Pair of 21-year-olds in contention
January 30, 2015
By Sean Martin and Rob Bolton, PGATOUR.COM
- Justin Thomas has hit 28 of 36 greens in regulation through two rounds at TPC Scottsdale. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Justin Thomas is in contention once again. The 21-year-old rookie will play in the final threesome of a PGA TOUR event for the third consecutive weekend.
He shot 67-68 in the Waste Management Phoenix Open’s first two rounds and is one shot behind Daniel Berger, who also is 21. Berger followed a first-round 65, which he completed Friday morning, with a 2-under 69 to sit at 8-under 134.
Both Thomas and Berger are playing this week on sponsor invitations. Thomas received his Sunday evening, after he played in Sunday’s final group at the Humana Challenge in partnership with the Clinton Foundation. Both players are represented by Excel Sports Management, which also represents Tiger Woods.
Thomas was tied for the lead with three holes remaining at the Humana. He made double-bogey at the 16th, though, en route to a seventh-place finish. He also was in Saturday’s final group at the Sony Open in Hawaii, where he shot a second-round 61. He shot consecutive 70s on the weekend to finish sixth.
Thomas started the week at No. 28 in the FedExCup after finishing in the top-10 in three of his past four starts. In addition to the Humana and Sony, he posted a T4 at the Sanderson Farms Championship.
He conceded that he was “really upset” with his Humana finish, but said the four-hour drive from La Quinta to Scottsdale gave him time to reflect on Sunday’s round.
“That’s just part of the learning curve,” he said.
Berger, also a 2014 Web.com Tour graduate, held a share of the first-round lead at this season’s OHL Classic at Mayakoba before fading to 51st place. He called it a “good learning experience.”
The two 21-year-old rookies will be able to put those lessons to use this weekend.
A Rainy desert day and a dismal round for Tiger
LAIRD FINISHES STRONG: Martin Laird’s best golf came at the end of his second round, and it allowed him to take the 36-hole lead at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Laird made four birdies in a five-hole stretch starting at No. 13.
He is at 10-under 132 after shooting consecutive 66s.
“(It’s) no coincidence that four birdies in five holes came on the back when the rain stopped and it got a little easier out there,” he said.
He has a four-shot lead on rookie Daniel Berger.
Laird is off to a solid start this season. He opened the campaign with a third-place finish at the Frys.com Open, where he also held the 36-hole lead. He finished 15th at last week’s Humana Challenge in partnership with the Clinton Foundation.
PALMER'S STREAK ENDS: Ryan Palmer's streak of consecutive rounds under par is over at 10. After holding the outright lead after 18 holes at TPC Scottsdale, he back-peddled a bit with a 1-over 72 in the second round. While he sounded beaten after playing in the rain, his spirits are anything but.
"It's great to be in this position again going into the weekend," he said, albeit with some reservation. "Little rough one today. I'm really confident about my game right now and what I'm doing, but today was one of those days off the tee. I could not get comfortable with finding the swing. It was pretty poor, but I fought through it, managed to hit some greens."
Indeed. After finding just four fairways and 11 greens in regulation, Palmer offset three birdies with two bogeys and a double. He didn't rule out weather as the primary reason that he'll have to begin a new run of red numbers. (His previous over-par score was an opening 74 at the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions, his first round of the 2014-15 season.)
"(The Stadium Course) played longer," he said. "The greens were a lot slower with the water. When I did have chances, I just struggled making putts. But overall, it was tough. (The rain) would come and go. This kind of rain is one of those rains that just sticks on you. You can't keep your grip dry. But we battled through it today."
RAHM RULES THE RAIN: Arizona State University junior Jon Rahm formerly applied for a sponsor exemption into the Waste Management Phoenix Open in November. After having a meal with tournament director Danny Calihan after which Rahm likes his chances, at attempt was made over the holidays to inform him that his request was approved. The only problem was, he was with his family in Spain and his American mobile carrier didn't provide service. It wasn't until he returned for the spring semester in Tempe that he learned of his fortune.
He's capitalized on it.
After returning to TPC Scottsdale this morning to complete his opening round -- he was one of nine stranded at darkness on Thursday -- the 6'3" Spaniard crafted a 3-under 68, good for third-lowest in the morning wave under cool, rainy conditions.
"It was pretty much the best round in the rain I've ever had," he said. "I have to say 'thank you' to my caddie (senior teammate Ben Shur). He really helped me out a lot today. He did a great job keeping everything dry, so it was easier to play golf."
They partnered for a "team par" at the par-4 10th where Rahm found a fairway bunker off the tee and had to lay up. But he'd eventually bury a par attempt from outside 18 feet.
