Sam Ryder’s a creature of habit, Jon Rahm hot on his heels for third straight win and No. 1 and Tony Finau takes advantage of new life among takeaways at Farmers Insurance Open
SAN DIEGO — Sam Ryder is attempting to win his first PGA Tour title in his 147th start. Breathing down his neck is Jon Rahm, the hottest player on the planet, who is bidding to become just the fourth player in the last 25 years to win in three straight starts. And lining up behind Rahm are five players who competed in the Presidents Cup. No big deal for Ryder, if he’s to find the winner’s circle for the first time. But to be the best, Ryder knows he’s going to have to beat the best, and he’s embracing the challenge.
“This is ultimately what we want, right? That’s why we play,” he said. “I can’t recreate that anywhere else in my line of work, so it’s just exciting, it’s fun.”
Ryder finished with 12 straight pars at Torrey Pines’ South Course on Friday, and posted an even-par 72 to remain at 12 under and two strokes ahead of Rahm. Ryder began the day leading by three strokes but took three putts at the second and watched a host of top players climb a little closer to the lead. Ryder made his only birdie at the par-5 sixth hole and continues to be rock solid when he has missed the green – 9 of 10 in scrambling this week.
“Overall, I’m very pleased,” he said. “Starting the day with a lead, ending the day with a lead, pretty satisfied.”
Ryder said he’s a creature of habit, something he picked up playing baseball in his youth.
“We’re a very superstitious bunch, the baseball players. It’s like if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it kind of thing,” he explained. “I remember where I was in Omaha when I won (on the Korn Ferry Tour), I was sitting at the same seat at the bar. I’m not going to that level, but just sticking to what I’m doing. It’s nice to kind of feel the same. I can’t control the weather or the conditions, my tee time, things like that. If I can control my environment as much as possible, it helps you feel a little bit more comfortable.”
He may not be sitting at the same bar stool, but he has been eating the same meal everyday at Urban Plates, a restaurant he described as “semi-healthy.” And his meal of choice?
“It was just a little chimichurri steak and some sweet potatoes and broccoli and a little rice. Pretty simple,” he said, adding that he washed it down with sparkling water.
Ryder has a big task ahead of him in the final round but he said he has won at every level. “This is next on the list,” he said. “Whether it’s tomorrow or whether it’s down the road, I believe that’s going to happen at some point. Just trying to enjoy the journey and the ride and all those things, too, as much as possible.”
Jon Rahm sat down to do an interview with CBS’s Amanda Renner, and she welcomed him by saying, “It wouldn’t be the Farmers Insurance Open without doing an interview with Jon Rahm. You’re my first interview every year.”
Left unsaid was the fact that Rahm is a perennial favorite at Torrey Pines, which he confirmed is his favorite course in the world. This is where Rahm won his first Tour title in 2017 and has five top-10 finishes in the event in six starts. Plus, he won the 2021 U.S. Open at the South Course. He has had few better days than Friday, playing Nos. 6-9 in 5-under par to soar into contention after a sluggish start. Rahm opened with 31 on the front nine en route to a 66 and improve to 10 under, two behind Ryder. After playing his first 31 holes of the event in 1 over, Rahm caught fire and played his next 23 holes in 11 under.
“I did the job I needed to do on the last basically 23 holes of the tournament, which has given me a chance,” he said.
His highlight on Friday was an eagle at the 620-yard par-5 ninth for his 10th eagle at the Farmers Insurance Open since 2017, the most of any player.
“This is contender for shot of the year for me already. I’ve struggled with this second shot a million times,” he said. “I tattooed that 5-wood and ended up having 10 feet for eagle, which you don’t really expect on that back pin, but I ended up putting myself in a great situation and made the putt.”
Rahm hasn’t been able to escape the talk of trying to win in his third straight start.
“I hear a lot of people as I go down the fairway going, ‘Three in a row, three in a row,’” Rahm said.
He’s less concerned with his chances to regain the title of World No. 1. With a win, he would return to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking for the first time since March 26, 2022; he could also do so with a runner-up or solo-third depending on where World No. 1 Rory McIlroy finishes at the Hero Dubai Desert Classic on the DP World Tour (concluding Monday).
