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PGA Tour Course Preview: Waste Management Phoenix Open

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Waste Management Phoenix Open: Course Insight

The freewheeling craziness of the 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale takes center stage this week at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, and it’s unlike any other experience in golf. Over 20,000 blasted fans consuming copious amounts of never-ending booze turn No. 16 on The Stadium Course into a hulking cauldron of barely contained chaos.

Pictured: 2017 Farmer’s Insurance Open winner & ASU Alum John Rahm

That’s why for fans and players alike, it’s also everyone’s “Happy Place.”

If you get a good night’s sleep, you’re probably doing something wrong. Waste(d) Management is the most soused up tournament of the year. And the shenanigans on No. 16 are straight up, off-the-hook, raucous. Think Animal House. Or American Pie. Totally bonkers doesn’t even begin to describe what goes on here.

Chants of “Chug! Chug! Chug!” are interrupted only by thunderous cheers when players hit the green on No. 16. And if a player misses the green? Fans crank up the decibel levels with ear-splitting boos that will reduce any player to a Deaf Man Walking. It’s a good bet that the only sober people on No. 16 are probably the players, caddies, and marshals.

Players throwing, kicking, and propelling things into the stands is sadly now in the past (though some players refuse to abide the ludicrous ban). And the side-splitting caddie race tradition has unfortunately also been quashed.

Waste Management still ranks as one of the most must-see tournaments any given year. The tournament has delivered some of the most iconic moments in the history of our sport. On the par-5, 13th a plaque commemorates Tiger Woods enlisting the help of nine fans to remove a boulder that was ruled to be a “loose impediment.” And of course, in 1997, Tiger’s ace on No. 16 turned the crowd into a frenzied mob, with deafening roars that could have triggered a minor earthquake.

No. 15 at TPC Scottsdale 

Last year a record 618,365 fans made their way through the gates over the four-day period.  And the single-day record of 201,003 on Saturday is almost the entire population of Scottsdale (226,918). You can probably expect those records to be broken this week.

Augusta National has Amen Corner. PGA National has The Bear Trap. TPC Scottsdale Stadium has Fraternity Row. When players reach hole Nos. 15, 16, and 17, they’ll need to shut out the noise and focus on the task at hand. Players generally do a pretty good job. Last year these holes were ranked 15th, 13th, and 16th in difficulty respectively, with only No.16 playing slightly above par.

GPS view of No.16 (without the stadium) at TPC Scottsdale

Overall the course is relatively easy by PGA Tour standards. Players have historically gone very low on this par-71, 7,261-yard course. Mark Calcavecchia blistered the course in 1998 with a record 28-under par, 256. And in 2013 Phil Mickelson matched that record with a 28-under of his own, tying him with Calcavecchia and Arnold Palmer for the most victories here (3). Another sub-60 watch could easily be in play this week.

The short par 4 17th is a drivable hole for most players in the field. With a pretty wide open fairway, you’ll see a lot of players reach in one. Last year Rickie Fowler (358 yards), Gary Woodland (354), and Justin Thomas (336 yards) hit the longest drives on No. 17.

There’s a risk-reward aspect to this hole that players can’t overlook, especially with the tournament on the line as Fowler discovered last year. Overcook your drive and water on the left of the green and over it will change fortunes in a hurry.

One of the most memorable moments on No. 17 came in 2001, when Andrew Magee, still fuming from a double-bogey 7 two holes earlier, drove the green with the group of Tom Bynum, Gary Nicklaus, and Steve Pate still putting. Magee’s ball incredibly careened off Byrum’s putter and the inevitable happened. Magee’s ball dove right into the hole.

The finishing hole No. 18 played as the second most difficult hole last year, surrendering only 57 birdies, while meting out 96 bogeys or worse. With the tournament on the line and nerves ratcheted up, the rambling lake along the left side of the fairway will definitely cause players to pause and re-evaluate tee shot strategy. The right side isn’t any safer, with resized bunkers positioned based on Shot Link data to gobble up errant shots.

Players with length off the tee will definitely have an advantage this week. Defending champion Hideki Matsuyama finished fourth here in 2014 and second in 2015. Bubba Watson posted two 2nd place finishes in 2014 and 2015, while Brooks Koepka broke through for his first career win in 2015.

Players coming in hot include Justin Thomas (three wins in his last four events), Jordan Spieth (three top-10s in his last three starts), and of course last week’s winner Jon Rahm (who finished fifth here in his only appearance in 2015).

Players to watch

If you’re looking for a player who seems to fit all the madness perfectly, Andrew “Beef” Johnston kicks off his 2017 continental “Beefmania” Tour this week in the desert. Johnston would be just as comfortable in the deranged stands on No. 16 as he will be teeing off, and there’s probably no tournament more fitting for Johnston to capture his first Tour win than here.

Winner Prediction

Ironically, I’m going with none of these players to win. My pick is Patrick Reed. Reed’s top-10 in Strokes Gained: Total so far this season, is certainly long enough off the tee to take advantage of the wide open fairways, and is ranked second in approaches from 50 to 125 yards. Reed seems primed to pick up his sixth career win and become the eighth first-time winner here in the past nine events.

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