The first round of the Phoenix Open on Thursday was, as it normally is, the most raucous 18 holes of golf we’ve seen so far this season. Normally, that means a few hundred thousand people mixing it up at TPC Scottsdale, but on Thursday it only meant around 5,000. That’s a massive increase over the number of folks who have been at recent events, though, and after nearly a year’s worth of almost no fans at all, for some players it probably felt like a major championship.
The leaders — Matthew NeSmith and Mark Hubbard, both at 8 under — are a surprise duo given how loaded up this field is, but they were both flawless, finishing in the top two in strokes gained from tee to green and combining for 14 birdies, 1 eagle and no bogeys on the day. However, there’s company, and the stars in this field will press them over the final 54 holes. Here’s an overview of Round 1 and the leaderboard in Phoenix.
T1. Matthew NeSmith, Mark Hubbard (-8): They have a combined five top 10s in 156 events on the PGA Tour so you might not be impressed with the staying power here. Vegas is not impressed either. According to William Hill, both are still 20-1 or worse to win the golf tournament, although if the ball-striking is even half what it was on Thursday throughout the rest of the week, those odds are going to drop quickly.
T3. Nate Lashley, Sam Burns (-7): Burns is the one to watch here. He’s been striking the hell out of the golf ball over the last few months, and his putter finally caught up to it on Thursday. He led the field in putting, and a week after playing in the final group with Patrick Reed at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, Burns is once again threatening for the first PGA Tour victory of his career.
5. Steve Stricker (-6): Wait … Steve Stricker? That’s right, Stricker beat Jon Rahm, Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas on Thursday with a casual little 65 capped by a 13-foot birdie at the last.
T6. Xander Schauffele (-5): This is Schauffele’s sweet spot. Within striking distance but not up big. Just sort of lingering right near the lead before making a late move. His record around here is impeccable, and with the odds reshuffled after the first 18, he’s your new favorite.
T21. Jon Rahm (-3): The lurker. Rahm quietly played a bogey-free round until the final hole and seemed to sneak in the clubhouse with a 68 despite not doing anything all that special throughout the day. His record here is terrific, and he hit 14 of 18 greens in regulation. He’s terrifying when he makes it look as simple as he did on Thursday.
T21. Brooks Koepka (-3): Koepka has missed three cuts in a row so he needed something going in the right direction. He struck it wonderfully and scored despite hitting it in the water on the drivable par-4 17th and making a double on the second hole on the course. His next three rounds will be legitimately interesting.
T50. Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas (-1): Rory started poorly with a double-bogey and was 3 over thru just two holes. He bounced back hard though and looked to be headed for something close to the lead before stalling late with a 1-over finish in his last six holes. Iron play, as it almost always is when he doesn’t score, was not great. J.T. was sloppy late with a triple at the 17th hole when he hit a bunker shot by the green into the water and could not get up and down. He tumbled from within four to near the cut line on the best risk-reward hole on the golf course.
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