Adam Hadwin … As understandable as it is to accept that he went six months post-shutdown without a top 25 because his first child was born very early in 2020, it’s also reason to elevate the expectations again now. After taking time to celebrate his daughter’s first birthday a few weeks ago, he returned to competition with a T32 at PGA WEST and a T18 at Torrey Pines. Not only did the latter end the top-25 drought, it also was a personal-best finish of six appearances. The 33-year-old Canuck carries that momentum into TPC Scottsdale where he’s been a fixture since his rookie season of 2014-15. Dating back to a T17 in his second start in 2016, he’s 5-for-5 with a pair of top 20s.
Patton Kizzire … With his 35th birthday a month away (on March 3), his recent performances align with being in his prime. He’s strung together eight consecutive paydays, four of which for a top 25. The latest was a T7 at Waialae where he prevailed three years ago. He’s also 4-for-5 at TPC Scottsdale but he’s still in pursuit of his first top 30. If his play upon arrival isn’t enough to convince that he’ll record a personal best this week, consider that he’s currently T18 on TOUR in total driving, 43rd in greens hit, 22nd in Strokes Gained: Putting and 20th in adjusted scoring.
Keith Mitchell … The 29-year-old has been enduring the learning curve since a successful rookie season of 2017-18 and breakthrough victory at The Honda Classic in 2019. Only a chosen few are immune from its gravitational pull. For those who survive it, it should be referred to instead as the rite of passage. He had been mostly quiet since a T5 at Bay Hill in the week before the pandemic wiped away three months of competition in 2020. Then, as unpredictable as golf can be, he went off for respective middle rounds of 62 and 63 at Waialae three weeks ago and finish T14. If that indicates that he’s “close” – and why shouldn’t it? – perhaps he can find some of the same magic at TPC Scottsdale where he led the field in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee and total driving en route to a T16 last year.
Nate Lashley … Among the throng of Scottsdale residents sleeping in their own beds this week. While it can be a distraction seemingly as often as it’s beneficial, he proved the latter in his debut last year. After withdrawing from his previous start at PGA WEST with an injured wrist two weeks prior, he went on to connect four sub-70s for a three-way tie for third place with consistently strong approach play taking the pressure off his putter and allowing it to do work. It’s the kind of formula that defines local knowledge even in a tournament debut. Furthermore, there wasn’t much in advance to suggest that a reversal of form was on tap. It’s a narrative that could be repeated in his return. Since the podium finish at TPC Scottsdale, he’s recorded only one top-35 finish, that a solo fourth at Corales in September.
Bo Hoag … The PGA TOUR sophomore isn’t taking his card for granted after squeaking into the 2020 FedExCup Playoffs as the last man inside the top-125 bubble. He’s 5-for-11 this season with three top 25s and sits 97th in points. After stumbling out of the gate in the fall, he’s signed for 16 red numbers following 18 rounds, including both on the South Course at Torrey Pines on the weekend where he finished T18 for his second top 20 in as many weeks. Now he descends on TPC Scottsdale for the first time with a solid blend of precision on approach and confidence with the putter. He ranks 12th in conversation percentage inside 10 feet.
NOTE: Sleeper is a relative term, so Rob uses unofficial criteria to determine who qualifies. Each of the following usually is determined to be ineligible for this weekly staple: Winners of the tournament on the current host course; winners in the same season; recent major champions; top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking; recent participants of team competitions.