After a pair of driver-heavy courses at Torrey Pines, this week’s host, TPC Scottsdale, is another venue where driver will be pulled often. In last year’s event, 84% of the tee shots on par 4s/5s were hit with driver – about 12% (or two holes worth) more than PGA Tour average. This certainly favors a bomber like Bubba Watson (and likely explains his T2-T2-15-T5 streak the last few years) who is both amazing at hitting driver and likes to use it often. In last year’s event, Bubba put up the second-best Strokes Gained Driving tournament of the season – gaining a whopping 8.4 strokes over four rounds.
Most importantly, the gap between driver usage by bombers and shorter hitters is very small at Phoenix. Typically on Tour, longer hitters play driver 1-2 times less per round than average to account for holes where hitting it would bring trouble into play. At Phoenix the difference is negligible. In other words, the course doesn’t dictate many forced lay-ups for the bombers. Pay attention to guys like Daniel Berger, Charles Howell III, and Matt Jones this week; all are very effective hitting driver.
Last year’s WM Phoenix Open featured the second-highest pars per round average of the season – 11.93, which fell just short of Greenbrier Classic for first place. If we were to construct an “excitement index” for various Tour events, a high number of pars would probably be a negative factor. Phoenix also fails to stand-out in stats like Eagles/round, Penalties/round, or Double bogeys/round, so – in contrast to the “Golf’s Biggest Party” vibe at the event – the TV product might fall a bit short in terms of excitement.
Brendan Steele and Scott Piercy have exceeded their season scoring averages by 1.6 strokes at the WM Phoenix Open. Steele’s T26 during a strong, under-the-radar season in 2015 doesn’t really move the dial, but he was T6/T6/T5 here in the three years prior. Piercy has topped out with a 3rd place and two other top 10s here. Both Piercy and Steele highlight the importance of looking beyond past winners when picking a favorite. Neither Steele nor Piercy have shown they can dominate a course like Bubba has here recently, but each has far exceeded expectations at TPC Scottsdale.