No player attracts a larger audience than Tiger Woods.
No tournament attracts a larger audience than the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
Imagine putting those two together. That has happened only four times in the last 20 years, and this won’t be one of those occasions.
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Woods has taken his talents to the Middle East to play in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic. The Phoenix Open is left with an expected 600,000 patrons to see some of the rising young stars in the game, from Jordan Spieth to Justin Thomas, from Hideki Matsuyama of Japan to Jon Rahm of Spain.
The Phoenix Open is known as the ”Greatest Show on Turf,” partly because the TPC Scottsdale has a stretch of closing holes as compelling as any on the PGA Tour, and mainly because there are so many fans and such a party atmosphere that the golf sometimes is an afterthought.
The biggest crowd is on Saturday. The biggest stage is the par-3 16th hole, which has been turned into its own stadium. This is where players are tested, even if they’re not in contention. Miss a putt and the fans can be brutal, as Chris DiMarco found out in 2009. Make a putt, and players can become stars by their reaction. James Hahn has won twice on the PGA Tour, yet he’s still known largely for his Gangnam Style dance.
Make a hole-in-one when you’re Tiger Woods? Pandemonium .
Not to be overlooked are the players, and there are plenty of them.
Thomas hasn’t lost all year, a winner at both Hawaii events he played. He’s been gone for two weeks and already another young player is attracting a ton of attention. That would be Rahm, whose 60-foot eagle putt at Torrey Pines will be shown every time he gets in contention this year.
Matsuyama is the defending champion and No. 5 in the world, the first Japanese player in 20 years to crack the top 5. With so much of the spotlight on youth, there’s still room for the old guard. Phil Mickelson is a three-time winner of the Phoenix Open.
Television (all times EST): Thursday-Friday, 3-7 p.m. (Golf Channel); Saturday-Sunday, 1-2:30 p.m. (Golf Channel), 3-6 p.m. (CBS Sports).
Woods is back in Dubai for the eighth time, and while he has two victories, his first visit didn’t end so well. Thomas Bjorn was paired with him all four days in 2001, and it was one time that Woods blinked first. He hit into the water on the 18th hole and made double bogey to finish second.
But he had his share of big moments, such as his 30-foot birdie putt on the final hole in 2008 to beat Ernie Els.
Even though he is No. 666 in the world, Woods is a big deal. That’s why the European Tour put together a video clip on its website of Woods’ greatest moment in Dubai. And he’s not even a European Tour member.
Woods is playing the opening two rounds with the defending champion, Danny Willett, and former U.S. Amateur champion Matt Fitzpatrick. That threesome alone has combined for five green jackets and four U.S. Amateurs. Willett says he has never properly been introduced to Woods.
Rory McIlroy was supposed to play until a rib injury. Henrik Stenson at No. 4 is the highest-ranked player in the field.
Television (all times EST): Thursday-Friday, 1 a.m. to 4 a.m., 5:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. (Golf Channel); Saturday-Sunday, 3:30 a.m. to 8 a.m. (Golf Channel).