LA QUINTA, California: While Jon Rahm had plenty of chances to pump his right fist 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.