The first few thousand fans rushed to fill the general admission seats on the stadium 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale when the gates opened at 7 a.m. Saturday. Hours and about 30 degrees later, the Waste Management Phoenix Open had attracted a golf-record crowd of 204,906.
Byeong Hun An led the way inside the ropes in his first appearance at the game’s biggest party, shooting a 6-under 65 to take a one-stroke lead over Martin Laird.
“Bogey-free again today. I think that was pretty big,” An said. “I don’t care how many shots’ lead I have in the final round, I’m just happy with today’s round. My goal will be bogey-free again and just play smart.”
An estimated 596,780 fans have attended the event the first six days. With 70,000 to 90,000 expected Sunday in perfect warm conditions, the event will shatter the overall record of 618,365 set last year.
“It was crazy,” An said. “Last couple holes, that many people around the course is insane. Sixteen, obviously, but 17 and 18, when you walk to the green, it was absolutely packed around the green, left and right of the green, everywhere.”
Known as Ben, An had a 16-under 197 total. The 25-year-old South Korean player opened with consecutive 66s to share the second-round lead with Brendan Steele.
Laird, a Scot who lives in Scottsdale, made an 8-foot birdie putt on the par-4 18th for a 65.
“I played really nicely all day really today, tee to green,” the three-time tour winner said. “I putted really nicely again. … It felt good to be out there today. I felt like I had control of my golf ball today,”
An birdied five of the first 10 holes. He saved par with a 7-foot putt on 16 after going through the green on the rowdy hole that played at only 129 yards, and followed with a 7-foot birdie putt on the short par-4 17th.
“The course, I think, just suits my eyes,” An said. “The hole shaping, and there is not much of a dogleg left or right. You basically hit drivers out there and try to carry all the bunkers.”
He made another par save on 18, holing a 10-footer after finding the right fairway bunker and hitting his approach off the back edge.
“It was big,” An said. “Seems that my short game is in good position.”
An won the 2009 U.S. Amateur at 17 to become the youngest winner in event history, and took the European Tour’s 2015 BMW PGA Championship for his biggest professional victory.
Defending champion Hideki Matsuyama had a 68 to join John Peterson, Canadian Graham DeLaet and Michael Kim at 12 under. Last year, Matsuyama beat Rickie Fowler in a playoff.
Peterson shot a 63 for the best round of the week. He eagled the par-5 13th, and had a double bogey and eight birdies.
“I got on a little bit of a heater there and really wasn’t in jeopardy of making bogey after that,” Peterson said. “It was a lot of good ball-striking and I made a couple good putts, too.”
DeLaet had a 65, and Kim shot 66.
“I just need to keep making birdies,” DeLaet said. “I’m playing well. I believe in it. But you’ve got to just keep the pedal down out here.”
Steele dropped into a tie for seventh at 11 under after a 70.
Phil Mickelson was six strokes back at 10 under after a 65.
“I’m in a good spot,” Mickelson said. “I’m in a spot where nobody’s really looking at me. I’m far enough back, but I am within striking distance.”
The 46-year-old former Arizona State star won the event in 1996, 2005 and 2013. He’s making his third start in his return from two sports hernia surgeries.
Fellow former Sun Devils player Jon Rahm was 9 under a week after winning at Torrey Pines for his first PGA Tour victory. He settled for a 65 after playing his first eight holes in 6 under.
“I started off amazing,” Rahm said. “That back nine that I played, my first nine, was really, really good golf. I don’t play that good often. “
Wearing a white Arizona State football jersey with the late Pat Tillman’s No. 42 and “Rahmbo” on the back, the Spaniard made an 8-foot birdie putt on the 16th.
“To be able to hit a close one there for the fans, it was fun,” Rahm said.
Fowler also was 9 under after a 69.
Jordan Spieth had a 67 to reach 8 under.
“I played with John Peterson today,” Spieth said. “Saw a low score with just hitting it point A to point B and driving the ball well. That’s what it takes. It is a pure golf course.”