Waste Management Phoenix Open
Defending Champion: Kyle Stanley
Rooting for a golfer is an experience unlike anything else in sports. In team sports you have your squad. You watch their games and casually pay attention to the rest of the league, but each team plays the same number of games, plus, there are standings to inform you whether they’re good or not. That doesn’t exist on the links.
Each tournament is like its own mini-season, and there is certainly no balance to the schedule. Every event presents a unique set of challenges with contrasting levels of prestige. I’m all about adhering to the terms of sports bigamy, they just don’t apply to golf. For starters, your guy is probably only going to lace up his spikes half the time. If you watch golf enough to establish a favorite player, inevitably, you’re going to tune in when he’s not in the field. What do you do then; encourage everyone to have a good time? Of course not, this is a competition, not youth soccer. Are you so much of a degenerate you’d actually bring yourself to gamble on golf? It’s along the same lines as choosing a favorite tennis player, except the same three guys don’t win every week, and golf isn’t reserved exclusively for Eurotrash. Eventually, you’ll develop a rapport with one the Tour’s many grinders, and don’t worry, you won’t have to pick, they’ll choose you!
For me, there was Tiger; then came Mike Weir. They were my guys. I had no need for anyone else. But when Tiger left golf and Weir’s talent escaped his body in 2009, I needed somewhere to turn. First, Dustin Johnson was there to comfort me, then Matt Kuchar. Over time, Webb Simpson, Ian Poulter, Ken Duke, Kyle Stanley, Brandon de Jonge and Spencer Levin (loves CIGS btw) all came and went. Now, I love Brandt Snedeker. Also, cut me some slack on the Weir thing, I’m Canadian; he’s basically our only good golfer, ever.
My first Snedeker experience came at the 2008 Masters. I remember seeing his name on the leaderboard, assuming he was just another “Major Lurker” that managed to string together four respectable days: good for a Top 10, the largest paycheck he’ll ever earn and then we’ll never hear from him again. Don’t think that’s a real thing? Remember John Peterson, Thomas Aiken or Blake Adams? Of course not. But all three earned invitations to the Majors this year after their sterling play at Olympic, Royal Lytham and Kiawah in 2012. That wasn’t the case for Snedeker, though. There was something different about him, and it wasn’t because I thought someone had tampered with my television’s contrast when he first popped up on the screen. No, it was his approach, or lack thereof. Snedeker essentially plays like a weekend hacker, except he regularly fires 65, not 96.
Many players stew methodically, anticipating their shot. Last weekend, Tiger spent what felt like 10 minutes towering over his plugged ball in the bunker, using his hands to mimic the trajectory he desired, before finally hitting it into the trees. Now, Tiger gets away with it because the majority of his shots defy physics. But it’s painful to watch Keegan Bradley stand slack jawed, putting deep thought into his one-footer. That’s never an issue with Snedeker. He’s going take a brief glance at his lie, a quick peek at the hole, and FIRE! It’s conceivable he could finish 18-holes in 45 minutes playing by himself, sans cart.
Usually, players that take such a relaxed attitude towards pre-shot preparation don’t fare all that well. I guess Snedeker joins Tom Watson as a quick-shot All-Star. (Coincidentally, that was nickname in high school, and I can tell you, it had nothing to do with my rapid release from beyond the arc!) There’s something incredibly enjoyable about Snedeker’s brisk pace. Maybe because it’s a throwback style or that it’s how we all play when we can see the sun setting on the 13th tee. There’s one other possibility: Because it’s proved to be ultra-successful, especially over the last six months.
Starting with the first leg of the FedEx Cup Playoffs, which he went on to win, Snedeker has collected four Top 5s in nine events, never finishing worse than 37th. That consistency is tough to top. So keep riding him while he continues to play in these weak, early season fields. There’s a risk you’ll burn through his entire eligibility by the US Open, but don’t concern yourself with that. Golfers don’t stay hot forever; (yes, even Adam Scott) so try to maximize points when you can. Just ask anyone who saved Kyle Stanley for later in the season last year; how’d that work out for ya?
Jason Dufner– Dufner has spent more time in the Middle East than Jessica Chastain recently, with similar results too. Playing on the Euro Tour, cashing in on the hefty appearances fees; Dufner will finally be making is his US mainland debut in Phoenix. He posted a pair of ninth place showings in Abu Dhabi and Qatar, couple that with his career success at this event and you have the makings of a big week. Lifetime at the Waste Management Open, Dufner has a second and eighth place finish to his credit.
Bo Van Pelt & Hunter Mahan – These two get paired together for one reason: their affinity for firing at every flagstick. Some courses will punish this type of play, but not TPC Scottsdale. Birdies will be flowing all weekend, so take the two guys that have never heard of laying up.
Nick Watney – Watney skipped the two tournaments following the season opener at Kapalua, but returned in top form last week at Torrey Pines – a tie for fourth. Never one for flash, he’ll fly under the radar most of the weekend, but when you tune in Sunday, Watney will be in one of the final pairings.
Ricky Fowler – I’m rolling with Ricky once again. Initially, it didn’t appear to be a good selection last week. Fowler opened with a Thursday 77, a goose egg in Fantasyland. But he rebounded over the next three days, ending up in a tie for sixth. In fact, Ricky has finished in a tie for sixth in both tournaments he entered this season. Just pray he can avoid that one disastrous round that’s plagued him in 2013, if he can, and consider Fowler the favorite.
Martin Kaymer – Since he exclusively plays on the Euro Tour, you may not have noticed, but Kaymer is currently the world hottest player, again, apologies to Adam Scott. He’s cracked the Top 10 in five of six tournaments worldwide and finally looks to have regained his 2010, championship form. Plus, it’s his first PGA event of the season, so he’s currently buried at the bottom of the “C-list”. Many of your league mates won’t even see his name while filling out their rosters.
Ben Crane – Crane has been a dynamo under the temperate Scottsdale sun, it is February. Following a runner-up finish here last year, the former Oregon Duck has three Top 20s to his credit in five turns, and seems to thrive off the party-like atmosphere at the course.
Brandt Snedeker – On Snedeker’s HTML for beginners website, he provides a list of his favorite things, like a pale Oprah. Turns out, Brandt loves grilling out, going to the lake and the Tennessee Titans. The Titans! I’ve only ever seen one Titans fan, it was in a Nashville Walmart, a pit stop on my journey to Bonnaroo. There, I witnessed a gigantic man in a Vince Young jersey shoving a shopping cart containing the largest watermelon I’d ever seen, and that’s it. Which prompted a five-minute debate on whether it was actually VY. That mystery remains unsolved because mid-contestation the sports clerk returned with our requested “hockey bag” that, unsuccessfully, was only the size of those mini backpacks that were all the rage in 1996; leading to one of the most frustrating conversations I’ve ever been in involved with. So remember, pick Snedeker, and don’t go to the Walmart closest to the Nashville airport.