THIS week’s Phoenix Open promises to be a red-hot affair, with three of the world’s top four golfers teeing it up in Jon Rahm, Viktor Hovland and Patrick Cantlay.
And the atmosphere will match the action, as the organisers have lifted all restrictions on spectator numbers for the ‘Greatest Show on Grass’. So expect a return to the usual raucous, boozy scenes at the famous par three 16th.
There were a mind-boggling 201,000 paying customers on the Saturday of the third round just before the pandemic struck, and pity anyone who hits a duff shot at 16!
There should not be too many of those, with Rahm, Hovland, and Cantlay joined by defending champion Brooks Koepka and the likes of Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Hideki Matsuyama and Xander Schauffele.
Rahm is a clear favourite at around 17-2. With a second and a third in two of his three starts this year – plus a great record at Scottsdale, where his worst finish is tied 16th in six attempts – it is hard to argue with his place at the top of the market.
But the world No 1 has failed to improve on his share of fifth in his first start here, as an amateur in 2015, so it may be worth taking him on.
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Hot shot: Justin Thomas, 12-1
Four top fives in his last six starts, and with many bookmakers paying out on the top eight, Thomas looks an outstanding each way bet.
He has finished third twice here in four previous attempts, and was right in the mix last year after shooting 65-64 in rounds two and three, only to slip back into a share of 13th.
The former USPGA champion arrives in much better form this time, and is looking more and more like the player who roared to the top of the world rankings in 2018, and had a second spell at the summit 18 months ago.
Mid price: Brooks Koepka, 33-1
It was tempting to put up Jordan Spieth after his runner-up finish at Pebble Beach last week. But he keeps finding trouble at crucial times, and the defending champion makes more appeal.
Koepka does not show his best outside the Majors very often – but Scottsdale has proved an exception as last year’s victory was his second in this event. He also won here in 2015.
The way the four time Major champion came from five shots behind Xander Schauffele with a closing 65 was highly impressive. Don’t be put off by his missed cut at Torrey Pines on his last start – he arrived here after missing two in a row last year.
Long shot: K.H.Lee, 125-1
Finishing joint runner-up here 12 months ago proved to be just the kick start his PGA career needed, and the hard-working Korean went on to open his account with a three shot victory at the Byron Nelson a few months later.
He has made the cut in all three starts this year without really getting going. But a return to Arizona could do the trick again.
Lee was ranked 263rd in the world when he teed up here last year, but is now firmly established in the top 100. And his proven form over the course makes him a tempting outsider.
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