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Theegala leads but ace wows Phoenix crowd

Sam Ryder has brought down the house with a hole-in-one on the stadium 16th hole at Phoenix Open, where PGA Tour rookier Sahith Theegala topped a leaderboard as crowded as the course.

Ryder’s wedge shot on the 124-yard hole landed just right and short, bounced a couple of times, spun left and tumbled in.

The rowdy fans on the 17,000-seat hole threw drinks in the air in celebration and littered the turf with bottles, cans and cups, leading to about a 15-minute delay.

“I don’t know how I could pick a hole over this one,” said Ryder, eight strokes behind Theegala after an even-par 71.

“I don’t think there’s any hole that has the electricity that this one has.”

Ryder’s first tour ace was the 10th at No.16 since the tournament moved to the course in 1997 and first since Francesco Molinari in the third round in 2015.

Tiger Woods did it in 1997 before grandstands ringed the hole while the late Australian Jarrod Lyle took great delight in his ace in 2011.

With some 200,000 fans packing firm and fast TPC Scottsdale on another warm day in the Valley of the Sun, Theegala overcame a double bogey on the par-4 second to shoot a 2-under 69.

“What a day,” Theegala said. “So many ups and downs. I mean, it was wild.”

Making his event debut on a sponsor exemption, Theegala was at 14-under 199 total for a one-stroke lead over defending champion Brooks Koepka (68).

“I’m really exhausted right now,” Theegala said.

“Probably, I hit it in the desert five times. I got my ball stepped on twice, got my ball picked up twice. Very draining, for sure.”

FedExCup champion Patrick Cantlay (68), Xander Schauffele (69), Scottie Scheffler (62) and Talor Gooch (66) were tied for third at 12 under.

Hideki Matsuyama (66), a two-time champion in Scottsdale, was in a group tied for seventh at 11 under with Tom Hoge (67), Max Homa (68), Alex Noren (67) and Adam Hadwin (68).

Adam Scott was best-placed of the two Australians to make the cut with a 69 leaving him eight shots off the pace in a share of 29th while Matt Jones (72) is well back at 1 under.

The 24-year-old Indian-American Theegala — who grew up in Chino Hills, California, and has his parents and some family members in attendance in Arizona — rallied from his early mishap with birdies on Nos, 6, 7 and 8.

He dropped a shot on the 11th, birdied the par-5 13th and holed a 15-footer birdie putt on the par-4 17th.

Four-time major champion Koepka is right in the mix after strong putting performance.

“I’m playing solid, so just go out and go play a good round tomorrow and see what happens,” he said.

Seeking his first tour victory, Scheffler flirted with his second career 59 as he went around his front-nine on Saturday in just 27 shots, before settling for a 9-under round.

“I think it’s a fun event,” Scheffler said.

“I think it would be a little bit draining if it was like this every week, but one week a year is pretty special.”

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