SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – They enter through the tunnel to the 16th hole like gladiators entering the Colosseum.
“They open the gates and here come the slaves,” Gary McCord, who had a ringside seat for years as CBS Sports’ anchor of the hole. “It’s like the old medieval taunting days.”
The par-3, 173-yarder is unlike anything else in golf, a hole that is totally enclosed with skybox suites and handles upwards of 15,000 riotous fans.
They chant. They cheer. They boo. Relentlessly.
Just ask, Xander Schauffele, who hit to 50 feet while playing competitor Tony Finau drilled his tee shot to 1 foot, 4 inches.
“I was the big loser in our group,” Schauffele said. “It almost becomes white noise. I’d say 16 would almost feel creepy if it was like completely quiet, which is impossible. You’ve just got to enjoy the experience.”
Easier said than done after he took three putts and was heckled after missing from 4 feet for par.
“I was booing myself in my own head, too,” Schauffele said.
It turned out to be the lone bogey of the day for the 29-year-old from Southern California, who carded a 4-under 67 at TPC Scottsdale, just a stroke off the lead among the early finishers at the first round of the WM Phoenix Open on Thursday.
Even on a day when the wind howled and low scores were rare, Schauffele continued to dominate in the desert. He improved his career scoring average at TPC Scottsdale to 67.76, the best of any player all-time with 20 or more rounds at the Phoenix Open. Schauffele has finished in the top 20 in all five of his appearances at the tournament, including T-2 and T-3 the last two years.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) February 9, 2023
“I’ve been knocking on that door for quite some time and I am ready to break that door down,” Schauffele said ahead of the tournament.
On Wednesday, the seven-time Tour winner added, “I think you just have to go and get it. I feel that’s the mentality. I think in every one of those moments where I had a close call, I didn’t get it. It’s one of those things where it puts a chip on your shoulder, one that’s already there, but it maybe adds another mark to it, and then you’ve just got to move on.”
Schauffele, ranked sixth in the world, was a stroke behind Adam Hadwin and Nick Taylor, a pair of Canadians, who both fired 5-under 66s. Since 1983, there has never been two Canadian players tied for the lead after any round of a stroke play event on the PGA Tour.
“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,” Hadwin said.
Morning frost in the Valley of the Sun delayed the start of the tournament for an hour and 45 minutes. Taylor, who lives not far from TPC Scottsdale, said it was the most difficult conditions in his nine appearances in the tournament, especially due to the wind blowing from the northeast. Hadwin, who also is a Scottsdale transplant, found the strength of the wind an intimidating factor.
“We just don’t often see 15-mile-an-hour gusts to 20 out here,” he said. “Usually we’re playing inside of a dome.”
The weather and the wind determined how aggressive or defensive a player could be. Schauffele noted that holes that typically set up for birdie chances, or as he put it, ‘Go holes,’ became places where par was a good score. But not for Taylor, who reeled off an eagle and four birdies in a row starting at No. 10. Hadwin did his best damage with his putter, holing a 34-foot birdie putt at 18, and leading the field in Strokes Gained: Putting.
Taylor made his longest putt of the day at the iconic 16th, a 14-footer for birdie at the hole that Hadwin uses a hockey reference to describe.
“It’s like being in a hockey arena,” he said, “and then the fans are right on top of you.”
Photos: 2023 WM Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale
view 38 images