Jon Rahm is so hot he can’t remember what he shot, Austin Smotherman grabs the lead and Raul Pereda makes his home country proud.
It wasn’t the easiest of days for Jon Rahm, the prohibitive favorite at the Mexico Open at Vidanta, but Rahm rebounded from some early scratchy play and finished with four birdies in his last 10 holes that had him in a better mood by the end—and a little forgetful as witnessed by this exchange with a reporter:
Q. Jon, how would you assess that round today? Happy to be in with a 4-under 67?
Rahm: Yeah, it was good. A 67?
Q. I think it's par 71, isn't it?
Rahm: Par 71? No, it's a par 72.
Rahm: Come on …
We originally assumed Rahm was yanking the reporter’s chain and being playful, but on Golf Channel with Hailey Hunter he said at the end, “68 is a great way to start.” In other words, Rahm is so on fire he doesn’t even know what he shot. Or maybe that Masters hangover has finally kicked in.
Perhaps so but he also knew his score could have been better. “Those first 13 holes we had virtually no wind, about as easy conditions as it can get,” said the Masters champion. “I wish I would have taken advantage of it more. I did make some good swings early on, I just couldn't quite get the number and judge some lies off the fairway, but that's just things that happen. I'm happy I played as good as I did on the back nine and capped it off with the putt on the last hole.”
That putt was a 26-footer on the par-3 ninth as Rahm started on the back nine and at four under par, certainly not out of it after 18 holes. That said, for those betting on Rahm at +300 odds (suckers!) they’re clearly more on edge after the opening round than the man they wagered on. Especially if he’s going to keep tacking strokes onto his score.
Smotherman smokes Vidanta
There was little to suggest Austin Smotherman would have his way with the Vidanta Vallarta course to the tune of an opening-round (and course-record tying) 63 and the first-round lead at the Mexico Open. After all, Smotherman’s PGA Tour résumé to date doesn’t include a top-10 finish in a stroke-play event (he did finish eighth at the 2022 Barracuda in the Stableford format) and his best finish this season in 17 starts is a T-23 in Bermuda.
Being back in Mexico, however, brought good vibes for Smotherman, who won the 2018 Mexico Open when it was a PGA Tour Latinoamerica event with rounds of 66, 65, 66 and 65 for a four-shot win.
Asked about that after his round, Smotherman spoke freely about that moment. “I still get a little bit of some goosebumps thinking about it, for sure,” he said. “Just the reception, winning an event like that, the Mexico Open, which has such a deep history. There are names on that trophy that are in the Hall of Fame and what it kind of means down here, a national open anywhere is very special.”
Special could describe Smotherman’s round, which started on the back nine and included a three-birdie string on Nos. 3 through 5 and a four-bagger to finish his round, punctuated by a hole out from off the green at the par-3 ninth. His approach game was his primary weapon as he hit 15 of 18 greens and five of his birdies were the result of approaches that finished inside 10 feet, including the one that started it all at the par-4 third where he knocked a pitching wedge off the dirt from 138 yards to within a foot.
Of course, Smotherman’s hot start wasn’t just due to a return to the scene of previous glory. Despite missing the cut with partner Harry Higgs last week at the Zurich Classic, Smotherman felt his game starting to come around.
“We ended up missing the cut by two, but I mean we were feeding off each other, hitting good shots,” he said. “And then being back home in Dallas for two days, Saturday, Sunday got some work in with Cameron [McCormick]. Played a fun pro-am event on Monday at Preston Trail and came down here Monday night.”
If he keeps it up for three more rounds the trip back home could be pretty special, too
Pereda makes Mexico proud
If you hail from Mexico, teeing it up in the Mexico Open is special. When it’s your first time playing in a PGA Tour event, it might even prove overwhelming. Fortunately for Raul Pereda, he maintained the poise of a seasoned pro during an opening-round 65 that had the locals smiling as one of their own sat on the first page of the leader board.
“It feels amazing to see a lot of people just walking around the course and just cheering for me,” said Pereda, who was born in Mexico City. “It just feels great. More than that, having my parents, my family around here and just playing on home soil … it just means a lot to play in Mexico.”
It probably means a lot to the 26-year-old just to be playing, period. Pereda was hospitalized for four days over New Year’s in 2020 for myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart. Certainly experiencing something like that can provide perspective, which might help explain his cool demeanor in his tour debut.
His putter, however, was hot. Known to use one ball marker for long putts and another on short ones, Pereda, who is 810th on the World Ranking, might want to haul out the long-putt marker more often. He made nearly 120 feet of putts during the opening 18, including a 44-foot bomb on the par 4 eighth, his second birdie in a three-birdie string.
As for how the 5-foot-9, 143-pound tour novice plans to approach the ensuing rounds, he sounded very much like a veteran who was coached by Crash Davis in “Bull Durham” on his clichés.
“Just keep it very simple,” he said. “I don't think I need to get ahead of myself. It's just like any other sanctioned tour event for me. It's 18 holes a day and just 18 chances for birdie and just commit to every shot.”
It wasn’t quite “I just want to give it my best shot and, Good Lord willing, things will work out” but not bad for a first try—on the course and with the media.