Thrilling finish on tap at Waste Management Phoenix Open

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Thrilling finish on tap at Waste Management Phoenix Open

PGA Tour

Thrilling finish on tap at Waste Management Phoenix Open

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Millions of people will be watching the “Big Game” Sunday evening between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots. They’ll be treated to one heck of a Super Bowl appetizer, too.

On the menu: a savory Sunday finish at the Waste Management Phoenix Open with some top-notch ingredients – a star-studded list of contenders and a raucous setting in TPC Scottsdale.

“It’s anyone’s tournament tomorrow,” said Rickie Fowler, the 54-hole leader by a shot at 14 under. “Yeah, I have a one-shot lead, but this tournament is not going to be given to anyone.”

There are plenty of players ready to earn it, including Tour winners Jon Rahm, Bryson DeChambeau, Xander Schauffele, Daniel Berger and Phil Mickelson, a three-time winner in Phoenix. The task of winning this week? The difficulty is tougher than trying to score a front-row seats in the grandstands on the 16th hole.

“You got to go for flags,” DeChambeau said. “I mean, that’s the bottom line, you got to do it. Everybody’s looking to win out here.”

In the last eight editions of this event, seven times a player has come from behind in the final round to win. History certainly isn’t on Fowler’s side, but at the same time, it is.

This is Fowler’s 10th trip to TPC Scottsdale, a place where he knows he can win – he just hasn’t done it yet. He tied for fourth a year ago here, and twice has finished runner-up, including in a playoff two years ago where he was left in tears after losing to Hideki Matsuyama.

“It’s just a matter of time,” said Fowler, who was stuck in neutral early on Moving Day but rallied late with birdies on each of his final three holes to finish off a 4-under 67.

“It would just be nice if it was sooner rather than later.”

Mickelson hasn’t won at TPC Scottsdale since 2013, the same year that he lipped out a putt for 59 in the first round. This week, Mickelson has looked like his old self. He admits he’ll never be a great driver of the golf ball, but he is 48th in the field in strokes gained: off-the-tee through 54 holes. He entered the week outside the top 200 on Tour in that category.

“It’s as good as I’ve seen his driving, definitely,” Rahm said. “I’ve been joking around a little bit with him, throughout the past year, about him being a bad driver and me being a good one. And I certainly can’t say much right now because he’s hitting it just as good as I am.”

Can you spot Phil Mickelson? (Chris Condon/PGA TOUR)

Mickelson also has made just one bogey in his last 43 holes, and after a third-round 66 he is 12 under and two shots back.

“I’m having fun getting back in contention. … That’s why I play, that’s why I’m working hard,” Mickelson said. “So when I get in to those opportunities on Sunday, it’s motivation for me to work hard on the range, to work hard in the gym, and so having these moments is important.”

Rahm, another Arizona State product and Phoenix’s other beloved adopted son, is just a shot back of Fowler at 13 under. The fiery Spaniard is a week removed from a 75-77 finish at Torrey Pines that cost him a chance to move from No. 2 to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking.

He can’t dethrone Dustin Johnson with a win this week, but it doesn’t mean he won’t try to add another trophy to his impressive young resume. Rahm won two weeks ago at the CareerBuilder Challenge and at just 23 years old is searching for his fifth win as a pro.

“I’m a different person than the one I was a week ago,” Rahm said. “It’s a very different golf course and so hopefully I can just keep playing good and have a better round than last week.”

Rahm will tee it up in Sunday’s final group with Fowler and Chez Reavie at 12:55 p.m. Eastern. It will mark the first all week he has not played alongside Mickelson, who will be paired with Schauffele for a fourth time this week in the penultimate group that also includes DeChambeau.

Both second-year pros, DeChambeau and Schauffele are searching for career Tour win Nos. 2 and 3, respectively. DeChambeau, who won the John Deere Classic last season, shot 68 Saturday to move to 13 under and is ranked fifth in strokes gained: tee-to-green this week. Schauffele, last season’s Rookie of the Year after wins at the Greenbrier Classic and Tour Championship, is 12 under following a third-round 66.

“Some of the birdies seemed rather effortless at times,” said Schauffele, who made six birdies in a group that combined to card 18 of them Saturday.

Birdies will be needed in bunches Sunday at TPC Scottsdale, which is charged and ready for one, final electric day.

“This is an environment unlike anything we have on the Tour, and to be able to come down the stretch on a golf course that has great birdie opportunities, eagle opportunities, and an amphitheater effect like we have on 16 (and) on all the last five, six holes creates environment that you can’t duplicate,” said Mickelson, who has played the final six holes in 11 under this week.

Could Mickelson continue that finishing ability and rediscover greatness on Sunday? Or will Fowler finally breakthrough in Phoenix? Or will Rahm add to his scorching start as a pro? Or will DeChambeau, Berger or Schauffele prove themselves again?

Of course, Reavie could steal the show and win one for the underdogs at an event he considers to be “a fifth major” and where he served as a standard bearer as a kid.

Even without some stars – two-time defending champ Hideki Matsuyama withdrew Friday with a thumb injury, Jordan Spieth missed the cut by a shot, Justin Thomas is eight shots behind after a disastrous Saturday finish – the possibilities are endless.

But all of them appetizing.


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