The famously dubbed "greatest show on grass" takes centre stage this week and the masses will be getting inebriated in the build up to Superbowl Sunday. The famous amphitheatre like par three 16th will be surrounded by overgrown college kids, amongst others, and while the players will be under orders not to interact with them by way of the usual throwing bits and bobs into the crowd, it would take a brave man to bet against it happening. Maybe Michael Putnam - 176.0 - didn't get the memo as he was interviewed last week at Humana where he suggested he was armed with goodies for the fans.
To add a little bit more spice to proceedings, Tiger Woods tees it up at TPC Scottsdale for the first time in a number of years as he makes him latest return from injury. Given Tiger's come in at 23.00 in the betting - almost twice his price for the Masters - I couldn't put anyone off. It's Phil Mickelson - 17.00 - though who is always the fans favourite in these parts having attended college here and Phil demolished the TPC Scottsdale field in 2013, almost holing out for a 59 in round one. Former Scottsdale resident Bubba Watson - 15.00 - came close on the Stadium course last year, missing a short putt to force a playoff on the 72nd hole, and he leads the market.
The course - TPC Scottsdale
The Stadium course at TPC Scottsdale underwent big renovations last year and can now play circa 7,250 yards to a par of 71. Equipped with newly planted trees, the enormous landing areas have been tightened somewhat and there will be more of a premium on tee to green play. The concoction for success here is bombing off the tee combined with attacking short iron and wedge play. A high ball flight and a right to left shot shape have aided in the past and with new green surfaces - supposedly firmer - trajectory from approaches may have an even bigger bearing. Proximity to the hole and spin control are vital on large greens averaging over 6,000 square feet. Bunkers have been remodelled but apparently are not as deep now according to an article I read from a reputable source, and the sand is seemingly easier to play from. We may see the course playing a shot or so tougher but it will likely be more or less the usual.
Three from the pack
Graham DeLaet - 51.00 or 11.00 - is one of a number of golfers that has spent time out practicing in the Scottsdale area and he tweeted before Christmas that he was enjoying the new facilities there. Renowned for his ball striking skills, DeLaet was 1st for GIR% over the weekend here last year, shooting -12 across Saturday and Sunday to record a 2nd place finish. It could have been better if he had not found the water on the par five 15th. New greens could be an aid for a guy who has been suffering with the flat stick - even if they just make it tougher for his opponents - and the Canadian warmed up his swing nicely with a top 30 at the Humana.
Martin Laird - 81.00 or 17.00 - is my big under the radar fancy in the desert this week. Laird is a resident of these parts and has the perfect game for the track. Thriving from tee to green, he's recently been reunited with his swing coach and feels his ball striking is back to the peak of it's powers according to an interview I watched from Laird at the Humana. Again, with more emphasis on hitting fairways and greens this week than in previous years, this should add to the Scot's chances. Martin warmed up with a top 15 last week and he owns decent form at the Stadium course with a top 20 last year and a 3rd place finish when playing his best stuff in 2011. Laird ranked 39th in ball striking and 25th in total driving in 2014.
You'll begin to notice a bit of a theme with my picks now and Nick Watney - 71.00 or 15.00 - falls under the same category as the two above. A big hitter whose strength is from tee to green, Watney has been struggling for a few years but keeps popping up now and again showing some of the form of old. Watney has played here in 7 of the last 8 years and owns an impressive average finishing position of approximately 25th. His best performance was 5th in 2011. A 14th place finish finish at PGA West with a -18 total sets him up nicely, and a 2nd round 64 suggests his putter may not be far away. What catches the eye most for Nick this week though is a ranking of 4th in proximity to the hole in 2014 - IMO a big plus in the stats for TPC Scottsdale.
Again, Jason Kokrak - 101.0 or 19.00 - is in a similar mould to the other selections but this is a big hitter with a high compressed ball flight who actually thrives on and around the greens. He mentioned in an interview at Humana that his putting has been what has kept him in contention and his exact words were: " If I can hit more fairways, watch out". Well, he can certainly hit more fairways on the previously generous TPC Scottsdale Stadium course where he posted a top 15 last year. Kokrak has had a couple of decent showings at the start of the year to dust off the rust and is on the ones to watch list in 2015.