For the second year in succession, Scottie Scheffler reigns supreme in Phoenix, the win taking the 26-year-old back to the top of the world rankings.
Scheffler began the final round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open with a two-stroke lead over Jon Rahm and Nick Taylor, with Jordan Spieth and Adam Hadwin one shot further back.
Undoubtedly the form man of 2023, Rahm came out firing and birdied the opener to halve Scheffler’s lead, and the head-to-head dual we were all expecting was very much on. Uncharacteristically, Rahm’s challenge faltered around the turn, and just a single birdie on the back nine meant that Rahm’s hopes of a third win in four starts this year had all but gone by the time the final group reached the closing three holes.
Instead, Canadian Taylor emerged as the unlikely potential Scheffler party-pooper. Taylor matched Rahm in going -3 through 6, and added back-to-back birdies on 9 and 10 to tie the lead.
With Rahm slipping back, Taylor kept the pressure on, and left himself a short-birdie putt on the par-5 13th, only to watch Scheffler, who’d been a little fortunate to see his tee shot skip through a waste area and onto the fairway, pour in a 22-foot eagle putt to take the solo lead once more.
Given the week that was in it, it was rather fitting that the critical moment came on the 16th. On the tee first, Scheffler pulled his tee shot left of the green on the stadium par-three hole, leaving himself a very difficult up-and-down for his par. Taylor’s tee shot was better, and desperately close to perfect, but just caught the wrong side of a ridge and trickled off the green.
Taking double out of the equation, Scheffler chipped to 15 feet and Taylor chipped to seven. Scheffler’s putt was treacherously slick, and for all the world looked like it was stopping short, but it trundled on and on, and fell in the front edge. Taylor, with the pressure cranked up, missed.
Scheffler’s two-stroke lead became three when he birdied the short par-4 17th and Taylor’s birdie putt heartbreakingly horse-shoed out, and though he’d birdie the last to rubber-stamp a great week, Scheffler’s stress free par saw him capture his fifth PGA Tour win, and first since slipping on the Green Jacket 10 months previous.
And, rather ominously for his competitors, though delighted with the win, he felt there was plenty room for improvement. “I hit some wild shots off the tee that were pretty uncharacteristic for how I usually shape the ball. I was just able to grind it out, make a lot of putts. I think I only had two bogeys this week. Which is really, really around this golf course. So I’m proud of that with my short game and putting. Hoping to build on this going forward.”
Asked about the putt on 16, Scheffler admitted that pace was the primary concern. “I was just trying to hit a solid putt,” he said, “in those situations that’s really all you can do. So when I’m standing over that ball all I’m thinking about is the speed. I had my line and I was set up and I felt comfortable. After that just trying to hit a good putt.
“It was a really fast one. So it took awhile to get there. But it was definitely fortunate to see it go in.”
“I played great today,” said Nick Taylor after his runner-up finish, “I felt like I didn’t really make any mistakes maybe until 16. But I really felt that was a great swing off the tee there. That wind was just crazy strong. I played enough for it, just obviously not quite enough.
“I would love the chip back on there. I felt like that was one I could potentially hole. It was still a tricky chip, but one I would like to do little bit better.
“But I putted great all day, hit a lot of great shots, so I don’t have a lot of complaints.”
Earlier in the day, Seamus Power, who made the cut on the number, followed up Saturday’s 66 with a closing, bogey-free 69, which saw the Waterford man finish the week in a tie for 18th place.
His got off to the perfect start, rolling in a nine-footer for birdie on the first, but though he’d have several chances from similar range on the front nine, he failed to convert. 15 consecutive pars saw him reach the short par-4 17th, and after driving the front edge of the green, two-putted for his second birdie of the day, and a regulation par at the last put the finishing touches on a solid weekend’s work.
For Rory Mcllroy, it was a case of more of the same. A little out of sorts all week, and struggling to get any real momentum going, his final round saw him trade three birdies and two bogeys for a one-under par 70.
Both McIlroy and Power now head for L.A. and Riviera Country Club for the Genesis Invitational, another of the PGA Tour’s designated events, where they’ll be joined by Shane Lowry. Tiger Woods is also set to make his first regular PGA Tour start in two years, meaning another wild week is expected and Woods, of course, will be the main attraction.
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