Rahm is better on the south course; Horschel leads at Torrey Pines

SAN DIEGO – Top-ranked Jon Rahm closed with an eagle on the tougher South Course at Torrey Pines for a 6-under 66 on Wednesday, trailing leader Billy Horschel by three strokes after the first round of the Farmers Insurance Open.

Horschel shot a bogeyless 63-under 9-under on the north course and one-shot Michael Thompson. Of the 30 players who shot 67 or better, 26 played North. Rahm was the South’s top scorer by one over Luke List, Peter Malnati and Cameron Tringale. The players change course on Thursday and play the last two rounds on the South.

Taking advantage of the North’s shorter distances and more forgiving roughness, Horschel birdied five on the front nine, highlighted by a 25-foot putt on the par-4 second hole. The 35-year-old Florida native is seeking his first non-game PGA Tour win since April 2018.

“I said to my caddy, ‘Let’s go, no expectations, and enjoy it,'” Horschel said. “And I think we’ve done a really good job of that. My game is in a very good position.

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Thompson also played bogey-free, putting him one step ahead of Stephan Jaeger and Kevin Tway.

Rahm’s strong start in San Diego comes as no surprise: the world No. 1 earned his first PGA Tour victory at Torrey Pines in 2017, and he won the US Open last year on the course south for his first major.

“It doesn’t shock me,” Horschel said when asked about Rahm’s impressive round. “I think he won a US Open on this course, last time I checked. He’s a really good player. There’s a reason he’s the No. 1 player in the world.

Rickie Fowler, Doug Ghim and Francesco Molinari also shot 66s, all on the North.

Rahm said conditions were “relatively easy” even in the south. He stumbled with two bogeys on the back nine before finishing strong, crushing a 280-yard approach shot on the par-5 18th from 12 feet out for the Eagle.

“That was probably one of the best swings I’ve done all year,” Rahm said. “That 3 wood was absolutely perfect.”

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Horschel was tied for 36th at the Sony Open in Hawaii two weeks ago but nearly skipped Torrey Pines due to a persistent upper-body muscle injury that required daily treatment. He didn’t decide to play for sure until he felt good when he woke up Wednesday morning.

“Fortunately (with) all the work we’ve done and everything I’ve felt, it’s never been tighter,” Horschel said. “Actually, it feels a little looser at the moment. I hope we got through the tough times and now we’re on the downhill side and I don’t have to worry about that anymore.

Horschel, who won the BMW PGA Championship in England last September on what is now called the DP World Tour, has twice top-10 finishes in his first 11 career starts at Torrey Pines. His excellent start came two days after he disguised as a human target and allowed kids to hit balls at him in a stunt widely loved on social media.

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Thompson is looking for his first win since July 2020, and he had another great round after finishing tied for fifth at the Sony Open. Thompson is a veteran of the PGA Tour, but he does plenty of double takes throughout the tour while sporting a long, thick beard he started growing before the playoffs last year.

“I haven’t been mistaken for anyone,” said Thompson, whose wife told him to keep gazing. “It’s just that more people think I’m a rookie because I look so different. You know, I probably got more comments like, ‘What hockey team do you play for?’ “

The Farmers Insurance Open is played Wednesday through Saturday to avoid a televised conflict with the NFL’s two conference championship games on Sunday.

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