News, matchups and best bets for the ‘Greatest Show on Grass’
The LIV Golf League may claim to be “golf but louder” but perhaps there is no busier place in the sport than the par 3 hole 16 at TPC Scottsdale, home to the WM Phoenix Open this week.
The scene gets even busier when NFL fans come to town for Super Bowl LVII on Sunday. This week, the Phoenix agglomeration hosted both the Super Bowl and the WM Phoenix Open for the fourth time. He also hosted a doubleheader in 1996, 2008 and 2015.
As usual, in a tournament known as The Greatest Show on Grass, it’s going to be a hell of a party.
“Very few sporting events in the world can comfortably take place in the same week as the Super Bowl and still have the same impact as this,” said John Ram, an Arizona State alumnus who still lives in the area.
“With that said, I don’t think it’s everyone’s favorite. I think you either love it or hate it. There is none between them.”
There is no other atmosphere in golf like the 16-hole Colosseum surrounded by a stadium with a capacity of more than 17,000 fans. Last year, after Sam Ryder punched a hole in the third round, he was bombarded with what looked like a couple of thousand aluminum cans and beer bottles.
Rain delay. 🍺 pic.twitter.com/iTg3ftTOTG
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) February 12, 2022
It’s also where Harry Higgs and Joel Dahmen famously dazzled in front of the crowd and went topless, respectively, after Higgs dropped 10 feet last year to maintain parity.
🚁 @Joel_Dahmen from a helicopter! pic.twitter.com/55iKoJhMWH
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) February 13, 2022
“I love it,” said Patrick Cantlay, who lost to Scotty Scheffler in a three-hole playoff in his first start at the WM Phoenix Open last year. “I think it’s cool that you can go up there and freeze it there and make everyone go crazy and make a birdie.”
This week, for the first time in the updated PGA Tour schedule, the WM Phoenix Open is being held as a full-fledged tournament. With a $20 million prize, including $3.6 million to the winner, will Phoenix fans be a little less vocal? Probably no. Tournament replaced aluminum beer cans and bottles with plastic cupssimilar to those handed out at the Masters to make it harder for drinks to reach the green.
The course includes 22 of the top 25 players in the Official World Golf Rankings and nine of the top 10 players in the FedEx Cup standings.
“I think it was a planned event before we even knew what they were going to be,” Ram said. “No matter what wallet you have, this tournament will be what it is… Since I came [for] the first time eight years ago – I can’t believe it’s been eight years – it got exponentially louder and louder. It was a significant difference every year.”
Here’s what to watch in professional golf this week:
What’s Next on the PGA Tour
VM Phoenix Open
Where: Stadium Field, TPC Scottsdale, Scottsdale, Arizona
Wallet: $20 million
Three storylines worth watching
Ram vs McIlroy: Rory McIlroy and Rahm may have been the two best players in the world over the past few months and we will finally see them in the US this weekend. This is the first time they will play in the same PGA Tour event since the CJ Cup in South Carolina at the end of October, which was won by McIlroy.
McIlroy, the world’s No. 1 player, has three wins and seven top-five finishes in his last eight world starts. Ram, who finished in third place, had four victories during the same period and finished in the top five six times. This will be McIlroy’s second start at the Phoenix Open after finishing 13th in 2022. Ram will be making his eighth start in the tournament and has never finished worse than 16th.
McIlroy and Rahm won’t play together, at least not in the first two rounds. McIlroy is paired with Collin Morikawa and Hideki Matsuyama in a theme group (9:48 am ET Thursday and 2:33 pm ET Friday). Ram plays Max Homa and Keegan Bradley (2:33 pm ET Thursday and 9:48 pm ET Friday).
Ram may have home advantage.
“It’s always good to stay at home for a tournament, even if it’s a little different. [with] the dynamic we usually have when we are in a hotel or not in a hotel,” Ram said. – The best thing is just to feel comfortable. It’s not that I try too hard to explore the golf course or get to know the area. It’s much easier, much less stressful.”
Scheffler’s defense: Scheffler, the world’s No. 2 player, took his first PGA Tour victory at the WM Phoenix Open last year. He will be the reigning winner in four of the next nine events – he also won the Arnold Palmer Invitational, WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play and Masters last year.
According to the PGA Tour, Scheffler has averaged 67.8 points and Xander Schauffele is second among players with at least 10 rounds since the tournament was moved to TPC Scottsdale in 1987. League has the lowest score at 67.58.
