Rookie Sahith Theegala laps up the atmosphere as rowdy crowd returns to Phoenix Open

Rookie Sahith Theegala leads the Phoenix Open. Picture: Rick EPA

Rookie Sahith Theegala leads the Phoenix Open. Picture: Rick EPA

Published Feb 12, 2022


Los Angeles, United States - Sahith Theegala fired a seven-under par 64 on Friday to lead the Phoenix Open, with former World No 1 Brooks Koepka and Xander Schauffele on his heels.

Theegala, a tour rookie from California, had a rollercoaster day that saw him surrender the first-round lead only to climb back to the top with eight birdies in his second round at TPC Scottsdale.

His 12-under par total of 130 put him two strokes in front of Koepka and Schauffele, Koepka firing six birdies in his five-under 66 and Schauffele carding a bogey-free six-under 65 to get to 132.

"I haven't had time to let it set in and hopefully I don't think too much about it because obviously what I've been doing has been working the first couple days," Theegala, ranked 318th in the world, said.

Theegala had held a one-shot lead when darkness halted play on Thursday. He returned Friday morning and bogeyed his last two holes to fall a shot behind South Korean Lee Kyoung-hoon.

But Theegala gathered himself during a short break and opened his second round with three straight birdies, rolling in a five-footer at the first and a four-footer at the second before reaching the green in two at the par-five third.

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"I wasn't too upset about the way it started," he said of his day, which opened with him facing a 16-foot par putt at his penultimate first-round hole, the eighth. "I knew if I kept putting the ball in the fairway I'm going to have scoring opportunities."

Theegala, who was a standout amateur player at Pepperdine University, added another birdie at the fifth before he bogeyed the eighth again in the second round.

He birdied the 13th and 14th - where he rolled in a 33-foot putt from off the green - before closing with birdies at the 17th and 18th.

He had a three-stroke lead when he walked off the course, but Koepka and Schauffele kept the pressure on.

Koepka, whose ranking has slipped to 20th in the world as he searches for a first win since his triumph in Phoenix last year, was two-under on the front nine with three birdies and a bogey, then gained ground with three-birdies coming in.

Schauffele was dialed in, hitting 12 of 14 fairways in regulation and 16 of 18 greens.

His six birdies included a 23-foot putt at the seventh. At eight he landed his approach three feet from the pin for another birdie.

FedEx Cup champion Patrick Cantlay was alone in fourth after firing five birdies in a five-under 66 for 133.

Canadian Adam Hadwin and Americans Talor Gooch and Max Homa were a further stroke back on 134.

Gooch climbed the leaderboard with a bogey-free seven-under par 65. He drained a 39-foot birdie putt at the par-three seventh and set off the big crowd at the stadium-style 16th with a 29-foot birdie bomb.

The rowdy atmosphere at a tournament that draws upwards of 100 000 fans per day was back in full force this year after the Covid-19 pandemic saw daily attendance limited to 5 000 last year.