Moore to come from Ryan
Ben Coley previews the Waste Management Phoenix Open and fancies Ryan Moore to win a fourth PGA Tour title.
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The Waste Management Phoenix Open is something of a peculiar event.
Not only does it gatecrash the California swing of the PGA Tour, but this easy-as-it gets test sits in between two thorough all-round examinations which have hosted US Opens and will do so again in future.
It's fitting, then, that last year's winner was Mr Mercurial himself, Phil Mickelson, who so nearly brought the house down with an opening 59 only to card one shot more on his way to a convincing victory over Brandt Snedeker.
That Mickelson came so close to the slightly-less-magic-than-it-once-was 59 tells you something about TPC Scottsdale, which has hosted the event since 1987. Last year, this par-71 layout ranked as the easiest of its kind on tour and only one course, Trump International, yielded more eagles.
Mickelson himself describes the layout as 'risk and reward' and no hole better sums that up than the 17th, a driveable par-four with water left and a steep run-off area to the right. Preceding that is the par-three 16th, with its famous amphitheatre and hoards of enthusiastic fans. For enthusiastic, see drunk. But those wishing to walk off with the title then have to navigate the tough par-four 18th, which year-on-year plays over par.
So, we should expect a winning score somewhere close to 20-under par or lower, although Mickelson's 28-under par total of 256 is unlikely to be troubled. The winner will likely putt superbly - last year's first four home ranked fifth, fourth, first and second respectively for strokes-gained putting - while those who pepper flags should be rewarded for their accuracy on approach.
With low-scoring events such as these, it's not uncommon to get a real mix of champions and that's very much the case here. Huge-hitting JB Holmes joins Mickelson and Kyle Stanley in the grip-and-rip brigade, but the likes of Mark Wilson, Rocco Mediate and Chris DiMarco show that a bit of nous can go a long way.
It may not surprise you that this isn't an event I approach with great confidence bar the headline selection and I'm certainly keen to look beyond the head of the market. Here we have Mickelson, who withdrew from the Farmers Insurance Open with a back injury last week and could just as easily miss the cut as he could win, should he play. Your guess is as good as mine.
There is some temptation to chance Snedeker given that he putts as well as anyone but his performance last week had to be seen to be believed and is so hard to forgive, while Bubba Watson plays the course well but has admitted that his putting costs him too many shots here.
Keegan Bradley is in the middle of swing changes and would likely prefer a sterner test anyway, while Hunter Mahan's come-from-behind win here increasingly looks like a flash in the pan and, like his friend Watson, putting wouldn't be a strength on paper.
What this means is that while hard to be bullish, there are a few players just beneath the top of the market who, it's possible to argue, are the most likely to give their running. Among them are Bill Haas and the ever-improving Harris English, but the one who sticks out here is Ryan Moore and he simply looks outstanding value at 35/1.
Here we have a former US Amateur champion who is now a three-time winner on tour, the most recent of those successes coming this season when he bettered Gary Woodland to win a play-off for the CIMB Classic.
Last year, Moore arrived here three weeks after a missed cut in the Sony Open and carded 66-66-65-65 for fourth, in the process ranking fourth for greens hit, proximity to the hole and total distance of putts made, and second in strokes-gained putting.
Not only is it encouraging that he managed to produce such a performance despite having had three weeks off - Moore arrives here on the back of a similar absence - but this time we have the added bonus that he's playing brilliantly. Moore has played six events this season, making every cut and producing three further top-10 finishes to go with that win in Malaysia.
What's more, the stats show that his results are a direct result of strong play throughout the bag. Moore has been in the top 15 for driving accuracy for each of those six starts as well the top 20 for greens in regulation, while his last two putting averages read 1.67 (sixth) and 1.78 (18th).
Moore has also been so kind as to confirm his liking for this event. Last year, he said: "I love this event, I really do. It's easy to let it get under your skin every once in a while, but overall for me, it has just a great tournament feel, feels like a real golf tournament. I think the atmosphere is great. I think what they do here is brilliant."
Combine that with a couple of other good finishes here (sixth in 2009, 14th in 2010) and a win in nearby Nevada with a winning score of 24-under par and you have a player who looks as likely as any to give his running and is more than capable of crossing the line in front.
The only negative I can find for Moore is the fact he's been off for a while but his wins have come off one-, two- and three-week breaks so it really doesn't appear to matter - it's simply a case of backing him in the right event and this one fits the bill.
