The 8,000-mile mono-a-mono battle
So after the first three weeks of January, Jon Rahm is 2 for 2 in wins and sets up for a big battle this week. All of that stems from how the Official World Golf Rankings changed their method of giving points. It’s a complicated process. Since it first came out in 1986, points were given to events best on the Working Ranking of the field. The tournament was given more points if all the top players showed up. The system worked well for 36 years. Last August, they changed, and to put it in layperson’s terms, they now create field ratings for each event based on each player’s gained world rating, which is determined by round-by-round stroke-play scores that are adjusted for the relative difficulty of each round. And that is in layperson’s terms.
The point is that it created a drastic result that favors PGA Tour events. Since the change, a lot of criticism has been pointed to who is at the top of the ranking. The most prominent voice of that criticism comes from Jon Rahm, who was sixth in the rankings after the British Open. He finished T-5th at the FedEx St. Jude, T-8th at the BMW Championship, and T-16th at the Tour Championship, but was still sixth in the rankings. But Rahm’s game went into high gear as he was T-2nd at the BMW PGA Championship and then won the Spanish Open. He only went up to 5th in the Rankings with those stellar results. In Rahm’s next two starts, he was T-4th at the CJ Cup and won the DP World Tour Championship, which is very prestige on the European Tour, and the chatter started. Rahm was T-8th at the Hero World Challenge, won the Sentry Tournament of Champions, and was still 5th in the ranking. The chatter got a bit higher after that. The number one player in the ranking is Rory McIlroy, who regained the top spot with his win at the CJ Cup. Since then, he has only played in the DP World Tour Championship, finishing 4th. I can understand the criticism since Rahm has won five of his last seven starts and is the hottest golf player.
With all the top players not playing as much in the final four months, we can see all the change and lack of change in the rankings.
But this week, we will have an 8,000-mile mono-a-mono battle. For the first time in two months, Rory is playing in Dubai in an event he has won twice and been in the top ten in his last nine Dubai starts. Also playing this week in San Diego at the Farmers Insurance is Jon Rahm, who is no stranger to Torrey Pines. In five Farmers starts, he has a win and five top-ten finishes. But Rahm won the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in 2021, so we know he plays well on the course. So the exciting storyline will be who comes out of the week as the top dog. Rahm played great in the American Express. His usual tee-to-green game was a notch below his norm, but he says his putting was in great shape. They only keep shotlinks stats on the Pete Dye Stadium course but on Saturday, Rahm made over 112 feet of putts. So going into the Farmers, you have to think that Rahm will be in contention and can win three times in a row. The same with McIlroy. He is playing great and will be in contention and could win. So that will be the biggest news you see this week, how Rahm should be the number one ranked player in the world. If he can win again at Torrey Pines, he will take over the number one spot unless Rory wins. Check back next week on this.
Who is Davis Thompson?
Have to say I was very impressed with the way Davis Thompson held up over the weekend. Thompson is only 23. He grew up and still lives in St. Simons Island, Georgia. He was an all-American at the University of Georgia. He graduated from Georgia with a Sports Management degree and turned pro in the summer of 2021. In his third professional start at the 2021 Rocket Mortgage Classic, Thompson shot a bogey-free 63 in the first round to hole a two-shot lead after the first round. He went on to make the cut and with rounds of 73-72-74, finished T-58th to get his first PGA Tour check. At the end of the year, Thompson made it through Korn Ferry Tour and played full-time on that Tour in 2022. He played in 21 events and in his 13th event of the year and on his 23rd birthday, won the Rex Hospital Open. He shot rounds of 64-66-68-69, holding the 36 and 54 leads, and went on to win by a shot. He had four top-six finishes for the year and was 16th on the Korn Ferry Tour eligibility points list to gain his PGA Tour card for 2023. His first start as a member of the PGA Tour finished T-9th at the Fortinet Championship.
So the big question is, could this be just a fly-by-the-night finish, or is Thompson the real McCoy? In looking at his stats, he is solid from tee-to-green, ranking T-17th in Greens in Regulation and 52nd in Strokes Gained off-the-tee. Thompson has a good touch on the greens he misses, ranking T-11th in scrambling, and is a good putter, ranking 30th in Strokes Gained Putting. He is 12th in putting inside 10 feet, so we have to think he is a player to watch. He grew up in the Southeast and is familiar with courses with wind and Bermuda grass. So if he can do well now, I have to wonder how he will do when the Tour hits the Florida swing.
