WM Phoenix Open shows its 2022 hand, and it’s a pair of aces

Photo By Susan Wong/Cronkite News: The stadium atmosphere at the 16th hole of the WM Phoenix Open sets the stage for a high-energy atmosphere, especially when a player makes a hole-in-one.

By Dylan Wilhelm/Cronkite News

SCOTTSDALE – At the 16th hole of the WM Phoenix Open, the longing for a hole-in-one is palpable. And on the rare occasion, it happens, legends are born.

During the 2022 WM Phoenix Open, it happened twice. Sam Ryder on Saturday. Carlos Ortiz on Sunday.

Hole 16 has earned its reputation as one of the rowdiest and unique places in golf. Thousands of fans pour in hours before any player tees off, and they all expect excellence from the tee box.

Anything less than a brilliant shot is met with boos, while well-placed balls near the pin are met with tremendous fanfare. On Saturday, there was a mix of boos and cheers, but nothing had sent the crowd into a frenzy.

Enter Ryder, who was 2-over-par as he walked through the tunnel at the 16th hole. Needing a strong finish over the final three holes, the 124-yard par-3 served as a good opportunity to get back a stroke or two lost on previous holes.

He did just that, nailing his first ace on the PGA Tour, summoning showers of beer, and garnering deafening applause from the elated crowd.

It was just the 10th hole-in-one on hole 16 in tournament history, and the first since Francesco Molinari did it in 2015. Ryder’s shot will now be part of golf immortality, aside from the likes of Tiger Woods’ ace on the same hole in 1997, which was also met with a spirited reaction.

A mixed reaction followed the crowd’s antics, but a rowdy atmosphere has come to define this unique stop on the PGA Tour.

Even Ryder played into the hype on Twitter, posting a video of the shot with the caption “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED!? ALL the drinks on me.”

“Still kind of coming down off the adrenaline but, yeah, it was pretty crazy,” Ryder said after the round.

Ryder concluded Saturday 6-under-par, placing him tied for 29th heading into the final round.

On Sunday, Oritz, 30, hit the second ace of the weekend at 16, prompting another raucous celebration. He followed his hole-in-one on 16 with an eagle on 17, gaining four strokes.

Entering Sunday, PGA Tour rookie Sahith Theegala, 24 remained atop the leaderboard at 14-under-par.

Theegala was a part of the final group, teeing off alongside PGA tour veterans Brooks Koepka and Xander Schauffele.

“I’m still not fully over the fact that I’m playing with these guys,” Theegala said. “Even on the first tee, I’m like, ‘Man, I’m playing with Xander and Brooks? Like, are you kidding me?’”

Theegala began the day on a rough note, recording a double bogey on hole 2. He was able to hit par on each of the next three holes, and then birdied three of his final four on the front nine to get back to below par.

“So many ups and downs today. Obviously a really bad start and proud of the way I fought back there,” Theegala said.

Theegala is trying to become just the sixth sponsor’s exemption since 2010 to win on the PGA Tour, and he would be the first since Martin Laird won the 2020 Shriners Children’s Open in Las Vegas.

While fans are taking notice of Theegala’s strong weekend, he is trying to stay grounded and appreciate the moment ahead, no matter what the results turn out to be.

“Just trying to enjoy this week as much as possible and I have one more day to do that (Sunday), so that’s all I’m going to be worried about,” Theegala said.

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