LA QUINTA, Calif. — While Jon Rahm had plenty of chances to pump his right first after nice shots on Sunday, the look of relief on his face after holding off rookie Davis Thompson put into perspective his victory at The American Express.
The Spanish star took advantage of mistakes by Thompson over the adventuresome final three holes and closed with a 4-under 68 to win by one stroke, his second PGA Tour win in as many starts this year.
“I’m, in a weird way, glad that today went the way it went,” Rahm said. “I’ve enjoyed some runaway victories, I’ve enjoyed some comebacks, but today was certainly a struggle. Out of the five birdies I made, what is it, one, two, three of them were tap-ins and the other two were basically 6-footers. So that tells you the story.”
Rahm pumped his fist a final time after tapping in for a two-putt par on No. 18 at PGA West’s Stadium Course.
Rahm and Thompson were tied with three holes to play when Thompson, who led through 36 holes and shared the lead with Rahm going into Sunday, pulled his drive into a deep fairway bunker on the par-5 16th and wound up with par. Rahm made birdie to take the lead.
On the par-3 17th, Thompson chose to leave the pin in for his 50-foot birdie putt on the island green, and the ball squarely hit the pin and rolled away. The 23-year-old from Georgia dropped his putter and put his hands to his face. As he walked to the 18th tee after tapping in for par, he pulled his shirt up over his mouth in frustration.
“I usually always leave the stick in from a long distance,” Thompson said. “I feel like it helps me with my speed. I’ll probably play the ‘what if’ game in my head for a long time, unfortunately. I had a great read. I probably hit it too firm. If it had great speed it would have just hit the flag and dropped. But we’ll never know. I’m proud of myself for this week.”
Rahm hit his tee shot into a bunker on 18 but recovered nicely with a shot to 15 feet and pumped his fist. Thompson’s drive found the fairway but his approach bounced on the green and ran down the slope behind it. The rookie hit a bold flop shop that settled a foot to the right of the hole. He shot 69.
“I had a great week,” said Thompson, who made five eagles through the first two rounds, tying the PGA Tour record for eagles in a 72-hole event. “Competing against the best in the world is my dream and I did that today and proved that I can hang with ’em. It was a lot of fun. A lot of nerves and I hit a lot of quality golf shots under pressure, which was really cool.”
Rahm finished 27-under 261 and won for the ninth time on the PGA Tour. He moves up one spot to No. 3 in the world. He is playing next week at Torrey Pines, while world No. 1 Rory McIlroy makes his 2023 debut in Dubai on the European tour.
“Heck of a start,” said Rahm, who won the Sentry Tournament of Champions two weeks ago at Kapalua. “Obviously Sentry and this one are very, very different golf courses and very different golf. You still have to go low in both of them. So luckily the mentality is the same.
“Body’s been feeling great. My swing’s been feeling really, really good. And it shows, right?” he added. “Even when I’m saying I may not be as comfortable as I would like, I’m shooting 64s because everything is just firing when it needs to.”
Rahm opened with two birdies to take the lead, but Thompson eventually caught up to him when Rahm’s par putt lipped out on No. 13.
Rahm got his share of breaks. From the middle of the fairway on the 16th, Rahm had his hands on his hips as he watched his second shot head toward the deep bunker down the left side. It hit in the dormant rough and stayed in the fairway. That left a pitch to just inside 10 feet, and his birdie putt for the lead swirled into the cup.
Rahm now has won four of his last six starts — he won twice on the European tour at end of last year. This was his seventh straight top 10 worldwide, a streak that began after the Tour Championship in late August.
Xander Schauffele, two weeks after he withdrew because of back pain, closed with a 62 and finished two behind with Chris Kirk (64).
Taylor Montgomery was challenging Rahm and Thompson until he put his tee shot into the water on the 17th. He closed with a 66 and finished fifth.
Scottie Scheffler closed with a 67 and tied for 11th. He narrowly missed a birdie putt on the final hole that would have allowed him to return to No. 1 by a fraction of a point over McIlroy. Scheffler is not playing next week.
LA QUINTA, Calif. – Davis Thompson doesn’t hesitate when the question is posed.
The PGA TOUR rookie is still in the prove-it stage of his career at the highest level. It’s his seventh start as a TOUR member, and although his accomplishments are bountiful on the amateur and pathway circuits, the wider golf world reserves final judgment until a resume is built on TOUR. He might share the lead with Jon Rahm into the final round at The American Express, but he’s perfectly OK with the consensus that he’s seen as the underdog.
Does he feel like the underdog?
“For sure,” Thompson said. “I’m playing against Jon Rahm. I feel like everybody would pick me as the underdog. But I mean, I kind of relish that label. I just try to go out and do my own thing and try to not let anything bother me.”
