Newly-minted Super Bowl winning quarterback Matthew Stafford was not the only one to experience his first victory on Sunday.
Scottie Scheffler saw the ultimate validation of his hard work, transmuting himself from the “best on Tour without a win” label to “PGA Tour Champion,” by coming from behind to win the WM Phoenix Open on a third playoff hole against reigning PGA Tour Player of the year Patrick Cantlay.
Prior to this week, the 25-year-old University of Texas product had done everything on tour but win. After excelling on the Korn Ferry Tour and being named its Player of the Year in 2019, Scheffler notched 15 top-10s in his first two seasons in the big leagues, joined the rare 59 Club, and was a star for the winning American Ryder Cup team – obliterating a heavily-favored Jon Rahm in Sunday singles. The confidence this win could bring should be scary to the rest of the Tour.
At numerous points this week, however, a Scheffler win seemed very unlikely at TPC Scottsdale, the Phoenix-area host venue. After a mediocre second-round 71, he found himself just one stroke ahead of the cut line. He was so far back that his Saturday group started on the back-nine, but Scheffler found his groove with a 9-under 62 to vault into a share of third place, just two strokes behind the 54-hole lead of Tour rookie Sahith Theegala. The tournament-low score even punched a ticket into Sunday’s final threesome alongside Theegala, and defending champion Brooks Koepka.
While Scheffler was able to stay hot with birdies on 2 and 3, bogeys on 5, 7, and 8 killed his momentum, as he played the front-nine even-par while most of the leaderboard was in red figures. After canceling out a birdie on 10 with a bogey on 12, the tournament mostly looked like it would come down to Cantlay, Theegala, and recent gold medalist Xander Schaffele.
Scheffler then found his second wind: he birdied Nos. 13, 14, and 15 to reassert himself as a serious contender, and after another birdie on 17, he found himself tied for the lead at 16-under with Cantlay, who surprisingly missed a short birdie putt on the 18th hole from one group ahead. Meanwhile, Schauffele could have joined Cantlay and Scheffler, but he missed an 11-footer on 18 of his own, and suddenly stood on the final tee box needing a birdie to win.
A perfect drive combined with an immaculate approach shot had Scheffler just five feet away from locking up his first Tour win, and in style in front of the most raucous crowd in golf. However, like Cantlay and Schauffele, he missed the short birdie putt, leading to a Sunday score of 4-under 67 and a playoff with Cantlay. Theegala could have made it a three-man playoff, but narrowly missed a chip shot for birdie. The 24-year-old’s tie for third was, by far, the best finish of his young career.
Scheffler’s potential victory again felt unlikely, as he had to put aside missing a short putt to win, and attempt to oust a man who won four tournaments and the FedExCup last season. Scheffler had contended many times in his two-plus year Tour career, several times in high profile events, but this was the first time he was involved in a playoff. The world No. 4 Cantlay was likely feeling confident.
Again, it came down to putts on the 18th hole. After matching each other with pars on the first two playoff holes, which were both also on 18, Scheffler sunk a birdie attempt from 25-feet away, placing the pressure on Cantlay. Attempting a birdie of his own to extend the playoff, Cantlay missed from 11-feet, clinching the tournament for Scheffler.
In addition to Schauffele and Theegala, Koepka, who also won the Phoenix Open in 2015, rallied late to finish at 14 under, good for a T3 finish.
WM Phoenix Open
Pos-Player-To Par (Final Rd)
1. Scottie Scheffler -16 (-4)*
2. Patrick Cantlay -16 (-4)
3. Xander Schauffele -15 (-3)
3. Brooks Koepka -15 (-2)
3. Sahith Theegala -15 (-1)
6. Billy Horschel -14 (-5)
6. Alex Noren -14 (-3)
8. Justin Thomas -13 (-5)
8. Hideki Matsuyama -13 (-2)
10. Jon Rahm -12 (-4)
10. Matt Fitzpatrick -12 (-4)
10. Patton Kizzire -12 (-3)
10. Keith Mitchell -12 (-3)
* Won in playoff
How Scottie Scheffler Won the WM Phoenix Open
Most of those near the lead had clean score cards with few squares, but Scheffler had a roller-coaster Sunday with four bogeys and eight birdies. He went on a tear at just the right time to give himself a chance to win late. He was then able to compose himself after the disappointment on the 72nd hole and better one of the Tour’s best players.
