Overview - Dubai and Phoenix
The "greatest shown on grass" will take centre stage on the PGA Tour this week as the most competitive field so far this season lines up at TPC Scottsdale for the Phoenix Open. This is the most attended and boisterous event of the year and over 500,000 people are expected over the Superbowl weekend. Circa 30,000 people alone will gather around the par 3 16th hole, mostly drinking and wagering where the players tee shots will end up' - it's not a hole for the weak minded player!
On the European Tour, the last event of the three week desert swing comes from Dubai, and Emirates GC, where Rory McIlroy - 3.25 - has now basically built a second home so to speak. Rory says he spends about three months of the year now in this area. The Dubai Desert Classic is generally the easiest stop of the trio of desert events where we generally see a lot of blue numbers. A decent field assembles in 2016.
Rory McIlroy defends his Dubai Desert Classic title and comes in at a short price of 3.25 but there are a handful of guys more than able to take the trophy off the Irishman. Louis Oosthuizen looks a relatively big price vs Rory and Henrik Stenson - 12.00 - who resided in close proximity to Emirates GC for many years. This course is like Henrik's back garden. Graeme McDowell - 41.00 - also makes the trip from the US. Keep an eye out for huge talent Gavin Green - 751.0 - who may be worth a bet in the sub markets.
In Phoenix you can literally scroll a long way down the betting market before you reach "unrealistic winner" territory. This looks one of the most competitive grade 1 tournaments outside the majors in 2016, and the absence of the likes of Jordan Spieth and Jason Day make it wide open. Home man and multiple winner Phil Mickelson - 29.00 - loves this course and it sets up perfectly for him. Two time winner JB Holmes - 29.00 - also comes back off another solid top 10 at the Farmers Insurance Open. This is a popular area amongst PGA Tour pros and the likes of Kevin Streelman - 67.00 - and Martin Laird - 81.00 - reside in the area. Graham Delaet - 81.00 - has spent a lot of the off season practicing here in the past and owns more than solid course form. Rickie Fowler leads the market.
Courses, key features and trends
TPC Scottsdale - Stadium course
Changes were made before last year’s TPC Scottsdale renewal, with new bunkering and trees put in to catch drives on what are very generous landing areas. From my notes, 2015 was a lot "greener" than previous years with some juicy lush rough up in spots around the greens, while conditions were faster and firmer than normal with new surfaces introduced to the greens. The general profile and brief still stands here though, and that is bomb it off the tee and propel a high trajectory short iron or wedge aggressively at the pins, controlling spin on surfaces averaging over 6,000 square feet. The course measures circa 7,266 yards to a par of 71 and the cauldron that is the amphitheatre par 3 16th awaits. It's a fantastic finish with the drivable par 4 risk / reward 17th and the water lined 18th awaiting the leaders on Sunday. Scoring tends to be in the high teens.
Playing 7,319 yards to a par of 72, Emirates GC is arguably the easiest test on the desert swing. Tee shots, a la Qatar, are from angles to doglegged fairways with undulations but the wind isn't usually too much of a factor, while the cabbage is topped at just 75mm. The test here is more akin to Abu Dhabi, with emphasis on strong tee to green play and the green surfaces mimic Abu Dhabi GC - fast and fiery, but with some sculpted complexes and run offs rather than rough. A mixture of small trees / shrubs and palm trees along with desert terrain line the fairways and water comes into play on 10 holes. Destroying par 5s and a couple of shorter par 4s is key to success and this is where Rory excels. Excellent ball strikers like past winners Rafa Cabrera Bello - 34.00 - and Stevie Gallacher (back-to-back) tend to prevail here.
Top betting tips
Dubai Desert Classic
I mentioned Louis Oosthuizen's - 26.00 or 6.00 - price looks relatively big to his playing partners and I wouldn't be surprised to see him put in the best card of the threesome on Thursday morning. Louis warmed up with a nice top 10 in Qatar and owns one top 5 and another top 10 here, although hasn't featured at the Dubai Desert Classic since 2010. The South African is one of the best players in the game from tee to green, measuring in at 66% accuracy, just under 300 yards in distance and with a GIR clip over 75% on the European Tour in 2015. He ranked 28th for par 5 scoring average on the PGA Tour last year, has the perfect game for the venue.
Thorbjorn Olesen - 34.00 or 7.50 - ranked second for greens hit in Qatar despite a driving accuracy and distance average ranking of circa 50th, implying he was absolutely flushing his irons. A look at the putting stats as well as watching him on Sunday tells you he wasn't really holing much either, and yet still managed a T2. Olesen has the power to beat up the par 5s and short par 4s at Emirates GC and perhaps that was the recipe for two top 5s in the last three years here for the Dane.
Waste Management Phoenix Open
Horses for courses and Justin Thomas - 29.00 or 6.50 - opened across the board at a considerably price than I had him. He's, unsurprisingly, seeing the money already. Thomas earned a top 20 here on his debut in 2015 but after 54 holes he was bang in contention, just the one shot off second place. Justin was sixth in driving distance here one year ago and was ranked pound for pound longest driver in 2015. He has that aggressive attacking style with a "moon ball" flight that's needed at TPC Scottsdale, and was second in total birdies in 2015. Thomas now has the maiden win monkey off his back.
Jamie Lovemark - 81.00 or 17.00 - is another who I pegged for this event having watched his style of play closely at the Career Builder Challenge. Lovemark was third in strokes gained putting that week and carded just the one bogey in 54 holes, before three doubles on the final day with some errant driving. The bomber ranks 10th in driving distance this season so far and he'll have more room here from the tee but the thing I noted most was his high towering ball flight from approaches. His price has slipped a little after a T31 at Torrey followed three consecutive top 10s but interestingly Lovemark shot one of the best rounds (74) of the final day in extreme winds.