Le Pays De France - Theegala clings to one-shot lead over Koepka at Phoenix Open

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Theegala clings to one-shot lead over Koepka at Phoenix Open
Theegala clings to one-shot lead over Koepka at Phoenix Open

Theegala clings to one-shot lead over Koepka at Phoenix Open

Rookie Sahith Theegala closed with a stunning par save to fire a two-under par 69 and seize a one-stroke lead after Saturday's third round of the US PGA Phoenix Open.

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The 24-year-old American birdied the 17th and blasted an 87-foot shot from greenside rough at the 18th within inches of the cup for a tap-in par to stand on 14-under 199 after 54 holes at TPC Scottsdale.

"It's really good to see that my game when it's good can keep up with some of the best in the game. It's really humbling," Theegala said.

"It definitely showed me a lot, that I seem to belong out here."

Four-time major winner Brooks Koepka, the defending champion, closed with a 17-foot par putt to shoot 68 and stand one off the lead with a pack of fellow Americans -- Tokyo Olympic champion Xander Schauffele, Talor Gooch, Patrick Cantlay and Scottie Scheffler -- two adrift on 201.

"I putted beautifully," Koepka said. "I'm striking it well. I'm pleased. One back, not where I want to be. I've just got to go play good tomorrow."

World number 318 Theegala, an amateur standout at Pepperdine University making only his 24th PGA start, lost a two-stroke lead with a double bogey at the par-4 second hole after finding a bunker off the tee.

"I made two mistakes in a row. That can't happen," he said. "I was like, 'What are you going to do about it?' after that.

"I caught my groove for a little bit there in the middle of the round. The back nine was a grind for sure. Really happy with the way I fought back. (I'll) just keep hammering, more of the same."

Koepka and Schauffele traded the lead much of the front nine, Schauffele made birdies at the par-5 third and par-4 fourth to grab the lead but Koepka matched him with a 13-foot birdie putt at the fifth and rolled in a 28-foot birdie putt at the sixth, only for Schauffele to equal him with a birdie from just inside five feet to deadlock them at the top on 13-under.

Schauffele was alone in front after Koepka made bogey at the par-3 seventh and both birdied the par-4 eighth, but Theegala sank his third birdie putt in four holes from four feet at the ninth to close within a stroke at the turn.

Schauffele found water off the 11th tee and made a double bogey while Theegala hooked his tee shot way left and made bogey, dropping them level for the lead with Koepka and Cantlay on 12-under.

Cantlay reached the green in two at the par-5 13th and two-putted from 26 feet for birdie but Schauffele, Koepka and Theegala followed with birdies at 13 to match him at the top at 13-under.

Schauffele found water at the par-5 15th and made bogey to stumble back and at the par-3 16th stadium hole, with thousands of screaming spectators surrounding the layout, Koepka lipped out a five-foot par putt to a chorus of boos.

"The crowd was awesome," Theegala said. "That was by far the loudest thing I've ever heard. It was such a cool opportunity. I just tried to enjoy it."

Cantlay drove into the water at 17 but rescued par with a nine-foot putt while Koepka drove the 17th green and tapped in for birdie to reclaim a share of the lead.

Moments later, Theegala rolled in a 15-foot birdie putt at 17 to seize the outright lead, then hung on with his par save at 18.

- Ryder aces stadium hole -

Scheffler fired a bogey-free 62 to leap into contention from nine adrift, matching a back-nine course record with a 29.

Gooch closed with three straight birdies while Cantlay birdied four in a row, the last a 16-foot putt at 11.

American Sam Ryder aced the par-3 16th as thousands of spectators surrounding the hole roared with delight then littered the green with empty cups, delaying the round.

"It has got to be number one," Ryder said when asked where it ranked among career thrills. "Nothing compares to that. I'm still coming down. It was a blur. I can't describe it."

A rowdy atmosphere was back at the event, where more than 100,000 fans attend daily, after last year's crowds were limited to 5,000 due to Covid-19 safety restrictions.