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Scottie Scheffler seeking three-peat, Nick Taylor’s course record 60 and JT lurking among takeaways from the WM Phoenix Open

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Scottie Scheffler isn’t going to give up the WM Phoenix Open title without a fight.

The two-time defending champion fired a bogey-free 6-under 66 in the second round at TPC Scottsdale to vault into contention, four shots off the pace set by Andrew Novak and Nick Taylor. Asked whether he thinks he can win the title for a third straight time, something only Arnold Palmer has done in the tournament’s illustrious history, Scheffler said, “Yeah, I don’t see why not. Yeah, obviously I’d like to be a little bit closer to the lead, but still, four back out of now is not a bad place to be.”

He added: “I probably was just a bit too far away from the hole to make too many birdies, but bogey-free is always good.”

Scheffler earned his first PGA Tour victory at the 2022 WM Phoenix Open in a playoff over Patrick Cantlay and repeated by holding off Taylor and Jon Rahm. Scheffler opened with 2-under 69 and heads into the weekend at 8-under 134. This marks the 16th time in Scheffler’s last 23 PGA Tour starts that he’s in the top-10 through 36 holes.

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“I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing, plotting along and taking advantage of my opportunities,” he said. “The last two days I really haven’t played the back nine as well as I would like to. I haven’t really taken advantage of some of the scoring holes back there, so I’m looking to improve on that the next couple days.”

Here are four more things to know from the second round of the WM Phoenix Open.

Taylor's 10-stroke difference between rounds 1 and 2

2024 WM Phoenix Open
Nick Taylor plays his second from a bunker shot on the second hole during Round 2 at the WM Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale on Feb. 9, 2024.

Nick Taylor’s morning went a little better than his afternoon, but when he added it up his two rounds were 10 shots different but good enough to share the 36-hole lead at the WM Phoenix Open with a total of 12-under 130.

Taylor played 30 holes in all at TPC Scottsdale on Friday, completing his first round with eight birdies in his final 12 holes to tie the course record of 11-under 60. Thirty minutes later, he teed off on his second round and followed up with a round of 1-under 70.

“It’s weird feeling disappointed after a 70, but this morning was pretty hard to follow up,” said Taylor who gained more than seven strokes on the greens and made 184 feet of putts. “Didn’t hit it great off the tee this afternoon, so I was grinding a little bit early on, but held it together, made some kind of key up-and-downs early on, and it was nice to finish the round under par. But this morning was obviously pretty special to make all those putts and shoot 60.”

Taylor, who resides near the course for half the year when he isn’t in his native Canada, practices often at TPC Scottsdale, and finished runner-up last year at the WM Phoenix Open. In between, Taylor won the RBC Canadian Open, and he noted that playing in from of the rowdy crowds at the WM Phoenix Open served him well for becoming the first Canadian to win his home open in 69 years.

“It’s a bit of a circus out there, and I think last year helped me for the Canadian Open following that, and that no doubt will help me again this year,” he said. “I have a lot of experiences to draw back on.”

Novak the dark horse

2024 WM Phoenix Open
Andrew Novak hits from the second tee box during continuation of round 1 of the WM Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale on Feb. 8, 2024.

Andrew Novak is a third-year Tour pro playing in the WM Phoenix Open for the first time. He had missed the cut at all three of his starts this season but after doing some work with his coach, Scott Rosenthal, he went out and shot a pair of 65s to share the 36-hole lead when play was suspended with Taylor.

What did he find with his coach that led to a bogey-free round on Friday afternoon?

“It’s nothing crazy, nothing we’ve never worked on before, but just basically staying over the ball and then rotating through it, keeping it simple, and it makes it a little bit more repeatable,” he explained.

The highlight for Novak was sticking a 6-iron at the par-3 fourth hole to a foot for a tap-in birdie.

“I thought that was about to be a hole-in-one. Obviously, you can’t see from the tee with where that pin was, but I could tell from the reaction of the people behind the green, it was close.”

Novak is seeking his first Tour title. His last win was at the 2020 Lecom Suncoast Classic on the Korn Ferry Tour.

“It’s been a while,” he said. “I don’t remember a whole lot from the last time I won. It was a long time ago…I’ll let the fans kind of carry me on and chant my name and hit shots as good as I can, and if I win, I win.”

Thomas and Berger lurking

2024 WM Phoenix Open
Justin Thomas misses a birdie putt on the 2nd hole during the second round at the WM Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale.

After a disappointing season a year ago, Justin Thomas has found his mojo. He’s in contention yet again this week after shooting 69-65 to share fifth with Scheffler.

On Friday, the key for Thomas, who has posted six consecutive top-25 finishes at the WM Phoenix Open, including a solo third in 2019, was a subtle putter change he made between rounds.

“It was more of a setup thing than anything. I think my hands were getting a little behind it, and Bones mentioned something and it was something my dad saw earlier in the week, too, so just put a little bit more of an emphasis on that and really just tried to get good speed and made some nice ones,” said Thomas, who improved from 99th to seventh in Stroke Gained: Putting from the first to the second round.

“The putter I went back to the second round is my gamer, the one I’ve used for a long time and had a lot of success with. The one that I used this morning was just the new model of it,” he explained. “I had no intention of using it, but honestly my putter felt so bad the first couple days this week after Pebble last week that I just — I was putting with it, and it felt good. My speed was good with it. I was starting it on line. I went with it. I felt like I had a lot better chance of making putts with that than the other one. I have full faith I would have putted the same with the other putter, but there’s something about using something you’re comfortable with.”

Also lurking is Daniel Berger, who shot 65-69, who is T-9 at 7 under. Berger is mounting his own comeback from injury and is making his third start of the season.

Last call for Hard K

2024 WM Phoenix Open
Jim Knous of the United States plays an approach shot on the third hole during the second round of the WM Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale on February 09, 2024 in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Photo by Orlando Ramirez/Getty Images)

If this is Jim Knous’s final PGA Tour event, he can at least say he made it to one more weekend.

Knous, 34, is 4 under in his second round and inside the cutline at 3 under overall with four holes remaining.

Knous earned his way into the tournament on Monday at Pinnacle Peak Country Club, shooting 7-under 65 and advancing through a 4-for-3 playoff.

Knous decided it’s time to hang up his golf shoes and is set to begin a new position working at Ping. Knous is the most successful player to come out of Colorado School of Mines, which is also where Ping’s head of R&D Marty Jertson went to school and he has long taken an interest in Knous, who has played Ping equipment throughout his career.

It took seven years after turning pro before Knous earned his PGA Tour card for the 2019 season. In all, he has made 44 Tour starts as well as nearly 100 more on the Korn Ferry Tour in his 11 years as a pro.

This week, he had his college coach, Tyler Kimble, on the bag. Wife, Heidi, and the couple’s three kids watched his opening round and father, Jim, and mother, Ellen, were among his supporters walking with him on Friday afternoon. He holed out a bunker shot for birdie at 18 and lifted his arms to the sky. The he birdied his next three holes. Last call may get postponed a little longer if he can finish strong.

“Thanks for the ride,” his father said in an interview with PGA Tour.com.

But Knous knows it is time to do something else after being on the road for 197 nights in 2022.

“I’m very proud of my career, but it’s time to be a dad,” Knous told Monday Q. “I’m just going to enjoy everything about this week, no matter what.”

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek