Jon Rahm of Spain is the best player on the planet right now, even if the World Golf Rankings don’t reflect that.
The fourth-ranked Rahm won for the fourth time in his last six starts, sinking a nine-foot birdie putt on the 16th hole and shooting four-under-par 68 to claim a one-stroke victory over gritty rookie Davis Thompson on the Stadium Course at PGA West in La Quinta in the 64th version of what is now The American Express.
“Talk about nerves, I definitely had them today, but I made great putts on No. 14 and 16,” said Rahm, who captured the Sentry Tournament of Champions two weeks ago in Hawaii to start the new year and has nine PGA Tour victories, including this event in 2018. “I hit the ball well today as I did the first two days, but just didn’t make as many putts. I only hit one bad putt, on No. 13, but they just kept burning the edges of the holes all day.
“It was definitely a very stressful day, I’m not going to lie. It was very tough out there, but overall I played another very solid round under the circumstances and I’m happy to come out with the win again.
“Davis played great. He’s a heck of a player and he gave me a great battle. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him win very soon.”
Rahm, who also won the Open de Espana and the DP World Tour Championship late in 2022, started the day sharing the lead with Thompson was at least tied all the way after making birdies on the first two holes. He added three more birdies the rest of the day and carded his lone bogey at No. 13 while recording a score of 27-under 161.
Thompson, whose previous best finish as a rookie was a tie for ninth in the Fortinet Championship at Silverado Resort in Napa, had four birdies against a single bogey in his 69. His 50-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole that would have tied Rahm for the lead hit the pin and bounced away.
“I always keep the stick in on long-distance putts to give myself depth perception, but I guess I just hit that one a little bit too hard,” said Thomson, whose only professional victory came in the 2022 Rex Hospital Open on the Korn Ferry Tour and made five eagles in the first two rounds this week but none the rest of the way. “I hit a lot of quality golf shots, but I guess I didn’t make enough birdie putts.
“But I had a great week. It’s great out here competing with the best golfers in the world and being able to hang in there with them. It was very cool, but to come up one stroke short is pretty tough. I didn’t play as well on the par-five holes today as I did the rest of the week, and that was probably the difference.
“But in this game, you just have to forget it and move on to the next week.”
Sixth-ranked Xander Schauffele of La Jolla and San Diego State holed out from 226 yards with a 4-iron for a double eagle on the second hole and added seven birdies in a bogey-free 62 to finish two shots back in a tie for third with Chris Kirk, who collected seven birdies on the front nine of a 64, while Tyler Montgomery was in the hunt before hitting into the water to make a double-bogey 5 at No. 17 and was three down in solo fifth after a 66 that included nine birdies.
Erik van Rooyen of South Africa eagled the fifth hole and added eight birdies in a 62 to wind up four strokes behind in a tie for sixth with Matti Schmid of Germany, who birdied three of the last four holes for a 64; Robby Shelton, who eagled No. 8 in a 66; 20-year-old Tom Kim of South Korea, who had two late birdies in a 67, and J.T. Poston, who made six birdies in a 68.
Second-ranked Scottie Scheffler tied for 11th with a 67, fifth-ranked Patrick Cantlay of Los Alamitos and UCLA made five birdies on his back nine in a 65 to tie for 26th, and seventh-ranked Will Zalatoris posted a second straight 67 to tie for 36th.
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