For sports fans and bettors, this weekend’s main sporting attraction is undoubtedly the Super Bowl. The American Gaming Association projects a whopping 50 million Americans will wager on the game.
But the Super Bowl isn’t the only meaningful sporting event in Phoenix this week. The WM Phoenix Open, a PGA Tour event that embraces rowdy fans, is a golfing event unlike any other. The tournament stopped tracking official attendance numbers after the 2018 event, but it reported that more than 700,000 fans attended the four-day tournament that year.
It’s not just the atmosphere that makes this week special, however, as this year’s event is deemed a “designated event” by the PGA Tour, which means an increased purse size and an elite strength of field.
Of the top 24 players in the world who are eligible to play the Phoenix Open, 23 will be in attendance. That’s a major-like strength of field.
— Kyle Porter (@KylePorterCBS) February 5, 2023
“Very few sporting events in the world can comfortably be happening the same week as the Super Bowl and still have the impact that they have like this one,” Jon Rahm, the third-ranked player in the world, said in a pre-tournament press conference.
Busy week in Phoenix
The marquee event figures to draw notable interest from fans and bettors in Arizona this week. Coupled with the Super Bowl, it’s a special week for sports fans in the area.
David Grolman, Caesars Sportsbook’s senior vice president and chief retail sportsbook officer, spoke with US Bets about the week ahead. Caesars has a strong presence in Arizona, including a large retail sportsbook at Chase Field.
The Chase Field location includes outdoor seating, and with forecasts calling for sunny skies and 70-degree weather, Grolman expects strong attendance all week at the retail location.
“Everything is kind of lining up perfectly for us with the weather, the golf tournament, the Super Bowl,” Grolman said. “It’s pretty amazing, right?”
Grolman says that even without the Super Bowl in town, the Phoenix Open crowds would lead to an expected increase in foot traffic at the retail sportsbook. With both happening the same week, Grolman and company anticipate engaged fans visiting all week.
While Super Bowl pre-game coverage will be popular during the week and on the weekend, Grolman expects the Phoenix Open to be a popular viewing request for many visiting the establishment Thursday-Sunday.
“Hopefully folks will come down and enjoy it,” Grolman said. “We’ll have it on as many big screens as we can get it.”
This year’s Phoenix Open will also be the last without a retail sportsbook on site. DraftKings is opening a retail sportsbook at TPC Scottsdale, a fitting addition to a golf tournament that appeals in particular to casual sports fans.
Construction recently began at the location, which is expected to be completed in the fall of 2023. The sportsbook will be open to the general public year round, although during the tournament the sportsbook will be used for hospitality.
“With a company like ours, you can choose to have an experience where you sit on your couch on your phone or you can come to a venue where there’s a lot more people and you can feed off the energy. … That’s why we do these things,” DraftKings Chief Business Officer Ezra Kucharz told Golfweek.
The PGA Tour embraces sports betting as a form of entertainment to engage fans. The organization partnered with The Action Network in 2020 to create Golfbet.com, which has since shifted entirely under the PGA Tour’s control in 2023. Will Gray, who used to work at NBC and Golf Channel, spearheads the coverage that includes scoring and odds data.
PGA Tour vs. LIV Golf
From a broad golf perspective, 2023 figures to be a fascinating year for the sport, and the Phoenix Open feels like an unofficial start to the PGA Tour season. LIV Golf, a new competitor to the PGA Tour with financial backing from the Saudi Arabian government, recently announced its 2023 schedule. LIV’s first event will come at the end of the month in Mexico.
LIV also recently announced a TV deal with The CW. While the tour didn’t attract significant attention from fans or bettors in 2022, LIV hopes a TV deal may turn those tides and help the league grow significantly.
Jeff Sherman, SuperBook Sports’ vice president of risk and golf oddsmaker, has his doubts about the TV deal’s impact on betting handle.
“I’m not expecting much of a difference from what we saw last year even with the TV deal,” Sherman said. “First of all, that TV [channel] isn’t something people gravitate to when they’re looking for sports. You’re gonna have to have knowledge of where that is to go find it.”
While LIV might not be making as much of a dent in the PGA Tour’s business as it hopes, the new tour has undoubtedly impacted the PGA Tour. The tour, in part reacting to a more competitive landscape, decided to elevate certain 2023 events, designating key tournaments with increased financial prizes. There’s an agreement that those who finished in the top 20 of the 2022 Player Impact Program will play in at least 16 of the 17 designated events this year.
For fans and bettors, that means more interest in those events. The Phoenix Open fits that bill.
“When you have all the main golfers playing in Phoenix, we’ll probably do more [handle] than what we had normally done on Phoenix by an extra third, I’d say,” Sherman.
Netflix also plans to release Full Swing, a documentary on the PGA Tour, next week. The behind-the-scenes look at tour players is aimed at making golf more appealing to the average viewer, which could in turn lead to increased interest in the sport from casual bettors.
“I think there will be some type of increase from it,” Sherman said. “Remains to be seen how much that will be, but I definitely think there will be some.”
It’s win or go home.
Full Swing — your new sports doc obsession from the creators of Drive to Survive — premieres February 15. pic.twitter.com/QEq7DlxXrx
— Netflix (@netflix) February 6, 2023
Handicapping the Phoenix Open
As for this week’s tournament, FanDuel pegs Rahm (+700) as the betting favorite. Rory McIlroy is close behind with +800 odds to win the event. Scottie Scheffler (+1300), Xander Schauffele (+1400), and Collin Morikawa (+1600) are among the top contenders just behind Rahm and McIlroy.
Several standout players have attractive odds, including Cam Young at +2800, Viktor Hovland at +3000, and Sahith Theegala at +4500, among others.
The odds of a hole-in-one occurring on the 16th hole is boosted from +250 to +300 on DraftKings. The sportsbook lists the odds of a hole-in-one occurring on any hole during the tournament at -165. Bettors can wager on no ace occurring at +115 odds.
Caesars Sportsbook is among the mobile sportsbooks with cross-sport prop bets this week involving the Super Bowl. Among those is a wager for there to be a hole-in-one during the Phoenix Open and Jalen Hurts to score a rushing touchdown during the Super Bowl. The odds for that wager are +270.
FanDuel includes a unique cross-sport prop of “Scorigami occurring in the Super Bowl and a hole-in-one on No. 16 at the Phoenix Open” at +8000 in its offerings this week. FanDuel has over a dozen cross-sport prop bets involving the winner of the Super Bowl and the winner of the golf tournament. The Eagles to win the Super Bowl and Rahm or McIlroy to win the Phoenix Open is +650, and the same prop with the Chiefs instead of the Eagles has +700 odds.
Photo: Mike Mulholland/Getty Images