After a successful return for Tiger Woods, the PGA TOUR heads 370 miles east for the Greenest Show on Grass.
That title does not reflect the color of the fairways and greens at TPC Scottsdale, although the winter overseed is nice and green this time of year, but instead refers to the Zero Waste Challenge this tournament take part in every year. You won't find any trash cans on the property and nothing from the event will end up in a landfill. Pretty cool, but doesn't have anything to do with the actual golf being played, so let's dive back on track...
Taking a break from the multi-course events, this week the somewhat-limited field of 132 golfers will face TPC Scottsdale's Stadium Course.
Built in 1986 with designs by Jay Morrish and Tom Weiskopf, it's played the role of tournament host since the following year (1987). This will be the 32nd edition played at TPC Scottsdale.
Notable changes came in 2014 when Weiskopf came through to "freshen up" the course. Greens were resurfaced and some of them had elevation modifications. He also added some key bunkering to lessen some of the advantages for the bomb-and-gouge style of play.
Length is still an advantage here but it has become more risk/reward in many cases with new bunkering, as it should. If a big hitter wants to grip it and rip it, they will likely have to challenge a bunker, possibly leading to a few more bogeys. There still aren't that many doubles or worse lurking out there in the desert.
The course is a stock par 71 with three par 5s and 11 par 4s. The course was overseeded with ryegrass during the first week of October so golfers should expect pristine turf conditions, as usual.
The front nine mostly snakes through the nearby housing developments without any water to battle with. The par-4 5th hole is probably the toughest driving hole on the outward nine. If you miss right then you'll be in someone's backyard (reloading your tee shot) but if you miss left you'll be hoping your ball didn't land inside a bush or hope that you're not blocked out for your second shot. The rest of the front nine is ho-hum golf.
The back nine is where most of the action happens. The infamous par-3 16th is where all the roars will come from with spectators lining up for hours over the weekend trying to land a seat in the arena.
Then golfers will (generally) attack the short par-4 17th where water lurks left (or long if you're Rickie Fowler).
Finally, water is in play again on the 18th. If golfers try to bomb it over the water, they may find themselves in the church pew bunkers on the left. Adding to the potential nerves, all of this happens with the largest crowds in golf lining the fairways and greens of this stadium-style course.
Sifting through some past quotes over at the Fantasy Golfanac, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play...
Matt Kuchar: "That was the deal out here. You come to the desert and expect perfect weather and expect some good scores to be shot. The course is definitely harder than it used to be. I think that was part of their goal."
Keegan Bradley: "I love coming out to a course like this where you can pound driver. There is a bunker out there that if you want to challenge it, you can hit it over or lay short. It's a nice change of pace."
Byeong Hun An: "The course I think just suits my eyes. The hole shaping, and there is not much of a dogleg left or right. You basically hit drivers out there and try to carry all the bunkers."
Danny Lee: "The greens being so firm, you kind of forced to hit driver at tee shot. You want to hit a shorter club on second shot."
Ryan Palmer: "In the past, it's been better for me, because there is a lot of shots that, a lot of draw ball tee shots. A lot of greens set up for me, as well, depending on where the pin is obviously. I was able to kind of attack the golf course with the length I have. From what it is now to what it used to be, it's definitely longer, for sure. I used to hit a lot of wedges, sand wedges, and we are not doing that anymore. But I like what they did from tee to green."
Martin Laird: "Yeah, you know, and early in the morning it's playing long, really long. 11th hole yesterday I had 3-wood/wedge, and today I had driver/6-iron. That just shows you the difference starting early as opposed to in the afternoon.... I feel really comfortable on these greens. They are kinda tricky if you don't play the Valley effect on them."
Overview: DRIVERS, DRIVERS, DRIVERS! For a second straight week, length off the tee is a big advantage. Of course, bunkers that were added in the 2014 renovation mitigates that advantage if you aren't somewhat accurate. Overall, there aren't a lot of big numbers out here in the desert, though.
Also, keep an eye on AM/PM weather since temperatures in this area, at this time of year, can fluctuate dramatically from morning to afternoon. This is one of the rare weeks on TOUR where a PM wave could have a lower scoring average (due to temperature, not wind). Since 2003, there have been 22 golfers that led/co-led after R1, with 12 of them starting before 10 AM and the other 10 starting after Noon.
Lastly, golfers that train in this area (or surrounding states) have a nice edge in terms of playing in the climate and on similar grass types. Anyone that has Ping or PXG as a sponsor, probably spends some time here in the desert, as well.