"It completely changed everything," Rahm said of the save. "Once Ben and I looked at the break, we were both like, 'It's right there." We saw the line perfectly and I knew that I was going to make it. After that, birdies are on right now."
Rahm circled birdies at 11, 13 and 17 before posting 4-under 138. It's quite an in-tournament comeback after he sat 3-over through his first six holes on Thursday. His opener included three penalties for finding water, including twice on the par-5 15th hole where he penciled in a 7. But he also converted an eagle-2 from inside 10 feet on the drivable, par-4 17th and chipped in from the rough at the par-4 first. And just to show that he can putt a little bit, Rahm rolled in a par save from outside 55 feet at the par-4 11th where he rinsed his tee ball.
"I kind of feel like I belong here," he said on Friday. "Yesterday, I was really nervous starting on the back nine and didn't play as well as I could have. I learned from that. Whatever happens, just enjoy it. Just keep doing what I'm doing. Honestly, I'm not really focusing on the score. I'm just playing golf, shot by shot."
RAIN BECOMING A FACTOR: The weather is lousy and he didn't break par, but Bubba Watson is not displeased with an even-par 71 in his second round. Intermittent drizzle that at times elevated to persistent rain at TPC Scottsdale softened conditions. In theory, stick-and-stop golf would seem to favor the longest hitters. Think again.
"Yeah, the rain really affects my golf game, and so for me this is a great round," he said. "I'm excited about it, happy with it, ended with a birdie. I had a couple of bogeys there on the last few holes. Wayward 9-iron kind of squirted out of the water and then bounced down the hill to a tough spot. And then No. 8 hit it in the bunker. When you hit it in these bunkers just off the green, it's going to be tough."
He started on the back side of the Stadium Course and traded two birdies with two bogeys. He didn't convert anything outside eight feet and whiffed thrice from inside nine feet. So, his putting stats are forgettable, but he's comfortably in contention at the midpoint at 6-under 138.
If there's a downside, it's that similar weather conditions are expected on Saturday. Heavier rain is expected in the afternoon, too, when Watson would be scheduled to begin his third round.
SHOT OF THE DAY
Shot of the Day
Jason Dufner’s grand birdie chip-in is the Shot of the Day
BEST OF SOCIAL MEDIA
Disappointed, but really appreciate the incredible support this week.— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) January 30, 2015
@BillyHo_Golf isn't it obvious Billy, his hair looks good slicked!— Luke Donald (@LukeDonald) January 30, 2015
CALL OF THE DAY
Doug Bell calls Daniel Berger's closing birdie at No. 18 in the second round at Waste Management Phoenix Open.
Live play-by-play coverage of the third round streams from 1-6 p.m. ET Saturday on PGATOUR.COM.
ODDS AND ENDS:
Despite pulling out of last week’s Humana Challenge in partnership with the Clinton Foundation due to a strained forearm, Ryan Moore finds himself tied for fourth after rounds of 69-67. "Growing up in the Northwest, I'm used to playing in stuff like this, but it still doesn't make it easy,” Moore said of the rainy conditions. “I'm still in pain when I'm out there and everything is wet. Just wouldn't stop until the last couple of holes." ... Friday's attendance settled at 81,309. Blame the weather. After Thursday's record crowd, the two-day total is 199,770. That's 12,017 off last year's record pace. ... If the current cut line doesn't move, Bill Haas will survive on the number at 1-over 143. It would extend his consecutive cuts made streak to 19, longest in the field and fifth-longest among all active streaks. However his last MC wasn't an MC. It was a withdrawal after one round of the 2014 RBC Heritage due to an injured wrist. ... Seventy-seven golfers are currently inside the cut line, but 15 have yet to completed their second rounds. Amateur Jon Rahm is tied for 13th and will not influence the cut of low 70 professionals and ties. ... At 4-under 138, Brendan Steele is now 5-for-5 at the WMPO. He's seeking his fourth consecutive top-six finish at TPC Scottsdale where he recorded a career-low 62 in the third round last year. ... For every tee ball inside seven feet at the par-3 16th hole, Quicken Loans is paying one-month's mortgage for a lucky fan. So far, 14 prizes have been rewarded.
ROUND 2 STATS
Category Friday Leader(s) Stat Strokes gained: tee-to-green Martin Laird 5.52 strokes gained Driving distance Tiger Woods 327.5 yards Driving accuracy B. Horschel, K. Kisner, K. Perry, C. Reavie, T. Wilkinson 12 of 14 Greens in regulation Jon Rahm 15 of 18 Strokes gained: putting Kevin Chappell 4.92 strokes gained Putts per round K. Chappell, B. Davis 23 putts Total birdies Kevin Chappell 7
Rickie Fowler entertains the crowd on No. 16 at Waste Management