Spotlight on: Jon Rahm may not be best option at Sentry Tournament of Champions

The Spaniard returns to action after a lengthy break and it could prove a struggle to justify his World No.1 status on a Plantation Course which throws up some difficult challenges.

Jon Rahm appeared to be one of golf's dominant forces last year.

To get a handle on his status now, check out the world rankings and the betting for this year's majors.

Rahm is World No.1 and favourite for victory in the odds lists for all four majors.

And yet, but for an inspirational finish in the US Open he wouldn't have even made the field for this week's 2022 opener, the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

As the name implies, the tournament is only open to winners in 2021 and, although it's hard to believe, Rahm's only success on the PGA Tour came in the US Open at Torrey Pines.

That was obviously one of the ones he wanted: a first major and an end to all those "when will it be your time, Jon? questions.

But it's still head scratching that he didn't win elsewhere.

Of course, he should really have at the Memorial Tournament when he was crushing the field by six shots after 54 holes.

But instead of a victory lap on Sunday, Rahm was cursing his luck at a positive Covid test which forced him to withdraw after Saturday's round.

Other events somehow got away too and despite him scoring the joint-lowest 72 holes in the Tour Championship he didn't get a shot at winning that either as the staggered start meant Patrick Cantlay went home with the trophy.

The other way of spinning this is that Rahm is hungry, desperately hungry for more titles.

He has six PGA Tour wins to his name but will want to push that towards double figures in 2022.

Rahm will start that bid at the Plantation Course in Maui this week.

Rahm on post-Ryder Cup fatigue and what he did in the break

"When that Ryder Cup was over, I was drained for the previous year and a half. Not only the last four months but the previous year and a half.

"And after I went to Spain and finished playing, I just, I needed a break. Not only for me but also for my family. We all endured it together and I just wanted the time to be a dad and be a husband and just be there for my wife and my son.

"I took the first two weeks off, completely off of golf. I still went to the gym and worked out just because it's more of a mental thing. Then I slowly just started playing some games with my friend and then practicing. But the first month wasn't very intense."

Rahm on his struggles on the Plantation Course's greens

"I struggle with the greens here, not only the greens, the wind. It's just so windy. I don't know if you can really appreciate how windy it can get on the golf course on the broadcast.

"When you have 20, 30 mile-an-hour winds, gusting higher than that, the ball's going to do some funny things. It's tough. Some people do really good at adjusting, I've struggled with it.

"It's also the first event of the year, we all can be a little bit rusty, but, yeah, you're absolutely right (struggling on greens), it's usually the department in this course that I've lacked on.

"But even though it's been my weakest point, I'm still up there on the leaderboard on Sunday, so hopefully I can keep doing what I've done tee to green and take care of my putting and have a better chance on Sunday.

"I think as you come from Arizona and we have greens are rolling 12, 13 (on the stimp), there's not that much wind. Then you get here, because of the wind these greens are slower, it's a bit of an adjustment period, right?

"I'm not the only one who struggles, I would say most people who don't have a good week I would probably think that the putting might be the No. 1 contributing factor to the difference between the winner to somebody who is in 15th place. I could be completely wrong, but I wouldn't be surprised."

Rahm on new equipment

"New driver. New woods that I'm still getting into, it's a process to get everything approved, but really liking it so far. It's the difference between using it at home and using it in competition, obviously, but I like it. I like the look of it.

"What I like so far that I've experienced with it, with the numbers at least on Trackman is the consistency. My spin rate seems to be a little bit more consistent with the misses.

"Obviously the better the miss can be, obviously the better it's going to be for me. So that's what I'm looking forward to. So far I've enjoyed it, I've hit it well and hope it translates."

Rahm in the outright

Rahm is the joint 8/1 favourite with Justin Thomas to get the win this week.

Although he admits to some struggles with The Plantation Course, the Spaniard has never finished outside the top 10 in four starts here.

He was runner-up on debut in 2018 and has since finished 8-10-7.

That's strong although no reward for outright backers just yet and he didn't even land the each-way money in 2019, 2020 or 2021. Harsh, but we judge him by very high standards.

Rahm in the first round

Rahm hasn't really found a fast start here, perhaps finding the adjustment hard as he hints at.

His first-round scores show 71, 70, 69, 70. That contrasts with a second-round 66 last year and another 66 on day three in 2018 when he'd got his eye in.

By contrast, he had a superb run of early scores last season and shot the lowest first-round score in three straight tournaments - The Northern Trust, the BMW Championship and the Tour Championship after laps of 63, 64 and 65.

Can he repeat that on this course though?

Rahm in a matchbet

Rahm is pitched in a 72-holer against fellow joint-favourite Justin Thomas.

And the cards appear to be in JT's favour. The American leads the head-to-heads on this course 3-1 after outscoring Rahm in each of the last three years.

Wind back to last year though and Rahm won the last six and led the count 10-5 for 2021.

Thomas triumphed 10-7 in 2020, 6-5 in 2019, and 11-5 in 2018.

Conclusion

There will be plenty of opportunities to back Rahm this season but this probably isn't one of them.

He's rusty, has to do it out in tournament play with his new clubs and admits to some struggles with this venue.

The wind shouldn't be too strong which helps him a little but perhaps the best bet is to take him on and back Thomas to win their 72 hole match at 5/6.

Thomas is an absolute course specialist with two wins and two thirds in his last five appearances.

READ MORE: Punter's pointers: The PGA Tour kicks off with the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii

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