EDITOR’S NOTE: Brian Mull is a former caddie who spent several years walking alongside the world’s best players inside the ropes on the PGA Tour. Throughout the 2019-20 season, he will be filing a weekly fantasy golf picks piece — as well as a gambling picks piece — applying the expert knowledge he’s acquired over the years by following the players and courses on Tour so closely.
There’s a party going on, many people strong.
About 250,000 folks, more or less, will convene in the greater TPC Scottsdale vicinity this weekend to a) drink; b) heckle pros who miss the 16th green; c) attempt to collect swag from some of said pros; d) continue drinking; e) get primed for the after parties; f) long for the caddie races; g) open Tinder; h) try not to fall down; i) holler when someone birdies the par-3 16th and finally; j) try to avoid doing anything that will make them internet infamous or force them to have to call their mother.
The event, now known as the Waste Management Phoenix Open, has been described in many ways. Some are even suitable for print. One description came from a veteran Tour pro as we maneuvered through the endless, colorful, exuberant throng, trying to find a golf hole or the practice tee or some semblance of a PGA Tour golf tournament.
“Feels like a festival,” he said. “Only thing missing is the Rolling Stones.”
“Then why am I carrying this heavy golf bag?” I thought.
The festivities center around the golf, more or less, with a 144-man field trying to avoid the sand, the cacti, the water hazards looming on the closing stretch and remain calm amid the din to capture a golf tournament party unlike any other.
The golf course, a Tom Weiskopf design, is a par 71, only 7,122 yards that typically yields mass quantities of birdies. The winning score has hovered between 14 and 18 under in recent years. The weather forecast is excellent — wind less than 10 mph and sunny skies with highs in the 60s. In the past, morning frost has forced delays and the troublesome scenario for any fantasy player — a round completed the following day — but the best we can tell the chances of such are low this year.
Through the years, TPC Scottsdale has been a “horses for courses” type place. So, we stuck to the familiar theme, trying to identify a mixture of the obvious and obscure to help you set your lineups this week. The field includes 18 of the top 50 players in the world and many of the highest ranked players have enjoyed their week in Scottsdale through the years.
For some, the week can be hard to remember. For one, it will be hard to forget.
Golfer power rankings
25. Daniel Berger – Shot four sub-70 rounds at AMEX and finished T-29, so game is trending nicely. Has finished in the top 11 three times in five Waste Management starts. He’s 25th on Tour in birdie average (4.41 per round) and 44th in scoring (70.365).
24. Andrew Putnam – Tied for 10th in AMEX and T-18 at Shriners in the Tour’s two previous desert forays and has risen to 48th in the official world golf ranking. Missed the cut here last year in his only appearance, expect significant improvement in his second trip around TPC Scottsdale.
23. Viktor Hovland – The young star from Norway spent the last two weeks in the Arabian desert, missing the cut at Abu Dhabi and tying for 23rd in Dubai. Making his first PGA Tour start since Mayakoba and first appearance at TPC Scottsdale, but his talent makes him a threat anywhere.
22. Ryan Palmer – Contended at Sony (T-4), scuffled to 77 on Sunday at Torrey Pines and finished T-21. Enjoying a late career rejuvenation and has good history here with a T-2 in 2015 and fifth in 2013.
21. Harris English – Missed the cut here the last two years when he was struggling and sputtered to a T-71 last week, but has past success at TPC Scottsdale, finishing third in 2016 and ninth in 2014.
20. J.B. Holmes – Erratic driving on the weekend ruined his chances and he faded to T-16 at Torrey Pines, but the wide fairways of TPC Scottsdale should be more appealing for the two-time Waste Management champion (2006, 2008).
19. Tom Hoge – Comes in hot (T-12, 6th and 5th in last three starts) but doesn’t have a great track record at TPC Scottsdale with a missed cut and T-44 in two appearances. He’s ninth in SG: approach the green, 31st in SG: putting and 23rd in scoring.
18. Gary Woodland – Missed the cut last week, which is somewhat troubling, and we’re still waiting for him to snap out of his post U.S. Open funk. Still, worth taking a chance on deeper rosters because he won here in 2018 and finished T-7 last year.
