No. 17, not 16th, where the party's at

January, 28, 2014

Trivia question

If his back holds up this week, Phil Mickelson will look for back-to-back victories at the Waste Management Open. Who was the first repeat winner of this event, which has been held since 1932? (Answer below)

The raucous atmosphere of the 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale makes it one of the most distinctive in all of golf. More football stadium than traditional gallery, fans have punted on status quo golf cheers, playfully booing poor shots instead of simply going silent. Close approach shots are rewarded with the kind of amped-up insanity typically saved for SEC home games.

It's a fun change of pace embraced by players and fans alike, and an organically grown frenzied environment that hasn't been successfully duplicated anywhere else on the PGA Tour.

The 16th at Scottsdale provides ample opportunities for the fans to go wild, as well. The roars of the crowd are much stronger than the actual bite of the hole itself. At just 162 yards, only 16 par-3s were shorter on the PGA Tour last year.

Three of the past four years, the field averaged a score below par on the hole. Of 174 par-3s on the tour in 2013, the 16th at Scottsdale ranked 161st in difficulty. And, over the past two years, there have been 58 more birdies on the hole than scores over par.

Although the 16th hole sells more souvenir T-shirts and garners more time on television, No. 17 might be more significant to the outcome of the tournament itself. A drivable, 332-yard par-4, TPC Scottsdale's penultimate hole provides great reward for a long, accurate drive. With water and bunkers protecting the green, the 17th is the ideal risk-reward setup.

There have been 24 eagles made on the hole over the past four Waste Management Phoenix Opens. The 157 birdies made there last year were fourth most on any par-4 on the PGA Tour. But, of the nine par-4s on tour last year that yielded at least 130 birdies in tournament play, only two also saw at least 50 bogeys or worse -- this hole and the also-drivable 15th at TPC River Highlands.

Trivia answer

Question: Who holds the course record at Pebble Beach Golf Links?

Answer: 62: David Duval (1997) and Tom Kite (1983).

And what about the winners of this event? History says that taking advantage of the short 17th hole is more important than pleasing the masses at No. 16. Since 2000, winners at TPC Scottsdale are a combined 13 under on the 16th hole. In that same span, they are 30 under on the 17th hole. Not once in that span did a winner play 16 to a better score for the week than he did 17.

So, although 16 is a party I'd personally like to partake in this weekend, more on-course excitement might be found on the next hole.