World-number-five Hideki Matsuyama is gunning for three consecutive wins at the Waste Management Phoenix Open this week.
Both of the Japanese-star’s past two wins have come after four holes of a play-off having seen off Rickie Fowler in 2016 and most recently Webb Simpson in 2017.Embed from Getty Images
Steve Stricker is the last man to have won the same event three years in a row when he claimed the John Deere Classic title back-to-back-to-back between 2009 and 2011. No-one has ever gone three-in-a-row through play-off wins, though.
Matsuyama enters here in a rich vein of form with three consecutive top fives. Most recently he finished tied fourth at the Sentry Tournament of Champions; that, however, has been his only start of 2018.
Man-of-the-moment Jon Rahm will garner most of the attention this week. Before stuttering to a tied 29th at his Farmers Insurance Open defence with a weekend of 75 and 77, the Spaniard’s had a run of first, second, first and has marched up to world-number-two.Embed from Getty Images
That has put him ahead of Jordan Spieth and Player-of-the-Year Justin Thomas, now third and fourth, who also both enter this week, making it only Dustin Johnson from the world’s top five not entering.
Two-time runner up Fowler makes it six of the world’s top 10 teeing off at TPC Scottsdale as he looks to go one better than he has before; the other man to go toe-to-toe with Matsuyama for the title – Simpson – is back, too.
In last week’s event, the Farmers Insurance Open, still going on, Alex Noren has taken Jason Day to an extended Monday Play-Off. If he wins he will head straight to Arizona in an attempt to make it a first and second PGA Tour title in as many weeks.
Other notable entrants this week include Marc Leishman, Matt Kuchar, Charley Hoffman, Francesco Molinari, Rookie-of-the-Year Xander Scaufelle, Kevin Chappell, Tony Finau and two-time winner already this season and current FedExCup leader Patton Kizzire.
Three of Phil Mickelson’s 42 PGA Tour wins have come at this event and he will look to add to that this week and end a winless drought spanning back almost five years. It is his 29th appearance here and in his 2013 outing he equalled Mark Calcavecchia’s record of 256 (28-under-par); Lefty and Calcavecchia are the joint most successful players of this event with three wins apiece, alongside the late Arnold Palmer.Embed from Getty Images
As well as Matsuyama and Mickelson, Kyle Stanley (2012), Hunter Mahan (2010), J.B. Holmes (2006 and 2008) and Aaron Baddeley (2007) are all past winners making an attempt to add to their Phoenix Open tally again.
Despite all the big names, big prize money and FedExCup points on offer, this event is renowned for one thing: the atmosphere.
Every year half a million spectators flood to TPC Scottsdale’s Stadium Course making its golf’s best attended event. The one week record for a golf event was set here in 2016 with a total of 618,365 fans.
It is perhaps the only event in golf that promotes noise and raucousness. The par-three 16th – known as ‘The Colosseum’ – is surrounded by a grandstand of 20,000 rowdy spectators all desperate to see an ace. Flashback to the scenes of Tiger Woods’ hole-in-one in 1997:
There is golf as well as partying at TPC Scottsdale too, though. The Stadium Course measures in at 7,266 yards playing to a par of 71. It is no walk in the park, as winning scores usually fall in the mid-teens below par. Although going very low, as both Mickelson and Calcavecchia have proved, is possible.
The prize-fund is $6.9million dollars ($1.242million winner’s share) and the standard 500 FedExCup points are on offer.
2018 is well underway and the game’s biggest names are starting to take their strides this season.