Let's see what other courses show a correlation to success here in the desert. Looking at past performance, golfer quotes, and course setup, these five courses/events show up as potential pointers:
Silverado Resort and Spa
A close sixth was the CareerBuilder Challenge, another event played in the desert. I would consider looking at the last three editions of the CBC very closely since that is when the course rota changed and the Stadium Course at PGA WEST got added to the mix.
Golfers will see beautiful Scottsdale weather this week.
Temperatures will start in the low 60s each morning and then rise to the mid-70s by midday.
Wind looks to be dead-calm throughout the event, with nothing forecasted over 10 MPH from Thursday through Sunday. That could change before Thursday, but for now, it looks like we'll get prime scoring conditions this week.
Players to Watch
Faded over the weekend last week on a tough Torrey Pines South. Now he'll head to his old stomping grounds in Scottsdale, the area he played his college golf. After a tough Saturday, Rahm may have shifted his focus to Phoenix a bit early. Given his comfort in the area, I wouldn't be worried about any fatigue issues. I am considering him the man to beat this week.
While Rahm brings form and area knowledge, Matsuyama is the man to beat when it comes to course history at TPC Scottsdale. In four trips, he's rattled off finishes of T4, T2, WIN, WIN! Remarkable consistency here, he's event posted the same four-day total in three of his four visits (14-under 270). I wouldn't chalk up a third straight win, but a top 25 is very likely. A great option in all fantasy formats this week.
Fowler is one of the golfers that has fallen victim to Matsuyama's dominance here, losing in a 2016 playoff. The brightly-dressed California native returned last year to finish T4. He's earned $100K or more in four of his last eight visits to TPC Scottsdale. Don't get too caught up on last week's missed cut, because this is an event that usually brings out the best in Fowler.
A little further down the board, we have ZJ who has fallen victim to slow starts to the season over the last few years. That hasn't been a problem so far as he's 5-for-5 to kickoff the 2017-18 season, with all of them doubling as top 25s. Also has top 25s in 6-of-8 starts at this event. Good convergence of trends here for the Drake Bulldog.
Diving into the bargain bin, Streelman arrives with steady form. He's avoided bogeys at a rate higher than the field in 6-of-7 starts this season, finishing top 30 in all six of those (T67 in the one event he didn't beat the field in bogey avoidance). TPC Scottsdale is the type of track where you just need to avoid mistakes and the birdies will eventually flow. Also calls Scottsdale home, so you can't complain about a little local knowledge.
Another golfer with ties to the area. Back in 2016, Hahn said he's played this course a hundred times. Obviously, he wasn't stating an exact number, the idea remains the same as Streelman, he will be very comfortable sleeping in his own bed this week. Has a pair of top 20s in two of his five starts here, so he's still a bit boom-or-bust. Hahn missed out on my top 25 but he makes for a good GPP option for DFSers.
Byeong Hun An
Doesn't live in the area but is known to love desert golf. Arriving fresh from T40 and T6 finishes in the Middle East. Jetlag can't be ruled out, but if he hits the ground running on Thursday then look out.
He's on the record saying his motivation for coming to this event is sponsor-related but he's never shied away from contention while appeasing his sponsors. His return to a normal golf ball was supposed to spark an instant return to form but gamers are still waiting. This is the perfect venue for him to get back on the map, but personally, I will continue to sit things out with Watson until he shows any flashes of form.
I've been slow to jump on the Harkins train since his Web.com Tour results weren't anything to drool over. However, it's impossible to keep ignoring his torrid form. He is 7-for-8 to start the season with six top 25s! According to his PGA TOUR profile, he also resides in Scottsdale.
Ranking the Field
1. Jon Rahm
2. Hideki Matsuyama
3. Jordan Spieth
4. Rickie Fowler
5. Matt Kuchar
6. Phil Mickelson
7. Daniel Berger
8. Zach Johnson
9. Justin Thomas
10. Webb Simpson
11. Brendan Steele
12. Brandon Harkins
13. Austin Cook
14. Marc Leishman
15. Patrick Reed
16. Shane Lowry
17. J.B. Holmes
18. Brandt Snedeker
19. Gary Woodland
20. Francesco Molinari
21. Charley Hoffman
22. Ryan Palmer
23. Tony Finau
24. Kevin Streelman
25. Keegan Bradley
Playing European Tour Fantasy Golf? Give Dave Tindall's Maybank Championship Preview a look. Check back on Tuesday for our Expert Picks and then on Wednesday, I will return for some last-minute DFS tips in the DFS Dish.