After a great week at Torrey Pines, it’s time for the PGA Tour to say goodbye to California for the time being. This week, the world’s top pros will head east to TPC Scottsdale for the Waste Management Phoenix Open, one of the top fan draws in the game.
At last year’s event, the jam-packed galleries were treated to a thrilling Sunday that ended with a tense sudden death playoff between eventual winner Hideki Matsuyama and runner-up Rickie Fowler. With a strong field set for this week, there’s no telling how things will shake out, but one thing is for sure: the fans will be out in droves, and they will be loud.
Here are 10 of the best bets for success at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
1. Justin Thomas
World rank: 8 / Back-to-back PGA Tour victories
After a couple weeks off, this Alabama product should be refreshed and ready to continue his winning streak. Coming off back-to-back victories in Hawaii, Thomas has risen to No. 8 in the world ranking and now has an undeniable place among the game’s elite. Success leads to expectations, however, and expectations will be high as Thomas rolls into TPC Scottsdale, where he’s one-for-two with a tie for 17th in 2015. The bet here is that he can meet them — after all, he ranks inside the top 10 on the PGA Tour in three separate strokes gained categories.
2. Hideki Matsuyama
World rank: 5 / This week’s defending champion
This young gun has experienced inevitable regression in recent weeks, but his track record at the Waste Management Phoenix Open is too good to ignore. Not only will he be the defending champion this week — he also tied for second in 2015 and tied for fourth in 2014, making him the most dangerous course horse in the field. His last two PGA Tour starts have been a far cry from his outstanding run from late last year, which featured four worldwide victories, but we have to trust that a return to TPC Scottsdale will revitalize his game. If it doesn’t, then something’s up.
3. Jordan Spieth
World rank: 6 / Back-to-back third-place finishes
While Day, Johnson and McIlroy have each struggled in their own way to start the new year, Spieth has been in top-notch form. The two-time major champion has kicked off 2017 by notching back-to-back third-place finishes: one at the SBS Tournament of Champions, the other at the Sony Open in Hawaii. His putter cooled off at Wailele, but he was outstanding from the fairway at both events, a skill that will certainly come in handy at TPC Scottsdale this week. He also tied for seventh in his Phoenix Open debut back in 2015, so history is on his side.
4. Jon Rahm
World rank: 46 / Winner of the Farmers Insurance Open
It didn’t take long for this young Spaniard to deliver on his considerable promise — less than a year after finishing as the low amateur at the U.S. Open, Rahm was the big winner at last week’s Farmers Insurance Open, finishing birdie-eagle en route to a three-stroke victory. It was his first top 10 of the new year, but also his third top 15 in five starts on the new PGA Tour season. What’s more, he tied for fifth at the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, so he’s come close to winning this week’s event in the past. With his talent, the sky’s the limit.
5. Ryan Moore
World rank: 28 / Five consecutive top-25 finishes
This Washington native has really figured out how to contend at TPC Scottsdale. Moore has found the top 20 in each of the last four Waste Management Phoenix Opens, finishing in solo fourth in 2013 and in a tie for sixth the following year. With that kind of track record, he should ride a wave of confidence into this week. He’s also found the top 25 in each of his last five PGA Tour starts dating back to last fall, most recently tying for third at the SBS Tournament of Champions. Trends are converging in a big way for Moore — we’ll see if he can seize this opportunity and deliver.
6. Tony Finau
World rank: 72 / Three consecutive top-20 finishes
After getting the new year off to a solid start in Hawaii, Finau really turned on the jets at Torrey Pines last week. There, the Utah native contended throughout the weekend and ended up in a tie for fourth, firing two midweek rounds in the 60s before a Sunday fade on the back nine. With plenty of momentum on his side, he should feel good about his chances in Arizona this week — he did tie for 22nd in his tournament debut back in 2015. If he can keep driving the ball like he has been, that second PGA Tour win won’t be far off.
7. Charles Howell III
World rank: 64 / Six consecutive top-15 finishes
This Georgia native stepped up to the plate in a big way last week, continuing his ultra-consistent run with a tie for second at the Farmers Insurance Open. That makes six top 15 finishes in a row, so we’ve got no reason to doubt him as the PGA Tour heads east to Arizona. Like with many of the early-season courses, Howell’s track record at TPC Scottsdale is nothing to sneeze at: 12-for-14 with six top 25s, including a tie for sixth in 2014. Given how consistent he’s been, there’s no reason to have any reservations about his chances this week.
8. Bubba Watson
World rank: 12 / Top 15 in each of last five WMPOs
Watson has been uncharacteristically quiet over the past 12 months, but that’s not to say he won’t be able to get anything going at TPC Scottsdale, a course that’s been immensely kind to his game over the years. He’s found the top 15 in each of his last five trips, reeling off back-to-back runner-up finishes in 2014 and 2015. In terms of recent form, his game hasn’t quite been there, but perhaps some offseason downtime did him some good. On a course that’s yielded so many positive results in the past, he gets the benefit of the doubt.
9. Pat Perez
World rank: 71 / Four top 10s in last five starts
This Arizona State product has been in outstanding form for weeks now — his tie for fourth at last week’s Farmers Insurance Open was his third top five finish in his last four starts, a stretch that includes a win at the OHL Classic in Mayakoba. This uptick in form has been supported by the statistics, as he ranks among the better half of the PGA Tour in both strokes gained: around-the-green and strokes gained: putting, as well as greens in regulation. Those skills, along with a solid track record at TPC Scottsdale — four top 30s in his last six appearances — should see him through to a good performance this week.
10. Phil Mickelson
World rank: 20 / Three consecutive top-25 finishes
With solid results to start the new year, Mickelson has earned the final spot on this week’s rundown of contenders. With three wins and a host of other high finishes in his Waste Management Phoenix Open career, he’ll attract some of the largest galleries of the week, and with three straight top 25s to open the 2016-17 PGA Tour season, he’s playing well enough to give the fans something to cheer about. If he can keep striking the ball as well as he did at Torrey Pines last week, then the birdies will come easy.