Mickelson a firm favourite with Phoenix fans and in search of fourth win
It’s hard to imagine a better atmosphere in golf than when Phil Mickelson’s 30-foot putt for a 59 in the first round of last year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open was seemingly heading unerringly for the centre of the cup and just about to drop.
This isn’t just any old tournament at any old venue, this is an event that attracts half a million fans over the four days (the single-day record is almost 180,000) and it seems that every one of them shouts themselves hoarse when ‘Phil the Thrill’, who once lived nearby, is back in town and shooting the lights out.
Sadly, Mickelson’s putt horse-shoed back towards him and he missed out on the magic number, but so determined is he to be back for this extraordinary week that he is defying a back injury, which, he says, would have kept him out of anything else bar a major.
Coral go 14/1 that he wins his fourth Phoenix Open title and with everybody rooting for him, this short-game magician can never be ruled out.
This is a tournament where spectators, many of them very drunk and very loud, get close up and extremely personal, especially on the famous par-three 16th – an amphitheatre created by enormous stands especially erected for the occasion – where fans either cheer a good shot or roundly boo a bad one.
They went absolutely nuts when Tiger Woods holed in one there back in 1997 and again when Australian Jarrod Lyle aced in 2011, but it’s a much less pleasant experience for anybody who misses the green and not every golfer can handle the jeers – Justin Leonard once gave baying fans the finger.
JB Holmes (80/1), twice a winner of this event, has always interacted well with the crowd – probably no coincidence. The big-hitting American is back in action after suffering a broken ankle last year and might well be in the mix again.
Graeme Delaet (28/1), Gary Woodland (33/1) and Marc Leishman (40/1) all played well in last weekend’s PGA event, won by Scott Stallings (now 66/1), while Webb Simpson (16/1) has performed creditably in both the Phoenix Opens he has contested and is overdue a win.
This is not an event an Englishman has ever won (Sandy Lyle won for Scotland in 1988) and you wonder how the likes of Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter (both 50/1) will get on with the boisterous and partisan home support.
But both have thrived in hostile Ryder Cup environments in the past, especially Poulter, and if they are back to their best form, you would guess they will relish the challenge and be in with a shout at the weekend.