Think of it as a Davis-and-Goliath showdown of sorts. Rahm has won three of his past four starts worldwide, including the Sentry Tournament of Champions two weeks ago where he made up a six-stroke deficit in his final seven holes. He’s laser-focused on stacking up wins and regaining the No. 1 spot on the Official World Golf Ranking; he’s currently No. 4.
Thompson is mere months into his PGA TOUR career, having earned his card via the 2022 Korn Ferry Tour Regular Season Points List. He hadn’t even played a full nine holes at PGA West’s Stadium Course until Saturday afternoon, whereas Rahm has abundant experience at this event, with three top-15s in four starts including a 2018 victory.
But the PGA TOUR works in a clear way: shoot the scores and earn the spotlight. Thompson equaled Rahm at 23-under through 54 holes at The American Express. The event utilizes a three-course rotation, with all players competing at PGA West’s Stadium Course, Nicklaus Tournament Course and La Quinta CC across the first three days.
Sunday’s final round will take place at the Stadium Course, with Thompson and Rahm together in the final grouping alongside J.T. Poston.
Thompson and Rahm will begin the day four strokes clear of Poston. If both co-leaders start fast, a proverbial duel in the desert could take shape.
The golf world might be more familiar with Rahm, but the eight-time TOUR winner knows better than to assume his playing partner will fade away. Rahm, an avid consumer of golf broadcast coverage, knows everyone gets their first win somewhere.
“I always tell people, when they ask me the difference between what you would think are the greatest players in the world and the rest, skill-wise, it’s not that big,” Rahm said. “It really isn’t that big. It’s a few moments here and there that make a difference. One-stroke difference on scoring average for the whole year, it truly doesn’t boil down to that much. That’s usually the difference.
“A lot of people could have said that (a veteran had the advantage) the first time Jordan Spieth won, the first time I won, the first time a lot of people won. So do you have an advantage? I don’t know. I mean, I have the experience of being there, if it goes down to the wire. But he’s no slouch, obviously. He’s done what he’s done.”
Thompson has indeed done plenty. He represented the United States in the 2020 Palmer Cup and 2021 Walker Cup, and he finished No. 2 on the inaugural PGA TOUR University Velocity Global Ranking in 2021 to earn automatic Korn Ferry Tour membership upon turning pro that summer. He won the Korn Ferry Tour’s UNC Health Championship presented by STITCH last spring en route to comfortably earning his TOUR card via the season-long points race.
Back in his college days, Thompson was described by a fellow Georgia Bulldog, Keith Mitchell, as pulling off the seemingly impossible feat of acting like a TOUR pro as a college kid in Athens, Georgia. In a way, he’s been building toward this moment for a long time.
“I guess I kind of sacrificed some things in college,” Thompson said Saturday in the Coachella Valley. “I wasn’t the most social guy. I really just focused on my schoolwork and my golf. Just got better and better every year. Really tried to emulate what these guys do out here on TOUR.”
As Thompson completed his post-round interview Saturday in the gloaming, music could be heard in the background. A Darius Rucker concert was about to start, adjacent to the range, and the golf vibe was gradually morphing into a nightlife scene.
Would Thompson be attending the concert? Nope. He had some business to prepare for, the final round of The American Express. Alongside one of the golf world’s household names.
“I remember when he came out of college and he was just playing really well right out of the gate,” Thompson said of Rahm. “I thought that was very impressive to do that at such a young age. Then obviously watched him win the U.S. Open in 2021 … those putts he made on 17 and 18 (at Torrey Pines) were pretty special.”
Now Thompson enters that arena – and Rahm knows the rookie has no intention of going away.
“The level of talent on the TOUR is only increasing,” Rahm added. “(Davis) is doing a phenomenal job and he’s playing amazing golf and showing it.”
LA QUINTA, Ca — Rookie Davis Thompson made three more eagles Friday for a total of five through 36 holes to tie the PGA Tour record for the most in a 72-hole tournament since 1983, and he still didn’t put any more distance between himself and Jon Rahm at The American Express.
Thompson also carded his first bogeys of the tournament, which were hardly enough to slow him down. One day after making consecutive eagles in shooting 10-under 62 at La Quinta to take the first-round lead, Thompson carded an 8-under 64 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course at PGA West. He had three eagles, four birdies and two bogeys.
The 23-year-old who played college golf at Georgia was at 18-under 126, two strokes ahead of Rahm, who also shot 64 on the Nicklaus course.
“I just had some good numbers into par-5s and was able to execute my shots,” Thompson said. “I had some putts drop. So it was nice to make some eagles.”
