A chilling look at five subplots to the first round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open:
1) Different scenario, same strategy
When last Rickie Fowler saw the par-5 15th at TPC Scottsdale, he was chasing a possible victory when he chose to lay up.
Critics wasted little time in vilifying the young gun, especially since Fowler hit an indifferent wedge, made par, and lost by one to Hunter Mahan. Fowler explained that he was too far back, that 16, 17, and 18 offered birdie chances, too, but for the most part he was soundly second-guessed.
Let the Monday Morning Quarterbacks play their game, Fowler is committed to his and he stuck to the same mindset in Round 1 of this year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open.
Though he drove it 304 yards into the middle of the fairway, Fowler this time was dealing with cold conditions, not conducive to long carries. He chose to lay up to 80 yards, from where he hit a wedge to 18 feet.
It was a two-putt par and hardly did it get the folks roaring, but bottom line: Fowler opened with a 1 under 70 and continues to demonstrate an uncanny comfort zone for a 22-year-old.
2) He’s a company man
Oh, if only Waste Management sponsored a few more tournaments . . . or a major, even. Joe Ogilvie would be quite pleased.
Having finished outside the top 125 for two straight years, Ogilvie often needs help from sponsors and with Waste Management he’s got the inside track – an endorsement deal that is several years old.
Ogilvie last year showed his gratitude by posting his best finish of the season at TPC Scottsdale – a tie for eighth – and he’s off to another robust start this year, too. With birdies on four of his first seven holes, Ogilvie shot 4 under 67.
3) Chalk one up for Argentina
No, we’re not talking the World Cup. Nothing that dramatic. But it was cool to see the PGA Tour throw together three South Americans in the same pairing – Jhonattan Vegas of Venezuela, Camilo Villegas of Colombia, and Angel Cabrera of Argentina.
Given his scorching start to the season, Vegas is obviously a big attraction. And given his recent struggles, it’s intriguing to keep an eye on Villegas.
But as if to remind folks that he’s still got a lot of game, the two-time major champion showed a thing or two to the youngsters.
With birdies on two of the three par 5s, as well as the cozy par 3 16th, Cabrera opened with a 68. That was two better than Vegas, though the young man from Venezuela has now broken par in 11 consecutive rounds after starting his PGA Tour career with a 1 over 71 at the Sony Open.
As for the low man in the group, Villegas went for 78 that is owed to an inward nine that a 12-handicapper would post. Villegas played the back first and made the turn at level par, then proceeded to play the front in 42 – a birdie, two pars, four bogeys, and two doubles.
4) Not like the old days
There are times when Mark Calcavecchia just has to really, really appreciate the Champions Tour. I mean, really appreciate it.
Such as those 30-degree mornings when he puts his 51-year-old body through the motions to take on a field filled with young and fit bombers.
But there was Calcavecchia, teeing it up in his 25th consecutive PGA Tour tournament here at TPC Scottsdale. That’s right, he was in the field when the tournament came over to this course in 1987 and you’d never hear him complain about this stop, given that he’s won three times.
But we doubt he’s ever seen a winter chill quite like the one that greeted morning players Thursday.
Needless to say, Calcavecchia didn’t warm up quickly, either. He bogeyed three of his first five holes and finished with a double to shoot 77.
5) Then again, it feels like the good old days
Memo to John Daly: Humble and dignified are attributes that help earn you sponsor exemptions.
In the case of Tom Lehman, it surely fits, and the local guy (via Minnesota, of course) did the sponsors proud by opening with a 65 to grab a share of the clubhouse lead.
Lehman was one of those who received sponsor exemptions, a vehicle that was not wasted on Daly, who then vowed never to return to the tournament. (That, in turn, probably had tournament directors everywhere yelling, “Quick, sign me up for that deal.”)
While Daly was shooting a million in Qatar, Lehman was hardly looking like someone who’ll be 52 in a few weeks. Instead, the major winner turned in 1 under, then blitzed the back in 31. The torried stretch included birdies on three crowd-pleasing holes – the par-5 15th, par-3 16th, and par-4 17th – but he was reminded of days growing up when things weren’t so hot.
“There were some days where it was so brutally cold,” Lehman said. “One time in high school a kid broke his hand but didn’t know it until the ride home because his hands were numb all day. That’s cold.”
It wasn’t that bad at TPC Scottsdale . . . at least not for the veteran with the sizzling finish.