SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The only defense at TPC Scottsdale on Friday came in the form of muddy walks from hole to hole and heckles from over-served patrons. White shoes were wiped down as often as mid-irons and golf balls, but the added headache did nothing to slow players like Scottie Scheffler and Justin Thomas. Well-equipped to take on the Scottsdale faithful and whatever conditions the weekend presents, the two will try to chase down Andrew Novak and Nick Taylor, the duo that holds the lead at 12 under with Round 2 suspended due to darkness.
The day began with half the field completing its first round as Taylor ran wild. Signing for an 11-under 60, the Canadian added his name to the lengthy list of golfers who have recently flirted, and in some cases succeeded, with carding a sub-60 round. A factor at this tournament a season ago — when he was in the final group alongside Scheffler and Jon Rahm — Taylor’s effort matched the course record. The early storyline soon became an afterthought as Novak’s quality persisted with Scheffler and Thomas entering the clubhouse at 8 under following stellar second rounds.
After fighting his swing early, Scheffler found his groove with an unlikely birdie on his first par-4 14th. Clearly not dealing his best stuff, the world No. 1 did what world No. 1s should do on an off day: post a score. Signing for a 3-under 68, Scheffler experienced a quick turnaround and rolled this momentum into a bogey free 5-under 66 in Round 2. Still, the Texan believes there is more room for improvement.
“I’m not really going to overthink it,” said Scheffler. “I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing, plotting along and taking advantage of my opportunities. The last two days, I really haven’t played the back nine as well as I would like to. I haven’t really taken advantage of some of the scoring holes back there, so I’m looking to improve on that the next couple days.”
Scheffler is joined at 8 under by a couple of Americans in Thomas and Cameron Young. Playing alongside each other the first two days, Thomas and Young leaned on the the other’s quality play to remain within arm’s reach of the leaders. They will now sit back, kick their feet up and relax as Round 2 rolls into Saturday with 10 groups still needing to tee off.
1. Andrew Novak, Nick Taylor (-12)
Novak’s position atop the leaderboard — to put it bluntly — is surprising. Ranked outside the top 300 in the Official World Golf Rankings and without a top-20 finish since June, the 28-year-old has struggled to piece his entire game together for four straight days. Even two days have been an issue for the right hander in recent weeks as he entered this tournament without a paycheck collected this season. Still, here he sits, striping the ball (fourth in strokes gained approach) and sitting ahead of everyone else outside Taylor.
“I came in with the right mindset, just embrace it,” said Novak. “You can’t get mad at people. It’s going to happen. I grew up playing other sports, and always grown up thinking I was going to play football or basketball, and then you get the fans yelling at you, that’s so fun to me. We have great fans everywhere, but this is different. I’ve really been excited to get to play my first one and experience this because it really is fun.”
Meanwhile, Novak’s co-leader, Taylor, failed to follow up a great round with another, but he has nevertheless done enough to sit in a tie for pole position through two rounds. Taylor gained an absurd amount of strokes on the greens in his first round and was bound to come back down to earth. The putter regression in Round 2 should be no concern, but the ball-striking numbers took a hit as well and should be something to monitor moving forward.
3. Maverick McNealy (-10)
4. Doug Ghim (-9)
T5. Scottie Scheffler, Justin Thomas, Cameron Young, Ryan Fox (-8)
T9. Daniel Berger, Sam Burns, Kurt Kitayama, Charley Hoffman, Jhonattan Vegas (-7)
Thomas would be the first to admit that his bad golf in 2023 was very bad and his good was very good. Without his “A” game Saturday, Thomas turned another corner in his comeback tour by navigating TPC Scottsdale effectively and signing for rounds of 69-65. The encouraging part of the two-time major champion’s day is his struggles came in a historic area of strength. Not necessarily tidy with the wedges and missing out on multiple scoring chances with wedge in hand, the 30-year-old made up for it with a massive short-game effort. If this is matched with better play in scoring zones over the weekend, Thomas should love his chances to nab an overdue title in Scottsdale.
“I feel like I’ve gotten it around well,” said Thomas. “I don’t feel like I was very sharp today. … This afternoon [I] drove the ball well and made some putts, which is nice. I felt like I missed a lot of opportunities this morning. Didn’t feel great over it. Tried to make do with the 25 minutes or whatever between rounds to get a little something. But yeah, my wedges I felt like were pretty bad to be honest, and just I had a couple nice — made a couple nice putts when I needed to, had a couple good saves. Yeah, it helps getting a nice tee time, as well, this week.”
Were there too many chefs in the kitchen?
The collection of outfits at the Phoenix Open is as eclectic as it comes. Some dress to the nines, while others wear matching bachelor party shirts to celebrate a buddy. There’s a whole lot in between, and in some other category well outside this range, there are the Min Woo Lee super fans that engulfed TPC Scottsdale. Decked out in Lululemon like their Australian hero while rocking “let him cook” red chef hats, this possé of men maneuvered through the mud to support Lee. While at the surface it looked to be good fun, it proved to be a corporate marketing ploy (though an effective one at that).
2024 WM Phoenix Open updated odds and picks
- Scottie Scheffler: 4-1
- Nick Taylor: 11/2
- Justin Thomas: 7-1
- Sahith Theegala: 7-1
- Andrew Novak: 12-1
- Cameron Young: 14-1
- Doug Ghim: 20-1
- Sam Burns: 20-1
- Maverick McNealy: 20-1
It’s another weird wagering situation as players like Theegala (-6) and Jordan Spieth (-3) have yet to get into the meat of their second rounds. Spieth is the intriguing one of the two as he faces a 7-foot par attempt on the par-5 3rd when play resumes Saturday. If he converts, he could start running down hill and post a score like Scheffler and Thomas did Friday making his 30-1 price tag a bargain deal.