Phil Mickelson is presented a trophy and jacket after winning the 2013 Waste Management Phoenix Open. Phil begins his defense on Thursday. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

PGA TOUR: Storylines for the Waste Management Phoenix Open

On the heels of an exciting but surprisingly Tiger-free final round in San Diego, the PGA TOUR heads to TPC Scottsdale for the Waste Management Phoenix Open.  The event, famous for its raucous crowds, usually serves as the antagonist to the tame and often stuffy crowds of the PGA slate.  Here are the top angles to the upcoming action.

Lefty’s back - Score one for ambiguous titles. Phil Mickelson returns to the land of his alma matter (Arizona State) to defend his title from last years event. But the bigger story might be the condition of Phil’s actual back. Last week Phil was forced to withdraw from the Farmers Insurance Open due to tightness in his back that developed after the first round.  He saw a back specialist this week in Georgia, and claims he’s got his mobility back.  He seemed very tepid when asked if he was going to play, remaining non-committal and saying only that he’ll give it a try.  Can Lefty get himself right and march forward in defense of the trophy; or will this be the first sign of age catching up with him?

The death of fun - The WMPO is one of the few places on TOUR where crowds aren’t expected to behave by the conventions of a game, considered by most on the outside, to be elitist and fun-hating.  The 16th in Scottsdale used to serve as my proof that we’re not all a bunch of snobs who talk about our portfolios on the course.  My proof that golf can be an awesome spectator sport, full of unbridled passion and good ol’ American heckling.  So when the PGA TOUR announced last August that caddie races (for the uninitiated, it’s exactly what it sounds like) were no longer allowed it took me by surprise.  The reasons for the ban were…suspect.

We developed a little concern about caddies’ safety. Running 150 yards puts caddies at risk for injury.

Yeah, that’s a real quote. Apparently, 450 feet of running with a golf bag is hazardous to the health of those who carry these bags 20 miles a week for a living. For those like me, who think that golf often misses the mark on harnessing the power of spectacle, it was hard to hear.  It now only seems like a matter of time until the hammer comes down on the rest of the fun at this great event.

The last bastion of fun - And speaking of this great event, “The greatest show on grass” has been a staple of the PGA TOUR for nearly 80 years.  However, it’s only since it’s move to TPC Scottsdale in 1987 that it’s taken on such an awesome personality.  The sonic wave of a mostly shirtless crowd is hardly even muffled as players take aim on a hole that could cost them six figures.  If the result of said shot isn’t up to snuff, the crowd will turn on a player, almost as a way to let the next contestant know what’s in store if they don’t satiate the blood (and vodka) thirsty masses.  The well “lubricated”, college heavy gallery has transformed a classic golf tournament into a four-day long Super Bowl party.  With a strong field, a great course and the best atmosphere in sports; if there is one event to watch before the Masters, this is it.

Tags: Golf Pga Tour Phil Mickelson Phoenix Open

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