the spectators become a nuisance rather than a manageable distraction. Rahm is on the verge of winning a major which could be the Masters.
Spieth won the first major of the season in 2015 and threw away a winning chance at Augusta a year later. It’s been over six months since his last win which was the British Open. This is a drought for the 11-time winner which could end this week. Spieth has played the event twice and recorded two top 10s and a scoring average of 68.13. He can look after business amongst the furore and maintain his form and concentration so is the tip to win the 2018 Phoenix Open.