Korean-born James Hahn is a favorite of Bay Area golf fans, even though he and his wife and daughter relocated to the Scottsdale, Arizona area last year. Hahn grew up in Alameda, played college golf at Cal-Berkeley, and last year, at the 2015 Northern Trust Open, became the first Cal golfer to win a PGA Tour event. With all that Bay Area mojo going for him, it had to have pained local golf fans to see him falter and fall out of the lead during the third round of the 2016 Waste Management Phoenix Open, February 4-7.
Now that he is a Scottsdale resident, Hahn has logged nearly a hundred rounds on the TPC Scottsdale layout where the Phoenix Open is played. That experience showed on Thursday and Friday, when he carded rounds of 67 and a bogey-free 65 to carry a one-stroke lead into Saturday’s third round; evidence that he had, perhaps, gotten into a groove with the new equipment he is playing, PXG clubs from Parsons Extreme Golf.
There was one small sign of trouble early in Saturday’s round. His drive on the second hole went well left, into the desert waste area, resulting in his first bogey since the seventh hole in the first round. Righting the ship, the former ad executive & women’s shoe salesman followed the bogey with a pair of birdies, then settled into a string of pars to close out the front nine.
After opening the back nine with another birdie, Hahn stumbled again, more seriously this time, when his tee shots on holes 12, 13, and 14 went left into, respectively, a bunker, a “native waste area”, and water, resulting in scores of bogey, double-bogey, double-bogey and a five stroke free fall. Playing the last four hole in even par – birdie, two pars, bogey – Hahn ended the round in a tie for seventh position.
Danny Lee, a Korean-born New Zealander, holds the 54-hole lead at 200, with Rickie Fowler and Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama three strokes back.
A quartet of big movers were among the players who closed the day above the hapless Hahn – Bryce Molder, Boo Weekley, Phil Mickelson, and John Huh, whose rounds of 64, 65, 65, and 67 saw them moving well up the board. Molder, the biggest mover, jumped 33 spots to T4 at 204 for 54 holes; Mickelson’s bogey-free 65 included four birdies on the back nine, moving him up 31 spots to solo sixth place.
Mickelson, who recently parted ways with long-time coach Butch Harmon in search of a fresh perspective, is now working with Andrew Getson, an instructor who operates out of the exclusive Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale where Phil is a member. The new arrangement seems to be yielding results, as evidenced by the San Diego-born southpaw’s round of 65 – which could easily have been 4 to 5 strokes lower if a few near-miss putts had dropped.
Mickelson has strong ties to the Scottsdale area; he played his college golf at Arizona State, where his brother Tim now coaches golf, has played the Phoenix Open 26 times before this year’s edition, and notched his first win in a PGA Tour event, as an amateur, in this event. Mickelson is a savvy competitor playing on a course he knows well, in an event that he has won three times in the past – if he can maintain his tee-to-green performance and drop a few more putts on Sunday, the positions of the leader and the other players ahead of him after 54 holes may not be as secure as they would like.