Phil Mickelson missed the cut at last year's tournament.
Robert Beck/SI
Thursday, January 05, 2012

Whether you call it the Waste Management Phoenix Open, the Greatest Show on Grass or the last stop on the 2010 West Coast Swing, this week's Tour stop at TPC Scottsdale is a drinking tournament with a golfing problem. Every year at least one fan stops in the middle of the bacchanalia, eyes a pro as he makes his way from green to tee, and says with sincere surprise, "There's a golf tournament going on?"

The answer to that question is a resounding yes, especially this year, when Waste Management, in its first year as title sponsor, got a sweet spot on the schedule. Falling a week after the first World Golf Championship event, two weeks before the second WGC, and during a dark week in Europe, the WMPO has drawn an above-average field.

Two-time champion Phil Mickelson will try to atone for last year's missed cut in Phoenix and get into the win column after three uninspired starts so far in 2010.

Ian Poulter, fifth in the World Ranking after his victory at the Accenture, will make his first start in Phoenix. His future Ryder Cup mate Martin Kaymer, eighth in the Ranking, will try to match Poulter with his own maiden W in the U.S.

Kaymer is a long way from his native Germany, but he's literally at home at the WMPO. After practicing in Phoenix on and off for years, he found the climate agreed with him and bought a house there. Asked on Tuesday how close it is to TPC Scottsdale, he replied, "You want to visit me tonight? I invite you for barbecue."

(Real answer: Kaymer said he lives about 15 minutes from the course.)

Yet none of the aforementioned players would be considered the favorite this week. That designation would fall on two-time Phoenix Open champion J.B. Holmes, who has quietly notched two top-three finishes in his last two starts.

Holmes is part of a huge throng of talented 20-somethings bound to catch the attention of the largely college-aged crowd at this event. There's Rickie Fowler, Michael Sim, Jason Day, Anthony Kim, Troy Merritt and James Nitties (T4 here last year).

Of special concern for players like Q school champ Merritt is the Tour's reshuffle, which will happen after the conclusion of the WMPO and reassign priority rankings in the 2010 rookie class. That means this could well be the last week that a pro like Graham DeLaet, who was first alternate before getting into this week's field, has more status than, say, West Coast Swing star Alex Prugh, 8th alternate and out of luck in Phoenix.

Unless one of his fellow rookies has a big week at TPC Scottsdale, Prugh, on the strength of three top-10 finishes, is expected to rise to the top of the reshuffle.

The star of the week is bound to be the tournament itself, which always looks less like a hushed gathering of high-strung strivers and more like a fraternity party spread over 18 holes — mostly the enclosed, par-3 16th hole.

"If there's one person moving behind the green, you can focus on that one person," said Charley Hoffman, Waste Management's mop-topped, green-gloved pitchman and runner-up to Kenny Perry in a playoff here last year. "If there's 50,000 people, you can't focus on anything [in the crowd] so it doesn't bother you. It's just like if everybody's talking, it doesn't bother you."

Well, yes and no.

On 16, players know they'll get booed if they miss the green. They'll also hear chants strongly urging them to tip their caps, commentary on their sartorial choices (Fowler, Poulter), commentary on their hair (Hoffman), and various other chirps.

Soon-to-be senior Kenny Perry is the defending champion this week, and he'll try to rebound from a first-round exit at the Accenture.

Others to keep an eye on include Kevin Na, third here in '09 and usually in the mix on Sunday at TPC Scottsdale; Camilo Villegas, coming off a third-place finish at the Accenture; Ryan Moore, who tied for sixth last year; and Alvaro Quiros, the big hitter from Spain whose game would seem perfect for this bomber-friendly track.

Fred Couples, who won his first tournament on the Champions circuit two weeks ago, will also tee it up in Phoenix, as there is no tournament on the senior tour this week.

• Jiyai Shin defends her title at the LPGA's HSBC Women's Champions in Singapore, where the field is also scheduled to include last week's winner Ai Miyazato, Suzann Pettersen, Paula Creamer (T3 here last year), Lorena Ochoa and Michelle Wie.

"It is definitely Asia's major," Christie Kerr said. "The competition is amazing, and we are looking forward to teeing it up on Thursday."

• Vance Veazey will try to repeat as champion of the Nationwide Tour's Panama Claro Championship in Panama City, Panama.

The par-70, 7,123-yard Panama Golf Club is the star in this event, now in its seventh year. The course played to a scoring average of 71.683 in last year's tournament, making it the toughest test on the schedule for the third time in the last six years.

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