By Tom LaMarre
Virtually every tournament on the PGA Tour for nearly a year as looked at least a little different because of the Coronavirus pandemic, and that will include this week’s Waste Management Phoenix Open, which is known as “The Greatest Show on Grass.”
The tournament is the most well attended tournament in golf, with more than 500,000 fans entering the gates at TPC Scottsdale each year, even though the final round usually falls on Super Bowl Sunday.
However, a limited number of fans will be allowed on the course, unlike most recent PGA Tour events.
However, the famous par-3, 16th hole, which annually attracts more than 20,000 spectators every day into the three-story stadium-like structure surrounding the hole, will still have fans, but in a significantly scaled back one-story structure.
“We understand that we have the biggest event on the PGA Tour,” said spokesman Chance Cozby of the tournament organizing Thunderbirds said. “When you look out there, you know the attendance is big.
“But it’s just something that we don’t want to focus on going forward (this year). We want to focus on charity. That’s what we are all about.”
Cozby noted that PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan and title sponsor Waste Management have been in full support of the decision of tournament officials to scale things back this year.
Last year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open broke the record for largest single-day regular-season crowd in PGA Tour history with 216,818 fans during the third round, and a total of 719,179 spectators for four rounds.
Although some players relish the rowdy and inebriated fans on the 16th hole, sometimes encouraging the spectators to raise the roof as they hit their tee shots, others including Tiger Woods have stayed away at times.
Woods apparently wasn’t planning on playing this year even before he underwent a fifth back surgery that will keep him out for a couple months, but the Phoenix Opens still has drawn a strong field.
Defending champion Webb Simpson, ranked ninth in the world, heads a field that includes second-ranked Jon Rahm of Spain (pictured), third-ranked Justin Thomas, fourth-ranked Xander Schauffele of La Jolla and San Diego State, sixth-ranked Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, former No. 1 Brooks Koepka, Daniel Berger, Matthew Wolff of Agoura Hills, Harris English, Sungjae Im of South Korea, Hideki Matsuyama of Japan, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel of South Africa, Stewart Cink, Ryan Palmer, Scottie Scheffler, Billy Horschel, Gary Woodland, Matt Kuchar, Jason Day of Australia, Brendon Todd, Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler of Murrieta, Brendan Steele of Idyllwild and UC Riverside, and Si Woo Kim of South Korea.
In addition to Simpson, former Phoenix Open champions in the field include Fowler (2019), Woodland (2018), Matsuyama (2016, 2017), Koepka (2015), Kevin Stadler (2014), Kyle Stanley (2012), Hunter Mahan (2010) and J.B. Holmes (2006, 2008) are in the field.
“We’re pumped to showcase one of the best fields in tournament history that includes our last seven champions, highly ranked players including a first-ever appearance by Rory McIlroy, multiple major winners and FedEx Cup champs, and the next group of up-and-coming PGA Tour stars,” Tournament Chairman Scott Jenkins said. “With five of the top-10 and nearly half of the top-50 golfers in the world, our fans can expect some great golf.”
The Phoenix Open has made it a Super Sunday before ahead of the Super Bowl, and hopefully it will happen again.
- Jon Rahm, Spain – Would love to get his sixth PGA Tour victory at TPC Scottsdale and is playing well, with a tie for second in the Zozo and three straight ties for seventh, in the Masters, the Sentry TOC and Farmers. Rahm played college golf nearby at Arizona State and has five straight top-20 finishes in Phoenix, the best a tie for fifth in 2015.
- Justin Thomas, United States – After winning three times last season, Thomas has finished no worse than 12th in seven starts in the new campaign, including a tie for eighth in the U.S. Open, a tie for second in the Zozo, fourth in the Masters and third in the Sentry TOC. He tied for third last year and was solo third in 2018 in the Phoenix Open.
- Rory McIlroy, Northern Ireland – After flying back to the U.S. after finishing third in Abu Dhabi, Rory was on the verge of contention until a closing 73 left him tied for 16th in the Farmers. He tied for fifth in the Masters and tied for eighth in the U.S. Open this season. McIlroy is playing in the Waste Management Phoenix Open for the first time.
- Xander Schauffele, United States – Posted his second runner-up finish this season in the Farmers last week, the other coming in the CJ Cup. Schauffle also was fifth in the U.S. Open and tied for fifth in the Sentry TOC, in addition to tying for 17th in the Masters. Tied for 17th, tied for 10th and tied for 16th in Phoenix the last three years.
- Webb Simpson, United States – The defending Phoenix Open champ beat Tony Finau with a birdie on the first playoff hole and has four other top-10 results at TPC Scottsdale, including second in 2017, when he lost in a playoff to Hideki Matsuyama. Simpson tied for eighth in the U.S. Open, tied for 10th in the Masters and tied for fourth in Sony TOC.
- Si Woo Kim, South Korea – The 2017 Players Champion ended a drought of nearly four years before winning The American Express two weeks ago for his third PGA Tour victory. Kim also tied for eighth in the Shriners and tied for 17th in the CJ Cup. Has yet to play well in Phoenix, with a tie for tie for 62nd in 2017 his best result in five starts.
- Daniel Berger, United States – Claimed his third PGA Tour victory in 2020 Charles Schwab Challenge and has four straight top-20 finishes, a tie for seventh in the Sony, 10th in the Sentry TOC, a tie for 23rd at Mayakoba and a tie for 17th in the Zozo. Berger tied for seventh in Phoenix in 2017, tied for ninth last year and tied for 10th in 2015.
- Hideki Matsuyama, Japan – Two of his five PGA Tour victories came in the Phoenix Open, in a 2016 playoff over Rickie Fowler and a 2017 playoff over Webb Simpson. Also tied for second in 2015 and tied for fourth in 2014. Tied for second in the Houston Open, tied for 13th in the Masters and tied for 17th in the U.S. Open this season.
- Ryan Palmer, United States – Tied for second last week in the Farmers, his fourth top-10 finish recently, as he also tied for fourth in the Zozo Championship and was solo fourth in the Sony Tournament of Champions. Palmer is making his 16th start in the Open Phoenix and tied for second in 2007 and 2015, and was solo fifth in 2015.
- Sungjae Im, South Korea – Ranks 16th in the FedEx Cup standings thanks to a tie for second in the Masters, a tie for fifth in the Sentry TOC and solo 22nd in the U.S. Open. Finished in a tie for seventh in the Phoenix Open two years ago, posting four straight rounds in the 60s, and opened with a 66 last year but finished in a tie for 34th.
- Henrik Norlander, Sweden – Two-time Korn Ferry Tour winner finished T-2 in the Farmers after a T-4 in the Sanderson Farms and a T-12 in The American Express.
- Will Zalatoris, United States – Has T-6 in U.S. Open, T-8 at Puntacana, T-5 in Shriners, T-7 in Farmers this season. Only pro title came on Korn Ferry Tour in 2020.
- Carlos Ortiz, Mexico – Won Vivint Houston Open for fourth pro victory, finished T-8 at Mayakoba and T-14 in the Sony Open in Hawaii. Was T-25 in Phoenix Open last year.
- Sam Ryder, United States – Won three times on lower pro tours in recent seasons and is coming off a tie for 10th last week in the Farmers. Has four top-5s in PGA Tour career.
- Sebastian Munoz, Colombia – Winner of 2020 Sanderson Farms has T-19 in Masters, T-9 in the CJ Cup and T-17 in the Sentry Tournament of Champions in the new season.
For first-round tee times, visit https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard.html