10 Players to Watch: Waste Management Phoenix Open

  1. Bubba Watson, United States — Although he has never won in nine appearances at TPC Scottsdale, Watson is overdue. Last year, he closed with a 65 to tie for second, one stroke behind Brooks Koepka. That came a year after he opened with 64-66-68, only to finish in another tie for second after a 71 that left him one shot behind Kevin Stadler. Watson also tied for fifth in 2012 and tied for eighth in 2007 in the Phoenix-area event, in which he has shot par or better in all 34 rounds he has played while compiling a 68.24 scoring average. Watson, No. 5 in the World Golf Rankings, is playing for the first time since he started 2016 with a tie for 10th in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.
  1. Rickie Fowler, United States — You probably can attribute Fowler’s missed cut last week in the Farmers Insurance Open to jetlag after he made the long flight back to California following his victory in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. The last time he failed to make it to the weekend, at the Barclays during the FedEx Cup playoffs last year, he bounced back to win the Deutsche Bank Championship the following week. Fowler, No. 4 in the World Golf Rankings, is making his eighth start in the Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his best result was solo second as a PGA Tour rookie in 2010, one stroke behind Hunter Mahan. Fowler closed with a 67 and certainly did not give it away, as Mahan took the title with an eagle and three birdies down the stretch.
  1. Brandt Snedeker, United States — Snedeker had nothing to apologize for after winning the Farmers Insurance Open last week, even though he did not hit a shot during the Monday finish caused by heavy rain and strong winds. He posted his 3-under-par 69, four strokes better than next-best score, a day earlier before the final round was halted by the weather. It was Snedeker’s eighth PGA Tour victory, and it came after he lost in a playoff to Fabian Gomez of Argentina at the Sony Open in Hawaii and tied for third in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions last month. He is making his 10th appearance at TPC Scottsdale, and he was in the hunt most of the way in 2013 with four scores of 66 or better before finishing solo second, four strokes behind Phil Mickelson.
  1. Hideki Matsuyama, Japan — It was something of a surprise when the consistent Matsuyama missed the cut for the second straight year in the Farmers Insurance Open last week because he failed to reach the weekend only twice in 25 events on the PGA Tour last year. However, he is coming back to TPC Scottsdale, where he took an instant liking to the course two years ago in his first appearance. Matsuyama reeled off four scores in the 60s to finish in a tie for fourth, two strokes behind winner Kevin Stadler, and a year ago he was even better, playing the weekend in 63-67 to wind up in a tie for second, one shot behind Brooks Koepka. He is seeking his second PGA Tour victory after winning the 2014 Memorial.
  1. Brooks Koepka, United States — Making the first title defense of his career at TPC Scottsdale, Koepka is playing on the PGA Tour for the first time since he started 2016 with a tie for third in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. He won in Arizona last year the first time he played the course, closing with a 5-under-par 66 to beat Bubba Watson, Ryan Palmer and Hideki Matsuyama by one shot. Koepka, who claimed five titles in Europe after turning pro in 2012, holed a 51-foot birdie putt from off the green at No. 15 to pull into a tie for the lead with Martin Laird of Scotland, who opened the door by finishing bogey-double bogey. The victory was one of his eight top-10s last year, including a tie for fifth in the PGA Championship.
  1. Jason Dufner, United States — Coming off his playoff victory in the CareerBuilder Challenge two weeks ago, Dufner will try to continue his hot start to the 2015-16 season. He has top-10 finishes in his past three outings, one more than he posted last season, and he is playing like the guy who captured the 2013 PGA Championship. Dufner is making his sixth appearance in the Waste Management Phoenix Open, and although he missed the cut in his last two trips to TPC Scottsdale, he has some good memories there, too. He ripped off four scores in the 60s in 2011, but Mark Wilson beat him with a 9-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole. One year later, he held the first-round lead with a 7-under-par 64 and finished in a tie for eighth.
  1. Kevin Kisner, United States — The FedEx Cup points leader for much of the early 2015-16 season, Kisner tries to continue his brilliant run this week at TPC Scottsdale after taking a two-week break. He placed in the top 10 in his last four tournaments, starting with a runner-up finish in the WGC-HSBC Champions in China before he claimed his first victory on the PGA Tour in the RSM Classic to wrap up the fall portion of the schedule. Kisner came back after the holidays to tie for ninth in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and tie for fifth in the Sony Open in Hawaii. This will be his third start in the Waste Management Phoenix Open. He tied for 55th with bookend 69s in 2012, and he shot 72-72–144 to miss the cut by one shot last year.
  1. David Lingmerth, Sweden — Lingmerth’s bid to make both the Swedish Olympic team for the Games in Rio de Janeiro in August and the European Team for the Ryder Cup in October at Hazeltine continues this week at TPC Scottsdale. He put himself in solid position two weeks ago in the CareerBuilder Challenge, losing in a playoff to Jason Dufner despite posting a 62 in the second round. Lingmerth also tied for 15th in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and tied for 13th at the Sony Open in Hawaii last month. This will be only his second appearance in the Waste Management Phoenix Open; he tied for 42nd in 2014, shooting 68-68 in the middle rounds. Lingmerth has played the best golf of his career since winning the Memorial last June.
  1. J.B. Holmes, United States — With a chance to win last week in the wind and rain at the Farmers Insurance Open, Holmes did better than most with a closing 76, but all it got him was a tie for sixth. He moves on this week to TPC Scottsdale, where he has claimed two of his four victories on the PGA Tour. In 2006, he won for the first time on the circuit by reeling off four scores in the 60s to wind up seven strokes ahead of five players. Holmes won the Waste Management Phoenix Open again two years later, getting into a playoff with Phil Mickelson by making a birdie on the final hole of regulation before winning with a 6-foot birdie putt on the only playoff hole. His best finish since was a tie for fifth in 2011.
  1. Phil Mickelson, United States — After probably the worst season of his PGA Tour career, Lefty opened the new year with a promising tie for third in the CareerBuilder Challenge, but his revamped swing did not hold up last week when he missed the cut in the Farmers Insurance Open — his hometown event. After opening the year with fives scores in the 60s, he struggled to a 76 on the easier North Course at Torrey Pines and missed the weekend by two strokes. This week he plays in his adopted hometown at TPC Scottsdale, not far from where he was an All-American at Arizona State. Mickelson has won the Waste Management Phoenix Open three times, tied with Mark Calcavecchia for the most titles in tournament history. Lefty’s victories came in 1996, 2005 and 2013.

–Courtesy of The Sports Xchange, TSX Golf Editor Tom LaMarre

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