SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The first full-field elevated event of the PGA Tour season was not only a roaring success, but it portends for what could be an incredible elevated-event slate. Scottie Scheffler bested Nick Taylor, Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas to repeat as a champion in the desert, but the bigger story coming out was how perfectly executed the first full-field event of the 13 big-time PGA Tour events in 2023 went.
You could argue that this was the perfect event to transition from a regular event to elevated status, which is probably true, but that would be a disservice to the overall plan of the Tour differentiating its product in a meaningful way. More on that as well as Scheffler’s monster victory, Rahm’s continued heater and much more below in the nine takeaways from the 2023 WM Phoenix Open.
1. Scottie’s last 53 weeks: In the last year and a week, Scheffler has won five times, has 14 top 10s, taken home $29 million and been world No. 1 two different times for a total of 30 weeks (31, if you count this upcoming week). That’s one hell of a12-month stretch. As fellow CBS Sports contributor Rick Gehman pointed out, not much changes when it comes to Scheffler’s game, which is a reflection of his demeanor where not much changes either. He has joined Rahm and Rory McIlroy as one of the clear-cut top three players in the world.
2. Rahm — monster: In his last nine events, Rahm has lost to 19 golfers. Think about how difficult that is to do. His worst finish in his last nine starts was a T8 at the Hero World Challenge, of all places. He only has two finishes outside the top four at those nine tournaments. He didn’t win on Sunday, and didn’t really have much of a chance because his dispersion off the tee got a bit wide, but don’t let that mitigate the heater he’s still on.
3. Phoenix is what LIV thinks it is: This hit me on Saturday as 250,000 people poured into TPC Scottsdale, the music thumped and the infrastructure swayed. The golf, it seemed, was incidental. Not the scenario you want at major championships, but for regular-season golf on the PGA Tour it’s absolutely perfect. This is what LIV thinks it created, but like Rickie Fowler pointed out, Phoenix wasn’t built in a day.
“This place can’t be duplicated,” said Fowler. “You can try, but the amount of time and effort that’s gone into this over decades to get it to where it is now. Places try and do some stuff to get the energy up and get some stands and crowds around a certain hole or area. Yeah, this event’s kind of special in its own way. I don’t think anything will ever be what this is.
“And that’s fine. This is a special week. I love it. I don’t think we necessarily need others like it. It takes a lot of time to get to where this event has got to and the Thunderbirds and Waste Management and everyone involved has done a darn good job to get it to here.”
4. Tough Pro Course (TPC) Scottsdale: Because of some unexpected wind that dried out a course and wreaked some early week havoc, scoring jumped a bit at TPC Scottsdale early in the week. That’s not something that can be engineered by the PGA Tour, but boy is it fun when it gets a little unexpected weather with the best players in the world among the field. Tougher conditions almost always engender better leaderboards, and this week was no different.
5. No. 16 is so good: This was my first visit to TPC Scottsdale, and No. 16 lived up to the hype. One thing we were discussing throughout the week is the innocence of the famous hole. If you didn’t have the buildout and you didn’t have the hype, it would just be a normal, easy, 150-yard wedge to a straightforward green before traipsing to the more strategic 17th. However! Much like the 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass would be a very easy hole if it wasn’t, you know, surrounded by water, the fun of the 16th at TPC Scottsdale is that every shot is now must-see TV.
6. An alternative view on the 16th: I’m curious to see what the evolution of the 16th hole is because the trend of folks tossing beers and paper airplanes and toilet paper on the green, while fun, is going to affect the integrity of the tournament at some point. Somebody’s bottle is going to either hit a player or hit a player’s ball, and everybody is going to freak out. This year, the event went to cups on No. 16 instead of cans, but full bottles of soda and water still flew.
Will the event or the Tour preemptively get out in front of it next year or will fans continue to come up with creative ways to make their presence known at the biggest party in golf?
7. Nick Taylor’s career week: The Canadian who came in outside the top 200 in the world won more money in this event than he had won in any other season he’d ever played. He also jumped from No. 223 to No. 73 in the Official World Golf Rankings, which is incredibly meaningful as it relates to potentially getting into major championships later this season. There has been some talk about these elevated events going to smaller fields in 2024. I think that would be a mistake, though I’m in favor of more clarity and transparency when it comes to how players get into these fields. Taylor’s story was fun to follow on Sunday, and it was a life-changing week for him. Plus, players like Taylor — who is far better than you could even imagine — give great context for players like Scheffler and Rahm, who are far better than Taylor could ever become.
8. We need to talk about Collin Morikawa: He was my pick coming into the week, but the early wind seemed to knock him a bit off course. His short game was probably the reason he missed the cut, but normally Morikawa is able to overcome a cold putter with some of the best iron play in the world. While I still believe his stock cut is among the best singular shots in golf, his play in windy, tough conditions remains a bit of a concern. This sounds minuscule, and it is, but the burden of being an elite player is that every single part of the game gets dissected in ways that it doesn’t for other players, even very good ones.
9. Xander ruling: There was a lot of hubbub on Saturday about an, um, interesting drop Xander Schauffele took on the 13th hole when he got relief from a tree because of a … wait for it … burrowing animal hole. Sure. Very normal stuff. I don’t begrudge Schauffele for asking for a second opinion on the ruling, nor do I think he purposefully broke the rules. What I do think is that the Tour should start letting three rules officials weigh in on situations like this to break any potential ties. It seems dubious that when two officials disagree, the tie always goes to the player. You already stopped play for several minutes, might as well get one more take from a referee to settle the argument and move on.
Rick Gehman, Kyle Porter, Mark Immelman and Joe Musso break down Scottie Scheffler’s win at the 2023 WM Phoenix Open. Follow & listen to The First Cut on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.