Top-ranked Rahm back in the California desert after a 2-year hiatus

Jon Rahm of Spain salutes after completing the final round of the Tournament of Champions golf event, Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, at Kapalua Plantation Course in Kapalua, Hawaii.  (AP Photo/Matt York)

Jon Rahm of Spain salutes after completing the final round of the Tournament of Champions golf event, Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, at Kapalua Plantation Course in Kapalua, Hawaii. (AP Photo/Matt York)

PA

Jon Rahm is back in the California desert for The American Express after a two-year hiatus. It’s as if the top-ranked Spaniard never left his home in Arizona.

“I would say the population is maybe a bit older here, but it’s pretty much the Scottsdale of California,” Rahm said Wednesday.

After winning the 2018 tournament in the playoffs and finishing sixth the following year, the burly former Arizona State player couldn’t fit the event into his schedule in 2020 and couldn’t play the last year due to a minor back injury.

“I’m happy to be back,” Rahm said. “It’s a place I’ve been coming to for a very long time, where I played in college. … So, I feel comfortable. I live in the desert.”

Rahm opened the year two weeks ago in Hawaii by finishing 33 under in a one-shot loss to Cameron Smith in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

“It was a bit of a bittersweet feeling because you can’t help but feel good about the game and how well I played, but I still finished second,” Rahm said.

He opens Thursday at La Quinta Country Club, playing alongside Tony Finau and two amateurs. They will play PGA West’s Nicklaus Tournament Course on Friday and the adjacent Stadium Course on the weekend.

“If the wind doesn’t pick up, you know you’re going to have to go out there and post a score,” Rahm said. “But we all know that, so it’s almost like a green light to be aggressive.”

He will travel to the coast next week for the Farmers Insurance Open in Torrey Pines, the site of his US Open victory last summer and his first PGA Tour title in 2017. The San Diego venue has a family atmosphere.

“This coastline kinda reminds me of home,” Rahm said. “Time is similar to the time I grew up in.”

Patrick Cantlay, FedExCup champion, has just finished fourth in the Tournament of Champions. Last year, the former UCLA player closed with a stadium record 61 to finish a shot behind winner Si Woo Kim.

“I feel like I knocked some rust off Maui after not playing for quite a while,” Cantlay said. “I’m going to have a bunch of starts here, so it’s exciting to try to get into a groove and start the year off right.

Ranked fourth, Cantlay will debut at La Quinta in a group with Scottie Scheffler.

“It’s a great place for me to start the year,” Scheffler said. “Besides trying to be in Kapalua every year, it’s a great place to start in all 48 states. The weather is great. The golf courses are in good shape.”

Tournament host Phil Mickelson is making his 19th appearance in the event he won in 2002 and 2004. He will play alongside Rickie Fowler the first three rounds, also starting at La Quinta. Fowler is making his first start since his wife gave birth to their first child in November.

HEIGHT RECORD

James Hart du Preez, at 6ft 10in, will become the tallest player in PGA Tour history when he leaves Thursday.

The 26-year-old South African has received a sponsorship exemption. He led the Sunshine Tour in driving distance last season at 373 yards.

England’s Jon Thomson set the height record at 6-9 last year at the British Open.

SPONSORSHIP OFFER

The PGA Tour said Wednesday that American Express will remain title sponsor through 2028.

“Expanding our partnership with American Express secures the future of PGA Tour golf and its impact in the Coachella Valley for years to come,” said PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan.

DIVOTS: Jason Day makes his first start in the event. The former highest-ranked player is world No. 123, his lowest ranking in a decade. He will play alongside Justin Rose, another former No.1 who slipped to 47th place. … Cameron Champ is back after missing the Tournament of Champions due to a positive COVID-19 test.

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