Rory McIlroy said it was “sort of obvious” to make the Waste Management Phoenix Open one of the new designated events on the PGA Tour, although he has yet to experience the full party scene at TPC Scottsdale.
The World No. 1 is making only his second appearance at the event. His first was in 2021, when crowds were limited to 5,000 per day due to COVID-19 restrictions.
This week, McIlroy will be playing among hundreds of thousands of fans who will descend upon the course for the tour’s ultimate party scene.
“I’m looking forward to it this week in some ways, but it’s going to be an experience,” he acknowledged Wednesday.
The $20 million purse and $3.6 million winner’s check this week tie last year’s Players Championship for the biggest in tour history. It has helped draw one of the strongest fields in tournament history to an event that some players typically avoid due to the raucous atmosphere.
McIlroy is one of 22 players among the top 25 in the Official World Golf Rankings in the field.
“I think this tournament is a wonderful spectacle for the game of golf,” he said. “I think to have hundreds of thousands of fans at this event, I mean, I think it was obvious that this was one that needed to have that status.
“Just because it’s such a fan favorite, and players like it, players love the atmosphere. I think a lot of players like the golf course, as well.”
That said, McIlroy more or less needed to play the Phoenix Open after opting to skip the year-opening Tournament of Champions on Maui — the first designated event on the calendar. He’s embracing the atmosphere but like many of his fellow players, McIlroy is happy that it’s not a weekly experience on tour.
“I think if we were to have an event like this every single week or even five or 10 events like this on the schedule, I think it might be a little bit too much,” he said. “But I think to have a golf tournament where most of the fans here aren’t here to watch the golf, right; it’s a different environment, and that’s totally fine.
“If we’re talking about growing the game, that’s a way to do it.”
Growing the game has been a hot-button topic for McIlroy in his stance against the LIV Golf Series, which has lured several marquee players away from the PGA Tour with massive guaranteed contracts. With 54-hole, no-cut events and no established feeder tours, McIlroy has been outspoken in his view that the upstart rival is doing nothing to grow the game of golf.
He has been doing just as much talking with his play over the past six months.
After winning the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup title for the second time in August, McIlroy played just one fall event. He won the CJ Cup before finishing solo fourth at the DP World Championship and beginning 2023 with a win at the Dubai Desert Classic.
This week, McIlroy will attempt to become the first player to win three consecutive starts on the PGA Tour since Dustin Johnson in 2016-17.
He arrived in Phoenix ranked No. 1 ahead of defending champion Scottie Scheffler and red-hot Jon Rahm, and McIlroy provided a one-word answer when asked if he feels like the best player in the world.
–Field Level Media