We head to Phoenix for the "greatest show on grass" Stateside, while the pristine Emirates GC will host the European Tour's Dubai Desert Classic. The Waste Management Phoenix Open is the most attended and boisterous event of the year on the PGA Tour. Circa 30,000 people will gather around the par three 16th hole alone, drinking and wagering where the player's tee shots will end up. Strong minds will be needed down the risk - reward stretch at TPC Scottsdale. The Dubai Desert Classic rounds out the three events of the middle eastern desert swing and early weather reports suggest that winds may be up.
A number of the Phoenix Open field either reside in the area or have in the past, while more take up temporary residence here during the off-season to practice at TPC Scottsdale. These include leading event money winner, local fan favourite and three-time champ Phil Mickelson - 26.00. Kevin Streelman, Martin Laird, Graham Delaet and Pat Perez all fit the bill but it's Arizona State man and resident Jon Rahm - 17.00 - who most are talking about now.
The former amateur phenom has already broken through as a pro with a win last week at the Farmer's Insurance Open. He resides in the area and practices on the course, often with the great Phil Mickelson. Having been 5th here as an amateur on his debut, he can definitely go for back-to-back wins this week. He'll have to contend with the in-form Justin Thomas - 12.00 - and Hideki Matsuyama - 11.00 - though who both have perfect games for this course. Hideki is defending champion while Thomas is on fire having won on both his last two starts.
Henrik Stenson - 7.00 - leads the market in Dubai and this used to be the Swede's back garden before he left the UAE for Florida. Not many know the course more. Tiger Woods - 46.00 - makes the trip across the water to tee it up on the European tour and it will be interesting to see if the two time champ can further his progress. Danny Willett - 46.00 - defends, while potential future Malaysian superstar Gavin Green will tee it up again on the main stage. Green (101.0 to place) has started really well in his last two events but faded over the weekends. Thomas Aiken - 41.00 - is the man with the current and course form concoction and he's seeing plenty of money already.
Courses, features and premiums - TPC Scottsdale - 7,266 yards, par 71
Changes were made to TPC Scottsdale post 2014 and it's played significantly tougher in the last two renewals. Landing areas have been pinched in and new bunkering and trees have been added to catch drives on what were very generous landing areas. The track is "greener" and lusher than previous years with some juicy rough up in spots around the greens, while conditions now are faster and firmer than normal with new surfaces introduced to the greens. Total driving is currently more of a premium than driving distance but the general theme here is still about proximity to the hole. Hideki Matsuyama once again proved this last year. Those with the ability to hit high towering approaches from the fairway to these pins will thrive.
Emirates GC - 7,328 yards, par 72
Tee shots at Emirates GC are from angles to pretty generous but dog-legged fairways, with undulations meaning they can be hard to find. The rough is topped at just 75mm but due to angles and contouring here, it is easy to run out of fairway and be blocked out for approach. Driver is left in the bag on certain holes. Greens are super fast (Stimp: 13.6' on Monday), it usually plays firm, and "sculpted greens" now have some punishing run offs. The test here then puts emphasis on strong ball striking and greens in regulation, which is why players like Stephen Gallacher, Rafa Cabrera Bello - 17.00 - and Danny Willet have thrived and won in the past.
"You must play from the fairways and a low one can be shot but if playing from the rough, 71/72 is a good score" is a quote from on course commentator Richard Boxall. Water comes into play on 10 holes so the errant will be punished here. The 18th was one of the specific tee shots which where it was hard to hold the fairway to be able to go for the par 5 across the water in two, but there's a new tee box and angle this year.
Best Value Bets
As mentioned, it's a theme of proximity to the hole, total driving and towering approaches in Phoenix and Patrick Rodgers - 67.00 or 14.00 - is the man ticking all the boxes if you watched him at Torrey. He used this formula in Reno and at Quail Hollow too in his three of his best finishes on the main tour to date. Rodgers posted a top 20 here at TPC Scottsdale on his debut in 2016 and has a new putter in the bag which has been getting the thumbs up.
Dubai Desert Classic
Andy Sullivan - 29.00 or 6.50 - is a more than acceptable price this week due to a poor final round on Sunday in Qatar. Sully has some serious form in this part of the world and his record at Emirates GC reads 12-MC-4-2. The Englishman was T5 after 54 holes last week, just two shots off 2nd place.
Paul Peterson - 251.0 or 51.0 - is my big outsider this week. Peterson is a streaky player known for his accuracy from the tee and hot putter. It's his course debut but he's completely off the radar here despite a closing 64 in Qatar that included 9 birdies and a back 9 of just 30 strokes. He owns a GIR percentage clip of 72.22% in 2017 and recorded his maiden European success out of nowhere at the 2016 Czech Masters. Peterson is 8.00 to be top US Player and that looks a very good bet in a five runner market.