By Dave Shedloski
The Waste Management Phoenix Open has the perfect date on the PGA TOUR calendar. What other event is big enough to share the weekend sports stage with the Super Bowl?
The Greatest Show on Grass returns this weekend on CBS Sports, and the usual mix of fan fun and fantastic golf are on the menu at TPC Scottsdale. More than 600,000 fans came out last year to watch the golf, and a similar number are expected this week when 26 of the top 30 in the FedExCup standings are in the field, including leader Justin Thomas and defending champion Hideki Matsuyama. Ten of the season’s first 11 winners will appear, and the event is bolstered by popular figures like Rickie Fowler, runner-up last year, and three-time champion Phil Mickelson.
“From a fan perspective, this isn’t anywhere near a golf tournament. It’s this big function near the airport in Scottsdale, Arizona, and oh, by the way, a golf tournament broke out,” said veteran CBS Sports golf broadcaster Gary McCord. “Obviously, players love it, and it’s always a great tournament.”
McCord, who has a home in Scottsdale, takes a look at this week’s field and the super tournament that ends on Super Bowl Sunday, and assesses who the favorites are on the par-71 TPC Scottsdale layout.
Eight of 11 players under the age of 30 have won this season. Short-term trend or a new normal on the PGA TOUR?
This has been a paradigm shift in that direction, and this is the new normal. We haven’t seen so many young guys playing so well at the same time like right now. Their ball speed is over 175 mph, and they’re not afraid. That’s a pretty lethal combination.
What do you make of all the low scoring this year, and will we see more of it at TPC Scottsdale?
The weather is dead perfect. The golf course is perfect. I was out there practicing the other day as the little city was going up out there. You give these guys perfect conditions and no wind and on a golf course they can go at, yes. Every week, just about … well, Torrey Pines South? No way. But just about everywhere else? Why not? But we all have to recognize that 59 is sort of ho-hum now because 58 is the number. I expect some guys to go stupid low. There’s no cold, no nothing, just a mass of humanity.
Justin Thomas is the breakout player of this season thus far. What do you like about his game?
The one interesting thing is we’re finding these guys with supersonic speeds, with the physical stature — I’m going to date myself here — of Don Knotts. Or supersonic speeds with the physical stature of Snoop Dogg, to be more up to date. It is amazing, with that swing speed he’s hitting it eight miles, launching it up there for Zeus to catch it out of the sky. One of the cornerstones for domination on TOUR is hitting it past everybody. No one does it without length. He’s got that and everything else.
Rickie Fowler had a chance to win this event last year and stumbled coming home. How hard is it to win an event after coming close the year before?
It’s the same complex situation. Everyone fights to get in position and then sees who has it on the back nine. Back when Tiger was right there, these guys would be passing out from lack of oxygen, and Tiger would step over the bodies. In the case of Rickie, well, it’s anybody … you have to get lucky. You have to hit the right shots at the right time. He can do it, and it looks like he’s going to get his wins, but he has to take advantage of those opportunities.
Phil Mickelson is playing for the 28th time in the tournament, which he has won three times. Is this a good week for him to break his winless drought since 2013?
You want to talk about an energy source? The energy source out there for Phil is unsurpassed in the PGA TOUR kingdom. The fervent fans are for Phil. Write that down. No one has a home-field advantage like Phil feels at TPC Scottsdale. You get 600,000 people out there, and he has played well here early in the year. So, yes, this could be a good week for Lefty.
Please give us your favorites and dark horses.
The guy right now is Jon Rahm after what he did last week and the fact that he has his Arizona State ties. Do not count out Phil Mickelson. Put that down. For dark horses take notice of Tony Finau. And maybe Kevin Chappell.
Journalist and author David Shedloski of Columbus, Ohio, has been covering golf since 1986, first as a daily newspaper reporter and later as a freelance writer for various magazines and Internet outlets. A winner of 23 national writing awards, including 20 for golf coverage, Shedloski is currently a contributing writer for Golf World and GolfDigest.com and serves as editorial director for The Memorial, the official magazine of the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio. He is the author of three books and has contributed to three others, including the second edition of “Golf For Dummies,” with Gary McCord. He’s a fan of all Cleveland professional sports teams, the poor fellow.