Battle for No. 1 heats up in Phoenix: Scottie Scheffler leads Jon Rahm by 2 shots

Battle for No. 1 heats up in Phoenix: Scottie Scheffler leads Jon Rahm by 2 shots
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All this talk about Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm and the debate on who is the best professional golfer on the planet.

Surely, it’s miffed the current world No. 2, no?

“Not really,” Scottie Scheffler said. “I would probably have to agree.”

Let Scheffler explain: “It’s not like I’m sitting there saying I’m playing better than those guys right now. They have been winning tournaments, and I’ve been kind of on the outside looking in. So no, I haven’t really been paying attention to it too much.”

Scheffler might’ve been ranked between No. 1 McIlroy and No. 3 Rahm entering this week’s WM Phoenix Open, but while his competitors have combined for six wins and nothing outside the top 8 since McIlroy tracked down Scheffler to win the Tour Championship last August, Scheffler owns a respectable four top-10s but no victories.

That said, it’s possible that Scheffler could wake up Monday morning ahead of both McIlroy and Rahm in the Official World Golf Ranking – and through two rounds at TPC Scottsdale, he’s in position to make that possibility a reality.

Scheffler, the defending champion at the People’s Open, fired a bogey-free, 7-under 64 Friday that moved him to 10 under, two shots clear of Rahm, who shot 66 in a second round that was suspended for darkness.

McIlroy, at 3 under thanks to 13 holes of 5-under golf, was among those still out on the course. As was Adam Hadwin, who shared second with Rahm at 8 under but was just 10 holes into his second round after teeing off in the third to last three some off No. 1.

Scheffler’s round was slow to start as he teed off on No. 10 and had just one birdie when he arrived at the raucous par-3 16th hole. It was at the 158-yard stadium hole where Scheffler appeared to have holed a beautiful cut for an ace, but his ball trickled just by the cup before a gust of wind sent it 16 feet away and off the green.

“It should have been probably 6 feet on left side of the hole,” Scheffler said. “It ended up being like 20 feet off the green. It was weird. Tough break.”

Pay no attention to the ShotLink chart; Scottie Scheffler was a foot away from a hole-in-one at TPC Scottsdale’s 16th hole on Friday at the WM Phoenix Open.

The Dallas native would settle for par, but he wasted no time making up for his misfortune. He birdied the next four holes, driving the green at the par-4 17th hole, sinking a 23-footer at the par-4 closing hole and making a pair of 7-footers, at Nos. 1 and 2.

He added birdies at Nos. 6 and 9 to close out his round.

“I think around this place when you’re hitting fairways and you’re hitting it well, the golf course can kind of open up for you,” Scheffler. “But the opposite can happen in a hurry because there’s trouble lurking on basically every hole with there being desert close by. There’s a lot of holes with water as well. When you’re hitting it well you have to take advantage of it like I did today. Hopefully, I’ll keep putting the ball in position as the week goes on.”

Last year at TPC Scottsdale, Scheffler not only broke through for his first career PGA Tour victory, but he also sparked a scintillating run that included wins at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, WGC-Dell Match Play and Masters, as well as his initial ascension to world No. 1, which McIlroy later grabbed from him after winning the CJ Cup last fall.

This year, Scheffler could return to No. 1 with a win provided McIlroy finishes worse than solo third. There is also a path to No. 1 with a runner-up for Scheffler, but Rahm would have to not win and McIlroy would need to finish worse than solo 36th.

Full-field scores from the WM Phoenix Open

For months now, Rahm has carded almost as many critical new-OWGR takes as birdies. But he, too, can finally get back atop the world rankings with a win at WMPO and a finish by McIlroy that is worse than a three-way tie for second. Rahm can also become No. 1 with a solo second if Scheffler doesn’t win and McIlroy ends up worse than solo 47th.

Rahm bogeyed his second hole of the round Friday, yanking his tee shot into the water right of the fairway at the par-4 11th, but he made some important up-and-down pars early and was clean the rest of the way. He got things going with a birdie at No. 13 followed by an eagle at No. 15, where he holed a 20-yard bunker shot, and birdie at No. 16, where he stuck his tee shot to 8 feet and rolled in the crowd-pumping putt.

Birdies at Nos. 2 and 3 got Rahm atop the leaderboard with Scheffler until Scheffler added his pair of late birdies a few groups behind.

“It’s funny, Adam told me, ‘You want to do anything after the round?’ And I said, ‘Absolutely not,'” Rahm said. “I’m making a lot of good swings out there and I’m going to remember that. Where they end up is to most of the extent out of my control.”

Jon Rahm rides momentum from eagle on No. 15

Jon Rahm rides momentum from eagle on No. 15

Just as it seems the new OWGR system has been for the red-hot Spaniard.

It might only take five wins since October for Rahm to finally get a No. 1 in front of his name, but in Rahm’s eyes, even though he’s been baffled by his recent rankings slight, he doesn’t really need such designation to validate how he’s playing right now.

“You can find a criteria or algorithm that’s going to make me No. 1 at any given point,” Rahm said Friday. “I feel like I’ve been No. 1 and I wasn’t playing as good as I am right now. So, it doesn’t really matter. You got keep doing it. Yes, I’ve been playing great golf. But Rory has also won three of his last eight starts, so it makes sense that he stays up there. Scottie did enough last year to stay up there. He’s been playing great. He hasn’t won, but he’s been up there. That still racks up points. … I feel like, again, if I’m not the best I’m one of the best. Just because I have been playing good and I’m confident in myself.

“But I don’t get too much in that discussion. A lot of what we say about the ranking is more for fun than anything else.”

Scheffler credits his driver for hot Round 2 at WM

Scheffler credits his driver for hot Round 2 at WM

Scheffler has mastered the art of bashfulness when it comes to the world rankings. Asked when was the first time he felt like he was world No. 1, Scheffler deflected by saying, “I don’t know if you ever really truly feel that way. … Any time you start perceiving yourself as something you kind of get into some issues. For me, it’s always worked best just to keep my head down.”

So, when it comes to a potential battle for world No. 1 between he and Rahm on Super Bowl Sunday – and potentially McIlroy trying to hold them both off for another week – Scheffler, if nothing else, sees it as just a matchup of two or three really good players at the top of their games.

“I mean,” Scheffler said, “that would be a lot of fun. It looks like right now we’re 1 and 2 [on the leaderboard], but we’ll see how things shake out. A lot of guys still have a lot of golf out there to play. Should be a fun weekend.”

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