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Jon Rahm knows from his American Express victory in 2018 that low scores will be in demand at the 63rd annual tournament this week.
“You know you're going to have to surpass the 20-under barrier,” Rahm said Wednesday as he prepared to play The American Express for the first time since 2019. “I think I went into a playoff at 20-under (22 under, actually) and that's because the leaders didn't have their best day. So yes, I shot 62 at La Quinta, I think a few years back Phil (Mickelson) shot 60, Adam Hadwin shot 59, and there's many other low scores out here.
“Patrick Cantlay last year was 18 under on the weekend alone on the Stadium, which is the hardest of the three courses,” Rahm added.
When Rahm won the 2018 American Express in a playoff over Andrew Landry, Rahm was a rising star on the PGA Tour earning just his second tour title. He returns to La Quinta this week as the No. 1 player in the World Golf Rankings and the reigning U.S. Open champion. That makes Rahm the big attraction in a strong field for the $7.6 million tournament starting Thursday at PGA West and La Quinta Country Club.
Play begins at 8:40 a.m. on the first and 10th tees of all three golf courses, and Rahm will be part of an early marquee pairing at La Quinta Country Club with U.S. Ryder Cup member Tony Finau.
But the 63rd annual tournament has big names on all three golf courses, including world No. 4 Cantlay and tournament host and current PGA Championship winner Phil Mickelson also playing at La Quinta with Rickie Fowler on the first day. Defending champion Si Woo Kim also will start at La Quinta, while the Pete Dye Stadium Course at PGA West will see players like Davis Love III, rising star Matthew Wolff, Talor Gooch and past American Express winners like Landry, Jason Dufner and Brian Gay.
For Rahm, who played his college golf at Arizona State, returning to the Coachella Valley is a comfortable feeling, he said. Rahm was scheduled to play in 2021 but had to withdraw with a minor back injury.
Enjoys California events
“It's a place I've been coming to for a very long time, played in college, played the Nicklaus Course (at PGA West) a couple times in college and played one of the other PGA courses as well,” Rahm said. “So I feel comfortable, live in the desert (in Arizona), so I always look forward to coming here and hopefully having a good week.”
Cantlay didn’t win the 2021 American Express, but his 65-61 finish on the weekend left him just one shot behind winner Si Woo Kim. Cantlay went on to win three times on the tour last season, including the Tour Championship, and took home PGA Tour player of the year honors. Some of that big year started at The American Express, he said.
“I didn't think about that last year, but it could have been,” Cantlay said Wednesday. “I think that if you ask professional golfers, I would say at times the game feels really, really easy, and if you would have asked me Thursday, Friday last year playing the tournament, it felt hard. And then something clicked Saturday, Sunday and it felt really easy. If you could tell me why that is, I would be better.”
Cantlay echoed Rahm’s belief that low scoring will be a theme all week at The American Express.
“When I first came out on tour, you could get to 20 under you thought for sure, I'm going to win or have a really good chance to win,” Cantlay said. “And I think we have seen the last few years that's not really the case anymore and guys are either better or more aggressive or both. And so I think that's just the new normal. You'll have to get into the 20s to have a chance to win.”
Rahm comes to the desert off a second-place finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii two weeks ago, shooting 33 under for the four days but finishing one shot behind Cameron Smith. Cantlay was 26 under that week and finished fourth.
“God, I shot 33 under, it's not like I have much to complain about,” Rahm said with a smile. “With an out-of-bounds ball. So, if anything, I just need to get over that one swing and I'll be good to go.”
While Rahm is the No. 1 player in the world rankings, he’s looking at the start of a new calendar year as a chance to get his game even better.
“We all put new stuff in the bag early in the year, we are all trying to improve as players,” Rahm said. “I think it's key to get off to a good start in that sense. Coming to courses and tournaments where I'm comfortable on is only going to help. So I think that's one of the reasons, but the main thing is because I come out here believing I can win each one of those events and that's the goal.”
La Quinta Country Club
8:50 a.m.: Jon Rahm, Tony Finau
9:10 a.m.: Harold Varner, Will Zalatois
9:20 a.m.: Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler
10:30 a.m.: Patrick Cantlay, Scottie Scheffler
Nicklaus Tournament Course
8:40 a.m.: Emiliano Grillo, Jhonattan Vegas
8:50 a.m.: Jason Day, Justin Rose
8:50 a.m.: Davis Love III, Brendan Todd
10 a.m.: Charles Howell III, Talor Gooch
10:30 a.m.: Matthew Wolff, Gary Woodland
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: American Express: World No. 1 Jon Rahm expects low scoring in desert