Rookie Sahith Theegala is really taking advantage of his sponsor’s exemption.
The 24-year-old Theegala, from Chino Hills and Pepperdine, shot 7-under-par 64 to take a two-stroke lead over eighth-ranked Xander Schauffele of La Jolla and San Diego State, and defending champion Brooks Koepka after two rounds of the WM Phoenix Open on the Stadium Course at TPC Scottsdale.
Theegala, whose best result on the PGA Tour was a tie for eighth in the 2021 Sanderson Farms Championship, had to return early Friday to complete his first round after it was halted by darkness on Thursday, and closed with two bogeys for a 66, but rebounded in round two.
“I really appreciate this great opportunity and have no real expectations, but I’m trying to make the most of it,” said Theegala, a three-time All-American at Pepperdine who won the Jack Nicklaus Award, the Ben Hogan Award and the Haskins Award in 2020. “I got off to a slow start this morning but had a 30-to-40 minute break before playing again used it to reset.
“I’ve been playing well and made some nice birdies early in the second round and just kept going, and I just want to keep it going in the last two rounds.”
After that reset, Theegala birdied four of the first five holes in the second round, made his only bogey at No. 8, and added four birdies on the last six holes to record a 36-hole total of 7-under 130.
Koepka, who also won this tournament in 2015 and is trying to join Arnold Palmer, Gene Littler, Mark Calcavecchia and Phil Mickelson as the only players to win it three times, carded a second straight 66, while Schauffele had a bogey-free 65.
“I’m striking it good, but maybe lost a little bit of speed three on a few putts and left them short,” said Koepka, the firmer world No. 1 who has fallen 20th. “But the greens are getting fast, they’re getting firm, and it will be interesting to see what they’re like tomorrow.
“But I drove the ball well and my iron game has been pretty good, so I just want to keep what I’ve been doing in the first two rounds, and I should be right there on the back nine in the final round on Sunday with a chance to win.”
Said Schauffele, the Olympic Gold Medal winner: “Relatively stress-free, which is always nice around this property. There’s a lot going on.”
Schauffele was referring to this tournament being known as “The Greatest Show on Grass,” with 20,000 vocal fans surrounding the players on the stadium-like 16th hole.
Fourth-ranked Patrick Cantlay of Los Alamitos and UCLA, the reigning FedEx Cup champion and PGA Tour Player of the Year, is three shots back in solo fourth after a bogey-free 66, while Max Homa of Valencia and Cal posted a bogey-free 65 and is one more down in a tie for fifth with Talor Gooch, who had a bogey-free 64, and Adam Hadwin of Canada, who finished with a bogey-free 68.
Tom Hoge, who claimed his first PGA Tour victory last week at Pebble Beach, shot 66 and is five down in a tie for eighth with J.T. Poston, who had a bogey-free 66, Abraham Ancer of Mexico, who wound up with a bogey-free 67, Alex Noren of Sweden, who wound up at 66, and K.H. Lee of South Korea, who came in at 70.
Tenth-ranked Hideki Matsuyama of Japan is tied for 13th after a 68, while top-ranked Jon Rahm of Spain and seventh-ranked Justin Thomas finished in a tie for 23rd after both shooting 70.
Third-ranked Viktor Hovland of Norway, who had won three of his last five starts world-wide, hit two balls into the water while making a triple-bogey 8 on the 15th hole and finished at 72-72—144 to miss the cut by four strokes.
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