The Super Bowl will definitely be top billing in the sports world this weekend, but the most fervent crowd may be the one loudly cheering on the golfers at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, this week’s PGA Tour event.
Last year, more than 600,000 spectators witnessed Gary Woodland outduel a strong Sunday leaderboard, sneaking into a playoff, and then taking down Chez Reavie.
There are a lot of great players competing in the Super Bowl appetizer, but here are the 15 we like most to come out on top in one of professional golf’s most consistently-thrilling events:
15. Tyrrell Hatton
This will be the Phoenix Open debut for Hatton, an extraordinarily streaky player who – when ‘on,’ performs like an elite-level golfer.
Is his game currently on? Probably not considering that he’s played poorly in his two European Tour starts this month, although those courses tend to be significantly different than what he will see at TPC Scottsdale.
If he can get near contention on Sunday, watch out; in three of his last four PGA Tour starts to close the 2018 season, he posted 64 in the final round.
World Rank: 31st
Field Rank: 14th
Last Six: 38, MC, 22, 22, 14, 2
14. Daniel Berger
The 25-year-old Berger has played the Waste Management Phoenix Open four times, finishing in the top 11 in three of them, including last year, when he was just two strokes out of the lead at the 54-hole mark.
He missed the cut at Torrey Pines last week, but has posted a sub-70 round in five of six 2019 rounds so far. He should be exceptionally motivated to prove that his largely disappointing 2018 season was a fluke.
World Rank: 64th
Field Rank: 32nd
Last Six: MC, 12, 35, 15, MC, 12
13. Billy Horschel
It would not be surprising if Horschel found himself in the leadership mix in Phoenix this week; he also has a tendency to run hot and cold, and posted a solo 8th-place finish at Torrey Pines just last week – where he was tied for third in the field in total birdies.
Horschel also finished third on Tour last year in greens in regulation, a big reason why he was able to finish in the top 3 of five events. What would really help, however, would be if he can rediscover the stellar putting stroke that he showed at times in 2018, especially in the second half of the season.
World Rank: 38th
Field Rank: 17th
Last Six: 8, 25, 21, 11, 67, 33
12. Adam Hadwin
This will be Hadwin’s first outing since he let the Desert Classic get away from him two weeks ago, where a back-nine stumble allowed the out-of-nowhere story of Adam Long to occur. If the Canadian’s memory is short enough, he should post another good result at TPC Scottsdale.
Hadwin carded at least six birdies in all four rounds at La Quinta, led to an impressive score of 25-under-par. His best finish in this event was a T12 two years ago.
World Rank: 57th
Field Rank: 28th
Last Six: 2, 57, 10, 30, 10, MC
11. Cameron Smith
The 25-year-old Aussie has been a bit up-and-down since October, but should be feeling good about his game after his final-round 65 last week at Torrey Pines was the field low, catalyzing a 39 spot Sunday jump up the leaderboard for a T9 finish.
Smith has yet to impress in three tries at this event, but with how well he has been hitting his irons as of late, there is a good chance that changes this week.
World Rank: 28th
Field Rank: 12th
Last Six: 9, 22, 1, 10, 54, 7
10. Tony Finau
The long hitter from Utah has been remarkably consistent since August, and his performance at Torrey Pines last week might be the best example as he shot a 70 and three rounds of 69.
A win feels right around the corner for Finau, who currently ranks 3rd on Tour in scoring average, but considering he has missed the cut each of the last three seasons, TPC Scottsdale might not be a course where he feels exceptionally comfortable.
World Rank: 11th
Field Rank: 4th
Last Six: 13, 2, 16, 36, 2, 10
9. Rickie Fowler
The big crowds at TPC Scottsdale have cheered loudly for the very popular Fowler before, inspiring him to take second-place at both the 2010 and 2016 editions.
Through three rounds last year he was in position to better those two results, holding the lead before imploding on Sunday, something he made a bad habit of in 2018.
Could this finally be his year? Being so familiar with the course helps, but he is not coming in with much momentum as an abysmal iron game led to a disappointing 66th place finish at last week’s Farmers Insurance Open.
World Rank: 14th
Field Rank: 5th
Last Six: 66, 5, 16, 4, 7, 8
8. Webb Simpson
Simpson surprisingly missed the cut at TPC Scottsdale last year, but he has shone in this event before, finishing solo-2nd two years ago on the strength of a 65-64 weekend.
Webb has finished in the top 15 of his last five starts, dating back to early September. In addition to a stellar putting stroke that has catalyzed an amazing career turnaround, Webb is showing that he can ball-strike with the best of them, currently ranking fifth on Tour in strokes gained: approach-the-green.
