SCOTTSDALE – Despite the promise of sunny conditions, weather played a factor on the first day of the 2023 WM Phoenix Open. Morning tee times at TPC Scottsdale were delayed due to frost on the ground, pushing back all groups for almost two hours and forcing play to be suspended until Friday morning.
Excitement was still felt throughout the course, as fans watched the best golfers in the world compete at one of the PGA Tour’s most high-profile events. The weather didn’t seem to bother some less familiar names, including, not surprisingly, a pair of Canadians.
This year’s winner will collect $3.6 million, which is more than double what last year’s winner, Scottie Sheffler, pulled in: $1.476 million. The purse attracted some of the tour’s best, including No. 1 Rory McIlroy, Colin Morikawa and Patrick Cantley, but they struggled, leaving the door open for other players to take a shot at the leaderboard. Outside of Xander Schaffle, who finished Thursday third, shooting a 4-under 67, the world’s top 10 golfers are not well represented.
After the first day, Canadian golfers Nick Taylor and Adam Hadwin held the lead, each shooting a 5-under 66. Neither of them rank near the top five in the championship but find themselves at the forefront for the weekend with the rest of the group playing catch-up.
On an extremely windy day at TPC Scottsdale, Taylor took command of the backside of the course, shooting a 30. Much of the remaining field struggled with the final nine holes, giving him an advantage on the score card. He consistently hit the fairways throughout the first round, setting himself up for easier shots to the green.
“To kind of see some putts roll in on 10 and 11 was nice and obviously to continue that on 12, was lucky to make a nice relatively easy birdie with a nice chip on 13,” Taylor said, “I wanted to keep it going because I knew I was swinging nice and hit a bunch of greens.”
Hadwin, who started his round at the 10th hole, also shot well on the backside. He had four birdies on his front nine, including on holes 17 and 18, highlighting a strong day. Hadwin, who also started off strong in last year’s tournament, understands this course and the frustrations that come with it. So far, he’s making few mistakes and has knocked in some key putts, a simple game plan for success.
Taylor and Hadwin not only are Canadian but also live in Arizona, sharing a common path. Both said they are very familiar with the course, something that definitely helped out Thursday. Hadwin said that it was special to share the top spot with another Canadian after the first round.
“Canadian golf has been in a great place for a while now,” Hadwin said, “I’m really disappointed I didn’t get to 6-under because I saw Nick up there, and I wanted to hold it over him tonight.”
Right outside of the top 10 sits last year’s “hero,” Sam Ryder. Ryder last year had the shot heard around the world, hitting a hole in one at the par 3 16. He was in control most of the day, sitting on top of the table, but ended up double bogeying the par 3 seventh and adding another bogey at nine, slipping back down the leaderboard. Due to his struggles toward the end, Ryder currently sits in 11th with a score of 2-under 69 .
“Off the tee, I drove it really well and hit a lot of good shots,” Ryder said, “I shot a 2-under, felt like a pretty good score. Obviously I made a couple boogies coming in, but I’m pretty happy with the way I played.”
Just like Ryder’s hole in one, a golf tournament is a long weekend filled with many surprises. Thursday was a tough day on the course for many due to the unexpected wind conditions and early morning frost delay. However, golfers are able to learn and adjust to the course quickly, something McIlroy will look to do over the weekend. He struggled on day one, shooting 2-over 73.
“I’ve been struggling with the left miss a little bit, so last week I was doing a lot of … trying to clear my body and almost trying to just hit like little fades. So it really felt like my ball just going on those left to right winds pretty hard and just never really got a handle on it,” McIlroy said, “I felt like I played OK and swung it OK, just one of those days.”
Notable finishes from the morning include Tony Fineu with 1-under 70, Jordan Spieth at even, and another surprise in Charley Hoffman at 3-under 68. Hoffman, who received a sponsor invite after being hurt last year, showed his ability to nail the fairway and consistently be able to lay-up on the green. Last year, Sahith Theegala also was a sponsored player and ended up finishing tied for third.
“Having the opportunity to play here in front of the crowd is always fun, obviously,” Hoffman said, “It’s a great partnership, and I love being here, and obviously the Thunderbirds and this golf course is a fun one to play, a lot of risk-reward out there.”
Other finishes from top players during the afternoon included Max Homa and Jon Rahm, who each sit at 3-under 68. Vicktor Hovland and Scottie Scheffeler shot 1-under 70. Due to the suspension of play, they teed off Friday morning before round two began.
With so little margin of error between each player on the tour, consistent play may be the key to winning the biggest prize in WM Phoenix Open history. Whether it’s Taylor, Hadwin or one of the world’s top players adding another title to his resume, the field is very open in Scottsdale.
So far, the underdog Canadians are shining.