Weekly Recap: Rahm Returns to Winner's Circle

Weekly Recap: Rahm Returns to Winner's Circle

This article is part of our Weekly Recap series.

When an elite golfer hasn't won a title in a while – someone such as Jon Rahm, who was going on 11 months without one entering the Mexico Open – the expectation is that he's "due." But Jordan Spieth went almost four years without winning. Xander Schauffele is in his fourth year without a solo win on the PGA Tour. Even Tiger Woods went 11 years between majors. Sometimes, great golfers win and then never win again.

Yes, Rahm seemed too good and too young to let that happen. But it happens. So, the fact he stopped the skid inside of a year by winning the Mexico Open – even though it was a terribly weak field – was a welcome sign for him and had to be a huge sigh of relief.

To put things in perspective, here are some guys who've gone more than a year without winning: Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau. They're all "due" but they haven't won. For the record we dislike that term; nobody is ever due.

Rahm led almost wire to wire in winning the new PGA Tour event at Vidanta Vallarta, nipping Tony Finau – another guy with an eternal winless drought not too long ago – Brandon Wu and Kurt Kitayama by one stroke. It wasn't enough for Rahm to reclaim the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking from Scottie Scheffler, but it solidifies him as the favorite or

When an elite golfer hasn't won a title in a while – someone such as Jon Rahm, who was going on 11 months without one entering the Mexico Open – the expectation is that he's "due." But Jordan Spieth went almost four years without winning. Xander Schauffele is in his fourth year without a solo win on the PGA Tour. Even Tiger Woods went 11 years between majors. Sometimes, great golfers win and then never win again.

Yes, Rahm seemed too good and too young to let that happen. But it happens. So, the fact he stopped the skid inside of a year by winning the Mexico Open – even though it was a terribly weak field – was a welcome sign for him and had to be a huge sigh of relief.

To put things in perspective, here are some guys who've gone more than a year without winning: Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau. They're all "due" but they haven't won. For the record we dislike that term; nobody is ever due.

Rahm led almost wire to wire in winning the new PGA Tour event at Vidanta Vallarta, nipping Tony Finau – another guy with an eternal winless drought not too long ago – Brandon Wu and Kurt Kitayama by one stroke. It wasn't enough for Rahm to reclaim the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking from Scottie Scheffler, but it solidifies him as the favorite or co-favorite heading into the PGA Championship in three weeks.

At issue for Rahm had been his short game. Even after winning this tournament, he's ranked 153rd in Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green and 114th in SG: Putting. The other parts of his game are still elite, as he ranks first in both SG: Off-the-Tee and Tee-to-Green.

We can't know for sure whether Rahm solved his short-game issues, even though he ranked 22nd in the field in SG: Around-the-Green and 18th in Putting. Those numbers, when combined with the rest of his game, are good enough to win many tournaments.

At Vidanta, the greens are paspalum, and we figured that would neutralize the better putters and level the playing field for Rahm and others. And when you also consider it was an unfamiliar course for everyone and the field was so weak, we don't have as clear an indication of where Rahm's game stands as we would have had he won on a "veteran" course with, say, bermudagrass greens.

And it's not as if Rahm won in a rout. Wu was ranked in the 300s in the OWGR and Kitayama in the 200s, but the margin of victory couldn't have been slimmer. Of course, Finau is far superior than those two, but he too had been struggling all year, and the same questions we're asking about Rahm apply to Finau.

Perhaps we are nitpicking. A win is a win on the PGA Tour no matter what. As every golfer will tell you, it's hard to win a tournament. The depth on Tour these days is, um, deep.

Rahm is not entered in this week's Wells Fargo Championship, and as of now he's not listed in the Byron Nelson field the week before the PGA. So we may not know until Southern Hills where Rahm's short game truly stands.

What we do know is that Rahm was our preseason pick to win the PGA, and we feel a whole lot better about that right now than we did even 24 hours ago.

MONDAY BACKSPIN

Tony Finau
This was Finau's first top-10 and by far his best result since ending his winless drought late last summer at The Northern Trust. He had nearly fallen outside the top 25 in the world rankings but now he's 18th. It's fair to ask the same questions we did about Rahm, though Finau's poor putting continued on the paspalum, as he ranked 60th in the field. His short-game troubles are much worse than Rahm's, at least statistically, as he ranks 144th in SG: Around-the-Green and a horrid 195th in Putting. No matter how good the rest of your game is, it's hard to overcome those shortcomings.

Brandon Wu
Wu is a 25-year-old rookie who got his card via the Korn Ferry Tour. He had a good amateur pedigree and at one point last year had risen to 163rd in the world rankings. So he's far from a stiff. But his first season on Tour began disastrously, as he missed 10 of his first 11 cuts. He then made three in a row heading into Mexico, though even that could've been overlooked since two of those were alternate-field events. He finished third in Puerto Rico but then also 33rd at the Valspar Championship, so it this seems he's reached a turning point, and he's back up to 229th in the OWGR. Through all of Wu's troubles, he's ranked 47th on Tour in GIR and 30th in Putting. That doesn't sound bad at all.

