The traveling PGA Tour circus moves about five hours and a time zone east to the Sonoran Desert. As the profile of the Palm Springs event has diminished over the past few decades, the Phoenix stop seemingly ascended in its place and now sits among the upper crust events on tour as the premier desert stop. Why? Randy sums it up best in last year’s preview:
For me, the Phoenix Open marks the true start of the golf season. The reach-around portion obviously doesn’t count, Hawaii is a complete novelty, and Torrey consistently underwhelms on style and substance. The energy around TPC Scottsdale combined with the liveliness of the broadcast captures my attention and reminds me why I love watching golf. This year is special too for another reason–it marks the ten-year anniversary of my trip to the desert (making me feel exceptionally old).
While the theme is beat to death on every platform that doesn’t make it any less true. The feature that transcends everything in Phoenix is fun – more than the course, the consistent conditions and the recent history. The scene is less of a sporting event and more of cultural spectacle featuring the most spectacular people-watching one could ever imagine. Again, Randy’s summation (same link as above) of the scene we encountered during the 2007 tournament remains prescient. Expecting to see the same when we arrive on-site Friday afternoon (the whole crew is headed out, with the unfortunate exception of Randy, who is deep in the throes of basketball season).
Strong field this week, per usual (OWGR lists it at 476 vs. 375 for last week’s Farmers). Superstar Hideki Matsuyama is the two-time defending champ and looking to go full Tom Emanski this week. Rahm, Spieth, Thomas, Fowler, Finau, Streb and Leishman are among the other elite players this week. As for guys I’m keen on following: Schauffele (want to get an extended look up close, and he’s paired with Rahm and Mickelson), the Thursday/Friday Na/Sabbatini group (the stuff dreams are made of; anything can happen), Holmes/Poulter (IJP might lose his mind), Hadwin/Reed/Grillo (just generally intriguing), and then want to get an up close look at both Brandon Harkins and Wyndham Clark. Lastly, for whatever its worth I’ve got a feeling that Beau Hossler makes some noise this week.
(Big Randy was out of pocket this week and could not be reached for comment)
DJ: Because of how many times I’ve seen the replay, I’d love to say Tiger’s ace at 16 but I was 9 years old, so that seems disingenuous. More realistically, it was either Phil’s 59 and a half in 2013 or the tee shot that Brooks hit at No. 18 when he won in ’15. The idea of hitting a tee shot under pressure at that hole makes me sweat to even think about, and he just massacred one with extreme prejudice. It was cold blooded.
Soly: Hate to go back to the well two weeks in a row but my most distinct memory is Kyle Stanley winning in ’12. Just one week after one of the most heartbreaking defeats in golf history, he came back from nine shots in the final round for his first win. He cried in his post round interview, and somehow I did not. It remains one of the greatest sports redemption stories I’ve ever witnessed. He survived the humiliation of making an 8 on the last hole when all he needed was a 7, and then to turn around and bank his first win a few days later? Special. (I’m still not crying.)
Merch Czar: Gotta give two big shouts on this one: The fans moving the 2-ton loose impediment out of the Big Cat’s litter box was special. But TA3’s maiden win might get the historical nod from me.
Tron: ’12, Spencer Levin heads into the final round with a six-shot lead, courtesy of a 65-63-68 start. You know what? I don’t really want to talk about it. Let’s move on.
Random Takes and Reads
Light on takes this week – just a couple to sate you until the Friday Feels column.
– The Monday Qualifier for WM Phoenix Open should give out OWGR points. Stout field, possibly rivaling that of the field down in Panama this week on the Web. Here are the results.
– Will have more on sponsor exemptions on Friday – been compiling an all-encompassing tracking spreadsheet.
– Fellow Jacksonvillian Job Fickett gets you prepped for this week’s Maybank Malaysian Open with the first of many “Dispatches from the Killhaus” columns on the European Tour.
– The LPGA is off for a couple weeks until the Women’s Aussie Open in Adelaide – that should provide some tasty back-end evening coverage after action from Riviera wraps for the day on the PGA side.
– Cameron Morfit wrote a well-reasoned piece on the JB Holmes pace-of-play fiasco. I appreciate the nuance but also feel that just because he didn’t intend to cause harm to his playing partners doesn’t excuse the result. The guy is slow every single week (followed him extensively at Sawgrass last year and it was brutal) and puts pressure on the entire field. Beyond the necessary enforcement steps the tour needs to take, I glean a growing sense that veteran players aren’t policing the field enough. Anecdotally, guys like Nicklaus and Palmer would pull a guy aside and admonish him.
– No. 16 gains all the acclaim for obvious reasons, but No. 17 is where it’s at (this is also far from a secret) and is up there with No. 10 at Riv as one of my favorite holes of the entire season. I plan on posting up there extensively. In that vein, the team of Tom Weiskopf/Jay Morrish, who designed TPC Scottsdale, consistently deliver the goods and the fact that there aren’t more of their courses is unfortunate. The original course at Forest Dunes still resonates in my memory almost eight years past.
Will have much more coming from Phoenix starting on Friday – Neil’s appearance should yield some colorful moments. Stay tuned!