Davis Thompson got off to a flying start with two early eagles and never slowed down.
The 23-year-old PGA Tour rookie carded a bogey-free, nine-under-par 62 at La Quinta Country Club to take a two-stroke lead over fourth-ranked Jon Rahm of Spain and four other golfers after the first round of the 64th version in what is now The American Express Championship.
All 156 players in the tournament will play one round each at La Quinta CC, the Stadium Course at PGA West in La Quinta and the Nicklaus Tournament Course at PGA West before the cut is made, and the final round will be played solely on the host Stadium Course.
Thompson, whose only pro victory came in the 2022 Rex Hospital Open on the Korn Ferry Tour, birdied three of the first four holes before making his eagles on the fifth and sixth holes, and then added birdies at No. 9, 13 and 18 in his 62.
Still, he was looking for more.
“That was kind of like my biggest challenge today, was staying present-minded and trying to put one foot in front of the other,” said Thompson, whose best PGA Tour finish was a tie for ninth early this season at the Fortinet Championship at Silverado Resort in Napa. “Your mind definitely starts to wander a little bit. But I played enough rounds to where I try to teach myself over and over that you can’t get ahead of yourself.
“I was able to come out here early before I went to Hawaii (for the Sony Open) and played out here on the Nicklaus Course. So I was a little familiar with it. But just got off to a hot start and just kind of coasted on my way in. It’s always good to see some putts go in early and give you confidence to just keep it rolling.”
Rahm, coming off a victory in the Sentry Tournament of Champions two week ago in his last start, birdied five of the first seven holes en route to a 64, which Taylor Montgomery matched with the help of an eagle on the 11th hole at La Quinta, while Sam Burns made his only bogey at No. 18, where Matti Schmid of Germany played bogey-free, and Tyler Duncan collected nine birdies on the Nicklaus Course.
“Give me enough time and I’ll be picky about a lot of things,” said Rahm, who was won three of this last six starts around the world and is playing better than any golfer around. “But it’s a great start to the tournament. You can’t really win it on this golf course (La Quinta CC), but you can sure fall off the pace. It’s a great start, a solid round of golf, great putting out there. Hopefully, I can keep that going the whole week and feel a little bit better tee to green.
“I’m very confident. I think it showed out there. I didn’t have my best. I didn’t find myself in the fairway very often through the round, but was able to get birdies out of it. And that’s the beauty of that. I mean. I would like people to think that it’s hard to beat me and almost impossible because, again, if I don’t have my A game and I’m shooting rounds like this. it should be a pretty good year.”
Sixth-ranked Xander Schauffele of La Jolla and San Diego State eagled the fifth hole on his way to a 65 at La Quinta CC and is three shots back in a tie for seventh with Harrison Endicott of Australia (bogey-free on the Stadium Course), Dean Burmester of South Africa (Nicklaus Course), Eric Cole (bogey-free on the Nicklaus Course), Eric Van Rooyen of South Africa (Stadium Course), J.T. Poston (Nicklaus Course), Michael Block of Mission Viejo (Nicklaus Course), Denny McCarthy (La Quinta CC), and Sungjae Im of South Korea (bogey-free on the Nicklaus Course).
Block, head professional at Trabuco Hills Golf Club in Mission Viejo, captured the 2022 Southern California PGA Championship, helped the United States win the 30th PGA Cup, and was named PGA of America Professional Player of the Year.
Second-ranked Scottie Scheffler opened with a bogey-free 68 at La Quinta CC and is in a tie for 42nd that includes fifth-ranked Patrick Cantlay of Los Alamitos and UCLA, while seventh-ranked Will Zalatoris made three late birdies in a 69 and is tied for 64th.
This tournament started out as the Palm Springs Golf Classic in 1960 and the inaugural event was won by Arnold Palmer, the first of his five victories in the tournament. However, some people still call this the Bob Hope Classic, as the famed comedian’s name was on the title of the tournament from 1965 through 2011.
Other former champions include Jack Nicklaus, Billy Casper, Johnny Miller, Billy Maxwell, Tommy Jacobs, Phil Mickelson, Doug Sanders, Bob Rosburg, Hubert Green, Bruce Devlin, Craig Stadler, Bill Rogers, John Mahaffey, Bruce Lietzke, Lanny Wadkins, Corey Pavin, Jay Haas, Tom Kite, Justin Leonard, David Duval, Mike Weir and Rahm.
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