Mexico Open at Vidanta: Jon Rahm drives his way to the top before the wind blows

The Spanish star thrashed a first round 64 to join a six-way tie at the top of the leaderboard in Vallarta.

Has Jon Rahm finally turned a corner?

The Spaniard has cut an increasingly crochety figure in 2022 and, as Dave Tindall detailed on Wednesday, his short game has been in a desperate state.

But in the first round of this week's Mexico Open at Vidanta he carded a superb 7-under-par 64 which was good for a six-way share of the lead in Vallarta alongside Jonathan Byrd, Brendon Todd, Trey Mullinax, Bryson Kimmer and Kurt Kitayama.

Moreover, when he chatted to the press, there was a notable lack of underlying stress in his words, a welcome sign for a man who's often resembled a grizzly bear in need of paracetamol.

"Yeah, really comfortable off the tee," he said after a lap that contained five birdies and an eagle-2. "It's not like it's ever bad, but today felt especially comfortable.

"It's not the most demanding golf course off the tee, right, besides 10 and maybe one. You're not really in real danger of being in bad position, but even though it's generous, when I'm hitting shots with the trajectory and the ball flight that I wanted, it just gives me more confidence for every other shot.

"I was really comfortable out there and it reflected in the score."

Was the eagle-2 on the 311-yard par-4 seventh the highlight of his day?

"I think a lot of people obviously would look at that, but (a shot earlier) on was a huge booster," he explained. "I hadn't hit my best iron shots early on, right? Misjudged it on 10, double crossed it on 11, double crossed it on 13. I made the first two up-and-downs and then chipped that one in (on 13) from an uncomfortable lie and tough one. That was a huge bonus."

Given his short game difficulties this year he might be right to focus on that element of his game.

He leads the field for SG Off the Tee and is second for Tee to Green, rankings which exactly match his seasonal position.

But in ranking 21st for Putting and 29th Around the Green he is performing well above average (he's been 132nd and 173rd for those two categories in 2021/22).

It's a sign that he's close to being back on track. He's got 54 holes to prove it's not a one-off.

Wave theory

Of those six men at the top of the leaderboard only one, Kurt Kitayama, played in the afternoon wave.

Rahm had predicted as much.

"One thing to keep in mind for people watching the scores," he said. "Is that there is a big difference between morning and afternoon. We had no wind for 13, 14 holes and it was very, very score-able.

"Once the wind starts going 20, 30 miles an hour, this golf course starts showing some teeth. It's long, you have a couple really long par 4s. Four and eight are straight into the wind, both of them 500 yards, so you can start seeing higher scores out there this afternoon."

Four players trail the leaders by one - Aaron Rai, Aaron Wise, Sahith Theegala and Scott Brown - and only one of them played in the afternoon too.

The morning scoring average was 69.18. The afternoon? 71.39.

The good news for those later starters is that the forecast is for similar on Friday. It should be flat all morning, but the afternoon wind is so far expected to be around 15mph rather than 20 to 30.

Finding his feet

It's been a solid rookie campaign on the PGA Tour for Englishman Aaron Rai.

He landed three top 20s either side of New Year, grabbed a top 10 at Torrey Pines and was fourth last week in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans alongside David Lipsky.

After carding a morning 65 he explained that he is getting to grips with the new challenge.

"I think time out here definitely helps," he said. "Being able to see a few different styles of course. More importantly, playing on a few different styles of grasses and I've been practising a lot at TPC Sawgrass in Jacksonville, which obviously is a great course. Nothing else needs to be said about that place.

"So I'm starting to feel a little more comfortable and playing well, too. I feel comfortable with the game and it's been good over the last couple weeks

"My time is kind of split between Jacksonville and the UK. I was considering renting, but it's tricky with how much I'm on the road so just Airbnbs and hotels at the moment.

"Going into the season I tried not to have too many expectations. I knew it was going to be a steep learning curve just because the first year on any tour is always difficult.

"There's a lot of new things that are thrown at you, in terms of the travel side and adapting to things off the course and it is tricky spending so much time away from home. But things are definitely coming together nicely."

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