SCOTTSDALE – Friday morning at TPC Scottsdale started off with breezes reminiscent of a tough first round, one that began with a frost delay and ended with frustrated golfers from Thursday.
For those like Rickie Fowler, who had to finish his first round on Friday morning, things were still difficult. However, he was able to dress for a milder day for his scheduled full round for the rest of the day.
“I had some cold weather gear on for the finish this morning and ran in and shed a few layers,” Fowler said. “So it was definitely a lot nicer for the second round.”
The calmer conditions gave way to a beautiful day for golf and for much lower scoring into the afternoon at the WM Phoenix Open.
TPC Scottsdale played much more like a warm Arizona day, with an under-par second-round average. After only five rounds of 4-under-par or better in the first round, a dozen golfers achieved it during Friday’s second round with several groups yet to finish play.
It was a vast scoring improvement over the first round, when the course played over a stroke over par on Thursday into Friday morning. It’s the only course to do so in the first round on tour this season, with Spyglass Hill Golf Course coming second, playing nearly seven-tenths of a stroke over par during the first round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
A few painful exceptions remained to an otherwise calm second round, though. Scottie Scheffler saw that firsthand on the famed 16th hole.
His tee shot landed on the middle of the green, moving toward a close pin position to the right hand side. Thanks to a wild and sudden gust of wind, his ball kept moving for about 30 seconds until it was off the green close to the hole’s famous rowdy fan base, who booed him as he walked off the tee.
“My ball flew into the green kind of funny to where I could tell something was happening up there,” Scheffler said. “Then, the flags started whipping. Then, all of a sudden, my ball started going and people started booing me, which I didn’t appreciate too much.”
The poor reception to an otherwise solid golf shot at the 16th hole was the only blemish on a bogey-free 7-under-par round to move him to the tournament lead at 10-under par heading into the weekend. His second round is the best individual round so far in the tournament.
He said being in position to take advantage of a hole consistently is critical at TPC Scottsdale.
“I think around this place when you’re hitting fairways and you’re hitting it well the golf course can kind of open up for you,” Scheffler said. “When you’re hitting it well, you have to take advantage of it like I did today. Hopefully, I’ll keep putting the ball in position as the week goes on.”
Friday’s low-scoring effort added on to his 3-under-par first round on Thursday, when he was one of just 17 golfers to score under par in the first round.
One of his rivals in the chase for world No. 1, Arizona State alum Jon Rahm, also performed well Friday in addition to an under-par first round.
He shot a 5-under-par 66 on Friday, including a two-hole stretch where he made an eagle out of the greenside bunker on the 15th hole and fired up the crowd on the 16th hole with a birdie.
Earlier, Jon Rahm made birdie on the 16th and soaks in the noise.
He’s been playing great as of late with a great shot out of the sand on 15 that went in the hole as well.@sportscronkite pic.twitter.com/56McSli68T
— Nicholas Hodell (@HodellSports) February 10, 2023
He said with a field that includes 18 of the top 20 golfers in the world thanks to the WM Phoenix Open’s status of an elevated event by the PGA Tour, he knows some of his fellow competitors will thrive in difficult conditions, even if they calmed down today.
“Conditions can be difficult, but it’s the best players in the world,” Rahm said. “Somebody can come out there and shoot a low one.”
Fowler, meanwhile, put himself in contention going into the weekend with a 5-under-par 66 on Friday after finishing his first round earlier in the morning at even par.
Much like Scheffler, Fowler said the first shot of any hole is a critical one for success in Scottsdale.
“You still got to drive it well to give yourself the opportunities to go score (low),” he said. “(I) feel like (I) did a good job of getting it around.”
While most players were able to take advantage of more favorable scoring conditions on Friday, others stumbled after great first rounds. Jason Day only shot even par during the second round after shooting a 6-under-par 65 in his first round, one he also had to finish on Friday.
He took steep drops compared to the field from round-to-round in strokes gained from the tee to the green and in putting, where he ranked near the bottom of the field during his second round.
“Trying to hole some more putts would be nice,” Day said. “But I missed three makeable putts and that would have put me one (stroke) back currently.”
However, he is looking forward to the weekend at a course where dramatic finishes can take place.
“It is what it is. I just got two more days,” Day said. “Things, especially here, things happen pretty quick.”
This particular weekend may have higher stakes than simply a win at an elevated event with Rahm and Scheffler possibly facing off for the status of world No. 1. Current world No. 1 Rory McIlroy was well off the pace during the middle of his second round despite major improvement from a 2-over-par first round.
“I mean that would be a lot of fun,” Scheffler said. “It looks like right now we’re one and two, but we’ll see how things shake out. A lot of guys still have a lot of golf out there to play. (It) should be a fun weekend.”