Is 16th at Scottsdale crucial to victory?
There might be no more unique experience in the world of golf than the 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale.
Trivia questionWho was the last winner of the Phoenix Open to go on and win a major that year? (Answer below.)
Describing said experience as "unique" seems like the most appropriate adjective. Obviously, there are countless other holes in the world of golf that are more glamorous, picturesque, historic or grandiose.
But nowhere else on the PGA Tour does a golfer approach a tee box like a boxer or MMA fighter entering the ring. "Quiet, please" is replaced with as much noise as the thousands on hand can provide. The highly lubricated environment at 16 is one part SEC football game, one part Vegas fight night, one part PGA Tour event. Stir with flag-hunting approach shots and serve over ice.
When the leaders on Sunday afternoon get to the 16th tee, prepare for pandemonium. Especially if Arizona State's own Phil Mickelson is among them: Mickelson is a two-time winner at this event. The last year Lefty won, in 2005, he played the hole in 1-under for the week en route to a 5-shot victory.
Some interesting notes about the 16th hole: The winner has played No. 16 under par every tournament here since 2000 except once, when J.B. Holmes played it to even par in 2006. Before Hunter Mahan last year, the last tournament winner to bogey the hole at any point during the week was Mark Calcavecchia in 2001. No winner has played the hole to over par for the week since the first time Mickelson won, back in 1996.
Golf fans will often debate which they would rather see more on Sunday: tougher pin placements to challenge the contenders trying to either make a move or hold on to their lead, or easier pins to encourage movement atop the leaderboard.
The latter seems to be the theory adhered to at 16: Only once in the past 10 years has 16 played the most difficult on Sunday. Seven of the past 10 years, the hole has played to an average score below par in the final round.
From 2006 to 2009, the 16th hole got tougher -- by a small margin -- each year. The birdie percentage went from 17.7 in 2006 down to 15.3 in 2009. That trend halted last year, when birdie percentage went up slightly to 15.6, as did the average score to par, which dipped back under the even mark.
If you're looking at when potentially you'll hear the most boos at 16, consider this: Three of the past four years, the highest scoring average on the hole came in the second round. Friday afternoon happy hour, plus missed greens and bad putts, could equal rousing disapproval this Friday in Scottsdale.
There might not be a bigger fan favorite playing this week than Mickelson. The two-time winner here has finished in the top-10 in five of eight starts since 2003 at TPC Scottsdale. In 2008, he lost in a playoff to bomber J.B. Holmes. But last year, the former Arizona State star took a backseat to a pair of Oklahoma State Cowboys: eventual champion Hunter Mahan and runner-up Rickie Fowler.
Fowler seems to be on the precipice of his first victory every week. Eight times already in his brief career, Fowler has been in the top-10 through 36 holes. Six times since the beginning of 2010, Fowler has been in the top 10 entering Sunday. Five times, he's been within four shots of the lead entering Sunday. He was tied for sixth in top-10s last year, with seven.
Saturday morning at Torrey Pines last week, the on-the-brink feeling was there again. After being tied for third through 36 holes, Fowler proceeded to go play the weekend at three over, finishing tied for 20th.
This kind of poor showing is rare for him in the limited sample size of his career. In the five times Fowler has been in the top-5 entering Sunday, he's failed to break par only once in the subsequent final round. That was at last year's Memorial, where he had a 3-shot lead entering Sunday, only to have Justin Rose overtake him with a final-round 66.
The echoing chorus surrounding Fowler is that once he wins his first, the floodgates will open. Last weekend's performance shouldn't change that thought.
Raise your hand if you had Jhonattan Vegas as the FedExCup points leader at any point in 2011. We at Numbers Game don't believe any of you with your hands raised. Vegas is the first rookie to lead the FedExCup points standings at any point in the season in the system's short history (since 2007).
"Jhonny" Vegas is also the early-season money leader on tour, having earned $1,248,240 already in the young season. Tiger Woods owns the PGA Tour record for fewest events played to earn $2 million dollars. It took Woods 16 events to do so. Vegas has played only six career events.
Vegas rattled off 10 straight rounds in the 60s after his opening-round 71 at the Sony Open. His run near the top of the leaderboard had us thinking of some "when's the last time" notes, since Vegas also won two weeks ago at the Bob Hope. The last player -- rookie or otherwise -- to win tournaments in back-to-back weeks in non-playoff events was David Duval in 1997, at the Michelob Championship and the Walt Disney World Classic.
The last player to win multiple events as a PGA Tour rookie -- over the course of the whole year, not solely in consecutive weeks -- was seven years ago when Todd Hamilton won the British Open and the Honda Classic.
Since 1970, there have been 10 players to record two or more wins in his rookie season on the PGA Tour. If you can name the only two players to win in back-to-back weeks as a rookie in the history of the tour, you probably need your head examined. The two: John Fought in 1979, and Roger Maltbie in 1975. Maltbie's two wins (we share the tournament names solely for their greatness) came at the Ed McMahon-Jaycees Quad Cities Open and the Pleasant Valley Classic.
Question: Who was the last winner of the Phoenix Open to go on and win a major that year?
Answer: Phil Mickelson, when he won the PGA Championship in 2005.
A big story Sunday morning that got lost during the dramatic finish this week was Nick Watney's 28 on the back nine on the South Course at Torrey Pines.
That's the lowest score ever recorded on the back nine of the South Course since the records were first recorded in 1983. The lowest-ever 9-hole score in PGA Tour history was Corey Pavin's 26 at Brown Deer Park in the first round of the 2006 U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee.
Justin Ray has been a studio researcher for ESPN since June 2008 and is the lead researcher for "The Scott Van Pelt Show." Send comments and suggestions to Justin.Ray@espn.com.