Golf: Hideki Matsuyama goes for rare three-peat at Phoenix Open

Japan's Hideki Matsuyama plays a shot from a bunker on the 13th hole during the final round of the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines South on Jan 28, 2018 in San Diego, California. PHOTO: AFP

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - Japan's Hideki Matsuyama knows he'll join an exclusive club if he can grab a third straight Phoenix Open title this week.

"I love it here," Matsuyama said as he prepared to tee it up on Thursday (Feb 1) at TPC Scottsdale. "Being able to win twice the last two years has been really memorable for me and quite an honour.

"I'm going to do my best this year to three-peat and if I was fortunate enough to do that, I think I would join the 'King' Arnold Palmer, as the only three-peat winner. That would be something." Palmer won three times in a row in Phoenix from 1961-1963.

Over the last 40 years on the US PGA Tour, only Tiger Woods, Tom Watson, Stuart Appleby and Steve Stricker have won the same tournament three years on the trot. Woods has done it four times.

Matsuyama came from behind to capture both of his Phoenix titles in four-hole playoffs.

In 2016, he trailed Rickie Fowler by two strokes with three to play and won the playoff by sinking a seven-footer for par.

Last year, he trailed former US Open champion Webb Simpson by four strokes going into the final round and lifted the trophy thanks to a 12-foot birdie putt at the fourth hole of sudden death.

He'll play with Fowler and Simpson in the first two rounds.

"It's going to be kind of weird to play with them on Thursday and Friday," Matsuyama said. "But hopefully we can all play well and be there together on the back nine on Sunday."

Matsuyama's win last year marked a fifth victory in nine starts worldwide, a stretch that included a victory in the World Golf Championships HSBC Champions.

He isn't riding the same wave of success this year, but he turned in an impressive 69 on a tough final day at Torrey Pines on Sunday to finish tied for 12th and was tied for fourth at the Tournament of Champions.

He'll face some stiff competition this week, including from Jordan Spieth, Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas.

Five of the top seven in the world are entered and 23 of the top 30.

But Matsuyama believes his game is moving in the right direction.

"It's hard to compare a year ago where I was, where my game was. 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 always good happens."

The Phoenix Open is the best-attended tournament on the tour and is known for its rowdy atmosphere, especially at the par-three 'Coliseum' 16th hole, which is surrounded by stands that can house 20,000 fans.

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