Xander Schauffele lost a minor battle to a cactus on Thursday, but it's something else that has him slightly worried about being able to finish this week's Waste Management Phoenix Open.
Schauffele opened with a four-under-par 67 at TPC Scottsdale, but informed reporters after that his caddie, Austin Kaiser, had tested positive for COVID on the eve of the tournament. Kaiser and Schauffele were staying in the same house along with a few other players and caddies. The four-time PGA Tour winner and reigning Olympic gold medalist tested negative himself and had a friend fly in from California to fill in carrying his bag. But he'll continue to have to test negative to avoid, well …
"Got off to a good start for this tournament, so I got to test tomorrow morning and hope that I don't end up like Jon Rahm at the Memorial," Schauffele said, referring to Rahm having to withdraw last year at Muirfield Village with a six-shot lead through 54 holes after he tested positive. "So hopefully I'm fine."
Schauffele’s game certainly looked fine. Well, other than a literal brush with some desert brush on the sixth hole. It wasn't quite as scary as Jordan Spieth's edge-of-a-cliff shot last week at Pebble Beach, but it left a mark.
“I grabbed it, and had a bunch of thorns sticking in my hand,” Schauffele said. “Someone yelled, ‘Oh, this kid's from San Diego.’ And I was like, ‘Yes, that was a rookie move.’ So next time I'll grab a towel or use my glove hand.”
Apparently, it's not just the fans on No. 16 who will let the players hear it.
Schauffele, who started on the back nine, managed to par the hole following his lone bogey of the day on No. 5. He added a final birdie on No. 9.
As for his caddie, Kevin Techakanokboon, Schauffele says they go back to his freshman year in college and that he caddied for him once before.
"His last name is like 15 letters," Schauffele said. "So we call him Tech."
And we call that a pretty solid nickname. Anyway, here are the rest of our takeaways from Day 1 at TPC Scottsdale.
A familiar trio near the top
We don’t blame golf fans for feeling a sense of déjà vu as they watched the first round unfold. If you recall last year’s final round, Brooks Koepka beat K.H. Lee and Schauffele by a stroke. And that exact same trio led the way after the morning wave on Thursday.
This time, however, it was Lee on top with a six-under 65, followed by Koepka (66) and Schauffele.
"Just very comfortable here and some good friends here and nice food, nice people, maybe putting more well, hitting well, I mean, yes, everything better," Lee said after. "So feeling nice."
The winner of the 2021 AT&T Byron Nelson will be feeling even nicer if he keeps this up. Lee started on the back nine and made the turn at one under before getting it rolling on the front with three birdies and an eagle on the par-5 third.
Meanwhile, Koepka, is hoping to use this week to move up from what he called an "embarrassing" World Ranking of 20th. And Schauffele, well, we already talked about him. Moving on …
But a sponsor's exemption invitee leads them all
At least, for now. Sahith Theegala is seven under, but he faced a 16-footer for par on No. 8, his 17th hole of the day, when play was suspended due to darkness. Here was the cool scene when he learned he would get to play in this tournament:
Not that we haven't been seeing him popping up on leader boards already. He had a T-25 at Torrey Pines a couple weeks ago and a T-8 in the fall at the Sanderson Farms Championship. In other words, he's not going to need these types of invites for long.
Daniel Berger's brutal four-putt
On a positive note, it was nice to see Berger playing just a week after withdrawing from the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am with a back injury. But a two-over-par 73 didn't do much to show he's back to 100 percent.
That being said, his round took a harsh two-shot swing after driving the par-4 17th hole. Even with 90 feet for eagle, Berger looked like he was on his way to birdie after lagging to five feet. But he missed. And then he missed the three-foot comebacker to walk away with a disappointing bogey.
Yikes. Let's just go ahead and blame that on the back.
A crazy bet stays alive
The Action Network's Darren Rovell reported on Wednesday that someone placed a $10,000 wager on Carlos Ortiz to win this week at 150-to-1 odds. The potential payout of $1.5 million would be more than what Ortiz would earn for winning the tournament.
That's a lot of faith in a guy with one career PGA Tour win. And who has a missed cut and a T-70 in his first two starts of 2022. Even if he did finish T-4 at TPC Scottsdale last year.
Anyway, both the gambler and Ortiz still have a chance following the 30-year-old's opening 69. We're sure both Ortiz and the mystery gambler would have liked to see a bit more red on that scorecard, but hey, you know what they say: "You can't win a golf tournament bet on the first day, but you can certainly lose one."