Jon Rahm keeps rolling, Davis Thompson impresses in the spotlight, LIV finds a new home and more in this week's edition of the Monday Scramble:
There’s been a lot of handwringing recently about the top of the Official World Golf Ranking.
That the stronger, limited-field events don’t receive enough points.
That it’s going to take too long to flush out results from the old system.
That it’s ludicrous how Jon Rahm, world No. 4, couldn’t move into the top spot with a win last week at the American Express, but Patrick Cantlay, world No. 5, could do just that.
Frankly, we don’t need a ranking system for what is plainly obvious to anyone who has watched over the last few months: Jon Rahm is playing the best golf in the world right now.
Somehow, he has accessed another level.
In complete command of his game, Rahm withstood a few furious rallies (and a tough-minded rookie) Sunday at PGA West to go 2-for-2 to start the new year. He is 54 under par in his two tournament victories this year, and he’ll tee it up again in 48 hours at Torrey Pines, one of his favorite spots in the world, where he also won the 2021 U.S. Open.
It's looking more and more like another one of his patented Rahmpages.
The sturdy Spaniard won three times worldwide in 2022 but disappointed in the majors, where he didn’t post a single top-10 finish. All year he stressed that he was doing the right things, it just hadn’t paid off yet.
“They’re coming in a bunch right now,” he said.
With four wins in his last six worldwide starts, Rahm is swinging as well as he ever has. Already the game’s best driver, he’s pounding it longer and straighter. His wedge game is tighter, more precise. He’s running in putts from all over. His body feels fresh, powerful, explosive.
“Every time I’ve felt like this in the past, I’ve ended up going on to win,” he said, “just because it takes a lot of pressure off a lot of parts of my game knowing that basically I’m going to hit the shot that I’m envisioning. And that’s a really unique zone to put yourself in.”
But this isn't just a zone, a phase, a hot streak. This sustained level of excellence is Rahm’s new normal.
Form ebbs and flows throughout a long season, of course, but Rahm – now with nine wins and a 50% top-10 rate in his Tour career – has proven that he’s built to last. He's proven that he can win even without his best stuff.
He might be No. 3 in the world ranking, officially, but the eye test suggests otherwise. There's nobody better right now.
A few other notes from the first leg of the West Coast swing …
• Davis Thompson should gain plenty of confidence after taking on the hottest player in the game, shooting 26 under par and losing by a single shot. The hotshot rookie (more on his path later) had lingered on the edge of contention in his first few months on Tour, but never like this. He made five eagles in the first 54 holes and played his way into the final group with Rahm.
On the last day, Thompson was hurt by two tee shots on par 5s that he’d previously dominated: He tugged his tee shot into the water on 5, leading to a bogey, and then toe-hooked another drive on 16 into the cavernous bunker, necessitating a layup (and an eventual par). Those drives, Rahm later figured, cost Thompson a shot and a half – the eventual margin of victory. Thompson played the par 5s in 14 under across the first three rounds. On Sunday, he was just even par.
Still, it looked like Thompson might regain a share of the lead when his 50-footer on the 17th green began tracking toward the hole. Thompson always keeps the flagstick in the cup on long-distance putts to help with his speed, but this one was carrying a touch too much heat. It clanked off the flagstick:
On keeping the stick in, Thompson said, “I’ll probably play the ‘what-if’ game in my head for a long time, unfortunately.” But if the 23-year-old continues to play like at this level, he won’t have to leave it up to the golf gods or physics.
• On last week’s Golf Channel Podcast with Rex & Lav, we expressed some concern that Xander Schauffele was teeing it up at the American Express after A) undergoing an MRI the week prior on his ailing back; B) reporting some continued soreness; and C) preparing to embark on an ambitious schedule with four starts in five weeks (and six of eight overall).
Well, so much for that.
Schauffele didn’t just make it through the AmEx injury-free, but he burst into the frame with a closing 62 that was highlighted by an albatross on the fifth hole:
More promisingly, Schauffele reported “no complaints” other than a little early-week soreness. “But I played more golf than I have in a while, and in consecutive days, and I felt better pretty much each day," he said. So that’s a positive.” Indeed.
• Pressure manifests itself in mysterious ways. Here's Taylor Montgomery, one shot back, vying for his first Tour title and playing the treacherous 17th hole, finding nothing but the hosel:
The double bogey doomed his bid for a breakthrough victory, but Montgomery came back with a birdie on the last to earn his eighth top-15 in nine starts this season. It appears to be nothing more than a rookie mistake he’ll learn from.
• Much of the focus Sunday was on Rahm, but Scottie Scheffler had a chance to return to world No. 1 with a solo ninth or better at PGA West. As it turned out, Scheffler sat joint 11th as he lined up his 21-foot, 6-inch putt for birdie on the final green Sunday. If it dropped, he’d climb into a share of sixth place and re-ascend to the top spot. Somehow, his putt stayed on the right lip.
After months of blustering, LIV Golf finally landed a domestic TV deal.
All 14 of the upstart league’s global tournaments this year will appear on the CW Network, which is available in 120 million homes. The opening rounds will stream exclusively on the CW app.
LIV CEO Greg Norman described the deal as a “momentous day” for the breakaway tour, and there’s no doubt that landing a TV deal was a key priority entering Year 2 if it wanted to appeal to corporate sponsors and advertisers.
