All day Sunday, seemingly everyone was just waiting for Jon Rahm to take control of the American Express and coast to his second-straight win to open the season.
But through 15 holes in the final round, he was still tied with rookie Davis Thompson, as he was to start the day. Seemingly every makable putt he had caught the lip and missed.
Turns out all he needed was a member’s bounce on 16 and an unfortunate break for Thompson on 17.
With his second shot on the long par-5 16th at PGA West’s Stadium Course drifting dangerously toward the enormous, 18-foot deep bunker left of the green, his ball landed on top of the bank, somehow bounced right, away from the trap. From just short of the green he pitched up and just lipped in a 9-footer for birdie.
Thompson was in trouble off the tee and grinded for a par.
“Turning point was 16,” Rahm told NBC Sports after the win. “I mean, he misses that tee shot. I put it on the fairway. That’s pretty much a half-stroke penalty right there. So I knew that if I did what I could do, I was most likely going to have a one-shot lead going to the last two holes and kept hitting the shot that I needed.”
Then on 17, Thompson’s Hail Mary 48-foot birdie-try hit the middle of the flag stick and bounced out.
That was the difference as Rahm finished up his final-round 68 to win for the second time in as many starts to begin 2023. He finished at 27 under, one ahead of Thompson.
It continues a dominant run of golf for Rahm since the start of August. In that time, he’s made 10 worldwide starts, picked up nine top-10s and four wins, including just two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. The win this week is also his second at the event, having won in Palm Springs in 2018.
On Sunday, Rahm clearly didn’t have his best stuff, and certainly not the game that had him at 23 under through 48 holes this week.
His approaches at the first two holes Sunday were both within two feet, leading to birdies and a quick two-shot lead over Thompson, who was playing in the final group on a Sunday for the first time in his career.
Then he stalled, unable to convert on any of his other tight approaches, except on nine. With the rest of the field turning in great scores all afternoon, Thompson caught up to Rahm on 13 when the latter missed a 5-foot par putt.
They stayed tied until Rahm’s birdie on 16. Thompson parred his last seven holes for his first career runner-up on the PGA Tour.
“What a heck of a player he is until he’s doing all the right things,” Rahm said of the 23-year-old. “And I wouldn’t be surprised if he wins soon because, you know, he gave me a real battle today.”
With the win, Rahm moves up one spot in the Official World Golf Rankings to No. 3 for the second-straight start.