WM Phoenix Open Player Profiles

Tom MackinJanuary 20, 2024
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Last year, we traded scorecards with such PGA Tour favorites as Justin Thomas, Sam Ryder and Collin Morikawa. Now, we return with seven golfers to know on the eve of the 2024 tournament – including the hard-driving Texan gunning for a hat trick.

By Tom Mackin | Photos courtesy WMPO

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DEFENDING CHAMPION: Scottie Scheffler

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: 6 PGA Tour wins, including the 2022 Masters

BEST WMPO FINISH: 1 (2022, 2023)

It was déjà vu all over again for Scottie Scheffler in 2023 as he reached the winner’s circle at the WM Phoenix Open for the second consecutive time. While the end result was the same as the previous year, the manner in which he earned the trophy was quite a bit different.

Rather than sweating out a three-hole playoff as he did in 2022 – beating Patrick Cantlay, profiled on page 48 – Scheffler stood on the 18th tee in the final round with a comfortable three-stroke lead over Nick Taylor. Four swings later, he finished a final-round 65 to capture his fifth career PGA Tour win. He also earned the opportunity to make some tournament history this year. 

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While Scheffler became the seventh player to successfully defend his title – preceded most recently by Hideki Matsuyama, who pulled off the back-to-back in 2016 and 2017 – a Phoenix Open hat trick is almost unheard of. Only Arnold Palmer has won it three times in a row, a feat he accomplished in 1961, 1962 and 1963. If Scheffler ties Palmer with another win this year, he’ll also become the first to complete a trifecta at the same tournament since Steve Stricker did so in 2011 at the John Deere Classic. 

“It was a good fight out there,” Scheffler told media after the final round. “Jon [Rahm] played pretty good on the front nine. Then Nick played pretty fantastic the whole day. He was making a lot of putts. It was a good battle. It was a lot of fun. I was fortunate to come out on top this time.”

Scheffler prevailed despite a rare erratic day with his driver, hitting just five of 14 fairways off his tee shots. “I hit some wild shots off the tee that were pretty uncharacteristic for how I usually shape the ball,” he said. “I was just able to grind it out, make a lot of putts. I think I only had two bogeys this week, which is really, really good around this golf course.”

And there’s no doubt about his affection for TPC Scottsdale. Whether he channels that affection into a super-rare third championship will be one of the most compelling storylines this February at the TPC.

“I love the environment here,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun to play. I think the firmness of the golf course really suits me. Having the ability to play a lot of different shots. Hit it high, hit it low.

The wind this week brought a new challenge that we hadn’t had around this golf course since I’ve been playing this tournament. So, it was definitely a good challenge and was a fun week.”

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Patrick Cantlay

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Eight PGA Tour wins, including the 2021 Tour Championship and twice at The Memorial
Tournament (2019, 2021)

WMPO APPEARANCES: 2 

BEST WMPO FINISH: 2 (2022)

The Southern California native can be a polarizing figure (e.g. “Hat Gate” during the 2023 Ryder Cup, when he refused to wear a team cap playing for the U.S. in Italy), but few question his superb on-course talent. The 31-year-old was born on St. Patrick’s Day, but the luck of the Irish was not with him during his first WM Phoenix Open in 2022, when he lost on the third playoff hole to eventual champion Scottie Scheffler. Will a third WM Phoenix Open appearance be the charm for the UCLA product?

QUOTABLE: “I love [the 16th hole]. I think it’s cool that you can step up there and freeze it in there and make everyone go nuts and make a birdie. Like I said, if it was every week, it would maybe get a little old, but the novelty of it being one week out of the year and one hole out of the year, I think it’s all right.” 

— Cantlay on the 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale

DID YOU KNOW?

Cantlay’s longest drive during last year’s WM Phoenix Open measured 364 yards, which placed him tied for a mere 34th in that category. 

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Xander Schauffele 

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Seven PGA TOUR wins, including three in 2022

WMPO APPEARANCES: 6

BEST WMPO FINISH: T2 (2021)

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Here’s one San Diego-area native who loves coming to the desert, and especially TPC Scottsdale. Schauffele (pronounced: SHAO-fil-eh) has made six appearances at the WM Phoenix Open since 2019, and each performance landed the 30-year-old in the Top 20, including second- and third-place finishes in the past three years. Trained as a golfer by his French-German immigrant father, the former PGA Rookie of the Year (2017) is looking for his first Major championship in 2024, having finished second at both the 2018 Open Championship and the 2019 Masters.

QUOTABLE: “At the end of the day, you’re maybe a little bit more mentally drained than normal. Just a little bit more focused. There’s a lot of really good holes on this course that demand a lot of focus, and when there’s a lot of stuff going on and you’re waiting on a tee box for 20 minutes, you still have to step up and sort of sack up and hit a really good shot.”  

