Tournament: Waste Management Phoenix Open, February 1-4, 2018
Course: TPC Scottsdale (Stadium), 7,261 yards, par 71.(Scottsdale, AZ)
Defending Champion: Hideki Matsuyama. Of which he was already the defending champion. He won in a playoff each of the last two years, first dispatching Rickie Fowler in 2016, then Webb Simpson in 4 holes in 2017.
Fun Fact: This is easily the most attended golf tournament on the PGA Tour, and I have to believe the world. Close to 100,000 fans will enter the gates each day, and Saturday could well surpass that 100k mark.
Television: Thursday-Friday, 3-7 p.m. ET (Golf Channel). Saturday, 2-3:45 p.m. (GC), 4-7 p.m. (CBS). Sunday, 1-2:45 p.m. (GC), 3-6 p.m. (CBS)
Former ‘Dawgs in the Field ( Five ): Harris English, Russell Henley, Chris Kirk, Hudson Swafford, Bubba Watson.
The tournament is more well-known for raucous crowds, vehement booing, beer showers, and the coliseum-type atmosphere surrounding the 16th hole than for the actual golf or for the course itself. For whatever reason, nearby Arizona State students and graduates who never really graduated starting flocking to this tourney 20 years ago for the cheap tickets, cheap beer, and lax officials who let them set up camp on the par 3 16th hole and raise relative hell. Now, it’s officially a scene.
The demand for seating and standing room became so great that they continued to add grandstands and have completely enclosed the single hole, so it’s more of an enclosed stadium than Williams Brice. The 20,000 available spots are in high demand.
5 of the top 7 players in the world are playing this week. Phil Mickelson sets a record with 29 straight appearances (and 3 previous wins) when he tees it up. The crowd will be demonstrably pro-Phil since he’s an Arizona State alum, as is new world #2 (and more recent grad) Jon Rahm.
Even with the big crowds and big names competing, final round TV coverage can be… challenging. Because the final round, played on Sunday, happens to end right about the time a certain annual football game is played, and everyone seemingly flips over to the Super Bowl coverage. With playoffs the last two years, television ratings haven’t dropped that fast since they replaced “Steve” on Blue’s Clues.
But ever the optimist, the PGA Tour is trying to get eyeballs by different, unconventional means. They have implemented Virtual Reality technology, and the 16th hole will be available via live 360 and VR all four rounds (through PGA Tour Live VR app on the Oculus store). Additionally, more 360 content is through the PGA Tour app, compatible with a Google Cardboard. Lastly, live Twitter and Periscope can be obtained by following @PGATOUR on each app.
So you have a desert resort-style golf course, plenty of top golfers, and the biggest golf crowds you’ll ever likely see. Let’s now take a look at who you really want to root for this week:
Harris English. His last two results are a tie for 11th and a tie for 8th (last week). I like this trend. These are wide fairways and very few tight corners, so his big game should serve him well.
Russell Henley. He’s now the #50 ranked player in the world, but hasn’t played in 3 weeks since a missed cut at the Sony in Hawaii. This is a big hitters course so I’m not sure if he has an advantage here.
Chris Kirk. Only 2 out of his last 15 rounds have been over par, and I’d like to think Kirk is regaining the form that produced 4 PGA Tour wins. If he’s on, he’ll compete. If he’s off, well, he’s off.
Hudson Swafford. He’s made all 7 cuts this season, and at one point last season had the longest current made cut streak, so consistency is his game. He needs to go low this week though.
Bubba Watson. His stats are all pretty average to poor, except for driving distance of course. Bubba just hasn’t played up to the levels he was in 2012-2016. But as said above, this is a big hitters course and Bubba has a couple of top 10s here in the past. C’mon Bubba, there’s a lot of folks rooting for you.
So if your Saturday will be spent in front of the TV, or if you’d rather watch the Battle Scene on Naboo in French than the Super Bowl pre-game coverage Sunday, why don’t you flip it on over and watch Dawgs chasing little white balls.
And as always….