Kurt Kitayama
Kitayama is four years older than Wu and played a lot internationally before landing on the PGA Tour. But there are similarities between the two Californians. Kitayama also earned his card via the KF Tour and his first PGA Tour season started poorly, with six missed cuts in eight starts. Then he also had a third-place finish at the Honda Classic. So while it's easy to look at these high finishes in this weak field as an aberration for these two golfers, perhaps we shouldn't. Kitayama is ranked 26th in SG: Approach. There's no faking that.

Davis Riley
Riley finished fifth, just six weeks after his runner-up at the Valspar. So, he's another guy who has begun to put up some good results. Riley led the Mexico field in putting, so that gives us a little pause because of the paspalum, but he had been a birdie-maker even beforehand and is now ranked 16th on Tour in birdie average. That makes him a quality DFS option most weeks.

Alex Smalley
Another PGA Tour rookie, Smalley has been showing signs all season, and his tie for sixth was his best showing outside of a runner-up at the alternate-field Dominican Republic event, which also was played on paspalum. He's missed his share of cuts, but also made them at Torrey Pines, Riviera, PGA National and Bay Hill. That ain't nothing.

Cameron Champ
This course – long – turned out to be a good fit for Champ, who was coming off a good week at the Masters but hadn't otherwise shown many signs this season. He tied for sixth, three strokes back, and with a great Sunday could've made some noise.
 
David Lipsky
Yet another Korn Ferry rookie, yet another Californian who had primed his game internationally. Lipsky is 33, far older than others mentioned above so his career trajectory likely doesn't have the same arc. He's had some good finishes this season – top-25s at the Amex and Pebble Beach, a top-10 at Puntacana and now Mexico (paspalum x 2!) –  which if nothing else should be enough to keep his card for another go-round on the PGA Tour.

Nate Lashley
Lashley just missed a top-10, tying for 11th. He's made five of his past six cuts, four of them top-25s and one top-10. And the one non-top-25 was a near miss at T27. Still, most of these were lesser events and, with Lashley having been around for years, this stretch doesn't move the needle much for us as it would with a younger golfer.

Grayson Murray
Murray made news with his shenanigans with Kevin Na during the week. But then he went out and shot 67-66-67 over the final three rounds to tie for 13th, which was his best result anywhere in the world in over a year. He's been ranked as high as 85th but now is in the 600s. Murray has been candid about off-the-course issues, so this result was vitally important for a guy looking for status, not to mention cash.

Sahith Theegala
Theegala turned a 69-68 weekend into a T24. It was his fifth straight made cut, his sixth in eight starts since his big week at Phoenix and it moved him to a career-best 120th in the OWGR. His prospects continue to point up.

Patrick Reed
Unlike Rahm and Finau, this struggling golfer couldn't find encouraging signs south of the border. Reed tied for 42nd. He's making cuts, mostly, but nothing else. He's now 33rd in the world rankings, and he hadn't been that low in eight years, since the week before winning the 2014 WGC-Cadillac at Doral.

Bill Haas
Haas was one of the feel-good stories of last week along with his father Jay at the Zurich Classic. And he was primed to continue the good times. Until Sunday. Beginning the day inside the top 20, Haas shot 75 to tumble all the way to a tie for 59th.

Peter Uihlein
Uihlein is struggling for every inch he can get, and he had been playing well, with six straight made cuts – four on the PGA Tour and two on the Korn Ferry Tour. So bogeying two of the final three holes on Friday, including the par-5 18th with a five-footer for par, had to be especially frustrating. For those that included him in their lineups, it was an especially bad beat.

Chris Kirk
Regular readers will know our affinity for Kirk this season, how his tee-to-green numbers have been the best of his career. But this long course was not a good fit, and Kirk missed the cut. More troubling are his results the past four times out: three missed cuts and a T35 at the Valero. One of the missed cuts was at Harbour Town, where Kirk should thrive. So this trend is definitely worth watching.

Vaughn Taylor
After his last season was derailed by a rib injury, Taylor had been thriving in 2022, with five made cuts in six starts, a top-10 and a top-25 – albeit both came in alternate-field events. But he had to withdraw before the second round in Mexico with a shoulder injury. Taylor obviously is not a big fantasy option, but he had proved serviceable as a sixth man to fill out your lineup. He's listed in the Wells Fargo Championship field, for now, so maybe this was a minor thing.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Len Hochberg
Len Hochberg has covered golf for RotoWire since 2013. A veteran sports journalist, he was an editor and reporter at The Washington Post for many years. He was named 2020 "DFS Writer of the Year" by the FSWA and was nominated for the same award in 2019.
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