Brooks Koepka finds his drive: Defending champion makes a strong start at the WM Phoenix Open

The two-time winner at TPC Scottsdale opened with a 5-under-par 66 to sit two shots off the lead at the end of a disrupted first day.

Coming into this week's Waste Management Phoenix Open Brooks Koepka did not appear to be in a good place to mount a strong defence of the title he won in thrilling fashion 12 months ago.

He hadn't landed a PGA Tour top 20 in his last 10 starts and had missed the cut in three of his last four outings.

Appearances can be deceptive however.

After carding a 5-under-par 66 to sit tied third on the incomplete first round leaderboard, the 31-year-old revealed that he was in better nick than his scores suggest.

"I've been playing good for awhile, so I think everybody on my team expected this," he insisted.

"It's been the driver. Made some tweaks with it. It's one thing to do it at home and see it perform there, but to actually come out and drive the ball in a tournament and hit it how I wanted to - spin was great, flight was good, shape was great - that was nice to see."

His 66 was a fourth consecutive sub-67 score on the course and his best first round score in five visits. It leaves him alongside Adam Hadwin, Harry Higgs and Scott Stallings (through 17), one behind clubhouse leader KH Lee (65), with Sahith Theegala 7-under through 16 holes when darkness forced a suspension of play.

Asked if he is fond of TPC Scottsdale he replied: "Yeah, I do like the golf course. I mean, two wins here it would be tough to say you don't like it."

It was a day of low scoring with Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas, Xander Schauffele, Louis Oosthuizen, Patrick Cantlay and Bubba Watson among those who carded 67s.

Let's take a closer look at two of them.

Reset

Top statistician Justin Ray noted earlier in the week that Louis Oosthuizen has a particularly fine record in his first start of any year.

And when the South African carded his 67, there was every need to update it:

The 39-year-old then explained that he'd had a longer winter break than usual, but that it had been both needed and beneficial.

"I did nothing golf-wise," he said. "We hadn't been back to South Africa in two years. We went in December and actually got stuck 20 days longer because we got Covid.

"So we were there for seven weeks and I didn't even take my golf clubs with me. I had a good break away from golf and came back ready.

"It's sort of reset everything. Especially because I was quite tired at the end there, going into so many Major weeks having chances to win and not pulling it off, that sort of drains you quite a bit.

"I needed the break. Four weeks would have done the trick, but seven weeks was nice."

Another brush with Covid

Like both Koepka and Oosthuizen, Olympic champion Xander Schauffele has a strong record on the course. In his case, he's never finished outside the top 20 in four appearances.

This year he has an emergency caddie on the bag after his usual man Austin Kaiser contracted Covid.

"Austin was with me at the house and he was downstairs. He called me about 6 am and said he wasn't feeling good so he stayed in our room.

"It's our friend's house. We were FaceTimeing each other and he tested positive right away. I really didn't know what to do. So I called the Tour and they advised me.

"I tested negative. We literally had every fan and window open in the place. I didn't know what else to really do.

"He and his wife packed everything up and he got out of dodge. We all had our masks on. We stayed upstairs and waved him goodbye and that was it."

Next job was finding a substitute. He immediately called a friend, waking him up, but he accepted the offer and jumped on a plane.

"He's my buddy Tech. Kevin. He's Thai. His last name is like 15 letters (Techakanoboom) so we call him Tech.

"I went to Long Beach State my freshman year in college, met him there. I've known him for a long time. We've played a ton of golf together. He's caddied for me once at the Dunlop Phoenix in Japan."

They finished second that week. Now another Phoenix event - can they go one better? Schauffele hopes so, but he's also wary.

"Got off to a good start, but I've got to test all week," he explained. "Hopefully I don't end up like Jon Rahm at the Memorial."

The Spaniard was leading by six after 54 holes when he tested positive and had to withdraw.

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