Scheffler is trying to become the first consecutive tournament winner since Matsuyama in 2016-17.
Schauffele finished no worse than 17th in five starts at the WM Phoenix Open, including two straight fives. According to research by Sportzshala Stats & Information, Schauffele was within 3 shots of reaching the final round in four of those starts. He’s lost by stroke in each of the last two years.
loaded field: With such a large prize pool, this is the biggest field for the WM Phoenix Open. There are 24 of the top 30 OWGR players on the field (up from 16 in 2022) and 37 of the top 50 players (up from 26 last year). The only players in the top 30 who are eligible to compete but are not playing are Will Zalatoris, who is slowly recovering from a back injury, Sepp Straka and Ryan Fox.
Three LIV Golf players – Smith (No. 4), Joaquin Niemann (No. 23) and Abraham Unser (No. 26) – have been suspended from the PGA Tour and are ineligible to play.
LIV Golf League announces team names (but not rosters)
The LIV Golf League has unveiled two new team names and several updated logos for the upcoming season, including Captain Bubba Watson’s new franchise name, RangeGoats GC. The origin of the name is probably not what you thought.
Why RangeGoats? pic.twitter.com/vqNAG2JzXj
— Rangegoatsgc (@RangeGoatsGC) February 7, 2023
Defending Open Championship winner Cameron Smith’s all-Australian team is also changing its name to Ripper GC.
The second season of the LIV Golf League will begin in two weeks in Mayakoba, Mexico. The circuit has yet to announce its 48-man roster, which will compete in 12 teams of four. The league has also not officially announced whether PGA Tour pros Mito Pereira and Sebastian Munoz will join, something that has long been rumored.
For your summer reading
Sports player Billy Walters’ long-awaited memoir The Gambler: The Secrets of a Life in Danger, co-written with investigative journalist Armen Keteyan, will be released on August 15. Sources previously told Sportzshala that Phil Mickelson, who has been involved with Walters in the past, was not overly excited about the book.
In 2017, Walters was convicted on 10 counts of conspiracy, securities fraud, and wire fraud. Federal prosecutors said Walters illegally made $40 million trading Dean Foods stock from 2008 to 2015. released from prison in April 2020 and was pardoned by former US President Donald Trump in January 2021.
So… the word finally came out. The book I wrote with GOAT will be published on August 15th. Gambling secrets, six years of high-stakes betting with Phil, a battle with the Southern District, 31 months in prison, all linked to one hell of an inspiring life story. pic.twitter.com/fwMTRN7N6P
— Armen Keteyan (@ArmenKeteyian) February 8, 2023
This was included in a press release from Simon & Schuster about the book on Wednesday: “Although Mickelson was also implicated in the investigation, he was never charged – despite agreeing to pay over $1 million in trading profits and interest – and he refused to testify at Walters’ trial. In The Gambler, Walters tells the inside story of his own prosecution and reveals explosive details of his six-year gambling relationship with Mickelson.
In 2018, Walters told Sportzshala that Mickelson could help his defense if he agreed to testify during a criminal trial.
“Here’s a guy [Mickelson] that all he had to do was come forward and tell the truth,” Walters said. “That’s all he had to do. The guy wouldn’t do it because he was worried about his image. He was concerned about his approval.”
Home Sweet Home! pic.twitter.com/7hRRnZrkWq
— Justin ROSE (@JustinRose99) February 7, 2023
Former world No. 1 golfer Justin Rose ended a four-year winless drought by winning the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am on Monday. The victory moved him to 35th in the world and secured an invitation to the Masters. Rose, the 2013 US Open winner, spoke to Sportzshala on Tuesday about his long journey back to the top of the leaderboard.
What did it mean to end the drought?
“It means a lot. I think as a player you are always convincing yourself or trying to fool yourself that hey it’s about the journey, about the process, about profiting from it and trends, all these buzzwords that we use to try and take our minds off the the fact that you don’t win. But at the end of the day, you need results… you need that shot in the arm of confidence, and that was important to me. It happened at the perfect time of the year to really organize the season and get me back on the front lines.”
When you have four years without a win, how do you stay confident? How do you tell yourself that you are moving in the right direction?
“Obviously I’m sitting here looking back and saying, ‘Well, yeah, I always knew it was possible,’ but to be honest, it’s not easy. You never know 100% what will happen and if you can do it again, I mean you…