Sport fans who don’t follow golf tend to think of it as a genteel sport where even the best of the action is met with polite applause. That way of thinking is blown out of the water by the Waste Management Phoenix Open. The tournament has steadily built to the point where around 600,000 fans pour through the gates at TPC Scottsdale and things get rowdy to say the least. This event may well have the worst name in golf (let’s just call it the Phoenix Open shall we?) but it certainly has the best atmosphere, unless perhaps you are a golfing traditionalist.
In places – most notably around the par three 16th hole – the atmosphere is more akin to a football stadium than a golf tournament. It’s not to every player’s liking, nor to every fan’s, but many of the stars of the PGA Tour thrive with the buzz of the Phoenix Open and make sure to include it in their itinerary every season. It also brings new fans to the game which can only be positive and it has produced some thrilling finishes over the years too.
2023: Scottie Scheffler
The 2023 season proved to be a good year for defending champions. Following the back-to-back successes of Rory McIlroy in the CJ Cup and Max Homa at the Fortinet Championship, Masters champ Scottie Scheffler was the next to join the party, as he successfully defended his crown in the WM Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale.
This was a strong front-running success from the 26 year old, who was tied for the lead at the end of the second round and outright leader at the end of the third. Despite not having his very best game, Scheffler coped well with the windy conditions and was able to keep his nose in front when it mattered. A little errant off the tee, Scheffler missed nine fairways but topped the field in both scrambling and approach play and dropped only two shots all tournament to finish on an impressive 19 under.
This proved a significant win for the New Jersey native, with the fifth PGA Tour success of his career seeing him bag $3.6m in prize money and reclaim the number one spot in the Official World Golf Rankings from Rory McIlroy.
Ranked 223 headed into the event, Canadian Nick Taylor had a week to remember, finishing two shots back in second place. The player of the year to date, Jon Rahm, once again, wasn’t far away, finishing on -14 to take outright third, whilst Justin Thomas posted his best effort in a while to take a solo fourth.
2022: Scottie Scheffler
Scottie Scheffler’s first PGA Tour victory was well worth the wait. By normal PGA Tour standards, the 25-year-old did not have to wait too long to break his duck at the top level but this is a player who could well end his career well into the double digits of wins so golf fans have been waiting for some time for him to get over the line. His golf over the last few years has been superb, including at the last Ryder Cup, and this win sees him climb to career-best of ninth in the world rankings.
As has very much become the norm for the WM Phoenix Open, he was forced beyond regulation play to finally seal the deal. Patrick Cantlay had a great chance to win the tournament but he fluffed his lines and so had to settle for a playoff. While Cantlay went into reverse it was the opposite for Scheffler. He was the least likely winner from the final group alongside defending champion Brooks Koepka and the impressive tournament invite Sahith Theegala for much of the round. But Scheffler put a bogey on the 12th hole firmly behind him to go on a charge as the back nine at TPC Scottsdale provided engrossing drama once more.
With both men having missed chances to win the tournament outright, the playoff had the feel of a shot at redemption. Scheffler and Cantlay both did all they could to ensure this chance would not slip through their hands and the playoff went to three holes. Then Scheffler came up with another moment of magic, hitting his approach shot into the 18th green to 26 feet and promptly holing the putt for a birdie that Cantlay was unable to match.
2021: Brooks Koepka
Brooks Koepka once remarked that he found it easier to win major championships than regular PGA Tour events. Part of the reason for that is that he can struggle for motivation at the run of the mill events but motivation was not an issue at the 2021 Waste Management Phoenix Open. A troubling knee injury plagued him for most of 2020 and even led to existential concerns about his game. “There was a period maybe for about two months where I just questioned whether I was ever going to be the same,” he said after proving that the worst fears were unfounded with a dramatic win at TPC Scottsdale.
Koepka started his final round in seventh place, five shots behind the leader Xander Schauffele. He ambled along nicely enough in the early part of his round but as things really began to happen for him you could sense that old competitive fire had been lit. Koepka was five under for his last six holes. That included the defining moment of the tournament where he chipped in for eagle at the par four 17th.
Just being vaguely in contention on Sunday was a win for Koepka who had missed three cuts in a row coming into the tournament. Stringing together three good rounds showed his game and body were holding up well enough to launch an attack and attack he did in devastating fashion for his second Phoenix Open title. The list of winners here shows two things about the Phoenix Open: hitting the ball a long way certainly helps and this is a tournament that attracts a top class field.
2020: Webb Simpson
For the fourth time in five years, two players could not be separated by 72 holes at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. This time around it was Webb Simpson and big-hitting Tony Finau who made it through to a playoff.
Finau was the beneficiary of a lot of vocal support from the galleries who were keen to see him finally win for the second time on the PGA Tour. The popular Finau was in pole position with a two shot lead with just two holes to go but Simpson is the sort of character who never gives up. He secured the two birdies that he needed on 17 and 18 to make it into the playoff and then made another birdie to finish the job on the first playoff hole, sinking a 10 foot putt to consign Finau to a near miss once again.
Simpson’s attitude was rightly credited by many as the main reason for his win. It’s important not to overlook the physical and technical work that he put in, in the months before this win. He overhauled his training regime in the gym and overcame the belly putter ban to revamp his game. On the basis of this he’ll be a threat in big tournaments for some time to come.
2019: Rickie Fowler
It is said that one of the keys to success is doing things in the present that your future self will be thankful for. Rickie Fowler can testament to the importance of setting sound foundations after overcoming a very shaky final round to win the 2019 Waste Management Phoenix Open.
Decked in his traditional bright orange Sunday colours and with the support of the majority of the vast crowds at TPC Scottsdale, Fowler looked a picture of confidence as he began his final round. Those fans were almost stunned into silence at what they watching as Fowler made a triple bogey seven at the 11th hole. “Pretty much everything that could go wrong went wrong,” said Fowler afterwards.
There was a strong sense of déjà vu for Fowler and his family who were watching on inside the ropes. He missed golden chances to win this tournament in 2010 and 2016 and it was happening again. Somehow though, he managed to do enough to finally hoist the trophy. While his father suggested that the nature of the win made it even more special, Fowler’s take was rather different, saying, “I hope I never have to go through that again.” He ended on 267, 17 under, very much a par sort of score for the winner here given victors have shot between –14 and –19 every year from 2014 to 2021.
2018: Gary Woodland
The Waste Management Phoenix Open is known for providing the most raucous atmosphere in golf. The 2018 edition, however, will be remembered for a moment of quiet reflection. That belonged to Gary Woodland who looked to the sky after seeing off the challenge of Chez Reavie in a playoff. “Yeah, that was just kind of a tribute to last year,” said a tearful Woodland, referring to the devastating loss he and his wife suffered of one of their unborn twins. “Just wanted her to know that I still love her.”
At the time, Woodland took a break of around four months off before returning to work. Making it to the Tour Championship took a huge amount of grit and doing so reminded him that he remains one of the best golfers in the world. That belief is greater than ever now after finishing on top of a stellar field in one of the PGA Tour’s most popular tournaments.
Woodland is another guy who hits a huge ball from the tee but it was his high class play from tee to green that saw him deliver the goods. Coupled with one of his best putting weeks for some time the American got the job done and will have been very pleased from a technical perspective. Mentally, he is now nicely settled and has an improved demeanour according to his caddie, Brendan Little. His happiness was obvious when his wife and son Jaxson ran out to celebrate with him after the playoff.