By TOM LaMARRE
Top-ranked Jon Rahm has come a long way in the last year.
The 28-year-old Rahm will defend the title he won a season ago in the Mexico Open at Vidanta on the Vidanta Golf Course in Puerto Vallarta beginning Thursday, and he’s claimed six more victories since, including his second major title in the Masters earlier this month.
“I can’t help but be proud of what I’ve done this week and this year,” Rahm said after winning the Masters by four strokes over Brooks Koepka and Phil Mickleson earlier this month. “To come here, I know the expectations weren’t really high to the public, but in my mind every time I tee it up I’m going to try to do my best.”
His best in the last year has included victories in the Acconia Spanish Open and the DP World Championship in Dubai on the DP World Tour, plus titles the Sentry Tournament of Champions, the American Express, the Genesis Invitational and the Masters on the PGA Tour.
That gives him 20 victories as a pro, including 11 on the PGA Tour.
Rahm has been trading the No. 1 spot in the world rankings with Rory McIroy of Northern Ireland and Scottie Scheffler in recent months, but it’s difficult to argue that the Spaniard isn’t the best right now.
Not to mention the cash he’s made.
“Yeah, the money is great, but when it first happened, Kelley (his wife) and started talking about it, and we’re like: ‘Will our lifestyle change if I got $400 million? No, it will not change one bit.’ Truth be told, I could retire right now with what I’ve made, and I’d live a very happy life and not play golf again.
“So I’ve never really played the game of golf for monetary reasons. I play for the love of the game, and I want to play against the best in the world. I’ve always been interested in history and legacy, and right now, the PGA Tour has that.”
In his position, Rahm can pick and choose the tournaments he plays in other than the big ones, but he’s not that way.
The Mexico Open isn’t one of the bigger events, but he will be back to defend his title.
“I came this week wanting to do it,” Rahm said about playing in Mexico. “I’ve spoken at length about the importance of Seve (Ballesteros) and his impact on the game of golf and how I play because of him. Nowadays we have a much bigger reach, the PGA Tour has become a bigger tour, and with social media, we’re worldwide stars, bigger than they were in the past.
“I feel like I can make some impact in Mexico as well, and Mexico deserves a good event. You can even see golf growing in Mexico as well. So, it was a true honor to be able to come here (last year) and be the champion. It was a wonderful week.”
Rahm posted a score of 64-68-66-68—267, 17-under-par, last year to win by one stroke over Tony Finau, Brandon Wu of Danville and Stanford, and Kurt Kitayama of Chico.
Finau and Wu both closed with 63s to tie for a new tournament record, but even that wasn’t enough to catch Rahm.
There might not be any catching Rahm in the rankings any time soon, either.
1. Jon Rahm, Spain – Not only is Rahm the top-ranked player in the world, but he captured the Mexico Open last season for one of his 11 PGA Tour victories, and has won six times since including the Masters recently for his second major title. That came after two straight missed cuts, something rare for him, and Rahmbo has recorded seven top 10 finishes this season.
2. Tony Finau, United States – At No. 16 in the World Golf Rankings, Finau hopes to keep climbing toward the top 10 and another performance like last year in the Mexico Open will help. He tied for second and his closing 63 is a tournament record. He captured the Houston Open in November for his fifth PGA Tour victory and he has nine other results in the top-25 this season.
3. Wyndham Clark, United States – After finishing third with teammate Beau Hossler despite leading much of the way in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, Clark has three top-10 finishes in his last four starts, six this season and 14 on the PGA Tour without a victory. The closest he came was when Brian Gay beat him on the first playoff hole in the 2021 Bermuda Championship.
4. Gary Woodland, United States – The 2019 U.S. Open champion, who is a four-time winner on the PGA Tour, tied for 14th in the Masters earlier this month and also has ties for ninth in the Genesis Invitational and the Cadence Bank Houston Open this season. Woodland tied for 24th when he made his debut in the Mexico Open at Vidanta last season, closing with scores of 69-67.
5. Matt Wallace, England – Claimed his first victory on the PGA Tour in the Corales Puntacana Championship in March with a closing 66. That was Wallace’s 11th title as a pro, as he is a four-time winner on what is now the DP World Tour and won six times on the Alps Tour. His victory in the Corales Puntacana Championship came a week after he tied for seventh in the Valspar.
6. Byeong Hun An, South Korea–A four-time winner as a pro around the world, including in the BMW PGA Championship in England, An has yet to break through on the PGA Tour, though he’s been close. He lost in playoffs to Brian Stuard in the 2015 Zurich Classic and to Bryson DeChambeau in the 2018 Memorial. Tied for fourth in Fortinet and tied for sixth in Texas Open.
7. Beau Hossler, United States – Hoss and Wyndham Clark led most of the way before finishing third in the Zurich Classic. He has yet to win as a pro, but he lost to Ian Poulter of England on the first playoff hole in the 2018 Houston Open. Hossler has recorded six finishes in the top 25 on the PGA Tour this season, tying for 11th at Pebble after finishing third the year before.
8. Taylor Pendrith, Canada– Tied for 13th with Canadian teammate Michael Gligic in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans last week after being in the hunt much of the way. A two-time winner on the PGA Tour Canada in 2019, Pendrith’s best finish on the PGA Tour among three top-25s was a tie for seventh at Pebble Beach. He is making his debut in the Mexico Open.
9. Andrew Putnam, United States – Finished in a tie for second, one stroke behind Keegan Bradley, in the Zozo Championship last October, also tied for fourth in the Sony Open in Hawaii and tied for ninth in the WGC-Dell Match Play this season. Putnam’s only PGA Tour victory, and one of the three in his professional career, came in the 2018 Barracuda Championship.
10. Emiliano Grillo, Argentina – Tied for seventh recently in the RBC Heritage after finishing solo fourth in the Zozo Championship and tying for fifth at Sanderson Farms earlier this season. Grillo’s only PGA Tour victory and one of his three as a professional came in the 2015 Frys.com Open. He tied for 33rd in the Mexico Open at Vidanta last year, shooting 65 in the third round.
OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH: Maverick McNealy, United States; Nicolai Hojgaard, Denmark; Alex Noren, Sweden; Patrick Rodgers, United States; Ben Martin, United States; Davis Riley, United States; Garrick Higgo, South Africa; Robby Shelton, United States; Martin Laird, Scotland; Nick Hardy, United States.
1, Aaron Rai, England – Six-time winner as a pro, but not yet on the PGA Tour, has four top-25 this season, including T-7 in Houston. T-24 in Mexico last year, closing with 72 after 65-69-69.
2. Stephen Jaeger, Germany – Won six times on Korn Ferry but not yet on PGA Tour. T-9 at Houston and T-14 in Honda this season. T-15 in Mexico Open last year with 64 in round three.
3. Brandon Wu, United States – Finished T-2 in Mexico Open last year, closing with 63 to tie course record. Wu, 2020 Korn Ferry Tour champion, finished T-2 at Pebble Beach this season.
4. David Lipsky, United States – Four-time winner as a pro around the world, the L.A. native was T-4 in Hawaii, T-10 in WW Technology. T-6 in Mexico last year with four rounds in 60s.
5. S.H. Kim, South Korea – The three-time winner on Asian Tours in recent years was T-4 in the Shriners and T-12 in Sony Open in Hawaii among six top-20 finishes on PGA Tour this season.
For first-round tee times, visit: https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard