Tournament: Waste Management Phoenix Open, January 31-February 3, 2019
Course: TPC Scottsdale (Stadium Course), 7,261 yards, par 71.
Defending Champion: Gary Woodland. The long-hitting but rarely winning Woodland got hot at the right time, birdieing 3 of his final 4 holes to post the clubhouse lead. But Chez Reavie birdied the final 2 holes to match Woodland. But Woodland prevailed on the first playoff hole with par.
Fun Fact: Johnny Miller will make his final broadcast call from the 18th tower during Saturday’s third round (purportedly so the final round will be about the tournament winner, not Johnny himself). The Negative One from NoCal will conclude 30 years in the broadcast booth. I’m not a fan, but I respect the work and longevity, and he certainly has many fans. I also didn’t like him as a golfer, but I did like to watch him play - and he was as dominant over a 2-3 year stretch as anyone not named Hogan, Nicklaus, or Woods.
How to Watch: Thursday-Friday, 3-7 p.m. ET (Golf Channel). Saturday-Sunday, 1-3 p.m. (GC), 3-6 p.m. (NBC). CBS has the Super Bowl, and as said above, this is the last hurrah for Miller talking into a microphone.
Dawgs in the Field: 7 . A slightly different cast than was entered last week, but still 7 of the 156 golfers formerly graced the asphalt of Baldwin Street in Athens. Chris Kirk, Harris English, Brian Harman, and Keith Mitchell are playing again this week. Joining them are Russell Henley, Kevin Kisner, and Bubba Watson. Sepp Straka is taking a break, as is Joey Garber and Hudson Swafford.
This tournament is... different. Golf may now be trying to become less stodgy and more hip, but the Waste Management Phoenix Open has been ahead of the curve for 25 years. Tons of beer, encouraging raucous crowds, and a “coliseum” grandstand completely surrounding a short-ish par 3 that holds 20,000 spectators. That happens to be standing room only.
They may get over 500,000 fans come through the gates; over 100,000 on Saturday alone. Other than the Super Bowl (coincidentally always scheduled the same week as this tournament) and a few things around European soccer, this might be the biggest sporting event in the world. Probably not, but it far exceeds anything else in golf.
The course really isn’t anything special. Carved out of the desert, fed by water that should probably be used for humankind elsewhere, and very much “target golf”. By that I mean you hit your spots by controlling your yardage - no links-style running it along the ground or playing off elevation or using the terrain. Just get the yardage and hit it to the number.
The host organization is a volunteer group called The Thunderbirds. All I know is they’ve been doing this for a long time and raise a ton of money for charity. And they’ve created a party in the February desert. There are concerts, trade shows, all kinds of schmooze events and marketing opportunities and nightlife everywhere. The tournament is the excuse to have a week long party.
Players will attempt to hand out swag to the crowd at the 16th hole (this has been “discouraged”). There used to be caddie races from the 16th tee to the 16th green - yes, with 80 lb. golf bags. The crowd will sing “Happy Birthday” if your naming day is anytime soon. Or they’ll sing your alma mater. And they boo the heck out of you if you miss a short putt or don’t hit the green.
Being in Scottsdale, Arizona State fans and students come to this tournament by the thousands. So ASU alums who are entered into the tournament are fan favorites. So guys like Chez Reavie, Paul Casey, Pat Perez, Jon Rahm, and multiple-time winner Phil Mickelson will get the loudest ovations and biggest followings this week.
Bubba Watson has had more success at this tourney than other Bulldogs (T-2 twice), and he’s already in full swing giving out Oakley and PING gear (2 main sponsors), plus several tickets and other giveaways. Bubba actually has one of the best records at this event since 2007 than almost any other player. So I expect him to do well. As for our other Bulldogs, it’s been a mixed bag this year and I have no clue. Which is why I don’t gamble with real money.
So if you need some Thursday or Friday TV action, or don’t want to watch Super Bowl pre-game for 4 hours, flip it on over to NBC and let’s send Johnny Miller out in style. As long as you send him out. And as always...