PHOENIX, February 25 – Phil Mickelson returns to action at the Phoenix Open this week, with a new sponsor backing the venerable tournament that has become famous for its raucous fans.
"It’s just a special tournament," said Mickelson, who attended Arizona State university and lived for some time in the Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale. "I think guys that have gone to ASU and lived here, grown up here, this is really a neat event. It provides an experience that you just don’t get week in and week out."
Mickelson skipped last week’s WGC Match Play Championship to go on a delayed family vacation.
He has twice won this event, which is in its 75th year, lifting the trophy in 1996 and 2005.
The party atmosphere reaches its peak at the par-three 16th hole at the TPC Scottsdale, where crowds of more than 10,000 surround the players as if it was a football stadium.
Great shots earn cheers, while the jeers usually damped down in deference to golf decorum also abound.
"I think it was pretty intimidating at first," defending champion Kenny Perry said of the scene at the 16th.
"A lot of people don’t come here because of that hole. They won’t play here because they don’t want them yelling at them and stuff."
But, Perry said, "most of the guys really enjoy it. It’s only one hole a year. We really don’t have this kind of atmosphere anywhere else on the PGA Tour."
PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem calls the atmosphere "unique."
"I don’t think it comes as a shock that we’ve had years where we’ve had some concerns about the, you know, pushing the edge a little bit in terms of the atmosphere that’s created," Finchem said.
But Finchem said the tournament organizers the Thunderbirds "have done a terrific job in the last number of years" in keeping things under control.
Finchem said tour officials are "very comfortable with what’s happening here now."
The tournament lost title sponsor FBR, an investment firm, last year, but new sponsor Waste Management stepped in in December.