SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — The WM Phoenix Open has a huge new purse and star-packed field as golf’s biggest party kicks off Super Bowl week in the Valley of the Sun.
“This week is a party for everyone except us,” fifth-ranked Patrick Cantlay said Wednesday, a day before the start of play at TPC Scottsdale. “It would be weird if every event was like this, but it’s great that we have events like this and there’s so many people in the area that come out and support the event.”
In response to the Saudi-funded LIV Golf league, the tournament is an elevated PGA Tour event with a purse of $20 million and a winner’s share of $3.6 million — up from $8.2 million and $1.476 million in 2022.
“It was already a huge event, but made even bigger,” top-ranked Rory McIlroy said. “Happy to be here and looking forward to the week.”
McIlroy is trying to make it three wins in a row on the PGA Tour after taking the Tour Championship in August and The CJ Cup in October. He also won two weeks ago in Dubai on the European tour in his first start of the year.
“It feels like a long time ago, the Tour Championship and CJ Cup. But yeah, I’ve been on a really good run of form. Basically, all of last year,” McIlroy said. “I feel like I’m just in a really good place with my game.”
The Northern Irishman made his only other start at TPC Scottsdale two years ago, closing with a 64 to tie for 13th.
“I haven’t had the full experience of this event yet,” McIlroy said. “It was limited fans in ’21 with only 5,000 people.”
The closing stretch at the @WMPhoenixOpen can help a chaser get the party started, or crash the leader’s party at any moment 😲
PGA TOUR pros on the powder keg final three holes at TPC Scottsdale. pic.twitter.com/fbcR1OOlfi
— Golf Today (@GCGolfToday) February 8, 2023
Scottie Scheffler beat Cantlay in a playoff last year in the desert for his first PGA Tour title and added victories in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play and Masters.
“Got a lot of good memories here,” said Scheffler, who is ranked second in the world. “Obviously, it’s a special tournament for me being the first win, and it’s definitely a lot of fun to be back.”
The Texan welcomes the rowdy atmosphere, with more than 200,000 fans expected for the third round Saturday.
“You’ve got to deal with the environment here, but it’s something you’ve got to embrace,” Scheffler said. “It’s a lot of fun. I think a few times a year being able to play with this big of a crowd is pretty special for us.”
Jon Rahm opened the year with consecutive victories in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and The American Express. The former Arizona State star from Spain had his best finish at TPC Scottsdale as an amateur when he tied for fifth in 2015.
“Haven’t really had a chance to win coming down the stretch,” the third-ranked Rahm said. “I’m hoping come the weekend, I’ve done a good enough job to go to that back nine knowing that I have a chance to win.”
The tournament and Super Bowl are in town the same week for the first time since 2015.
“It’s amazing to have two of these huge events in the same city on the same weekend,” McIlroy said. “It’s going to be really interesting because I feel like Saturday here is going to be a huge day in terms of the numbers and everything, and it’ll be interesting to see what Sunday is like with people obviously wanting to get to the Super Bowl.”
The field features eight of the top 10 in the world. Missing are Cameron Smith, suspended because he signed with LIV Golf, and Will Zalatoris.
McIlroy was asked if he felt like the best player in the world now.
“Yes,” he replied. “I’m playing well. I feel like consistency-wise, I’ve been as good as I have been ever in my career.”