The PGA Tour is back in more ways than one at this week’s Phoenix Open in Arizona.
After the field at Pebble Beach was decimated by the Asian Tour’s Saudi International and their $20 million in appearance fees, exactly half of the world’s top-10 will be in action in the desert this week.
But it’s not just the world’s best players returning. So, too, do the crowds that have made this event famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view).
Covid meant the 2021 event was without spectators and, given it is the best attended tournament on Tour every year, that was a serious identity crisis.
However, this year sees a return to the party atmosphere that has defined the tournament and especially the par-3 16th hole.
RIGHT: Brooks Koepka claimed his second Phoenix Open title in 2021. PHOTO: Christian Petersen/Getty Images.
It’s not everybody’s cup of tea but there is no questioning its popularity.
DEFENDING CHAMPION: Brooks Koepka took home the trophy last year for the second time, this tournament also the site of his maiden PGA Tour win in 2015.
His 2021 win was dramatic, the four-time major winner starting the final round five behind Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth but chipping in for eagle at the short par-4 17th and posting a six-under 65 that was good enough or a one shot victory.
COURSES: Designed by former Open winner Tom Weiskopf and partner Jay Morrish, TPC Scottsdale has proved itself a compelling tournament venue since taking on host duties in 1987.
The final three holes never fail to produce drama, in particular the par-3 16th and the driveable par-4 17th.
The 16th is as much about the situation as the hole itself as thousands of fans gather in what has become a unique stadium setting surrounded by corporate and hospitality tents.
The atmosphere more resembles a football game than a golf tournament and it is unquestionably the rowdiest hole in world golf.
Late on a Sunday afternoon with a tournament on the line that can prove a difficult proposition for players more accustomed to the ‘quiet please’ atmosphere of other tournaments as the fans leave players in no doubt who they like and who they don’t.
Those who survive or even thrive in the cauldron of the 16th need to regroup quickly as the short 17th demands full attention.
Every score from two to six is a legitimate possibility here with water in play short left and difficult pitching from the right to the Sunday pin position.
More than one leader has unravelled on this hole and, as Brooks Koepka did last year, more than one winner has posted a bold eagle here on the way to victory.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: With half the world’s top-10 players in the field it’s a given that at least some of them will be in the mix come Sunday afternoon.
World No.10 Hideki Matsuyama is a two-time winner and his T42 last year was the first time he was worse than 16th in eight starts, so expect him to be a factor.
Top ranked Jon Rahm attended the local university and while he is yet to be a genuine contender, he has also never been worse than 16th.
Patrick Cantlay (4th in the world rankings) is the only one of the world top-10 never to have played here but, like Rahm, his golf over the past 12 months makes it difficult to rule out his chances.
However, leaving aside those highest in the rankings last week’s runner-up Jordan Spieth will likely be a factor given his three top-10 finishes here in just five starts and current firm.
Spieth is looking much closer to the player of 2015/16 than he has for a long time and was co-leader through 54 holes here last year before being overtaken by Koepka on Sunday.
Of the lesser profile players Australia’s Cam Davis makes his debut here this week and it is a course that should be to his liking.
72-HOLE RECORD: 256 (-28, Mark Calcavecchia, 2001, Phil Mickelson 2013) 2015).
18-HOLE RECORD: 60 (Grant Waite, 1996; Mark Calcavecchia, 2001; Phil Mickelson, 2005 and 2013).
PAST AUSSIE WINNERS: Bruce Crampton (1973), David Graham (1981), Aaron Baddeley (2007).
AUSTRALIANS IN THE FIELD: Lucas Herbert, Cam Davis, Matt Jones and Adam Scott.
Round 1: Friday (Fox Sports 503 7am –11am)
Round 2: Saturday (Fox Sports 503 7am – 11am)
Round 3: Sunday (Fox Sports 503 5am – 10am)
Round 4: Monday (Fox Sports 503 5am – 10am)
*AEDT, check local guides