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What a difference a week made for the first-round leader on the PGA Tour. Avoiding the same fate as Jordan Spieth at the Sony Open, Davis Thompson instead kept marching forward at the 2023 American Express. Grabbing the solo lead with a 10-under 62 on Thursday, the PGA Tour rookie was at it again on Friday at the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Stumbling out of the gates ever so slightly to begin his round, Thompson rode a flurry of eagles to ultimately sign for an 8-under 64.

Tying the PGA Tour 36-hole record with five eagles, Thompson stands at 18 under but is not without a litany of heavy hitters right on his tail. Jon Rahm, the 2023 Tournament of Champions winner and arguably the hottest player in the world, will enter the weekend as Thompson's closest pursuer at 16 under after back-to-back rounds of 8-under 64. 

The winner of this tournament in 2018, Rahm has positioned himself nicely to win his second PGA Tour event of the year and capture his fourth worldwide victory in his last six starts. On the same course rotation as the leader, Rahm, along with other contenders Tom Kim, Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay, will play the Stadium Course at PGA West on Saturday.

The leader

1. Davis Thompson (-18)

Despite being in the midst of his rookie season, Thompson has been around for quite some time, having first popped on the radar at the 2020 U.S. Open. Now a winner on the Korn Ferry Tour and in command of this tournament, Thompson's record-tying five eagles will be difficult to sustain and may allow for the rest of the field to gain some ground over the next 36 holes. For some context, 2022 Honda Classic winner and Tour Championship participant Sepp Straka recorded three eagles during his entire 2021-22 season.

"Watching this tournament for a couple years now, I always see the winning score being so low. So you kind of really don't have a choice, you just got to keep hitting greens and giving yourself looks and trying to make the putts," Thompson said. "I was just fortunate enough to make a lot of putts these first two days. But, yeah, it is easy to stall out, but at the same time, if you just stay present minded and focus on one."

Other contenders

2. Jon Rahm (-16)

T3. Jason Day, Tom Kim, J.T. Poston, Sungjae Im, Tyler Duncan (-13)

8. Patton Kizzire (-12)

T9. Xander Schauffele, Scottie Scheffler, Justin Rose, Scott Piercy, Taylor Montgomery (-11)

Rahm said at the Tournament of Champions that he believes he is the best player in the world, and it is hard to argue against that after just six rounds into 2023. Without ShotLink data his first two days, it is unknown how well he is rolling the rock. It may be safe to assume, however, that it is in the same breath as his prior five months. Since the BMW Championship, Rahm has averaged nearly 1.5 strokes-gained putting per round, propelling him to three worldwide victories. With low scores in the forecast, a hot putter could push him to his fourth since October.

"At this point, where we're at on the PGA Tour, with so many great players going on, you need to show up on the weekend and shoot low," said Rahm. "If anything is proof of it, it's the fact that two weeks ago I shot 16 under on the weekend and ended up winning the tournament. So you have to keep the foot on the gas and keep making birdies."

Resurgence of veterans

Rahm isn't the only former world No. 1 to occupy the first page of the leaderboard; a pair of veterans in Jason Day and Justin Rose have played themselves into the mix. Day comes into 2023 having enjoyed a strong swing season that included a T8 finish in the desert of Las Vegas, and he is adamant some of his best -- and healthy -- golf is still ahead of him. 

"I mean, I would say that my body -- well, I was still in pain through those years, I just kind of sacrificed myself to get to No. 1," said Day. "I feel like -- I'm hoping that I'm doing the right things to not only get back there, but get back there healthy and I can hopefully stay there a lot longer than what I did."

Rose is in a similar boat after capturing a top-10 result at the Houston Open and is in need of a big year if he is to join the European Ryder Cup Team come September. Now at 42 years of age, this very well could be his last chance to participate in a playing capacity, something that is not lost on the former U.S. Open champion.

Rollercoaster two holes for S.H. Kim

S.H. Kim, meet Pete Dye. The PGA Tour rookie got a taste of Mr. Dye's fine work in his second round at the Stadium Course. Playing his third into the par-5 16th, Kim's approach ricocheted off the flagstick only to find the greenside bunker, 19 feet below the putting surface. 

Ultimately resulting in a triple bogey, Kim went to the island green 17th without luck on his side. This quickly changed when his tee shot bounced off the greenside rock outline and onto the green. In a span of just a few minutes, Kim experienced both the good and the bad of Dye's creation.

2023 American Express updated odds and picks

  • Jon Rahm: 23/20
  • Davis Thompson: 4-1
  • Sungjae Im: 11-1
  • Tom Kim: 12-1
  • Jason Day: 18-1
  • Scottie Scheffler: 18-1
  • J.T. Poston: 22-1
  • Xander Schauffele: 35-1

For a moment, let's assume the lead resides with Rahm at 16 under as Thompson is unproven in this arena. If true, Day is an interesting option at 13 under as he heads to the Nicklaus Tournament Course -- the easiest of the three golf courses through the first two days -- after passing the eye test with flying colors on Friday. 

If not for one swing in the first round when he blocked a tee shot out of bounds, Day would be right there with Rahm. In the second round, the Australian led those on the Stadium Course in strokes-gained tee to green and strokes-gained approach while ranking seventh in strokes-gained putting.