Golf fans had plenty to cheer about in Thursday's opening round at the Waste Management Phoenix Open as some of the game's brightest young stars ascended to the top of the leaderboard.
Rickie Fowler fired a six-under 65 to share the lead with fellow 20-somethings Shane Lowry and Hideki Matsuyama. Darkness prevented a number of groups from finishing, and Round 1 play will pick up again at 7:30 a.m. local time Friday.
Beyond the bundle of birdies those near the top were making, plenty of fanfare surrounded the famous par-three 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale.
Harold Varner III riled up the crowd with his reaction to a long-range birdie putt that helped him finish in red figures at one under, per the PGA Tour:
Tired of the Cam Newton-pioneered sports celebration? Don't worry: Plenty of other players had highlight-reel shots and putts.
Lowry, in particular, had the flat iron hot in the early going, draining all kinds of putts—including his final birdie of the day at the par-three seventh, which came after two consecutive bogeys, per the PGA Tour:
Taking only 24 putts of his own Thursday, Fowler rolled the rock well and provided fans with some thrills thanks to an eagle at the par-five 15th, courtesy of the PGA Tour:
This from 28 feet ... and the outright lead.— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) February 4, 2016
Rickie. Fowler. https://t.co/x5gtiRVCh7
Rich Lerner of Golf Channel highlighted how dialed in Fowler was from long distance on the greens:
Rickie makes a phenomenal birdie on his last hole to shoot 65. Took 24 putts, 157' worth. Scottsdale will be rocking if Rickie's rolling.— Rich Lerner (@RichLernerGC) February 4, 2016
With plenty of length off the tee and a rebuilt swing, courtesy of his work with coach Butch Harmon, Fowler has raised his game to another level in recent years.
Fowler credited the unique atmosphere with helping him get through a round that also featured a couple of bogeys, per GolfChannel.com's Ryan Reiterman:
I made some good putts to start the round. Just kinda got everything going. Made a couple of bad swings. Cost me a little bit, but other than that, nice way to get off to a good start here. ... I like playing in front of the big crowds and how crazy the fans can get, and being kind of acclimated to the atmosphere here definitely helps.
Although he missed the cut in his last start at the Farmers Insurance Open, it appears he's carried at least some momentum over from his victory overseas at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. The 27-year-old is a career-best fourth in the World Golf Ranking and played like it Thursday.
Another man who didn't make it to the weekend at Torrey Pines was Phil Mickelson. He played well for much of the opening round at the Phoenix Open, but a triple bogey undid him at the par-four fifth hole.
Golf Channel's Justin Ray highlighted how rare the massive blunder was for Phil the Thrill at TPC Scottsdale:
That big number aside, Lefty did well to get in with a two-under 69—within striking distance of Fowler, Lowry and Matsuyama.
Mickelson did have some positive moments, such as his first approach of the day, per the PGA Tour:
Phil is warmed up. 🎯 https://t.co/LJkFsDxf6l— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) February 4, 2016
An inability to get the ball close with short irons and wedges has contributed to Mickelson's struggles over the past couple of seasons. The hope is that shot is a harbinger of improvement in that area.
Inclement weather plagued the Farmers Insurance Open, so Lowry did well to tie for 13th there. He's capitalized on the welcome change of scenery and more favorable scoring conditions thus far in Arizona.
As for Matsuyama, he had a putt inside 15 feet to take sole possession of the lead on the par-four ninth hole but couldn't convert. That area of his game has held him back from greater success in the past, so the Japanese prodigy needs to shave some strokes there for a shot at the trophy.
A lot of the attention will deservedly be on Fowler as he goes for his second win in three worldwide starts, but don't sleep on the young men who matched him. Lowry won the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational last year, while Matsuyama has a win at the Jack Nicklaus-hosted Memorial Tournament on his resume.
Not to be overlooked just one shot off the lead is Anirban Lahiri. The 28-year-old from India ranks 49th in the world and quietly tied for fifth at the 2015 PGA Championship.
For evidence of how much golf's youth movement is flourishing, look no further than the group at four under par. Defending champion Brooks Koepka is in that spot along with Danny Lee. Both are only 25 years old.
Farmers Insurance Open winner Brandt Snedeker posted a 67 to give himself a realistic chance to be in contention for a second win in a row this weekend.
Note: Stats and information courtesy of PGATour.com unless otherwise indicated.