Friday's golf: Sponsor exemption Sahith Theegala leads Phoenix Open

John Nicholson
Associated Press

Scottsdale, Ariz. — Sahith Theegala made up for a messy finish Friday morning in the suspended first round of the WM Phoenix Open in a hurry — and kept on going.

Making his tournament debut on a sponsor exemption, Theegala shot a 7-under 64 to take a two-stroke lead over defending champion Brooks Koepka and Xander Schauffele at firm, fast and fan-packed TPC Scottsdale.

Sahith Theegala watches his putt on the eighth hole.

“Just thankful that I’m here and trying to make the most out of the opportunity,” Theegala said. "No expectations at all, honestly.”

Koepka shot his second straight 66. He’s the last player to win the event in his first appearance, doing it in 2015 for his first PGA Tour title.

“Striking it good, maybe lost a little bit of speed there on a few putts," Koepka said. “But the greens they’re getting fast, they’re getting firm. It will be interesting to see what they’re like tomorrow.”

Schauffele had a bogey-free 65. He tied for second last year.

“Relatively stress-free, which is always nice around the property,” Schauffele said. “There’s a lot going on.”

Theegala had the lead Thursday night at 7 under when darkness suspended play. The 24-year-old, ranked 318th in the world, resumed play on the par-4 eighth by missing a par putt.

“I wasn’t too upset about the way it started,” Theegala said. “I had a 15-footer to start the day, so I was like, ‘OK, just put a good roll on it and see what happens.’ I put a good roll, just missed."

He also bogeyed the par-4 ninth for a 66 to fall a stroke behind K.H. Lee.

Xander Schauffele hits up on the ninth hole during the second round.

“I put it under the lip of the fairway bunker," Theegala said, "I’m like, ‘OK, I can’t do much about that, right?’ I knew if I kept putting the ball in the fairway, I’m going to have scoring opportunities, so it was nice to reset for the 30 or 40 minutes that I had in between the rounds.”

In the second round, Theegala hit wedges close for birdies on Nos. 1 and 2, two-putted for birdie on the par-5 third and made a 10-footer on the par-4 fifth. He bogeyed No. 8 again, then two-putted for birdie on the par-5 13th and holed out for birdie from off the green on the par-4 14th.

In front of many of the more than 175,00 fans who jammed the final holes, Theegala made a 12-foot putt to save par on the par-3 16th. He hit a wedge to 3 1/2 feet for birdie on the par-4 17th, and made a 10-footer on the par-4 18th to get to 12-under 130.

Trying to become the first player to win on a sponsor exemption since Martin Laird in the 2020 Shriners Children’s Open, the 6-foot-3 Theegala grew up in Chino Hills, California, and starred at Pepperdine. In 2020, he swept the three major college player of the year awards.

He’s playing for the fourth straight week, with his parents and some family members attending them all.

“It’s really cool to know that they’re there,” Theegala said.

Fourth-ranked Patrick Cantlay, the FedEx Cup champion also making his first appearance in the event, had a bogey-free 66 to reach 9 under.

“I still feel like I’m learning the golf course a little bit,” Cantlay said. “This was really only my third trip around today."

Talor Gooch shot a 64 to match Max Homa (65) and Canadian Adam Hadwin (68) at 8 under. Hadwin lives nearby and has played the course many times under softer conditions.

“It plays so much firmer and faster than we normally get to see it,” Hadwin said. “Like, normally, No. 1 is just a driver all day, never going to run out and now you’re running out with a 3-wood.”

Tom Hoge, the Pebble Beach winner Sunday for his first PGA Tour title, had a 66 to get to 7 under. First-round leader Lee also was 7 under after a 70. He had a double-bogey 7 on No. 3.

Hideki Matsuyama was 6 under after a 68 in his first event since winning the Sony Open last month. The Masters champion won in Scottsdale in 2016 and 2017.

Top-ranked Jon Rahm punched a trash container as he walked into the clubhouse after a 70 that left him seven strokes back. The former Arizona State star has a bogey and five pars on the par-5 holes. In his previous 14 rounds of the season, he made birdie or better on 36 of 56 par 5s.