SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (KOLD NEWS) — During the first round of the WM Phoenix Open, it seemed like only Mother Nature could stop Sahith Theegala’s attack on par.
When play was delayed due to darkness at 6:23 p.m., with eight players left on the course, the 24-year-old rookie from Pepperdine University was 7-under through his first 16 holes and led the event. When play resumes on Friday, Theegala will be faced with a 16-foot par putt.
“At the finish, I started hitting my driver a little squirrely, so this is a good stop,” he said. “There was a point where I was losing a little of steam.”
Theegala was surprised to receive one of five sponsor exemptions into the WM Phoenix Open field after finishing his final round at the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego less than two weeks ago.
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“Wow, that’s truly incredible. Thank you for the opportunity. “We’ll try to keep the momentum going,” he stated in a video that went viral. “Wow, that’s great. Is this for real? I owe these guys a huge debt of gratitude for providing me another chance to do what I love.”
A sponsor invitation can make all the difference in Theegala’s budding career. He turned a late-season sponsor invite into a T-34 finish at the Barracuda Championship in August, moving him into the top 200 of the FedEx Cup standings and qualifying him for the Korn Ferry Tour Finals, where he won one of the 25 PGA Tour cards on offer. “Rest…,” he responded when asked what he would have done this week if not for the sponsor invite. I’d be idle.”
“It feels like a free roll because I have no business being here.” I guess two guys from the Korn Ferry category got in as alternates, so I wasn’t really planning on coming,” Theegala added. “So now that I’m here, I think we all had a fairly good mindset of just trying to enjoy the week as much as possible, and so far it’s been great.”
After a brilliant college career, Theegala has high expectations. He rose to No. 3 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking and became only the fifth golfer to win the Ben Hogan Award, Haskins Award, and Jack Nicklaus Award, which are all presented to the best player in collegiate golf.
After shooting 64 in the first round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, his second appearance of the year, Theegala stayed in ahead until shooting a final-round 71. He finished in a tie for ninth, his first PGA Tour top-10 result.
“Knowing that I can compete at the top of my game was extremely amazing for me,” he remarked. “From that week, that was the most important takeaway I had.”
Theegala is attempting to become the first sponsor invite to win on the PGA Tour since Martin Laird at the 2020 Shriners Open. He has made eight cuts in his first ten events and is currently ranked 88th in the FedEx Cup standings. Theegala smashed his opening nine holes, the back nine, in 31 minutes on Thursday. Starting at No. 13, he sank a 17-foot birdie putt before stringing together four consecutive birdies. Theegala birdied all three par 5s and finished with a 30-foot birdie at number four to cap off his birdie spree. After shooting a 6-under 65, Korea’s K.H. Lee leads the clubhouse. He was runner-up here last year to Brooks Koepka, and he continued his winning streak on the front nine with three birdies and an eagle.
Lee, who won the AT&T Byron Nelson last year for his lone victory on a TPC layout, TPC Craig Ranch, remarked, “Just really comfortable here.” “It’s all better now.”
Lee, though, may have to outdue Koepka, the former World No. 1, who described his current ranking of No. 20 in the Official World Golf Ranking as “embarrassing” when asked about his performance last year.
“I mean, I feel like being 20th is embarrassing,” Koepka, who hasn’t won since the WM Phoenix Open last year, said. “It has a lot to do with injury, man,” says the narrator. You can’t compete with guys out here if you’re hurt, on the bench, not participating, or playing through injuries. It’s good to be reasonably healthy and get out here, and I’m not too concerned about it since it will recover.”
Koepka’s performance in the first round at TPC Scottsdale was far from embarrassing, as he shot a 5-under 66 with six birdies and a single bogey. Adam Hadwin, Harry Higgs, and Scott Stallings are all tied for third place (through 17).
Koepka, a two-time winner in Phoenix, has failed to make the cut in three of his past four official PGA Tour appearances and hasn’t finished in the top ten since the British Open in July. However, for Koepka, the WM Phoenix Open sounds and feels a lot like a major, and he loves in that setting.
“When people become boisterous, I enjoy it.” According to Koepka, “When you hit it tight, they cheer you on, and when you hit it wrong, they boo you. It nearly feels like a legitimate sport, such as football, basketball, or soccer.”
He's now the solo leader thru 13 holes. pic.twitter.com/eHhcijOShY
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) February 11, 2022
The par-3 16th hole, however, is not for everyone.
Charley Hoffman stated, “I’m glad it’s only one week a year.” “I believe it might be a little intense if it happened every week, but it’s a lot of fun once a year, and I welcome it.”
Hoffman is in a group of four players at 4-under 67 that includes World No. 1 Jon Rahm, Olympic gold medalist Xander Schauffele, reigning FedEx Cup champion Patrick Cantlay, and previous major champions Justin Thomas and Bubba Watson. Rahm, a former Arizona State basketball player who now lives in the area, said winning the event in his hometown would be extremely memorable.
“Winning the Spanish Open twice is a great honor for me.” “Isn’t this like a home away from home?” According to Rahm. “So, it’s a big deal; it’s a competition that’s always on the calendar from the start.” And I’ve come close before but never really had a chance, so I’m hopeful I can do it this time since it’s a tournament I enjoy and would want to win.”