Waste Management final-round preview: Defender Brooks Koepka in the mix for wild Sunday shootout

A wide list of contenders are in the hunt for victory ahead of the final 18 holes at TPC Scottsdale but who looks best equipped to lift the trophy?

Plenty tried but no-one could create daylight at the top of the leaderboard in a fascinating third round at the Waste Management Phoenix Open in Arizona.

By close of play on a sparkling Saturday which included Sam Ryder sending the crowds wild with a hole-in-one at the famous 16th, the top 11 in the standings were separated by just three shots.

This tournament has seen four play-offs in the last six years and there must be every chance of yet another.

Here, Planet Sport looks at the contenders for victory on a leaderboard that has a bit of everything.

The heroic underdog

Despite all the world-class names vying for victory, the lead belongs to unheralded Sahith Theegala.

The World No.318 was born in California in 1997 after his father, Murli, moved to the United States from India in 1987 for graduate school.

This is Theegala's first full season on the PGA Tour but he's already made his mark by taking the third-round lead at the Sanderson Farms Championship in October.

On that occasion he shot 71 on day four to finish eighth but the experience will only have helped him as he looks to do better this time.

After 54 holes he ranks in the top 25 for every Strokes Gained category so all parts of his game look good.

The past champions

Brooks Koepka and Hideki Matsuyama are both two-time winners of this event.

Koepka is solo second and just one back after mixing six birdies with three bogeys in a Saturday 68.

In his two wins here, he came from five off the pace to triumph last year and from three behind in 2015 so chasing will suit him.

In-form Matsuyama (two wins in his last four starts) burst into contention by playing his final six holes in 4-under on Saturday to reach 11-under - three behind.

His two Phoenix wins came in play-offs and, like Koepka, he won from behind, making up three shots on the final day in 2016 and four strokes in 2017.

The world's best

Four of the top eight in the world rankings are playing this week. World No.1 Jon Rahm has a mountain to climb from six back while No.3 Viktor Hovland missed the cut.

But No.4 Patrick Cantlay and No.8 Xander Schauffele have high hopes going into the final 18 as both lie at 12-under and just two adrift.

Cantlay made his move around the turn with a birdie blitz before bogeying the last for a 68 while Schauffele had a great chance to slip the field before coming home in 2-over 38 after scribbling two 6s on his card in a 69.

Schauffele was runner-up here last year but Cantlay is making his debut. Despite the contrasting history, both Americans look likely winners on Sunday.

The maiden with momentum

Scottie Scheffler started round three in tied 44th but burst into contention with a best-of-the-day 9-under 62 to leap 41 spots and finish just two off the lead.

He hit all 18 greens in regulation for the first time in his career and tied the back-nine record of 29 (Scheffler played it as his opening nine).

Scheffler was part of the triumphant US Ryder Cup team last September but, as we know, is still to win on the PGA Tour. Is this his big moment?

The fast finisher

Talor Gooch was a little off the leading bunch with three holes to play on Saturday but went birdie-birdie-birdie to thrust himself into contention.

A winner of the RSM Classic just five starts ago when he closed with a 64, Gooch is quickly establishing himself as one of the PGA Tour's brightest young talents.

The hot hand

Tom Hoge hadn't managed a win in over 200 PGA Tour starts before scoring a superb victory at Pebble Beach last week.

Now the 32-year-old could make it back-to-back wins after playing himself into contention with a 4-under 67 which, frustratingly, included a closing bogey.

No-one in the field will have more confidence and this feels like something of a free-hit. That makes him dangerous.

History and stats

Just two of the last 12 winners of this event started Sunday in the lead: not a good stat for Theegala.

Sixt of the last eight champions were between one and four shots adrift so that brings in others not yet mentioned: Max Homa (-11), Alex Noren (-11), Adam Hadwin (-11) and Garrick Higgo (-10).

Eight of the last nine winners had previously managed a top 12 finish at TPC Scottsdale so past course form is a great pointer.

Stats-wise, five of the last six champions ranked in the top four for Strokes Gained: Approach in the week of their win.

Sam Ryder's stunning ace at 16 was the 10th hole-in-one at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Conclusion

We're looking for a player between one and four back, with a past top 12 at the course and with strong SG: Approach numbers after 54 holes.

Of the 11 players between -13 and -10 (i.e. between one and four back), just three are in the top 10 for SG: Approach to this point: Koepka (7th), Matsuyama (5th) and Hadwin (9th).

The first two are dual winners while Hadwin also owns a top-12 finish.

Hadwin was the only one of the trio to rank in the top 10 for SG: Approach in round three (Koepka 42nd and Matsuyama 16th) so if the Canadian can stay hot with his irons, perhaps he looks a good outside bet.

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