“I truly could not care any less if I did. I’ll get the chance to do something incredible and whether the ranking says I’m one or two or three, it doesn’t matter. It will be something very, very special,” he said.
After Tony Finau finished his third round at the Farmers, his wife and some of his kids welcomed them with what he termed “a happy dance.”
“We like to dance and anytime something good happens, they like to dance. So they celebrate the small victories with me,” Finau explained.
There was good reason to boogie after Finau shot the low round of the day and tied a tournament-best with an 8-under 64, just a stroke shy of the South Course record.
“I liked all of it. It’s hard not to like it,” Finau said when asked what he liked about his round. “First couple days the putter was quite cold and not very comfortable over it, but a couple of adjustments in setup and rolled it a lot better today, and it was evident with the putts that went in from short range for me.”
Finau needed to birdie his 36th hole of the tournament, No. 9 at the North Course on Thursday to make the cut on the number, but climbed from 12 strokes back and T-54 (with 19 other players) to four off the lead and in third place as he pursues his fourth win in his last 10 Tour starts. He also booked a spot in the final group with Jon Rahm and leader Sam Ryder.
“Sometimes making the cut on the number is almost like new life,” Finau said.
Finau started on the back nine on Friday and carded four birdies on his opening nine before adding an unlikely eagle at No. 1 when he holed a pitching wedge from 136 yards at the par 4.
“A little flighted draw and hit it perfect, and it landed right in the middle of the slope and just spun right in the hole. So that was really exciting,” said Finau, who saved the ball marked with his youngest daughter’s initials —VF — for her in his bag. “That’s when the round kind of got my attention, the juices started to flow a little bit.”
Collin Morikawa is competing for the first time since he squandered a six-stroke 54-hole lead and got lapped by Jon Rahm’s incredible final-round 63 at the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
Morikawa has had two weeks to lick his wounds, and he’s right back in the thick of it this week after shooting 2-under 70 on Friday. The two-time major winner made six birdies, including on all four of the par 5s, but also had four boxes on the card.
“It’s probably the most up-and-down round, you know, this early calendar year so far,” he said. “I just wish I didn’t give away as many strokes.”
Morikawa is seeking his first Tour title since the 2021 British Open, and he relishes the opportunity for another final-round showdown with Rahm.
“I’d love that. I’d take that in a heartbeat,” he said. “You know what, really anytime you’ve given yourself a chance come (the final round), it’s exciting. But look, he’s the hottest player on the planet right now and I feel like my game, if I put together 18 good holes, we could be right there. It’s going to take a good one tomorrow. He’s I think at 10 and he’s not letting go of the pedal either.”
CBS added a new wrinkle to its tournament coverage by doing a live interview with Max Homa as he played the 13th hole on Friday. It made for really good TV. But how did Homa become the guinea pig for this experiment? PGA Tour executive Andy Pazder texted Homa with the idea about 2 months ago.
“He had sent me a clip of Trea Turner being mic’d up for an inning in a random baseball game. It was awesome because the ball comes to him in the middle of them talking, he kind of fumbles it, ends up getting the guy out at first and says, ‘You know, hey, I’ve been lazy lately, I didn’t get my knee down’ or whatever. I was like, man, I just learned a lot in 15 seconds,” Homa recounted. “(Pazder) said we should do something like that. We’ve been going back and forth because I was trying to give him the player perspective, that we don’t love doing 18 holes mic’d up, we imagine that every single word we’re saying is being broadcast, and it’s just not very comfortable.”
Homa said he was satisfied with his performance and hopes more players will partake. Here’s to hoping it becomes a regular thing.
We tried something new today! Hope u guys enjoyed it. Just looking to add something to the viewing experience going forward. Appreciate the kind responses to it so far! https://t.co/1P8oV4ZkGh
— max homa (@maxhoma23) January 28, 2023
“I hope the fans at home liked it, and I hope that we can do something like that, if not the same thing, going forward. That will be up to the people much smarter than me,” Homa said. “This is an entertainment product, and that means we should entertain.”