Though it seemed a virtual certainty defending Waste Management Phoenix Open champion Phil Mickelson would be back for the 2014 edition of the Scottsdale tournament, his commitment this week gave the "Greatest Show on Grass" an instant boost in appeal.
With Mickelson’s commitment, the Phoenix Open field currently features three of the world’s top 15-ranked golfers and five of the top 25.
Along with No. 5 Mickelson, a three-time Phoenix Open winner, the field at TPC Scottsdale will include No. 12 Ian Poulter, No. 14 Brandt Snedeker, No. 22 Keegan Bradley and No. 23 Hideki Matsuyama.
Mickelson remains the uncontested top draw at the Phoenix Open, which starts Jan. 30. In contention or not, his groups unfailingly draw the largest galleries at the tournament — a horde of adoring fans following him from hole to hole.
Such has become the norm for the former Arizona State great, who is the Phoenix Open’s all-time leading money winner. The 43-year old has played the tournament 24 times and is one of four three-time winners. Another win would make Mickelson the event’s only four-time winner.
But even if Mickelson doesn’t put on a show as he did last year, when he won with a wire-to-wire performance and nearly tied the PGA Tour record of 59 in the first round, there are plenty of storylines at this year’s tournament:
— Eight past Phoenix Open champions currently populate the field: Mickelson (2013, 2005, 1996), Kyle Stanley (2012), Mark Wilson (2011), Hunter Mahan (2010), Kenny Perry (2009), J.B. Holmes (2008, 2006) Vijay Singh (2003, 1995) and Mark Calcavecchia (2001, 1992, 1989).
— Singh returns to the tournament after bowing out last year amid an embarrassing controversy. A day before last year’s first round, Singh admitted to using deer-antler spray, not knowing it contained a substance banned on the PGA Tour. Singh never even arrived at TPC Scottsdale last year and ended up filing suit against the PGA Tour following a 12-week investigation into the incident that ended with the Tour dropping its case.
— Snedeker is back after an impressive 2013 showing that might have netted him a win if not for Mickelson’s stunning performance. Snedeker entered last year’s tournament on the heels of third- and second-place tournament finishes, the latter to Tiger Woods. Snedeker finished four strokes behind Mickelson last year and quipped, "I feel like I’m running into Hall of Famers every week."
— Along with the five top 25-ranked commitments, the field is expected to include No. 26 Lee Westwood, No. 29 Bubba Watson, No. 31 Bill Haas and nine more golfers ranked in the world’s top 50. More top-ranked players could commit before the 5 p.m. deadline on Jan. 24.