PGA Tour Picks: The American Express

By TOM LaMARRE

Jon Rahm of Spain has won three times around the world in his last five starts and climbed only one spot to No. 4 in the World Golf Rankings.

And Rahm, who has also tied for second and fourth during that time, is not happy about it.

“I’m going to be as blunt as I can,” said Rahm, who is the overwhelming favorite in The American Express beginning Thursday on The Stadium Course at PGA West (the host course), the Nicklaus Course at PGA West and La Quinta Country Club. “I think the OWGR right now is laughable.

“The fact that the RSM Classic doesn’t have any of the top 25 in the world and has more points than this event (the DP World Championship) where we had seven of the top 25 is laughable. The fact that Wentworth (BMW PGA Championship) had less points than Napa (Fortinet Championship) despite having players in the top 10 in the world is laughable.”

Rahm captured the Spanish Open, the Mexico Open, the DP World Tour Championship late in 2022 and won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii two weeks ago to start 2023, and has moved up one spot in the rankings.

There are those who believe he is now the best player in the world and not top-ranked Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, who is not playing this week in the California desert.

“Since the (FedEx Cup) playoffs … I’ve won three times and I don’t even get close to (McIlroy),” said Rahm, who finished 15th in the FedEx Cup standings last season with eight finishes in the top 10.

“So I’m trying to understand what’s going on. Had they not changed the world ranking points (system), I would have been pretty damn close  to No. 1 right now. But in my mind, I feel like since August I’ve been the best player in the world.

“Earlier in the year clearly Scottie (Scheffler) was that player, then Rory (McIlroy) was that player, and I feel like right now it’s been me. Anybody, any given year can get a hot three, four months and get to that spot.”

As of now, Rahm is still behind McIlroy, Scheffler and Cameron Smith of Australia.

And The American Express is another chance for Rahm to try to gain ground, as he won this tournament in 2018 in a playoff over Andrew Landry, finished sixth in his title defense and tied for 14th last season.

However, nobody seems to understand the World Golf Rankings these days, so even with a victory, who knows where Rahm will be?

BEST BETS

1. Jon Rahm, Spain – The fourth-ranked Rahm won the Mexican Open, the DP World Tour Championship and the Sentry TOC in his last five starts, in addition to tying for second and tying for fourth in his other two starts during that time. He also won the 2018 American Express in a playoff over Andrew Landry after opening with a 62, and tied for sixth in his title defense.    

2. Scottie Scheffler, United States – The second-ranked Scheffler tied for third at Mayakoba, tied for seventh in the Sentry TOC and tied for ninth in the Houston Open in four starts to open this season. The reigning Masters champion, who won four times last season, was third in the 2017 American Express after leading for three rounds but closing with 70, and tied for 25th last year.

3. Patrick Cantlay, United States – The fifth-ranked Cantlay has tied for second in the Shriners Children’s Open and tied for 16th in the Sony TOC to open the season after winning the Zurich Classic of New Orleans and the BMW Championship in 2022. He finished ninth in The American Express last year after finishing second the year before and tying for ninth in 2019.    

4. Will Zalatoris, United States – The seventh-ranked Zalatoris returned from a back injury and finished in a tie for 11th in the Sentry Tournament of Champions two weeks ago after a season in which he won the FedEx St. Jude Championship and finished second three times. He tied for sixth in his first appearance in The American Express last year, shooting 61 in the second round.

5. Si Woo Kim, South Korea – Coming off his fourth victory on the PGA Tour last week at the Sony Open in Hawaii, Kim returns to another place when he has won. He shot four rounds of 68 or better to beat Patrick Cantlay by one shot in The American Express two years ago, tied for 11th in his title defense last season and tied for ninth in the tournament in 2016 by closing 64-67.

6. Tony Finau, United States – On the verge of climbing into the top 10 in the World Golf Rankings at No. 12, Finau has won the Houston Open and tied for seventh in the Sentry Tournament of Champions to start this season. He held the lead in The American Express after three rounds two years ago, but closed with a 68 to wind up four strokes back in solo fourth.     

7. Xander Schauffele, United States – The sixth-ranked Schauffele tied for ninth in the Zozo Championship, but is coming back after he withdrew from the Sentry Tournament of Champions two weeks ago due to a back injury. He won the Zurich Classic, the Travelers and the Scottish Open last year, but missed the cut in his only starts in The American Express in 2016 and 2017.  

8. Brian Harman, United States – The left-hander ranks fifth in the FedEx Cup standings this season after finishing solo second at Mayakoba, tying for second in the RSM Classic, tying for 15th in the Shriners Children’s Open and tying for 16th in the Sentry TOC. Harman tied for third in The American Express last year when he closed with 67-64 and also tied for third in 2017.   

9. Sam Burns, United States – Having climbed to No. 13 in the World Golf Rankings, Burns’ best finish this season was a tie for seventh in the CJ Cup in South Carolina after winning the Valspar Championship, the Charles Schwab Challenge and the Sanderson Farms Championship last season. He tied for sixth in the 2020 American Express when he finished with 67-63.   

10. Tom Kim, South Korea – After a rare missed cut last week at the Sony Open in Hawaii, the 20-year-old is back to make his debut in The American Express. Kim is ranked 14th in the world and is No. 3 in the FedEx Cup rankings after winning the Shriners Children’s Open, tying for fifth in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and tying for 11th in the CJ Cup in South Carolina.

OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH: Tom Hoge, United States; Sungjae Im, South Korea; Taylor Montgomery, United States; Cameron Young, United States; Sahith Theegala, United States; Andrew Putnam, United States; Cameron Davis, Australia; Aaron Wise, United States; Adam Hadwin, Canada; Rickie Fowler, United States.

SLEEPERS

1. Stephan Jaeger, Germany – A six-time winner on the Korn Ferry Tour, Jaeger tied for ninth in the Houston Open and posted four scores in the 60s to tie for 28th in the Sony Open in Hawaii.  

2. Kevin Yu, Taiwan – The 24-year-old Yu has tied for third in Bermuda, tied for 19th in the Sanderson Farms Championship and tied for 21st at the Sony Open in Hawaii last week.

3. Matthew NeSmith, United States – Ranks 21st in the FedEx Cup standings after tying for second in the Shriners Children’s Open, tying for ninth both in the Sanderson Farms and Zozo.

4. Ben Taylor, Canada – Has climbed to 22nd in the FedEx Cup standings by tying for third at Houston, tying for fourth at the Sony Open in Hawaii and tying for 21st in the RSM Classic.

5. David Lingmerth, United States – A three-time winner as a professional, Lingmerth tied for eighth a Mayakoba, tied for 10th in the RSM Classic and tied for 11th at Bermuda this season.

For first-round tee times, go to https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard.html

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