17. Chez Reavie – The former Arizona State golfer is off to a slow start in 2019-20 (127th in FedEx Cup) but TPC Scottsdale and friendly fans might help him jumpstart his year. Finished 2nd and T-4 here the last two years.
16. Branden Grace – The South African finished runner-up here last year and appears to be returning to form after slipping outside the top 100 in the world, winning his home country’s Open two weeks ago with a final-round 62.
15. Corey Conners – Should be fresh. Hasn’t played since Sony (T-12). Making his Waste Management debut and his top shelf ballstriking (29th SG: Tee-to-Green) should get him to the weekend. Must putt better to be a factor (150th strokes gained).
14. Matthew Wolff – Finished T-50 in Waste Management debut last year and posted fourth top 25 of 2019-20 last week at Torrey Pines. The driver and putter have been solid, needs to find the touch around the greens (213th strokes gained).
13. Bryson DeChambeau – Tied for fifth at the Waste Management in 2018, then skipped it last year. Poor closing stretch at Dubai dropped him to T-8. Too bad Koepka isn’t playing because then the 16th green would be the ideal setting for settling their differences.
12. Collin Morikawa – Impeccable ballstriking has thrust Morikawa onto the leaderboard early each week but mediocre putting on the weekend has been a problem. In spite of those woes, he’s already risen to 56th in the world and the smooth greens of TPC Scottsdale should create a lucrative debut.
11. Brandt Snedeker – Rolling into Scottsdale after tying for third last week. Has made the cut in 11 of 12 Waste Management starts but seeking his first top 10 since 2015.
10. Sungjae Im – Finished outside the top 25 last week, which is shocking in itself. Tied for seventh in Waste Management debut last year though and has consistently played well at desert venues (Vegas, Palm Desert, Scottsdale) with four top 15s in as many starts.
9. Xander Schauffele – Not to go all Dr. Phil here but it’s reasonable to believe there could be mild scar tissue lingering from his 72nd hole gaffe at Kapalua. Solid track record here (T-10, T-17 in two starts) and never risky to include the world’s ninth-best golfer, but be cautious.
8. Rickie Fowler – Survived a rare rough weather Sunday in Scottsdale last year to win the Waste Management, giving him three top-4 finishes here in the last four years. Not paying much attention to last week’s struggles. Given a choice, the face of Farmers Insurance would probably skip Torrey Pines.
7. Matt Kuchar – Caught in the worst side of the draw at Waialae, he missed the cut. Still, he’s produced three consecutive top 10s in the calm desert air at the Waste Management and won in Singapore last time out.
6. Scottie Scheffler – I’ll admit it. I play favorites, as in personal favorites. And young Mr. Scheffler has become one. Love the Tour rookie’s fearlessness and ballstriking (11th in total driving, 26th in greens in regulation). Also motivated to crack top 50 in world ranking (53rd) and receive Augusta invite.
5. Bubba Watson – The powerful left-hander is unpredictable but has five top 10s in 13 Waste Management starts, including a T-4 last year, and shot a pair of 69s on the brutal Torrey Pines South course last weekend.
4. Hideki Matsuyama – Loves TPC Scottsdale with victories in 2016 and 2017, a 67.67 stroke average and supbar scores in 20 of 21 rounds. Ranks 13th in the FedEx Cup despite horrific putting (182nd in strokes gained).
3. Justin Thomas – I expect the world No. 4 to play well anytime he enters a tournament. With three wins in his last seven starts, JT usually meets those expectations. Finished third at WM Open last year.
2. Jon Rahm – Awful start on Sunday combined with Marc Leishman’s sizzling round cost Rahm his fourth PGA Tour victory, continuing a troubling trend of inability to win Tour events he leads after 54 holes. Maybe this week — has two top 10s and a 68.25 stroke average here and the rowdy Arizona State crowd will shower him with love.
1. Webb Simpson – He’s fifth in SG: approach the green, 11th in SG: putting, finished third last time out and has four top-10s in nine starts at the Waste Management. If a man can quietly be ranked 11th in the world, Simpson has accomplished the feat.