But there are a few things to note here:
• The deal has been described as a “revenue-sharing agreement,” with the CW not paying a rights fee to show LIV tournaments on TV. When LIV was reportedly near a deal with Fox Sports last fall, it was negotiating a deal to purchase air time. This is essentially giving away the product for free, despite LIV claiming in a release that it was a "competitive bidding process."
• The CW is not Nielsen-rated outside of weekdays in primetime, and so there’s no way to know how many people are consuming the LIV telecasts. (That’s a trouble spot for potential advertisers, of course.) LIV posted meager streaming numbers on YouTube, when it was available for free on the most popular app in the world.
Following the announcement, LIV promised more news in the coming days, but as of this writing, still nothing. LIV hasn’t formally announced its 48-man roster or full schedule for this season, which begins Feb. 24 in Mexico.
THIS WEEK'S AWARD WINNERS ...
Food for Thought: Change the first month of the season. Tournament officials wisely altered the schedule for the Farmers Insurance Open to a Wednesday start through Saturday finish, clearing the way for the NFL to completely dominate Sunday with its conference championship games (as if it weren’t going to dominate regardless). Which got us thinking: With big changes on deck for the 2024 season, lay out the first four weeks of the new season with the same Wednesday-Saturday schedule. Yes, another weekday competition round would hurt ticket and hospitality sales, but having covered/watched these events, let’s be real – these aren’t huge on-site draws for spectators. They’re largely ghost towns. The NFL’s wild-card and divisional rounds are still played on Saturdays, too, but the league slots the most high-profile games on Sunday, and the Tour would be wise to avoid them at all costs. So, our suggestion: Yield to the almighty football god and keep everything on schedule by playing Wednesday-Saturday for the first month of the year, then stage the Tour’s biggest party of the year (the Phoenix Open, now a designated event) during the bye week before the Super Bowl. Everybody wins – especially golf fans.
Ah, That’s How It Works: PGA Tour University. With the LIV threat looming, there’s been a renewed push inside Tour HQ to expand access for the game’s brightest up-and-comers. Davis Thompson was precisely one of those guys. He was part of the Tour’s inaugural PGA Tour University class, finishing inside the top 5 in the standings as a graduating senior at Georgia (#GoDawgs) and earning a Korn Ferry Tour card. After a year apprenticing in the minors, he proved himself worthy by factoring almost immediately in a Tour event, at the ripe age of 23. That’s the prime example, right there, of how the system should work.
Highlight Factory: Victor Perez. The Frenchman started hot on the final day in Abu Dhabi, ripping off six birdies in his first 11 holes, but it was his heroics on the 71st hole that nabbed him his first Rolex Series title. Perez holed out for birdie from the greenside bunker, touching off a lusty celebration that gave him a two-shot cushion as he headed down the last. The win gave Perez's Ryder Cup prospects a major boost and pushed him back inside the top 65 in the world.
Much Ado About Nothing: LIV players’ Ryder Cup hopes. The UK hearing that will determine whether the LIV rebels can continue to play on the DP World Tour begins Feb. 6, but it may all be for naught. Aging warriors Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter couldn’t finish inside the top 50 in Abu Dhabi, while Henrik Stenson placed 20th after a closing 66 in his first tour event since he was stripped of the 2023 captaincy. At this point the arbitration hearing is just to determine the ground rules – the European side should have already moved on with grooming the next wave of cup wannabes. But on the other hand …
Oldie But Goodie: Padraig Harrington. While his senior rival, Steve Stricker, 55, was routing the field for a season-opening Champions victory in Hawaii, the 51-year-old Harrington finished fourth against the young bucks in Abu Dhabi on the strength of a 64-67 weekend. Despite supposedly being last past their competitive primes, both appear to be playing as well as ever.
Welcome Back: Rory McIlroy. The world No. 1 is back in action this week at the Dubai Desert Classic, his first competitive appearance anywhere since the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in November. Earlier this month McIlroy opted to once again skip the Tournament of Champions – his one allowed miss, unless he chooses to forfeit 25% of his PIP bonus – but will be back in the States next week in Phoenix.
Still Ballin’: Brooke Henderson. After an eventful offseason that included more rehab on her back, wisdom-teeth removal and a bedding-in process with new equipment, the Canadian star roared into the new year with a wire-to-wire victory at the LPGA's Tournament of Champions event in Orlando. Just like that, she’s halfway to her goal of at least two victories per year. Feels like she could be in store for a whole lot more ...
Missing the Point: LPGA locker rooms. Golfweek’s Beth Ann Nichols, the game's preeminent women's golf writer, wrote a damning piece on the lack of locker-room access at the LPGA season opener. It was an embarrassing look for the tour (temporary lockers arrived the next day), and players should have been furious … but instead, somehow, a few complained on social media that the focus needed to be on the pro-am event and not that story. Um, what?! Do you NOT want to shine a light on this issue, so that working conditions can perhaps improve in the future?
Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Patrick Cantlay. Behold, one of the few weeks a year in which Cantlay wasn’t a factor! Despite posting top-10s in his last three trips to the California desert, he didn’t even sniff contention this time, making the low cut with a shot to spare and ultimately placing 26th during a week when he had a chance to ascend to world No. 1 for the first time. This was just the second time since last May that Cantlay didn’t post a top-20. Sigh.