2023 PGA Tour Preview: Waste Management Phoenix Open
Fresh off Justin Rose's victory at Pebble Beach in the AT&T Pro-Am, this week the PGA Tour heads from California to Arizona for the Waste Management Phoenix Open. One of the marquee stops on the calendar, for the first time, the tournament will be hosted under elevated status, with a $20 million purse. Additionally, many of golf's brightest stars are set to tee it up, as 23 of the world's top 24 players are in the field. This includes 2022 Fed Ex cup champion Rory Mcilroy who will play in his first PGA event of the year after beginning on the DP World Tour. Scottie Scheffler will also look to defend his crown after the current world number two won the tournament a year ago for the first win of his professional career.
Hosted at TPC Scottsdale, the Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish design is 7,261 yards long. There are 11 par 4s on the scorecard, and ten measure over 400 yards, emphasizing strong approach play. Furthermore, all three of the par 5s are reachable in two shots leading to scoring opportunities for players. Home to Bermuda grass greens, their smooth and silky texture will reward players who putt well all weekend. With the back nine offering many risk-reward-based shots, the stadium course is known for having the only fully enclosed hole on the PGA Tour. The par 3 16th can hold over 20,000 fans in the grand stands surrounding it, leading to one of the most chaotic atmospheres across sports.
Headlined by the 2023 debut of Mcilroy, the Waste Management is set to host the best field of any tournament early. The current no. 1 golfer in the world captured a win in his last start in the Dubai Desert Classic. He overcame a late final-round charge from Patrick Reed by carding a final-round 68. John Rahm will also look to continue his red-hot start to the new year. The 28-year-old was triumphant at the American Express and the Sentry Tournament of Champions. Moreover, after Scheffler conquered the event last season to kickstart a run of four victories in six starts, the 26-year-old will look to become the first player to go back-to-back since Hideki Matsuyama in 2017.
Returning to play at TPC Scottsdale for just the second time in his career, Mcilroy struggled at his only start at the event in 2021, leading him to finish in a tie for 13th. Playing in his first PGA Event since the CJ Cup in October, the three-time Byron Nelson Award winner captured the tournament after carding a final round 67 to hold off Kurt Kityama. With the game to find success on the dessert course, the 33-year-old is averaging more than 349 yards off the tee while hitting 69.6 of his fairways in regulation. Furthermore, he is gaining 3.7 strokes per round while also leading the field in scoring average.
Fresh off a third-place finish at Torrey Pines in January, Morikawa has now finished inside the top 10 in all three of his last starts. Holding the lead on Sunday at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii, the University of California product joined a list of nine players to surrender a six-shot lead in a final round. He carded bogies on holes 14-16 on his way to a final round 76 to finish in second place behind Rahm. Still one of the best ball strikers in the world, the one-time PGA Championship winner is gaining nearly two strokes from tee to green this season while hitting over 78 percent of his greens in regulation.
Searching for his first victory since the Shriners Open in 2021, Im has been playing some of the best golf of his young career of late. With four top-15 finishes in eight starts already this season, the South Korea native ranked eighth and the Hero World Challenge and fourth at Torrey Pines. Moreover, the 24-year-old has found success at the Waste Management over his young career by placing inside the top 20 twice in three starts. Benefitting from his stellar iron play, the key for the 2018 Webb.com Tour player of the year will come on the greens. He currently ranks 45th in strokes gained, putting (0.453). If the eight-year veteran can remain consistent with the flat stick, look for him to be in contention on Sunday.
Still looking to find his form early on in 2023, Thomas placed 25th both at the Farmers Insurance Open and the Sentry Tournament of Champions after carding just one round below par in each event. However, the Alabama product has played great golf at the Waste Management over his career. Finishing in a tie for eighth in 2022, the current ninth-ranked player in the world gained over seven strokes on his approach shots. Furthermore, he also finished in third place in both 2019 and 2020. With the nerves to deal with the pressure of an elevated event, the Kentucky native has won both the Players and the PGA Championship. He offers too much value at his current listing of 20 to 1.
Still working his way back from a neck injury at the Arnold Palmer last year, Matsuyama has failed to contend in any of his six starts this season. Forced to withdraw from the Houston Open in December, the 2021 Masters Champion also finished in a tie for 21st at the Sentry Tournament of Champions before coming 48th at the Sony Open. Nonetheless, with a strong track record at TPC Scottsdale over his 12 years on Tour, the Japan native captured back-to-back victories in the tournament in 2016 and 2017. Furthermore, he also has three top-16 finishes at the event in his last four appearances. The 30 year old is set to play in a group with Mcilroy and Morikawa on Thursday and Friday.