The No. 4 player in the world leads after 18 holes at the American Express, but the No. 1 player in the world is not far behind. Patrick Cantlay shot a 10-under 62 to co-lead the event with Lee Hodges (more on him in a bit) as he looks for his fourth-consecutive top-five finish on the PGA Tour and his second victory in that run as well.
Let's take a look at his first round and a fun board full of big names, including the biggest one, who is four back of Cantlay but will be tough to shake over the final 54 holes.
After Cantlay played the first seven holes in 7 under at La Quinta Country Club (the easiest of the three courses), it looked as if a 59 watch was on. He proceeded to birdie three of the first four on the back as well before cooling off with five pars in his last five holes. Still, his 62 was in line with the heater he's been on for about six months now.
"I got off to a roll at the start and kind of made a bunch of putts and then I kind of lagged on the way coming in," said Cantlay. "But I was happy with everything, I thought I did everything well and it's a golf course I really like, it's in perfect shape and so if you get the ball rolling on line it should go in."
Interestingly, this isn't even Cantlay's best score in his last two rounds at this tournament. He shot 61 in the finale last year at the PGA West Stadium Course to finish one stroke out of a playoff. He's the easy favorite at 2-1 going into the final three rounds.
The other leader
Lee Hodges also shot 10 under at La Quinta Country Club, and his card was the opposite of Cantlay's. He started slower -- he was just 2 under through the first 10 holes and closed in a frenzy by playing his last eight in 7 under.
Hodges is a nice player who is still ranked outside the top 300 in the Official World Golf Rankings but played well on the Korn Ferry Tour last season. Hodge's college career was split between UAB and Alabama, where he lost to Oklahoma State's Viktor Hovland 4 and 3 in the finals of the 2018 NCAA Division I Men's Golf Team Match Play Championship as Oklahoma State went on to beat the Crimson Tide 5-0. Hodges won on the Korn Ferry in 2020 and finished in the top 10 in points to earn his PGA Tour card.
Hodges' best finish thus far on the PGA Tour is a tie for 11th at the Barracuda Championship so going at it with Rahm and Cantlay is a completely different world. Still, he's off to a perfect start, and his trajectory suggests he can be a good player on the big boy Tour.
T3: K.H. Lee, Cameron Young (-8)
T5: Joseph Bramlett, Sam Ryder, Brandt Snedeker, Danny Lee, Tom Hoge, Wyndham Clark, Seamus Power, Greyson Sigg (-7)
The interesting part about playing three different courses is how much they vary in degree of difficulty. Lee actually led the entire field in strokes gained because his course (PGA West Stadium Course) was playing two strokes harder than the course Cantlay and Hodges played. So 8 under at the Stadium Course was slightly better compared to the field there than 10 under at La Quinta compared to the field there. This means little come Sunday but it's instructive as it relates to how the next few days will play out.
Quick breakdown of the courses and their scoring today. We knew the Stadium would be the most difficult, but better than two strokes on average is quite a spread.— Chris Murphy (@CS_Murph) January 21, 2022
La Quinta -2.87
Rahm shot 6-under 66 at La Quinta which was equivalent to gaining just over three strokes on the field. That's about where he's taken up residence of late, and if he does it each of the next two days, he's going to be in it come Sunday on a course where he's won before. It extended his unbelievable run to start the season, too. Here are the numbers.
- 38 birdies
- 50 pars
- 1 eagle
- 1 bogey
- 39 under
- 17 strokes gained
Imagine making one bogey in your first 90 holes of the year. Imagine making one bogey in your first 18 holes of the year.
Quote of the day
"Yeah, [La Quinta] is probably the best-conditioned golf course on Tour. It's in amazing shape every time I've ever been here and so it's really fun to play a golf course that's in perfect shape." - Patrick Cantlay
There was a lot of that from players Thursday, and Rahm at one point even jokingly (kind of jokingly?) petitioned for a membership.
Great day/bad day
Phil Mickelson and Matthew Wolff did not enjoy themselves Thursday. They both shot 6 over, and Mickelson did it on the easiest course in the rotation. Wolff went out in 40 at the Stadium Course, and Mickelson made a nine on a par 4. He also lost nine strokes to the field, more than two more than anybody else playing in the tournament. As the host here, he'll be there until Sunday, but I doubt he'll be swinging a club past Saturday's cut.
Harry Higgs made a hole-in-one Thursday on the par-3 15th at La Quinta en route to a 66.
New odds and pick
All odds courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook.
- Patrick Cantlay: 2-1
- Jon Rahm: 9/2
- Seamus Power: 14-1
- K.H. Lee: 16-1
- Lee Hodges: 28-1
- Abraham Ancer: 28-1
Power is pretty interesting here. He's been awesome of late. Three straight top-15 finishes on the PGA Tour, including a T3 last week at the Sony Open. The problem for him after shooting 7 under on the Nicklaus Tournament Course is that you can maybe take down Rahm or Cantlay, but can you take down both of them? If I had to take somebody on the list above, I would go with Rahm. I like that he's right in the middle of it but that he has a little longer odds than Cantlay. His golf has been absolutely sublime for almost a year, and he's won this event before. I also love that he didn't love how he played Thursday.
"My swing didn't feel 100%, but I kind of adjusted a little bit and I played some good golf," Rahm said. "Hopefully I can tidy up a couple putts. My first few holes I didn't hit the best putts, but then starting on I think it was on 8 or 9 I started rolling the ball better and it showed, made a couple clutch putts on the back nine."