A week after the fourth and final round was postponed and ultimately abandoned in the Golden State, the PGA Tour pros are gearing up for more unusual weather conditions as cool temperatures and rain are forecast for the Arizona desert and the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
Ordinarily, the atmosphere may be a little muted when a tournament that featured nine of the worlds top-10 players in 2023 can only boast four in 2024, and the late withdrawals of Viktor Hovland and Xander Schauffele have done little to help matters there, but the Phoenix Open is not your average PGA Tour stop, and even the rain is unlikely to dampen the spirits of the crowd taking spirit on board from the moment the gates open.
It’s no surprise to see Rory McIlroy giving the tournament a miss after being compelled to play last year’s event through obligation and admitting that the course wasn’t a good fit, but both Shane Lowry and Séamus Power are in attendance and both have reason to be optimistic that a significant rise in fortune may be just around the corner.
Power, despite being on the unfavourable side of the draw last week at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, saw improvement each day and would’ve fancied a push for a top-20 finish had the heavy storm not denied him a fourth and final round and the Las Vegas resident is no stranger to desert golf, even if temperatures in the mid-to-late teens and rain are uncommon in Sin City.
Lowry is making his third start of the year, having gotten off to a disappointing start with a missed cut at the American Express Championship, but improved to post a T25 finish at Torrey Pines a week later. His incredible albatross in the final round – his first in professional competition – can’t help but put him in a positive frame of mind as he looks to remind everybody exactly why he became one of the best players in the world, despite having recently fallen out of the top 50 in the rankings.
Sixth here on debut in 2016, Lowry followed up with a 16th in ’17 and made the cut again in ’18 before taking a four-year hiatus and returning with a missed cut in 2023. This will be Power’s fourth time teeing it up at TPC Scottsdale, with a best finish of 20th last year, and having struggled with his putting in the early season, will be buoyed by a return to form on the greens where he ranked fourth in Strokes-Gained-Putting last week.
The field is headlined by world number one and double-defending champion Scottie Scheffler who regained the top spot in the OWGR from McIlroy on this week last year. Scheffler has yet to put four good rounds together this season, but has two top-10 finishes in three starts and is very much the man to beat this week as he goes in search of a hat-trick of WM Phoenix Open wins that would see him become just the seventh players to win a tournament three times in a row and the first since Steve Stricker went back-to-back-to-back at the John Deere Classic in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
Justin Thomas’ resurgence and the two-time PGA Championship winner’s T6 finish at Pebble Beach was the first time he’s been outside the top-five in a tournament since the Wyndham Championship prior to the FedEx Cup playoff series last year. And he has course form here too, finishing third twice, and with five top-10 finishes in six appearances and a worst ever result of T13, and the bookmakers rank him second to Scheffler in the odds.
Despite a fairly non-descript opening 14 holes, TPC Scottsdale comes alive on the final four and it is arguably one of the best closing stretches on the PGA Tour circuit. The par-5 15th is a risk-reward par-5, with a green surrounded by water, before players head to the noisiest hole in the golf – the par-3 16th. For the tournament, it becomes an amphitheater – surrounded by stadia on all sides and filled with fans who intend to make the most of the efforts to get a seat. Not an exceptionally hard par-3 by any means, but the atmosphere adds a little juice and it was here that a curling 20-foot par-saving putt was the catalyst for Scheffler’s victory last year.
From there, the 17th is a drivable par-4, with anything from two-to-six possible, and the closing hole asks players to carry the tee shot over water, with the bravest lines offering the best angle and shortest distance home. Rarely do these final four holes fail to produce fireworks, and the 17th in particular usually has a significant say in the overall outcome.
Lowry is paired with Ryder Cup teammate Matt Fitzpatrick and Korean Sungjae Im for rounds one and two, and they begin the tournament on the 10th tee at 15:15 Irish time on Thursday and will be one of the featured groups on PGA Tour Live coverage, with Max Homa, Jordan Spieth and Brian Harman the marquee threeball.
Power will join Colombian Camilo Villegas and Daniel Berger in Thursday’s afternoon wave, set to get underway at 20:06, also going off the 10th tee.