— Schauffele on playing in the WM Phoenix Open

DID YOU KNOW?

Schauffele won the gold medal for the USA in golf during the 2021 Summer Olympics in Japan.

Wyndham Clark 

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: 2 PGA Tour wins, including the 2023 U.S. Open

WMP APPEARANCES: 5 (starting in 2018)

BEST WMPO FINISH: 10th (2023)

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The 30-year-old exploded on the scene in 2023 with his first two PGA Tour wins: the Wells Fargo Championship and a very unexpected major title at the U.S. Open, where his mental game finally matched up with his physical skills. He didn’t let up too much after the latter, either, with three more Top-25 finishes, including a third place in the TOUR Championship. A Colorado native, where he won two state championships in high school, Clark graduated from the University of Oregon, where he won the Pac-12 conference championship in 2016. 

QUOTABLE: “I mean, we joke about it, the front nine is still electric, there’s still great fans and a great feel, but when you start getting to 15, I mean you just kind of get amped up. And you could see it in our group’s play, we all started making birdies at the end and you just feed off that energy.” 

  Clark on the atmosphere at the WM Phoenix Open

DID YOU KNOW?

Clark shot a career-best 61 in the first round of the 2020 WM Phoenix Open (but finished 34th overall). 

Cameron Young 

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Played on the winning U.S. team at the 2022 Presidents Cup

WMPO APPEARANCES: 2 (2022, 2023)

BEST WMPO FINISH: T26 (2022)

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One of the longest drivers on Tour is still searching for his first career PGA Tour win. The 26-year-old has knocked on the winner’s door with five second-place finishes in the past two years, but is still searching for this first title, perhaps finding it this year in the desert. To his benefit: the 2022 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year is plenty comfortable on golf’s biggest stages, with four Top-10 finishes in his last eight major championships. Young grew up at Sleepy Hollow Country Club, an esteemed private club in a New York City suburb, where he learned the game from his father, longtime golf pro David Young. 

QUOTABLE: “I mean, [the string of second-place finishes are] all disappointing. I don’t know. I finished second again. It’s a little frustrating. But I beat some really good players this week and I played some good golf, so I can’t complain.” 

  Young after finishing second at the 2023 World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play

DID YOU KNOW?

During the 2023 season, Young averaged 315 yards off the tee, 11 yards behind PGA Tour leader Rory McIlroy. 

Sam Burns 

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: 5 PGA Tour wins, including the 2023 World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play

WMPO APPEARANCES: 5 (starting in 2019)

BEST WMPO FINISH: T6 (2023) 

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With a dozen Top-10 finishes in 2023, to go with 10 the previous season, this Louisiana native is displaying the consistency needed to be a regular figure near the very top of PGA Tour leaderboards for a long time to come. The key to his recent success? That comes on the greens, where the 27-year-old ranked fourth in total putting during the 2023 season. An avid hunter and fisherman, Burns played at LSU, where he earned NCAA Division 1 Jack Nicklaus National Player of the Year honors in 2017, following Jon Rahm of ASU, who won it the previous year. 

QUOTABLE: “Well, I think you have to pick and choose around this place [TPC Scottsdale]. You get a little wind, some tucked pins, you can get yourself in kind of a tough situation around the greens.” 

  Burns on the challenge of playing in the WM Phoenix Open

DID YOU KNOW?

Burns shot a 64 during last year’s third round, tying his lowest WM Phoenix Open score from 2021.  

Corey Conners 

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Won the 2019 and 2023 Valero Texas Open

WMPO APPEARANCES: 4 (starting in 2020)

BEST WMPO FINISH: T17 (2021)

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It’s been 56 years since George Knudson became the first and only Canadian to win the WM Phoenix Open. The 32-year-old Conners, an Ontario native, might be next. He is coming off a 2023 season where he had 10 Top-20 finishes, highlighted by his second career win at the Valero Texas Open in April. Conners, who advanced to the TOUR Championship in four of the last five years, is a Toronto Maple Leafs fan and played on a Provincial Hockey Championship-winning high school squad.  

QUOTABLE: “You know, probably not very likely [odds of his winning the 2023 Valero Texas Open]. I felt great about my game, but it’s so difficult to win on the PGA TOUR. Feel like I’ve been working really hard and haven’t been able to get it done for the last four years, but it sure feels sweet, and I definitely love Texas.” 

  Conners after his second PGA Tour win

DID YOU KNOW?

Conners studied actuarial mathematics at Kent State University in Ohio, where he was a two-time Academic All-American.