By Dave Shedloski
The seating capacity at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, site of Super Bowl LII, is 65,400. Attendance for last year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale was roughly 10 times that number, over the span of four days. The two events share the stage again this Sunday on the sporting landscape.
There’s almost no question the loudest fans will be attending the popular PGA TOUR event near Phoenix, Arizona.
The Greatest Show on Grass returns this weekend on CBS Sports, and that show will feature a tremendous mix of golf talent, including five of the top seven in the Official World Golf Ranking — No. 2 John Rahm, No. 3 Jordan Spieth, No. 4 Justin Thomas, No. 5 Hideki Matsuyama and No. 7 Rickie Fowler. Matsuyama is the two-time defending champion after beating Webb Simpson in a playoff last year.
In addition, 23 of the top 30 from the FedExCup standings, including leader Patton Kizzire, will be among the 132 players in the field. And the likes of Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year, Xander Schauffele, and 2017 Presidents Cup captain, Steve Stricker, add extra zest.
Designed by Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish and given an upgrade in 2014, TPC Scottsdale plays 7,261 yards, par 71. The event is scheduled to finish prior to the big game.
CBS Sports golf analyst Ian Baker-Finch looks at this year’s Phoenix Open.
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Five of the top seven in the world are heading to TPC Scottsdale. What draws top players to this golf course?
Well, [let’s] start with the weather is usually perfect, and the greens are great. That’s a good combination, just ideal conditions for scoring. Obviously, it can get a little rambunctious around there with the crowds, and a lot of guys like that. They embrace that. They like that liveliness, and being a part of something a bit different from the usual tournament.
The course record is 60, shot most recently by Phil Mickelson in 2013. Phil is not a pure bomber, and the other two players who share the mark — Grant Waite and Mark Calcavecchia — weren’t either. How does that fact jibe with today’s long-ball game when it comes to this venue?
I actually think it’s a bomber’s paradise, honestly. Big hitters playing in perfect conditions definitely have an advantage, but just about anyone can do well there, because the greens are always so perfect. Seems like the closing stretch suits the bombers more, where they can knock it onto 17 and they have some par-5s they can reach. [On] 18 they can rip it over the bunkers and just hit a lob wedge on. There’s an opportunity for all types to score well there, though. It provides a great risk-reward situation that always makes it exciting.
Rickie Fowler had a chance to win this event the last two years. Do you expect him to be in the mix again or does that kind of disappointment maybe get in someone’s head, no matter how good they are?
It drives them more. They think the place owes them one, and even if they haven’t won, they know they can play well there. In Rickie’s case, there’s a huge positive to doing well continuously, and he has the mentality to go out and win this thing eventually.
Phil Mickelson is playing TPC Scottsdale for the 29th time (tying the record shared by Gene Littler, Jim Ferrier and Jerry Barber), which he has won three times. He looked good last week for 36 holes at Torrey Pines before fading. He holds a share of the course record. Is this one of his better chances on the schedule to break his winless drought dating to the 2013 Open Championship?
He knows the course well, and it’s kind of a home game where he is always comfortable. (Mickelson attended Arizona State University.) This could be a good, positive week for him.
Can you believe he hasn’t won since Muirfield?
I cannot believe that, as good as he is. He keeps practicing hard and playing well. He works hard, and his mind is in the game. He will win again. Why not this week?
Please give us your favorites and dark horses.
We just talked about Rickie Fowler, so he has to be one of my picks. I like Justin Thomas. And Jon Rahm should be fired up after last weekend, when he struggled a bit at Torrey Pines. A bit of a home game for him as well, like it is for Phil. My dark horse… I like J.B. Holmes (who has twice won at TPC Scottsdale). He might come out and try to prove something. He’s motivated after the criticism he got last week (for slow play). I’d watch out for him.
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 five books and has contributed to three others, including the second edition of “Golf For Dummies,” with Gary McCord. His last book was a collaboration with Arnold Palmer for his final autobiography, “A Life Well Played,” published in 2016. He’s a fan of all Cleveland professional sports teams, the poor fellow.