Mickelson, Rahm tee off early in featured Phoenix Open pairing
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Phil Mickelson and Jon Rahm will get the party started early Thursday in the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
The former Arizona State stars will begin play with Xander Schauffele on the 10th tee at TPC Scottsdale just before 8 a.m. They will hit the rowdy par-3 16th hours before the alcohol-fueled revelry kicks into high gear at the stadium hole. No matter the time, they’ll hear plenty of “Forks up!” and “Go Devils!” cries from the gallery.
“Every time I go by, every hole, every single shot, I get cheers from someone from ASU,” Rahm said. “When you miss a shot, you remember how many people you have pulling for you. And when you’re playing good, it makes it that much more fun. It just escalates everything to a whole level of joy.”
Two-time defending champion Hideki Matsuyama will be in the group directly ahead with Rickie Fowler and Webb Simpson, the players the Japanese star outlasted in playoffs the last two years.
“It’s going to kind of be weird to play with them on Thursday and Friday,” Matsuyama said.
On the other side of the draw, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas will join Patton Kizzire, the lone two-time winner this season.
“This is always a little different week, very exciting,” Spieth said. “Nice change, kind of a fun change with this kind of party crowd.”
Rahm and Mickelson are playing together for the first time in the tournament and fourth time on the PGA Tour. Mickelson’s brother, Tim, coached Rahm at Arizona State and was the Spaniard’s agent. Tim Mickelson is now his older brother’s caddie.
“He’s always been a great friend and mentor to me,” Rahm said about the 47-year-old Hall of Famer. “He’s helped me out on everything he’s been able to help me out on. Even in college and out of college. And we just have a lot of fun together. I love playing practice rounds with him, I love joking around with him.”
Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge two weeks ago in a playoff in the California desert and was in contention last week in his title defense at Torrey Pines before fading on the weekend. The 23-year-old has jumped to No. 2 in the world behind Dustin Johnson.
“He’ll get there (No. 1), eventually,” Mickelson said. “He’s so talented and to have him do it as quickly as he had right out of college, very impressive. Not only that, he’s such a nice guy to be around.”
Rahm was second behind Johnson at Kapalua in his first start since winning the European Tour’s season-ending event in Dubai in November. He’s making his third appearance in the tournament after tying for fifth as an amateur in 2015 and tying for 16th last year.
“I live a couple miles from here,” Rahm said. “It’s home.”
Mickelson is making his 29th start in the event, matching the record held by Gene Littler, Jim Ferrier and Jerry Barber. Lefty won on the Stadium Course in 1996, 2005 and 2013.
“I just love what I do. I love playing golf for a living,” Mickelson said. “I love the West Coast and I’m excited to be back here in Phoenix. The golf course is in great shape. We have got great weather. It’s just a fun place to play, one of the places I look forward to every year.”
The third-ranked Spieth took a quick trip to Cabo in Mexico to prepare after taking a break following Kapalua.
“They got the greens perfect for me at El Dorado,” Spieth said. “The golf course is fantastic. It’s desert golf, so it was good prep for here.”
In the pro-am Wednesday, Spieth played with Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and Thomas was with former Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians.
In his first @WMPhoenixOpen appearance, @AaronRodgers12 says the 16th hole rivals the best atmospheres in all of sports. And he’s very diplomatic about the #SuperBowl. All about the #GBP. @packers @NFL @NFLonFOX pic.twitter.com/dP64gZG9kQ
— FOX Sports Arizona (@FOXSPORTSAZ) January 31, 2018
“He spent a little time in Alabama, so we had that in common,” Thomas said.
The fourth-ranked Thomas is using putting coach Matt Killen as his caddie with Jimmy Johnson sidelined by plantar fasciitis in his right foot.
“There’s a lot of things I’m going to do differently on the putting green in practice than I do in tournaments, so he may be able to pick up on those things,” Thomas said.
Johnson hopes to return in two weeks at Riviera.
“I didn’t want him coming back too soon and then having to take another month off,” Thomas said.
The fifth-ranked Matsuyama is trying to match Arnold Palmer’s record of three straight victories. Palmer accomplished the feat from 1961-63.
“That would be something,” Matsuyama said.