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Snedeker the man to beat?
Last updated: 30th January 2013
If the PGA Tour's leading tipsters are correct, Brandt Snedeker, the reigning FedEx Cup champion, will win this week's Waste Management Phoenix Open.
World No 2 Tiger Woods, the PGA Tour winner at Torrey Pines on Monday, won't be playing this week. Nor will World No 1 Rory McIlroy and the five other current World Ranking high flyers.
But the fact that at No 7 Snedeker is the highest World Ranked warrior in this week's field is not the only reason why the bulk of the Tour's most knowledgeable pundits are seeing him as a potential Phoenix Open winner.
Another is the fact that according to last year's stats, nobody was more effective than he was with the all-important putter during his march to FedEx Cup glory.
But perhaps the biggest reason why the curly-headed American has been accorded the favourite status in Arizona is because of the good fight he put up last week during his near-impossible mission of chasing down runaway Woods at Torrey Pines.
He eventually finished in joint second place, but in doing so, he had halved Tiger's one-time lead of eight shots to four.
The event, which has annually attracted some of the World's biggest galleries to the wonderful, spectator-accommodating Stadium Course at TPC Scottsdale in Arizona, will see Snedeker teeing off on Thursday alongside fellow-American Hunter Mahan and Irish three-time major winner Padraig Harrington, who has jetted in from the Middle East to play in his first US PGA Tour event this season.
Harrington has finally been showing signs of climbing out of the winless drought that has had him in its grip for too long, but Mahan is more likely to be a much greater threat to Snedeker.
If his win in the 2010 Phoenix Open means anything, Mahan will know what he is up against and will tackle the Stadium course with good memories and a lot of conviction. Besides he is in his usual early-season top form and played some good golf last week, not once exceeding par on the long and always tough Torrey Pines South Course.
Another intriguing first-round group that includes potential winners this week is the Kyle Stanley-Martin Kaymer- Keegan Bradley threeball.
Stanley is a reigning defending champion who will be remembered for his heroic, winning fight-back last year from his final-round Torrey Pines heartbreak of the week before, while fellow-American Bradley and Germany's Kaymer are both recent US PGA major winners.
Kaymer, who spends his winters in Scottsdale and will be playing more of his golf in the USA this year, missed the cut in his only previous appearance in the Phoenix Open, but he has rebounded from an injury-generated slump in the last year or so and with a win and two top 10 finishes in his last three starts elsewhere in the world, he is not likely to be short of form this week.
The same might not be said of Phil Mickelson, who you might expect to perform well at TPC Scottsdale, having played his college golf at nearby Arizona State and winning the Phoenix twice, with nine top 10s in his 23 starts.
On Monday, Mickelson finished 14 shots off the pace at Torrey Pines, another venue where he has won before, and is not likely to have found sufficient form in between to have a serious chance of victory come Sunday.
Ironically, two of the men with whom he'll tee off on Thursday, do look like potential winners.
The in-form Rickie Fowler is coming away from a tie for sixth at Torrey Pines, despite opening with a 77, while the rock-solid World No 10 Jason Dufner, who hasn't missed a cut in his last 22 PGA Tour starts and won twice last year, is coming into the Phoenix Open after having been able to shed some winter swing rust with a moderate two-tournament start on the European Tour.
Others who might be up there among the front runners heading down the closing stretch on Sunday are big-hitting Bubba Watson, Nick Watney and Tour rookie Russell Henley, who make up another of the inspired groups put together by the organisers.
Watson is reported to have recovered from last week's ailment and is playing with encouraging memory of finishing 4th in his last appearance at the Tournament of Champions. Watney was fourth last week, and Henley is hoping to have come down from the high of winning the Sony Open and getting to play the focused kind of golf that earned him his maiden Tour title.
In the meantime, Watson is perhaps the man the massive crowds that always flock around the 16th hole will mostly be waiting for.
The USA's longest driver last year can boast to be 29-under in the 12 times he has visited this iconic hole in the last three years.
But perhaps the rival he and all of his antagonists are going to have to beat this week is Snedeker, who outgunned them all in last year FedEx Cup race when he looked to be one of the next major champions in the making.
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