SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - For the second year in a row, Hideki Matsuyama has returned to TPC Scottsdale to defend his title.
Matsuyama notched the second of five career PGA Tour wins at the 2016 Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he outlasted Rickie Fowler in a four-hole playoff. He then successfully defended that title last year, again going four extra holes but this time against Webb Simpson.
The back-to-back wins are the culmination of a four-year run of dominance for Matsuyama on the Stadium Course, where he was also a runner-up in 2015 and tied for fourth in 2014 in his tournament debut. He boasts a stellar 67.3 stroke average on the par-71 layout, where he has finished no worse than 14 under par each of the last four years.
"I love it here," Matsuyama said Tuesday via a translator. "Being able to win twice the last two years have been really memorable for me and quite an honor. I'm going to do my best this year to three-peat."
Should Matsuyama retain the trophy, he would join Arnold Palmer (1961-63) as the only player to win this event three straight years. He'd also become the first back-to-back-to-back winner of any PGA Tour event since Steve Stricker captured three straight titles at the John Deere Classic from 2009-11.
Matsuyama was perhaps the hottest player in the world at this time last year, having won four of his previous eight worldwide starts before his successful title defense. While the hardware is lacking this time around, he did close out last year with a trio of top-5 finishes before adding a T-4 finish at Kapalua and closing with a final-round 69 to tie for 12th last week at Torrey Pines.
Matsuyama said it will be "weird" to play the first two rounds alongside Fowler and Simpson on the same course where he edged them in recent playoffs, but he remains optimistic as he looks to add a new chapter to this tournament's lengthy history.
"I haven't really played well this year up until the last day there at Torrey Pines," Matsuyama said. "My short game is getting a lot better, and coming to Phoenix it seems like something good always happens, so hopefully I'll do my best and see where it goes."