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Sahith Theegala continues ascent at WM Phoenix Open

5 Min Read



    Written by Kevin Prise @PGATOURKevin

    Editor's note: Sahith Theegala took the 36-hole lead at the WM Phoenix Open, carding rounds of 65-64 at TPC Scottsdale's Stadium Course for a 13-under 129 total. It marks his lowest 36-hole total on TOUR, breaking his previous record (130) from the 2022 WM Phoenix Open, where he finished T3.

    Theegala could author a redemption story this weekend, after a heartbreaking finish in 2022 where his tee shot at the short par-4 17th Sunday found the water, en route to bogey, and he finished one stroke outside a playoff.

    Weather has interrupted play throughout the week, and the third round will not be completed until Sunday morning. Theegala is scheduled to begin the third round at 4:10 p.m. local time Saturday alongside Andrew Novak and Nick Taylor, each at 12-under 130.

    SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Sahith Theegala embraces the people-watching at the WM Phoenix Open, from which he can deduce “a hundred different storylines.” He embraces the inherent craziness at TPC Scottsdale, and he has found success here in a corresponding fashion.

    One Theegala-related storyline that has become clear in recent months: he’s ascending toward the game’s elite. The WM Phoenix Open has been a spark in that ascent, and his Scottsdale swoon might be only beginning.

    Theegala opened in 6-under 65 at TPC Scottsdale’s Stadium Course, the low score through the first wave on a water-logged Thursday where just half the field completed the opening round. The Pepperdine alum was 5-under through 14 holes before a weather delay that spanned three-and-a-half hours; heavy rains throughout the past day had rendered the course unplayable.

    After the delay, he played his final four holes in 1 under, leading into a Friday that will likely feature ample waiting – and laptop chess games – before he begins his second round.

    Sahith Theegala knocks tee shot close and birdies at WM Phoenix Open

    Theegala, 26, was a popular pre-tournament selection this week, an ode to his course history and recent form. Two years ago, he finished runner-up here in emotional fashion after leading through both 36 and 54 holes; his tee shot at the par-4 17th hole Sunday found the water, leading to a bogey, and he missed a playoff by one stroke. He began that week as a relatively anonymous sponsor exemption, and he ended it with fans chanting his last name.

    He was just months removed from earning his first TOUR card through the Korn Ferry Tour Finals; in a sense, the week marked his “Hello, world” moment among golf fans. He apologized to the media at the start of his post-round interview, unable to hold back tears.

    The Californian promised that he would be better for the experience, and he has stayed true to his word.

    Theegala entered the 2022 WM Phoenix Open at No. 318 on the Official World Golf Ranking; he now stands No. 22. He earned his first TOUR title at the Fortinet Championship last fall, weeks after missing a spot in the TOUR Championship in gripping fashion (he finished No. 31 on the FedExCup after the BMW Championship; the top 30 advanced to East Lake). He lingered in the parking lot at Olympia Fields as the cars slowly emptied out, replaying key moments from the final round in his mind and vowing to not feel the same again.

    As the strong finishes accumulate, that sting continues to become more of a distant memory. Theegala finished runner-up at The Sentry last month, one stroke back of winner Chris Kirk, and he arrived at the WM after a solid T20 at last week’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

    Last fall, Theegala admitted to that he was stung to not be in consideration for the U.S. Ryder Cup Team. If the fans at TPC Scottsdale had a vote, though, Theegala might be first in line for a spot in this fall’s Presidents Cup at Royal Montreal. Those who thrive under the bright lights tend to shine in team events, and TPC Scottsdale’s closing stadium gauntlet offers quite the preparatory buzz – with a twist when it comes to Theegala’s first name pronunciation.

    “I was surprised at how many fans were out here when it was raining sideways and blowing 20, and freezing,” Theegala said of Thursday’s vibe. “It was cool to see all the support and people chanting my name and all that, it's the best. I got a good sense of that last year when I came back after the run I made the first year, so to be back is always great.

    Sahith Theegala makes a bounce-back birdie on No. 6 at WM Phoenix Open

    “The last name's always pretty good. It kind of comes off the tongue how it is spelled, I guess, Theegala, so the last name chants are always great. It's when they try and yell the first name when they're a little drunk that some letters get added or omitted … I know they're rooting for me, so it doesn't bother me at all. I love it. I don't mind any pronunciation if they're yelling.”

    Friday could be a light day for Theegala, as Thursday’s late wave still has up to 16 holes to complete. That wave will then begin the second round, with Friday’s late wave (including Theegala) likely to tee off mid-to-late afternoon.

    Theegala has no trouble finding ways to occupy his time. During Thursday’s delay, he hung with his parents in player dining for a bit, then sat in his car for an hour “just for warmth,” listening to music and doing some chess puzzles. He intends to stay off his phone during Friday’s waiting period; he’ll play some chess on his laptop, grab some brunch and a coffee and perhaps watch a bit of tournament coverage to glean insights on course conditions.

    Then he’ll tackle TPC Scottsdale with the intent of earning a late weekend tee time, as he did two years ago, when the crowds fell in love with his aggressive playing style and free-spirited nature. In certain ways, Theegala has the makings of a modern-day Arnold Palmer, a player for the people.

    An inside look at Sahith Theegala's final round at WM Phoenix Open

    Palmer won three straight iterations of the WM Phoenix Open (1961-63), the only player to three-peat at this event. That’s not a bad act to follow.

    Kevin Prise is an associate editor for the PGA TOUR. He is on a lifelong quest to break 80 on a course that exceeds 6,000 yards and to see the Buffalo Bills win a Super Bowl. Follow Kevin Prise on Twitter.

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