Actually, it’s his entire game that’s going well in the Southern California desert.
“I think putting the ball in the fairway, hitting a lot of greens and really seeing lines well on my putts,” Thompson said. “Just everything is kind of clicking these last two days and I’m just looking forward to trying to keep it rolling tomorrow.”
Thompson will play the Stadium Course on Saturday, which will host the final round on Sunday after the 54-hole cut in this pro-am event, which uses three courses.
Thompson is the second player to have five eagles through two rounds at The American Express. He matched the record set in 1995 by Scott McCarron, who missed the 72-hole cut when it was a five-round tournament.
Thompson, who began his round wearing a hoodie in the early-morning chill, eagled his second hole, the par-5 11th, when he hit a 5-iron to about 15 feet. He then had two bogeys in four holes spanning the turn to briefly lose his lead, but then ran off a string of three birdies and two eagles in a span of five holes to go from 1-under to 8-under for his round. He eagled the par-5 fourth and the par-5 seventh — hitting the green with a mid-iron and draining a putt from roughly 20 feet each time — before finishing his round with consecutive pars.
The other players to make five eagles in a four-round tournament since 1983 were Justin Rose in the 2022 Canadian Open, Dustin Johnson in the 2020 FedEx St. Jude Championship, Austin Cook in the 2019 Barbasol Championship, Keegan Bradley and Brandt Snedeker in the 2018 Canadian Open, and Davis Love III in the 1994 Sony Open. Only Johnson won.
Rahm, the world’s fourth-ranked player who won two weeks ago at Kapalua, matched his score from a day earlier at La Quinta.
“Feeling great. Lot of confidence,” Rahm said. “Having essentially the hardest course two days in a row, but I’m in a really good position. So hopefully I can keep the good game going.”
Five players were five shots back of Thompson, including 20-year-old Tom Kim, who had the low round of the day, a 10-under 62 on the Nicklaus Course, and Jason Day, who shot 64 on the Stadium Course. The others were J.T. Poston, Sungjae Im and Tyler Duncan.
The field includes five of the top seven players in the world and 10 of the top 20.
Second-ranked Scottie Scheffler and sixth-ranked Xander Schauffele were in a group of five at 11 under that also included Rose. No. 5 Patrick Cantlay was in a group of seven at 10 under while No. 7 Will Zalatoris was at 6 under.
LA QUINTA, Ca — PGA Tour rookie Davis Thompson played his first six holes in 7 under, including consecutive eagles, and shot a career-low 10-under 62 at La Quinta on Thursday to take a two-stroke lead over Jon Rahm and four others after the first round of The American Express.
The 23-year-old Thompson got off to a brilliant start by birdieing three of the first four holes and then making eagle on both par-5s on the front nine, Nos. 5 and 6. He made the turn in 8-under 28, the lowest front-nine score at La Quinta.
That flawless start on a sunny day in the Southern California desert put Thompson two clear of Rahm, Tyler Duncan, Taylor Montgomery, Matti Schmid and Sam Burns.
“I just got off to a hot start and just kind of coasted on my way in,” said Thompson, who finished with a birdie. “It’s always good to see some putts go in early and give you confidence to just keep it rolling.”
Rahm, the world’s fourth-ranked player who won two weeks ago at Kapalua, shot 64 at La Quinta, one of three courses being used for the first three rounds. After the cut at 54 holes, the final round will be played at the Stadium Course at PGA West.
“I’ll be picky about a lot of things. But it’s a great start to the tournament,” Rahm said. “You can’t really win it on this golf course, but you can sure fall off the pace. It’s a great start, 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.”
The field includes five of the top seven players in the world and 10 of the top 20.
Sixth-ranked Xander Schauffele, in the field after having tests on muscle spasms in his back, was in a group of nine at 7-under 65. He also eagled No. 5 at La Quinta.
Second-ranked Scottie Scheffler and No. 5 Patrick Cantlay each shot 68 at La Quinta, and No. 7 Will Zalatoris had a 3-under 69 at the Nicklaus Tournament Course.
Thompson said he had a good warmup and then “had good numbers” on the holes where he made eagle.
“I actually missed the green on 6 and chipped in. I put two good swings on it and had a really nice chip and a really good putt,” he said.
While this was his first competitive round at PGA West, Thompson said he stopped here and played the Nicklaus course before going to Hawaii for last week’s Sony Open. “So I was a little familiar with it,” said Thompson, who will play that course on Friday.
Rickie Fowler shot 68 at La Quinta. Fowler is playing his first tournament of 2023 after having two top 10s in the fall, including a runner-up finish at the Zozo Championship in Japan.