SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — When you think of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, two things come to mind: the 16th hole and the sheer number of fans. Both will be back this year, but different. So will defending champion Webb Simpson.
“I think playing out here for a while, you realize kind of how Tiger and Phil and these guys really use the crowd to their advantage,” said Simpson, who beat Tony Finau in a playoff a year ago. “The environment Tony and I played in last year on Sunday, the playoff. … it’s so fun to be in that energy and to hear the noises, and all day you’re hearing roaring on 16 or boos.
“This tournament, at the end of the week, we always feel like we just played a major because we’re so tired.”
While greatly reduced in numbers, the event will be one of the few PGA Tour stops to have spectators this season. Tournament officials quickly sold out of its general-admission allotment so a few thousand fans will be roaming the grounds at TPC Scottsdale. But it won’t be the hundreds of thousands that usually flock to the course.
“That will definitely be missed this year, maybe more than any other golf course we play,” Simpson said. “We’re going to realize what we’re missing, and so we’re going to hopefully be back to normal next year, I hope, because this tournament is kind of in a league of its own when it comes to the energy and the loudness.”
The arena at No. 16 is back, but it looks a little different. The walk from 15 green to 16 tee though will be a similar experience.
“It’s fun to feel that kind of nervous energy walking through the tunnel and knowing you’re about to enter into an environment that we’ll never have again for the rest of the year. It will definitely be missed. But maybe a little stress-free this year compared to every other year.”
Stress-free, perhaps, but all those fans and all that noise can lead to sharper focus.
“Players have this weird way about them that the tougher and more chaotic an environment, the more they focus and they hit good shots. There’s been some amazing shots over the years there,” Simpson said. “I don’t think it’ll affect the scores really at all. I just think the overall energy on 15, 16, 17 with the lack of fans there is going to be different and kind of a letdown.”
Six weeks after sporting the blue tunic and hoisting the trophy in Scottsdale, Simpson was tied for 7th after a first-round 64 at the Players Championship. That night, the PGA Tour canceled the tournament and froze everything because of the oncoming global pandemic. The Tour returned in June and in the second week back, Simpson won again, this time at the RBC Heritage.
Right before Christmas, he contracted COVID-19. He competed soon after that in the Sony Open in Hawaii and while COVID didn’t totally knock him for a loop, the effects are still lingering.
“My taste is like 75 percent back. That was definitely a lot worse than I anticipated, not being able to taste food. Smell was fine,” he said. “I’m a coffee guy, and I just missed being able to smell and taste my coffee in the morning. Now that it’s coming back, I have a greater appreciation for it.”
Simpson says he also a greater appreciation for how the pandemic has affected life outside the ropes.
“Being back here a year later, so much has happened, obviously. It’s been sad to see what coronavirus has done to the world. A lot of mixed emotions. I’ve been super proud of the PGA Tour and the fact that we’ve been able to play and be safe while we’re doing it and give people something to watch on TV. I’m just thankful, thankful to have a job. I know so many people right now are hurting, financially, physically, people have lost loved ones to this disease. I’m thankful to be here but you’re also a little bit sad and burdened because you know we get to go play golf today, a lot of the world is hurting and suffering.”
Nick Hardy survives Monday playoff
Mark Anguiano and Vince Whaley each shot 8-under 64s at McCormick Ranch in Scottsdale while the third and final spot came down to Anirban Lahiri and Nick Hardy, who both shot 65s. On the second playoff hole, Hardy drained an 8-footer and then watched Lahiri miss from three feet, ending the suspense.
Hardy, who turned 25 last week, will be playing in his ninth PGA Tour event as a pro. He finished tied for 14th after shooting all four rounds in the 60s two weeks at the Sony.
original article link https://golfweek.usatoday.com/2021/02/02/pga-tour-webb-simpson-waste-management-phoenix-open/