2019 WM Phoenix Open: Five golfers to watch

Rob Schumacher/USA TODAY Sports

2019 WM Phoenix Open: Five golfers to watch

PGA Tour

2019 WM Phoenix Open: Five golfers to watch

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Several of the usual suspects are back to make a run at a Waste Management Phoenix Open championship, but there also are some new faces in the mix this week.

Most notable among them might be Cameron Champ, who has captured the attention of the golf world with his prodigious length off the tee as a PGA Tour rookie.

It’s the kind of explosiveness that has carried others, like two-time winner J.B. Holmes, to victory at TPC Scottsdale, which has yielded some of the lowest scores in Tour history. The course got a makeover five years ago in which more bunkers were placed in the primary landing areas, but Champ has the distance to blow shots past all of the trouble.

Cameron Champ tees off on the 3rd hole during the second round of the 2019 Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua Resort.

Champ, 23, leads the tour in driving distance with an average of 319.9 yards and showed he isn’t a one-dimensional player by winning his second event of his rookie season, where he averaged 343 yards, in the Sanderson Farms Championship, finishing at 21-under 267.

That bodes well at TPC Scottsdale if he can hit fairways because thick, deep rough is the main defense the course offers against low scores. And accuracy has been a challenge for Champ, who ranks 146th in fairways hit.

“I first played with him in college,” former Arizona State star Jon Rahm said. “He was hitting it long back then and he obviously still does, so this could be a very good week for him if he’s on. We might have some rain coming this weekend and that would probably work in his favor because he can still take it out there (if the course is soft).”

Champ credits his experience last year on the Web.com Tour with giving him a more complete game that has allowed him to do more than impress fans and fellow pros with his ability to grip and rip off the tee.

“Growing up, when I was 15, 16 years old, I hit it pretty far,” he said after winning the Sanderson Farms event. “Then as I got older and grew into my body, it progressively got a little longer.

“In this day and age it’s what everyone is drawn to and it’s great that you can hit it far, but if other parts of your game aren’t good, you’re not going to be able to play the game at a high level.”

In nine events this season, Champ has three top-10 finishes and tied for 11th and 12th in two others.

Defending champion Gary Woodland is among the Tour’s longest hitters and he, too, has been impressed with what he has seen from Champ.

“It’s really almost like a freak show. I’ve been out here 10 years now and he’s doing something I’ve never seen,” Woodland said. “For one thing, I’ve never seen anyone hit it 25 yards past me consistently.

“His length is impressive but he’s also got other aspects of his game to back it up. He’s winning and playing well week in and week out. On top of that, he’s a great kid, very quiet and just a super nice kid. He has a lot of appeal.”

Others who could make a run at the title this week:

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