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Levin surges ahead at Phoenix Open

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Spencer Levin took the Phoenix Open lead with a hard-charging approach. He figures that’s the best way to stay there, too.

“You don’t want to get too tentative or play away from shots,” Levin said. “If you want to play well and make birdies you can’t do that, so I’m just going to try and stay as aggressive as I can the next two days.”

Levin holed out from a greenside bunker for eagle on the par-4 17th and shot an 8-under 63 on Friday to reach 14 under. He had a five-stroke lead when the delayed second round was completed Saturday morning at TPC Scottsdale.

“Hopefully, I can just keep trying to believe in myself and just keep trying to make my swing, and we’ll see what happens,” Levin said. “I’m going to give it my best shot. It should be fun. I’m looking forward to it.”

On 17, Levin took one last drag on his cigarette, stamped it out in the rough and climbed into the bunker behind the 17th green. He set up quickly, took a quick glance at the hole and splashed out. The ball landed about 10 feet from the hole, bounced twice and rolled into the cup for an eagle-2.

“That was pretty cool,” Levin said.

Harrison Frazar was 11 under with three holes left Friday when play was suspended because of darkness. He had two bogeys Saturday morning to drop to 9 under.

“There toward the end it was getting kind of tough to control the ball and to see it,” said Frazar, the St. Jude Classic winner last year. “The temperature dropped, so the ball flies a little differently.”

Webb Simpson, the highest-ranked player in the field at No. 6, was third at 8 under along with tour rookie John Huh. Simpson shot a 69 in the last group to finish play on No. 18, and Huh had a 66.

“That was probably the darkest I’ve ever played,” Simpson said. “I couldn’t really see anything.”

Kyle Stanley was 7 under after a 66 as he tries to rebound from a devastating loss last week. On Sunday at Torrey Pines, he made a triple-bogey 8 on the final hole of regulation and lost to Brandt Snedeker in a playoff.

The 27-year-old Levin, remembered for a hole-in-one and 13th-place tie in the 2004 U.S. Open at Shinnecock while still in school at New Mexico, is winless on the PGA Tour. He came close last year, losing a playoff to Johnson Wagner in the Mayakoba Golf Classic. At Torrey Pines, Levin had a share of the first-round lead after a 62, but followed with rounds of 76, 73 and 72 to tie for 43rd.

“Last week I played great the first round and didn’t play well the rest of the week, but overall I think my game is getting better,” Levin said.

Fan favorite Phil Mickelson finished off a 70 at dusk to reach 4 under. He had a bogey and a double bogey in a front-nine 38, then made four birdies—the last drawing the loudest cheers of the day on the amphitheater par-3 16th—on the back nine.

“The front nine, I don’t know what to say. I mean, it was just terrible,” said Mickelson, the former Arizona State star who won the tournament in 1996 and 2005.

“I was able to kind of self-correct it a little bit for the back to shoot 4 under and turn it around. It’s not what I was hoping for going into the day, but I’m looking forward to playing the weekend and seeing if I can light it up.”

Defending champion Mark Wilson, coming off a victory two weeks ago in the Humana Challenge, was 3 under after a 69.

Levin was one of 42 players who finished the first round Friday morning after play was suspended because of darkness Thursday.

He hit his first shot of the day to 3 feet to set up a birdie on the par-3 seventh and parred the final two holes for a 65 that left him a stroke behind first-round leaders Jason Dufner and Ryan Palmer.

Levin then birdied the first two holes in the second round, holing 20- and 15-foot putts. He hit to 2 feet to set up a birdie on the fifth, added a 15-footer on No. 12 and got up and down from behind the green on the par-5 13th for another birdie.

The key shots came on the par-5 15th after he hit his approach into the water and had his ball roll into a sand-filled divot on the penalty drop. He hit to 10 feet, made the putt to save par, then birdied the par-3 16th and eagled the par-4 17th.

“That was huge,” Levin said. “I took a drop and the ball rolled a good step and a half into this sand divot. I didn’t even see it. Some weird thoughts were going through my head. I actually hit a great shot. I hit it out of the sand divot to about 10 feet. I was just trying to get it on the green.

“So, the momentum from being in the sand divot to making a par and then going 2-2 on the next two holes was huge. It could have gone the other way.”

On the 16th, he hit a little draw pin-high to 8 feet and made the putt to the delight of the noisy fans who chanted his name before he teed off. He then holed the bunker shot after driving over the green on the 335-yard 17th and closed with a par on 18, missing a tricky, downhill 10-footer.

“That was a fast one,” Levin said. “I didn’t really get it started on line, but I just nudged it and it still went a foot and a half by. But that was a tough pin because if you get left of it, it’s off the green, so I hit a good second shot.”

Thirty-four players were unable to finish the second round Friday after frost delayed the start for an hour for the second straight day. On Saturday, play was delayed 15 minutes because of frost. Last year, frost and frozen greens delayed play nine hours during the week, forcing a Monday finish.

DIVOTS: The crowd was announced at 116,299, the fourth-largest for a Friday in tournament history. … Arron Oberholser, returning from hand and hip injuries, shot 72-71 in his first PGA Tour start since October 2009. He missed the cut by a stroke. … Jeff Overton withdrew on the final hole because of a lingering left wrist injury. After opening with a 67, he was 5 over for the round when he hooked his tee shot into the water on 18 and stopped playing. … Vijay Singh, Stewart Cink, Tommy Gainey and Chris Kirk withdrew after play was suspended.