Tournament: Waste Management Phoenix Open (WMPO), January 30-Feb 2, 2020 (Scottsdale, AZ)
Course: TPC Scottsdale (Stadium), 7,261 yards, par 71.
Purse: $7,300,000 total, $1,314,000 for 1st
Defending Champ: Rickie Fowler. The ultra-popular but somewhat less-than-accomplished Okie State Cowboy looked to be faltering and frittering away the lead at the turn, but successfully righted the ship. He played smart but aggressive, and let the wet conditions and pressure affect his opponents more, and captured his 5th Tour title.
Fun Fact: If you’ve read this column before, this is old news, yet it bears repeating. This tournament regularly draws almost 1 million fans over the week. On Saturday, it can draw upwards of 500,000 alone. And the 16th hole is a stadium unto itself. Literally, they enclosed it with covered (and uncovered) stands and bleachers, and it holds over 20,000 on this short par 3 hole.
Television: Thursday-Friday, 3 p.m.-7 p.m. ET (Golf Channel). Saturday-Sunday, 1 p.m.-2:45 p.m. ET (Golf Channel), 3 p.m.-6 p.m. ET (CBS).
‘Dawgs in the Field: (8) Brian Harman, Russell Henley, Chris Kirk, Keith Mitchell, Harris English, Sepp Straka, Bubba Watson, Hudson Swafford
Last week was filled with storylines surrounding Tiger Woods’ 2020 Tour debut. He flashed some brilliance here and there, but could never sustain a charge, ultimately finishing T9. Famously, his caddie (Joe LaCava) withheld information about the death of Kobe Bryant, not wanting to distract his player during an important round. Tiger had been friends with Kobe since the mid-late 90’s, and is a well-known Lakers fan.
As for Bulldogs, Harris English just kinda hung around, but did make the cut and earned a couple of FedEx Cup points and maybe covered his travel expenses. Bubba Watson shot a par of 69’s over the weekend to finish 5 strokes back of eventual winner Marc Leishman. Considering it was Australia Day last Sunday, , and the country has gone through horrific circumstances with the wildfires, it was fitting that the Aussie Leishman came from behind the capture the title.
This week is the biggest party on turf, the WMPO. It is really known more for the raucous crowds than memorable golf. You can separately purchase tickets to the “Coors Light Birds Nest”, a venue that really gets cranked up after dark. Concerts this week include Miranda Lambert, Dierks Bentley (both of which I’ve heard of), G Easy, Kygo, and others. There’s literally a concert and party every night. And the day drinking would make tailgaters in Death Valley tip their cap and give a respectful nod. Yet and still, there’s golf.
And 8 former Bulldogs will be teeing it up, a full 5% of the field. We don’t have a former winner of this tournament amongst them, but Bubba has done well here in the past with several top 10s and a runner-up or two. A former champion who is conspicuously absent is Phil Mickelson. Phil was won here 3 times, is extremely popular with the crowd (having attended nearby Arizona State), but decided to take his talents to Middle East Beach. He is playing in the Saudi International, run by the European Tour, but played in King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia. The purse is less than half of what the WMPO offers, there is less competition generally (the PGA “generally” produces a stronger field than the European Tour), but the Saudi can offer appearance fees. Fees paid to top golfers enticing them to show up in order to strengthen their field and generate buzz. The PGA Tour prohibits appearance fees. Rumour has it that Phil is guaranteed over $1 million to make the trip, plus whatever earnings from his finish. And Phil isn’t the only one... PGA Tour members playing include world #1 Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, and Patrick Reed. So there’s a little taint on the guys who ostensibly are chasing money. Not to mention the fallout concerning murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
That’s as heavy as I’m going to get. The lighter side is that there will be plenty of Red and Black represented in the desert this week, and hopefully over the weekend. Speaking of which, this is a tournament where EVERYBODY wants to finish on time. No one wants a long Sunday, or God forbid a playoff, where the winner ends up playing through the Super Bowl kickoff.
So expect fireworks between the ropes, fireworks in the stands, fireworks (literally) at the evening concerts, and possibly a Bulldog bringing home the oversized check. And as always...