As well as a decent outright bet, given the case made for Moore I have to back him to lead after round one. He's been second, first and first after the first round of the three events he's won and has recently become a habitual fast-starter, with first-round leads in three of his last 40 events.
Indeed, Moore has been inside the top 15 on the leaderboard in nine of his last 11 starts, a run dating back to last year's Open Championship, and is probably the most reliable Thursday golfer on the PGA Tour.
Moore rates as confident a wager as is possible given the nature of the event, but I also like the chances of Billy Horschel at around the same price.
Horschel is a fiery character who relishes events like this and his sole PGA Tour win to date, the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, came courtesy of a 20-under-par total at TPC Louisiana.
Understandably, it took Horschel a little while to adapt to becoming a winner on tour but we saw in the US Open just how good a ball-striker he is, and that sort of tee-to-green supremacy has returned of late which should in turn pave the way to a second career title at some point.
There's no reason it can't come here at TPC Scottsdale, where he broke 70 in all four rounds on his debut last year to finish 11th. Horschel took a while to get to grips with the par-fives which cost him any chance of winning, but a Saturday 64 followed by a Sunday 67 showed just what he can do.
In terms of recent form, Horschel has had six starts since missing the cut in the Frys.com Open and five of them have ended in top-25s, with the exception being his perfectly reasonable 34th in the WGC-HSBC Champions.
It was only a poor third round which cost him a chance last week - Horschel was around the 9/1 mark at halfway having moved within three of the lead - but that's forgiveable given the nature of Torrey Pines and any errors will meet less severe punishment here.
Horschel ranked eighth in birdie average last season and sits in the same spot this time around to demonstrate that aggressive golf is very much a strength and I can see him producing four more rounds in the 60s to go close to winning.
As mentioned at the top, events like these can provide upsets - the Humana Challenge, a similar birdie-fest, was won by a 100/1 chance - so I'm keen to chance three other players who appear overpriced for various reasons.
First up is Nicolas Colsaerts, who played some encouraging golf at Torrey Pines last week and looks set for a good season as he bids to gain a place on the European Ryder Cup team.
Colsaerts has two European Tour wins, one with a 24-under-par winning total and the other in the Volvo World Match Play, so it's clear that his power-hitting can provide the platform for exceptionally low scoring.
That isn't to say that tests like last week's won't have suited, just that we shouldn't be worried by the complete switch in dynamic as the affable Belgian undoubtedly has the game to cope.
Last year he arrived at TPC Scottsdale for just his second start as a PGA Tour card holder and shot an opening 65 to lie seventh after day one. However, he couldn't muster a single birdie in the second round and missed the cut by a single shot.
Such a performance is hard to assess but what's clear is that Colsaerts has low rounds in him at Scottsdale and having shown some encouraging signs last week he makes appeal at three-figure prices.
Another who may yet harbour ambitions of making the European Ryder Cup team is Martin Laird and he too looks a shade overpriced.
Laird has a house just five minutes from the course and although that hasn't always meant good play in this event, he shot 64-65 on the weekend three years ago to finish third and said that living nearby "definitely helps".
Clearly, most of his other rounds at the course have been modest but we know he has bucketloads of experience here and it has to help. We also know that he's a winner on a similar par-71 at TPC Summerlin, just like Moore, and with three titles to his name there are no concerns over his ability to cross the line.
Laird once said that he struggles at the start of the season but in recent years he's found a way to produce results quite early, with wins in March and April, and recent efforts suggest he could well add a February title to his CV.
The Scot was 25th in the Humana Challenge and played some solid stuff at Torrey Pines last week, a course which usually sees him struggle. Combine that with local knowledge and recent wins at around this time of year and he could go well.
Finally, I'm willing to chance Luke Guthrie once again after he gave us a decent enough run in the Humana Challenge.
As mentioned in that preview, Guthrie came to attention with a fine performance in the John Deere Classic, an event played on one of the PGA Tour's other straightforward par-71 layouts.
By his own admission, the promising youngster played too much golf last year and that includes a missed cut here. However, the fact that he returns - Guthrie has said that he's going to select only events he really feels suit him - is a massive pointer and he could leave that effort behind.
We know he's a great putter (12th in strokes-gained putting and under 1.7 putts per round in each of his last three starts) and you only have to go back half a dozen starts for a pair of places, once of which came in a low-scoring desert event.
Guthrie played really nicely after a nightmare start in the Farmers Insurance Open and while we don't know yet whether he'll produce at Scottsdale, at the price it's a risk worth taking.