Waste Management Phoenix Open: Leading contenders and angles at the raucous TPC Scottsdale

A look at the key stats, trends and insight which highlight who will thrive in this week’s PGA Tour event.

It's a big week for American sport with Sunday's Superbowl taking centre stage.

But in the lead up to that sporting party, golf has its own shindig in the form of the Waste Management Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale in Arizona.

Truly, there is nothing quite like it in the sport, a week nicknamed 'The Greatest Show on Grass' that attracts over half a million spectators.

In 2016 the Saturday action alone welcomed over 200,000 punters through the gates and the par-3 16th hole ('The Coliseum') is circled by grandstands with seats for 20,000.

To put that in context, the Open Championship's record crowd was 237,500 at Royal Portrush. For the entire week!

Staggering numbers, but who will the fans witness lift the trophy? Let's take a look at three key angles.

Taking long distance aim

TPC Scottsdale has tended to yield to golfers with their long game on song.

And perhaps a distinction of the course adds to this trend - the fact that some of its most vulnerable holes are short par-4s and par-5s. That calls for excellent driving and approach shots

Hence, five of the last six winners have featured high up the Strokes Gained Approach rankings.

Hideki Matsuyama was fourth in 2016 and first when he successfully defended the title, Gary Woodland (2018) was second, Webb Simpson (2020) first and Brooks Koepka (2021) second.

Rickie Fowler was the exception (17th), but he was third for SG Off the Tee (the other five winners all ranked top 20).

The category SG Tee to Green includes SG Around the Green, but if there was a category that just measured Driving and Approaches the winners would rank high in it.

In one sense none of this is news because the player in this week's field who is currently flying highest in SG Off the Tee and Approach for 2021/22 is the World No. 1 who also owns a very fine course record.

Yes, Jon Rahm, a former Arizona State University student, is sat inside the top 10 for both categories and has never finished outside the top 20 in six tournament starts (although his best is only tied fifth on debut).

Two men are ranking top 20 for both parts of the game. The first is Luke List, who broke his PGA Tour duck two weeks ago in the Farmers Insurance Open.

The numbers might be deceptive, however, because he's yet to crack the top 20 in seven appearances at the event (although he has been top 30 in three of the last four editions).

Viktor Hovland is the other man with good starts. He also has a course record to improve on, but he has played just the once when missing the cut two years ago. Off the back of three wins in five starts he will be hopeful of improving on that.

Course form

Let's take a look at the track records of the recent winners at TPC Scottsdale.

- Brooks Koepka, 2021: also a tournament winner in 2015

- Webb Simpson, 2020: a four times top 10 finisher (including second in 2017)

- Rickie Fowler, 2019: twice a runner-up before his win

- Gary Woodland, 2018: fifth seven years earlier

- Hideki Matsuyama, 2017: the defending champion (he didn't finish outside the top four in his first four starts)

That's each of the last six winners with good course form - and five of them had a win or second in their back catalogue.

Among the favourites yet to win the tournament, Xander Schauffele has never finished outside the top 20 in four visits and was second last year, Justin Thomas has five top 20s in seven starts with two third places in the last three years, and Jordan Spieth has three top 10s in five appearances including fourth last year.

Then there is Bubba Watson who has six top 10s in his last 15 starts (including a pair of seconds) and he also rediscovered his form when second last week in Saudi Arabia.

Branden Grace has played the event just twice. He was second on debut in 2019 and ninth a year later. Less promisingly, he's missed three of his last four cuts and was T33rd in the other event, the Tournament of Champions (when there was no cut).

Sneaky form

A feature of the last two weeks on the PGA Tour has been the victories by two players who were bang in form, but yet to win.

Luke List claimed the Farmers Insurance Open following five top 25 finishes in his previous seven starts and in two of the three events pre-Torrey Pines he had been in the hunt with 18 holes to play.

Last week Tom Hoge joined him in the winner's circle off the back of contending twice in his previous four tournaments.

Might Aaron Wise follow suit? He's finished T26th or better in seven of his last eight starts and in six of his last seven starts he has been top 10 after rounds one, two or three.

His tournament record is not great (MC-T66th), but he did card a 65 in last year's event and he ranks top 50 for SG Off the Tee and Approach (as he also did last year).

READ MORE: Leona Maguire becomes the first Irish winner on the LPGA: A long time coming but worth the wait

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