SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – It’s another week where the attention of golf fans gets divided, with the world No. 1 headlining a field in Saudi Arabia and several other stars signing up for the raucous environment at TPC Scottsdale. Here are four questions to ponder before the action gets underway, including Sergio Garcia’s return to the scene of last year’s meltdown and Rickie Fowler’s attempt to get things back on track at one of his favorite spots:
What will Sergio Garcia do for an encore?
It was at this event a year ago that the Spaniard grabbed headlines for all the wrong reasons, lashing out in a bunker and getting disqualified for “serious misconduct” after damaging multiple greens during a round. He reportedly waived a hefty appearance fee to return to Saudi Arabia with an eye on making amends for his outburst. Down to 42nd in the world and adjusting to an equipment overhaul, the 40-year-old is hardly considered one of the pre-tournament favorites. But after last year’s antics, a middling finish without any controversy might be considered a win.
Will Brooks Koepka do enough to keep the world No. 1 ranking?
Koepka has held the top spot ever since his commanding victory at the PGA Championship nearly eight months ago, but the gap has never been narrower than it is at the moment. Both No. 2 Rory McIlroy and No. 3 Jon Rahm have been red-hot in recent months, and Koepka now must finish 13th or better in Saudi Arabia to avoiding dropping behind one of them next week. He might need even more than that depending on how Rahm plays in Phoenix, but it’s a remarkable situation given how far above the pack he seemed just a few months ago. While Koepka has been the most dominant player for a considerable stretch, it now appears a matter of when he’ll drop from the top spot, not if.
Which Bryson DeChambeau will show up in Phoenix?
There was no time to rest after a near-miss in Dubai for DeChambeau, who was on the ground Tuesday at TPC Scottsdale hours after his title defense in the Middle East came up short. It was a strong effort mixed with a disappointing finish, and it came on the heels of a missed cut in Abu Dhabi. DeChambeau has been open about the overhaul he’s made to his body in the offseason, and early on it has produced some polarizing results. Now he gets back to a course where he started the final round one shot off the lead two years ago en route to a T-5 finish. The stage could be set for some more fireworks as he makes his first U.S. start of the year.
How important is this week for Rickie Fowler?
Fowler shed a sizeable monkey last year in Arizona, finally capturing the Waste Management title after years of near-misses. And while he started the new year with a pair of top-10s, there may be a sense of pressure to deliver at one of his favorite courses. Once a mainstay inside the top 10 in the world, Fowler is down to 26th following a missed cut at Torrey Pines – his lowest standing since July 2014. He hasn’t finished worse than 11th at TPC Scottsdale since 2016, and the venue and player are clearly a great fit. But his stated goal of fine-tuning his game for San Diego success didn’t pan out, and if this week goes equally awry the former Olympian could be feeling some heat as the West Coast swing winds down.