The final round was a classic David and Goliath battle. After rounds of 62-64-67, Thompson was tied for the lead with Jon Rahm. Many didn’t give Thompson much of a chance against Rahm, but Thompson held his own. It took a Rahm birdie at 16 to take the lead, and Thompson had terrible luck on 17 when he decided to keep the pin in the hole on his 48-foot putt. The putt hit the flagstick solidly and bounced off. If the pin weren’t in, the putt would have gone in. So it was a stroke of bad luck. On 18, he got it up and down from in back of the green to finish solo 2nd, just a shot back of Rahm. The up and down at 18 was significant. If he had made bogey, it would have cost him about $279,000. He showed the maturity to get it up and down to finish 2nd. With the excellent finish, Thompson is projected to finish 59th in the World Rankings and 19th in the FedExCup it could open up some doors to playing in the Players Championship, Genesis Invitational, and the Arnold Palmer if he could climb into the top ten of the FedEx rankings. Even better, if he could pop into the top-50 of the World Ranking he would not only play in those special PGA Tour events but could also play in the Masters. Right now, Thompson is playing in the Farmers and AT&T Pebble Beach. So we will watch and see how he does.
Beware of the sick and injured.
The week’s biggest surprise had to be Xander Schauffele finishing T-3rd at the American Express. Schauffele withdrew from the Sentry T of C two weeks ago with back pains during the 2nd round. For the 29-year-old, it was the first time he had ever had to withdraw, and the concern was since he had the same back pain a few weeks early at the Hero, was there a problem? Schauffele returned home and underwent scans and an MRI to diagnose the back pain. The good news was no tear, and the diagnosis was muscular, which meant some rest. He took last week off, trying not to rush but felt ok about going to Palm Springs. He said in his Wednesday press conference that he wasn’t 100%, and he thought a portion of that was due to mental stress from the previous times the bank hurt.
So in teeing off on Thursday, he made a bogey on two but had a birdie-eagle-birdie run to shoot 33 on the front and four birdies on his back nine at La Quinta to shoot a surprising 65. We have seen some come back from injuries who play well in the first round and run into problems. That wasn’t the case as Xander shot 68-68 and found himself T-9th, eight shots back of the lead. In the final round, after four consecutive pars, on the par 5, fifth hit a perfect drive and from 226 yards holed a 4-iron for his and the PGA Tour season’s first albatross. That shot sparked Schauffele’s game as he made five birdies in a row beginning at the 8th hole and added birdies at 14 and 16 to shoot 62. In his career, Schauffele shot 61 in the final round in last year’s AT&T Byron Nelson. It was his third career 62 on Tour. With the round, Xander finished T-3rd and was just two shots back of winner Rahm.
So for Schauffele, it’s off the San Diego where he grew up. As a junior, he played all the time at Torrey Pines, and you would think that his record would be stellar at Torrey Pines, but it isn’t. In seven Farmers starts, he has only made three cuts and was in the top-24 just once, a T-2nd in 2021. But have to tell you, I think he will be one of my favorites. He is one of my top-three picks. The reason is simple. Again the sick player is the reason. For some odd reason, Schauffele always seems sick going into the Farmers. So despite the local knowledge, he was too ill to play well. But when he was healthy in 2022, he was T-2nd, and in the 2021 U.S. Open played at Torrey, he was T-7th, so that is the reason I like him next week.
It’s time to take Taylor Montgomery seriously.
The American Express was Montgomery’s 13th event on the PGA Tour. He made his first start at the 2019 Barracuda Championship, missing the cut, followed by finishing T-57th at the 2021 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. He played at the U.S. Open again in 2022, got a sponsor exemption for the Farmers, and finished T-11th at Torrey Pines. Montgomery played in 2022 on the Korn Ferry Tour. He earned his PGA Tour card despite going without a victory, as he recorded nine top-10s (the second-highest total on Tour) in just 17 starts en route to a No. 7 finish on the season-long Korn Ferry Tour Eligibility Points List.
He played at the Fortinet Championship and finished 3rd. In nine starts in 2023, Montgomery has finished in the top-15 eight times, and the only time he wasn’t in the top-15 was T-57th at the Houston Open. In DraftKings, Montgomery has turned into a fabulous choice. With his T-5th finish, he earned 141 points, and his nine 2023 starts averaged 97 points per event. His cost has gone up steadily. At the American Express, he was $8,900, but with the high amount of points he has earned, well worth it. Unfortunately, Montgomery was in contention on Sunday at the Stadium Course. Going into the 16th hole, he was only a shot back of Rahm and Thompson. On the par-5 16th, Montgomery was just off the green in two, unable to get it up and down, and made par. On the par-3 17th’s island green, Taylor hit a shank off the tee into the water and, with a double bogey, was out of the tournament even with a closing birdie on 18.
Montgomery is in the field at the Farmers, and hopefully, his Amex finish won’t stick in his head. We think Taylor will be an excellent pick for the Farmers. Remember, this is the same person who, in his first major finished T-57th at the 2021 U.S. Open at Torrey, and he was T-11th at the Farmers last year as a sponsor exemption.