Hideki Matsuyama will be looking to tie one of golf legend Arnold Palmer’s records this week when he goes for his third consecutive victory at the Phoenix Open.
The 25-year-old was welcomed with cheers at a news conference on Wednesday after he was announced as a returning champion, this time in place to stand alongside “the King” as the only players in the tournament’s 83-year history to win back-to-back-to-back.
A day before the 72-hole event gets underway at TPC Scottsdale, the world No. 5 spoke to reporters after taking part in a pro-am event and reminisced about his past two years on the par-71 Stadium Course, where both titles were decided in a playoff.
“I have a fond memory of winning here,” Matsuyama said while acknowledging the challenges ahead of him both on and off the course.
“It’s only after I came to the United States I truly understood Arnold Palmer’s greatness. If I can win my third straight title here, I would also like to grow as person and contribute to society (like he did).”
This year, Matsuyama faces some familiar competition when he tees off on the 10th hole on Thursday with Rickie Fowler and Webb Simpson. Matsuyama defeated Fowler in 2016 and Simpson in 2017, both times in four-hole playoffs.
“I hope the three of us all play well, and I hope to have a good fight on the final back nine again,” Matsuyama said of his rivals.
Four golfers are three-time winners at the Phoenix Open, including Gene Littler, Mark Calcavecchia, and Phil Mickelson, though Palmer is the only one to do it three times in a row, from 1961 to 1963.
Matsuyama finished fourth at the Sentry Tournament of Champions last month but struggled at last week’s Farmers Insurance Open, finishing tied for 12th. He said he wasn’t playing as well as he was a year ago, but was happy with his putting on the final day.
“I think my short game is in good shape right now,” Matsuyama said. “I’ll do my best with that.”