Scheffler and Rahm surge as McIlroy finds a spark in Phoenix

Mark McGowan

Rory McIlroy (Photo by Oisin Keniry/Getty Images)

Mark McGowan

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World numbers two and three Scottie Scheffler and Jon Rahm, occupy the top two spots on the leaderboard at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, with number-one Rory McIlroy making a move before round two was suspended.

With just 10 holes completed in his opening round when play was halted for darkness, Seamus Power was best placed of the Irish, safely navigating his front nine-plus-one at level par in gusty conditions at TPC Scottsdale.

Unfortunately for the Waterford man, with the wind down when play resumed on Friday morning, he failed to capitalise, rattling off seven consecutive pars to complete his opening round. After a quick recess, he was back on the tee for round two, but three birdies were offset by three bogeys, and the two-time PGA Tour winner signed for level-par for the round, level-par for the tournament, and will face an anxious overnight wait to see if his total is good enough to make the mid-way cut.

After sinking a 20-foot eagle putt in near darkness yesterday evening, Jon Rahm resumed his opening round with a bogey on the 14th hole this morning, but a beautifully played chip shot on the short par-4 17th was tapped in for birdie, and he signed off his opening round at -3.

A bogey, four birdies and an eagle in round two saw the Fed-Ex cup leader push his way to the top of the leaderboard, but six successive pars on his closing holes – albeit coming on the tougher front nine – mean that Rahm was caught and eventually passed by a resurgent Scottie Scheffler.

Scheffler, returning as defending champion to the site of his maiden win and the event that sparked his incredible run that saw him win four times in six starts, take the world number one spot, and earn himself a Green Jacket, was a man inspired.

Like Power and Rahm, he returned to complete his opening round this morning from -1, but the big man from Dallas picked up two more strokes on his way home, then added seven more birdies in round two without a blemish on his card to set the round-two clubhouse target at -10, two ahead of Rahm.

Speaking after the round, Scheffler admitted that the course played considerably easier today, and that the lack of wind made for ideal scoring conditions. “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,” he said, “but the opposite can happen in a hurry because there’s trouble lurking on basically every hole. With there being desert close by. There’s a lot of holes with water as well. 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.”

In the later wave, having struggled through the tough conditions in round one, Rory McIlroy’s ball-striking was vastly improved, giving himself a great birdie look on one but failing to convert, holed a six-footer for birdie on two, and missed from the same length for eagle at the third, but tapped in for his birdie-four, and then sank a downhill 25-footer for birdie at the par-3 fourth for three birdies on the spin.

Another followed on the sixth hole, this time from eight feet, and the world number one was looking the part. Three pars closed out the front nine, and he followed up with three more on 10, 11 and 12, before a beautifully flighted seven-iron on 12 set up his fifth birdie of the day, moving the Holywood man to -3 for the tournament. With darkness rapidly ascending, in spite of a wayward drive at the par-5 13th, Rory took on the green from the waste area, but just ran through, leaving himself a delicate downhill putt that he ran seven-feet past and failed to convert the birdie putt as the hooter sounded to call a halt to proceedings.

Similar to McIlroy, Shane Lowry had a long wait for his Friday tee time, and after an opening four-over 75, needed something in the sixties to have any chance of making the cut. Unfortunately for the 2019 Open Champion, two birdies and two bogeys through 12 holes, sees him lie three-strokes shy of the provisional cut line.


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