Rookie Theegala Stays One Stroke Ahead Of Koepka in WM Phoenix Open

The WM Phoenix Open is living up to its motto of “The Greatest Show on Grass.”

Rookie Sahith Theegala shot 2-under-par 69 before more than 200,000 fans to lead after the third consecutive round by one stroke over defending champion Brooks Koepka on the raucous Stadium Course at TPC Scottsdale.

However, the play by the stars at the top of the leaderboard was upstaged by Sam Ryder, who made the 10th hole in tournament history on the 124-yard, stadium-like 16th hole, where many of the 20,000 fans threw beer and the cups they came in onto the course.

“This is the highlight of my career by far,” said 32-year-old Ryder, who has two victories on lower tours and his tied for 29th after a 71. “I hit a great shot and the fans were just unbelievable. I still can’t believe it and am trying to process what happened.”

Brian Harman, one of Ryder’s playing partners, had to wait more than 20 minutes to hit his tee shot after officials cleared the debris off the course.

Theegala, from Chino Hills a Pepperdine, overcame a double-bogey 6 on second hole with three birdies late on the first nine and two more coming home to stay in front after starting with scores of 66 and 64.

On the final hole, Theegala missed the green with his approach shot but hit a brilliant chip shot to within two feet of the hole to set up a closing par that kept him in front.

“That was a great par save to stay ahead at the finish,” said Theegala, 24, who is playing on a sponsor’s exemption. “This is such a great experience to play with such top players and see that my game can stay with them. I’m so proud of the way I played and was able to come back after making two big mistakes on the second hole.

“The crowds are louder than a college football game, but despite that I was able to re-find my groove in the middle of the round, but it still was a grind. I think I’ve shown that I belong out here and that my game stacks up with them. That means a lot to me.

“If I can get a few more putts to roll in tomorrow, I might have a chance to win.”

Theegala, whose best result on the PGA Tour was a tie for eighth in the 2021 Sanderson Farms Championship, made a birdie on the 17th hole at TPC Scottsdale to stay in front at 14-under 199.

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, made a 17-foot par-saving putt on the last hole to finish at 68 and remain in solo second.

“I’ve been putting great all week,” said Koepka, the former world No. 1 who has slid to No. 20 in the rankings. “I thought I could have made more today, but some good putts just didn’t go in. My ball-striking was really good, but the wind came up today and made things a little different. I’m only one stroke back, which is a good place to be, but obviously I’d rather be in the lead.

“I love the atmosphere here, with all the people screaming and yelling, obviously because I’ve won here twice. I’m really looking forward to tomorrow and expect the tournament to be decided on the last four holes. It’s tricky, because you can make two birdies there, or two bogeys.”

Scottie Scheffler made seven birdies on the back nine while starting at No. 10 to post a bogey-free 62 and is two shots back in a tie for third with fourth-ranked Patrick Cantlay of Los Alamitos and UCLA, who finished at 68, eighth-ranked Xander Schauffele of La Jolla and San Diego State, who wound up at 69, and Talor Gooch, who birdied the last three holes for a 67.

Tenth-ranked Hideki Matsuyama of Japan birdied four of the last six holes for a 66 and is three down in a tie for seventh with Tom Hoge, who won at Pebble Beach last week and shot 67, Max Homa of Valencia and Cal, who birdied the last three holes for a 68, Alex Noren of Sweden, who had a bogey-free 67, and Adam Hadwin of Canada, who had two late birdies for a second straight 68.

Top-ranked Jon Rahm of Spain and seventh-ranked Justin Thomas both carded 68s and are in a tie for 20th.

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