World Rank: 19th
Field Rank: 7th
Last Six: 8, 3, 15, 4, 6, 49
7. Matt Kuchar
The last time Kuchar teed up, he landed in the winner’s circle after playing the 72 holes of the Sony Open 22 strokes under par, his second victory in his last three official PGA Tour starts.
A third win in four starts feels unlikely for someone who had not won in nearly five years before this recent tear, but he has some positive history at TPC Scottsdale, finishing T5 last year, just one year after going T9 – shooting a low round of 7-under 64 in both.
Currently ranking 3rd on Tour in driving accuracy and 4th in greens in regulation are a big part of the reason he holds the No. 2 spot in the FedExCup standings.
World Rank: 23rd
Field Rank: 9th
Last Six: 1, 19, 23, 1, 57, 28
6. Gary Woodland
This week’s defending champion is Woodland, who notched his third career victory in a very competitive event by outlasting Chez Reavie in extra holes. The good news is that Woodland came into TPC Phoenix hot last year, and this year he is coming in even hotter, posting five top 10s – two more than he had all of last year – in seven starts this season.
In his most recent start, the 34-year-old had one of the stronger weekends in the Torrey Pines field, leading to a T9 finish.
World Rank: 24th
Field Rank: 10th
Last Six: 9, 80, 2, 8, 41, 10
5. Xander Schauffele
The current leader in the FedExCup standings came back to earth a little bit at last week’s Farmers Insurance Open, finishing T25 after posting 2-under 70s in each of his final three rounds.
However, his whole game is clicking in 2019 (he also leads the Tour in strokes gained: total), making him a solid bet for a good result at an event where he finished T17 last year in his tournament debut.
His career history is reflective of someone who will not be intimidated by the large, fervent crowd.
World Rank: 7th
Field Rank: 3rd
Last Six: 25, 1, 8, 16, 1, 48
4. Phil Mickelson
The most popular man in this week’s field is easily Mickelson, who was a star at nearby Arizona State University. Never one to let down his fans, Phil has shown for every edition of this event since 1991, winning three times and finishing runner-up one other.
And speaking of runner-ups, the 48-year-old posted one in his last start, two weeks ago at the Desert Classic, a very encouraging result after some questionable form to close 2018. It is a safe bet that Phil will be all in this week.
World Rank: 29th
Field Rank: 13th
Last Six: 2, 17, 30, 58, 12, 15
3. Hideki Matsuyama
A T3 at last week’s Farmers Insurance Open came at a great time for Matsuyama, who had slumping badly coming into Torrey Pines. With his best finish in 18 months, Matsuyama brings some momentum to TPC Scottsdale for an event he had to withdraw from on Friday last year, but had finished runner-up, winner, winner in the previous three editions.
This is a shotmakers course, and Matsuyama hit 17 of 18 greens last Sunday while gaining nearly five strokes on the field with his approaches. The math adds up to another strong performance for a man who loves Phoenix.
World Rank: 26th
Field Rank: 11th
Last Six: 3, 51, 18, 44, 46, 30
2. Justin Thomas
Nos. 1, 2, and 3 in the Official World Golf Rankings are all spending the week in Saudi Arabia, making No. 4 Thomas the highest-ranked player in attendance in Phoenix this week.
Surprisingly, given his immense talent, Thomas has yet to post a top 15 in four tries at this event, with two of those starts ending in missed cuts, but the former PGA Tour Player of the Year is a favorite every time he tees off.
Playing strongly in his favor is an iron game in phenomenal shape: he ranks first on Tour in strokes gained: approach-the-green.
World Rank: 4th
Field Rank: 1st
Last Six: 16, 3, 12, 36, 5, 7
1. Jon Rahm
Expect the raucous crowd to cheer a little extra for Rahm, who was an absolute stud at Arizona State University as recently as 2016.
Rahm seems to feel at home at TPC Scottsdale, where he finished T5 as an amateur in 2015, and was in the runner-up position through 54-holes last year before an uncharacteristically mediocre Sunday dropped him into a T11 finish.
Currently ranked No. 6 in the world (second-highest ranking in the field), Rahm has been in excellent form as of late, finishing in the top 8 of each of his last five starts worldwide. The 24-year-old won three times in 2017, three times in 2018, and we believe this will be No. 1 of 2019.
World Rank: 6th
Field Rank: 2nd
Last Six: 5, 6, 8, 1, 4, 22
Next Five: Joel Dahmen, Chez Reavie, Kyle Stanley, Alex Noren, Abraham Ancer