His 26 birdies for the week led the field, and needed every one of them to make up for the eight bogeys and one-double bogey he carded for the week. Scheffler’s best weapon in Phoenix was his putter, as he gained 6.5 strokes to the field with his flat stick, which ranked second in the field. He was also fourth in strokes gained: off-the-tee and eighth in strokes gained: around-the-green.
Scottie Scheffler’s Winning Numbers
Driving: 327.9 yards (13th)
Fairways: 62.50%, 35/56 (T25)
Greens: 77.8%, 56/72 (13)
Putts/GIR: 1.661 (2nd)
Birdies: 26 (1st)
SG Tee to Green: 6.414 (13th)
What the Win in Phoenix Means For Scheffler
Well, he knows he can win on Tour now, giving him confidence that could be lethal. In just seven major championship starts, Scheffler finished in the top 20 in each of his last six, including top 10s in the final three majors of 2021. He will definitely be one to watch on the big stages, if he was not already. This win gives him serious cache.
Scheffler just to 4th in the FedExCup standings, greatly improving his chances of making the Tour Championship for the third time in three Tour seasons. He also moved into the top 10 of the Official World Golf Ranking for the first time, moving from 15th to 9th.
Scottie Scheffler’s 2022 Season
Cuts Made: 8
Wins: 1 (Phoenix)
Additional Top 10s: 2
Earnings: $2,701,814 (3rd)
FedExCup Pts: 972 (4th)
OWGR Before/After: 15/9
Sunday’s Stars in Scottsdale
Billy Horschel began the final day five strokes back of Theegala, but sprinted into the mix early with birdies on 3, 4, and 5. He stayed right on the cusp of the lead until the final groups passed him late.
Horschel finished with a bogey-free 5-under 66, which tied two others for the second-lowest Sunday score, moving him seven spots into a tie for 6th; his best result since winning the BMW Championship, the second leg of the FedExCup Playoffs last September.
Justin Thomas appears to be close to his best form again. Like Horschel, the 14-time Tour winner was among those to shoot a bogey-free 5-under 66 on Sunday. Two birdies in his final three holes was enough to finish 13-under and rise 12 spots up the leaderboard from T20 to T8, his third top 10 in his last four starts.
For the week, Thomas gained 12.7 strokes on the field from tee to green, which ranked second for the week.
World No. 1 Jon Rahm, was a heavy favorite to take the WMPO this week. While he was not quite able to get on the run he needed to move himself from the fringes of contention to right in the mix, Rahm played well on Sunday, shooting a 4-under 67 to move ten spots up the leaderboard to T10, already his third top 10 in five starts in 2022.
In the 2021 season, the product of nearby Arizona State University notched an absurd 15 top 10s in 22 starts, by far the best of anyone on Tour. Sunday’s low round was the 6-under 65 shot by Sung Kang, which rocketed him a field-high 27 spots up the leaderboard from T53 to T26.
Sunday’s Stumbles at Phoenix Open
Talor Gooch ended the 2021 calendar year atop the FedExCup standings, and was still third coming into the Phoenix Open, off the strength of a win at November’s RSM Classic and six other top-20 finishes.
However, a horrific start on Sunday, where he played his first eight holes in +4, and played just even-par from there, Gooch shot a 75, causing him to plummet down the leaderboard from T3 to T26. Only two players in the Sunday field shot a higher score.
Also finishing T26 despite starting the day near the lead was Canada’s Adam Hadwin. Just three off Theegala’s lead, Hadwin bogeyed two of his first three holes, and never really found his footing, shooting a 3-over 74.
Tom Hoge notched his first career victory at last week’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and threatened to pull off a rare back-to-back when he was just three strokes off the 54-hole lead in a tie for 7th. Unfortunately for Hoge, he ran out of gas on Sunday’s back nine after staying in contention with a 2-under on the front, and finished with an even-par 71 to finish in a share of 14th place.
Quotable: Scottie Scheffler
“I’ve had a few putts on this green now. I started to have it figured out pretty good. Teddy and I had a good read on this one. There’s a little flat spot there that does something weird to the putts; it kind of keeps them to the right. Patrick missed both his putts right there to the right in the playoff, and that’s where I missed mine to win in regulation.
“It’s kind of a tricky hole location. This one we got a good read on it and it chased down nicely.”
– Scottie Scheffler, WM Phoenix Open Champion
Final Leaderboard: Scores, Money, Points
WM Phoenix Open | TPC Scottsdale | Scottsdale, AZ | Feb 10-13, 2022