Scottie Scheffler in position to defend, Jon Rahm hot in pursuit and more from moving day at the 2023 WM Phoenix Open

SCOTTDALE, ARIZ. Scotty Sheffler is exactly where he wants to be.

The defending WM Phoenix Open champion didn’t have his best results on Saturday, but collected a 3-under-68 at TPC Scottsdale to be two strokes clear of Spaniard John Rahm and Canadian Nick Taylor. In doing so, he became the first defending champion to lead by 54 holes.

“I felt like on Sundays I was outside looking inside. I think being in the final group with a two-shot lead is definitely the position I want to be in,” he said.

Scheffler, 26, who led 36 holes, took advantage of a good bounce off a cactus on a tee shot into the second hole and hit a 47-foot birdie shot. His advantage grew to three throws, but 13th, played as the easiest hole of the day, was not for Scheffler at all. His misguided drive, remaining at par 5, cost him his only scarecrow of the day and just the second of 66 players to break away. He temporarily lost the lead to Xander Schauffele, but Schaeffler bounced back in a difficult 14th hole by hitting the iron 5 feet by 4 feet to set the bird that leveled the ship. He called it the best throw of his round and Ted Scott agreed. “That shot was disgusting,” he said.

“Today I didn’t hit as well as I had hoped. But still it cost 3 under. Mostly kept the ball in play. Just kept connecting. Only one scarecrow was good today,” Scheffler said.

Scheffler aims to be the first to defend his title here since Hideki Matsuyama in 2017 (previously Johnny Miller did so in 1974-75) and his first win since the Masters last April. Sunday’s victory will have the added bonus of also reclaiming the top spot in the Official World Golf Rankings, provided current world No. 1 Rory McIlroy finishes out of third place in solo (he is currently T-28).

Ram claims hometown title

2023 WM Phoenix Open
2023 WM Phoenix Open

Spain’s John Rahm makes his second shot on the fifth hole as fans watch during the third round of the WM Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale on February 11, 2023 in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

John Rahm made it to the final group on Sunday with three birds on his last six holes and hit 68 on Saturday.

As a Scottsdale resident and Arizona State alumnus, Ram is a crowd favorite and was greeted with applause of “Vamos, John!” and “Fork out!” when he was declared on the first tee.

Rahm made a bogey with three shots on the first hole and needed to save par from missed shots at numbers 5 and 8 to stay within Scheffler’s reach.

“Being equal to parity under 11 was not easy,” he said. “I had to dig deeper to get some hits and continue the round.”

Ram could reclaim his world No. 1 title with his third PGA Tour title of the year. Since he has historically played in the Phoenix Open – he has never finished worse than the T-16 – he has never had such a good chance as on Sunday.

“I had good finishes, but I never went down to the last nine with a chance to win,” Ram said. “Hopefully tomorrow I can start better, play well in the top nine and come out in the top nine with a good chance of success.”

taylor outsider

2023 WM Phoenix Open
2023 WM Phoenix Open

Nick Taylor playing hole 12 during the third round of the WM Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale on Saturday, February 11, 2023. Required Data: Dianne Chavez/The Republic.

Nick Taylor is the third player in the final group, along with Scheffler, No. 2, and Rahm, No. 3. Taylor’s rating? He’s No. 223, but he earned his honors this week by hitting 4-67 on Saturday and moving up to 11-202.

“They are definitely amazing players,” said Taylor, who is in contention for his third Tour title. “I just have to go about my business tomorrow. Easier said than done. But if I continue to play the same as before, I think I will have a good chance to go further. But I can’t pay attention to what they do. If I get carried away with it, then probably then I will struggle a little. I was in a position where I was an underdog so I just had to keep my head down and keep playing.”

Taylor made a birdie on the last two holes and jumped into the final group. He’s ranked seventh in Hits Taken: Putting this week and said he’s seen improvements on the green since he switched to the claw grip in the fall.

“It just improves my fundamentals. My punch got a lot stronger,” he said. “Just gaining confidence.”

Ram is not the only local in the final group. Taylor is also a Scottsdale immigrant and calls TPC Scottsdale his home field, even if it didn’t always go well for him during the tournament. He had never finished in the top 40 in his previous eight appearances at the WM Phoenix Open.

“I felt like I was heading towards it,” he said. “I’ve had a couple of good rounds playing here over the last few months to see if I can have a good round. There was a bit of work here, but it’s nice to see the ball coming into play too.”

Spieth in hiding after a special demonstration of hitting the ball in the second round

2023 WM Phoenix Open
2023 WM Phoenix Open

Jordan Spieth of the USA walks off the 16th field during the third round of the WM Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale on February 11, 2023 in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Photo by Sarah Steer/Getty Images)

Three reeds on his last six holes propelled Jordan Spit to fourth place and just three shots behind Scheffler before advancing to the final round.

Speth hit 2-69, including a 22-foot birdie on the first hole, but then his club went silent for most of the day. He failed to follow up his blazing 8-63 record in the second round, which lasted until Saturday morning.

“I did one on 1 and I thought I was just going to continue what I started this morning, finishing the second round,” he said. “Then played 11 holes or so in 2 reps with no birds. I just felt like I never had a chance.”

Spit’s 63 points is the lowest round of the tournament. He hit all 18 greens in regulation, which he only did once in 843 official rounds on the PGA Tour. Next time? The 2013 AT&T National at the Congressional Country Club near Washington, D.C. Spit’s streak was fixed at 23 consecutive greens under the rules when he missed the green on the sixth hole of his third round.

Spieth said he flew to Phoenix after completing the final round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am on Monday and had a good workout with his trainer later that day.

I came in a really good mood for what I was going to work this week. He was probably at his best on Thursday and yesterday. Today, when it got hotter, I relaxed a little and at times lost control a little, ”Spit said. “I have definitely seen things like this. Not surprisingly, the second round is pieced together. It builds a lot of confidence hitting 18 greens. I mean, I made a horror story after the 3rd hit. I did four triples in three days. I need to eliminate them tomorrow because there were balls in those rounds.”

No aces on par-3 16th

2023 WM Phoenix Open
2023 WM Phoenix Open

Hole 16 of Round 3 of the 2023 WM Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale. (Photo: Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports)

On Saturday, there were 66 players who had a chance to hit the par-3 16 on Saturday. The tee was moved up so the hole only played 128 yards. However, no one has been able to replicate the feat of Sam Ryder, who hit a hole on Saturday at last year’s tournament. (Ryder hit him 15 feet and did a bird kick this time.)

Adam Hadwin was the last player to hit a hole on Saturday and did his best. His ball came to rest 1 foot 5 inches from the hole, the best shot of the day. This beauty deserved applause, but there were too many bottles of water and other garbage thrown from the crowd. Hadwin’s heroism was followed by John Rahm with the longest hit of the day, a 41-foot descent from left to right that sent the crowd into a frenzy once again.

“After Adam got closer, I’m there again. I’m hoping to make it, but I’m quite happy with an easy, stress-free 2-putt,” Ram said. “We felt that there was chaos. I just thought it best not to spend too much time on it. I didn’t want to give the crowd too much time to think about throwing anything else. So even during my performance, someone threw a bottle and I just walked up and hit it. Break will not change. I had a pretty clear break. I felt like the pace was something I was comfortable in. It was one of those things that fortunately happened and I was able to enjoy the moment.”

The story originally appeared on GolfWeek.


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