It felt like a particularly important week for the PGA Tour.
Last week, Phil Mickelson came after the Tour, citing its “obnoxious greed,” alleging restrictive media rights and generally portraying the folks in Ponte Vedra as the Evil Empire. This week, Charley Hoffman turned a gripe with the Rules of Golf into an all-out tirade against the Tour and citing the incident as evidence why the Tour might cease to exist. All of this comes in the context of massive reported sums offered to high-profile pros to jump ship to a new breakaway tour.
In other words, it was high time for the PGA Tour to showcase its best product. It sure did; the WM Phoenix Open was a wild, wonderful week filled with aces, beer showers and hundreds of thousands of delighted fans. Sunday presented a host of U.S. Ryder Cuppers doing battle with 54-hole leader Sahith Theegala, making just his 11th PGA Tour start. But in the end, after a dramatic final round and three playoff holes, it was a different first-time winner, Scottie Scheffler, who took home the title and cemented himself among the top tier of Tour pros.
Patrick Cantlay began Sunday’s final round in third place, two shots behind Theegala. These days, Cantlay seems to contend every time he tees it up; he’s finished 4, 9, T4 in his only three starts since last year’s Tour Championship and entered Sunday as the No. 4 player in the world. He made birdies at No. 4 and No. 6 to kick off his final round.
Scheffler was in the final group alongside Theegala and defending champion Brooks Koepka. His day started hot, too, with birdies at No. 2 and No. 3. But he stalled with bogeys at 5, 7 and 8 and lost touch with the leaders — temporarily.
Up ahead was pure mayhem. Carlos Ortiz made an ace at No. 16, the second consecutive day a player had made a hole-in-one on the game’s wildest stage. A few groups later Harry Higgs and Joel Dahmen put on a show, revealing a whole bunch of extra skin after draining par putts to stay just outside the top 50.
Alongside Cantlay was good friend and frequent sparring partner Xander Schauffele, who also began the day in T3 at 12 under par. Koepka staying in the mix all day. Justin Thomas rallied, too, to get to the edge of contention. The leaderboard was a who’s-who of American contenders.
In the end, the tournament’s first 70 holes served as the preamble to a whirlwind final two…and then some. As viewers geared up to toggle from golf to the Super Bowl, the final few contenders played the final few holes at TPC Scottsdale.
Koepka was in the mix until his par putt slid by at the par-3 16th, though he birdied 17 and 18 to salvage a final-round 69.
Schauffele’s eagle try finished a half-roll short at No. 17 and his birdie try at the 18th slid just past the hole, leaving him at 15 under, too.
Theegala was very much in the mix until his tee shot at 17, when he hit 2-hybrid on an aggressive line only to watch it take an unfortunate bounce left off the left edge of the green and into the water. He made bogey and parred No. 18 to post 15 under.
All three — Koepke, Schauffele and Theegala — finished T3 at 15 under. Cantlay and Scheffler each stuck their approach shots at No. 18. Their putts each slid by the hole. One last bit of theater awaited: A playoff.
Both players made par on their first playoff hole. They made par on their second hole. The Rams drove down the field and America’s attention shifted; the WMPO is the Super Bowl’s appetizer, not its competition.
On the third playoff hole Scheffler found the fairway bunker while Cantlay striped one down the center of the fairway. Advantage, Cantlay. He hit his wedge shot closer than Scheffler’s approach, too; Cantlay had 13 feet for birdie while Scheffler had 26.
But then, a sudden reversal. Scheffler rolled in his putt for birdie, punctuating the putt with an emphatic celebration. Cantlay followed but his try stayed just too high. Scheffler was a PGA Tour champion.
Scheffler was emotional; after Cantlay’s putt slid by he shared a long embrace with his wife Meredith, fielded questions from Amanda Balionis and headed off to lift the trophy. He grinned his way through interviews, knowing his career had changed for the better, forever.
The PGA Tour must have been similarly pleased; this was a win for the Tour, too, with one of its most promising young stars ascending inside the top 10 in the world on a thrilling, emotional weekend.
With any luck Scheffler would get the celebration going within the hour — and have something extra to enjoy as he took in the Super Bowl’s second half.