Column: Rahm’s big run gets everyone in golf on the alert


Davis Thompson, a 23-year-old PGA Tour rookie and former No. 1 amateur, took just five words to spell out the odds he faced in the final round of The American Express.

“I’m playing Jon Rahm.”

This is not the first time Rahm has been regarded as one of the best golfers. He spent the second half of 2021 ranked No. 1 in the world, the same year he captured the US Open in Torrey Pines for his first major.

Nor is Rahm the only player to go on the kind of heating he is on now.

The 28-year-old Spaniard has won four of his last six starts worldwide in the last three months, including his two PGA Tour events this month on courses – Maui Mountain, California desert – that couldn’t be more different.

He won in Spain by six shots and the DP World Tour Championship by two in the fall. He started the new year on the PGA Tour by finishing with a 63 to overcome a seven-shot deficit against Collin Morikawa at Kapalua, then deflected a spirited challenge from Thompson at The American Express.

Next up is the Farmers Insurance Open in Torrey Pines, one of his favorite spots even before winning the US Open. Rahm won his first PGA Tour event in Torrey in 2017, missing a playoff by one shot twice in the past three years.

Thompson’s words could ring true this week for the other 155 players in the field: “I’m playing Jon Rahm.”

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“In my mind I feel like I can get a lot better,” Rahm said on Sunday. His average score in both PGA Tour starts this year is 65.75. “It’s my job to try and get the best out of myself, and so far I’m doing pretty well.”

It’s one thing to go on a big run. What really stands out to other players is when it happens over and over again.

David Duval made his first impression at the end of 1997 when he won his last three tournaments. And while he didn’t exactly fall off the map—Duval won a winter, spring, summer, and fall tournament the following year—his start in 1999 was dazzling.

He won in Kapalua with eight. He then shot 59 to win the Bob Hope Classic. He was considered the best golfer, except that the No. 1 ranking belonged to Tiger Woods. That finally went to Duval two months later when he won The Players Championship.

Vijay Singh already had two majors and a PGA Tour money title. And then he looked unbeatable in 2004. There was a feeling that if his name wasn’t on the leaderboard, it would be next time someone looked. He won nine times – three in a row in September, the first of which made him the world No. 1 and ended Woods’ five-year reign.

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Rory McIlroy, who currently ranks No. 1, was also an established star when he had a monster year in 2012, winning five times, including his second major. He had streaks of five consecutive top 10s twice.

So no one was surprised when he won three in a row in 2014, two of them majors.

Woods, of course, lives in his own slice of golf history.

His run from 1997 through 2009 never really ended, except when he went through swing changes with Butch Harmon (1998) and Hank Haney (2004). He had three winning streaks of five tournaments or more. Woods started a year with six consecutive top 15 finishes and would be in a slump. He won his next three, including the Masters.

He is a separate conversation.

Rahm will certainly be a heavy favorite at Torrey Pines, which starts on Wednesday. He will aim to become the first player since Dustin Johnson in 2017 to win three in a row (Rahm was runner-up in Johnson’s third win that year at Match Play).

Rahm is number 3 in the world rankings, which only makes sense when you consider that the rankings are based on two years, not six months of play.

Masters champ Scottie Scheffler is No. 2 and came within an inch—narrowly missing a birdie putt on his last hole at The American Express—to move back to No. 1. That’s a product of his four wins and three last-place finishes as second year.

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Nobody said, “I’m playing Scottie Scheffler.” Another big run like last spring and that may change.

Rahm could move up to No. 1 with another win or even a high finish at Torrey, although it will depend on how McIlroy fares on his Dubai debut in 2023.

While there’s no questioning who plays the best golf right now, the world ranking is more of a two-hour documentary than a 45-minute podcast.

Rahm got two wins in three starts as McIlroy wrapped it up for the year. McIlroy’s final six starts of 2022 have included Tour Championship and CJ Cup wins, second by one shot at Wentworth and three fourth-place finishes.

How quickly we forget.

Also, the world rankings are in the middle of a transition in an effort to measure the strength of the entire field, not just players in the top 200, and points have been reduced in this new math. It should begin to resolve itself in the coming months.

Rahm no longer seems as baffled by the rankings as he was a few months ago. He said in Kapalua that he felt he was the best golfer, and winning The American Express didn’t change his opinion. He will not find many opponents at the moment.


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