If Davis Thompson is going to finish off his first career victory at The American Express in the California desert, the PGA Tour rookie is going to have to overcome one of golf’s best to do it.
Thompson lipped out a birdie putt on the 18th hole Saturday at the PGA West Stadium Course in La Quinta, Calif., and will begin Sunday’s final round tied for the lead with Spain’s Jon Rahm at 23-under par 193.
“I feel like I don’t have anything to lose in my rookie year, just kind of freewheel it,” Thompson said. “But I’m excited to play with Jon. He’s obviously a top-5 player in the world. He’s very good. But I’m excited about the challenge and just looking forward to (Sunday).”
A total of 20 players were at 15 under or better through three rounds of the event that is played on three courses: PGA West Stadium Course, PGA West Nicklaus Tournament Course and La Quinta Country Club.
J.T. Poston and South Africa’s Christiaan Bezuidenhout were tied for third place at 19 under. A group tied for fifth at 18 under included Harry Higgs, Sam Burns, Taylor Montgomery and South Korea’s Tom Kim.
Thompson, 23, shot a 5-under-par 67 and remains on top of the leaderboard in his 20th career PGA Tour event.
Rahm, 28, shot a 7-under 65 on Saturday, also on the Stadium Course, and will lean on his experience Sunday as an eight-time winner on the PGA Tour.
Adding to Thompson’s underdog credentials heading into the final round is Rahm’s standing as the No. 4 player in the world. The former world No. 1, Rahm also is the tournament’s 2018 champion.
“I’m playing against Jon Rahm; I feel like everybody would pick me as the underdog,” Thompson said. “But, yeah, I mean, I kind of relish that label, I guess. I just try to go out and do my own thing and try to not let anything bother me.”
After five eagles in the first two rounds, Thompson did not have any Saturday, although he did get off to a hot start with four birdies on the front nine. He had two birdies and a bogey on the back before his lip out at 18, with his putt spinning off the left edge of the cup.
Rahm got into eagle mode with one at the par-5 fifth hole. He added four birdies over a red-hot front nine, making the turn at 6 under on the day. He closed the much tougher back nine with two birdies and a disappointing bogey 4 at the 17th hole when he three-putted the island green.
Rahm, who was caught on camera last year criticizing the course setup at The American Express by calling it a “putting contest,” can now win the event he was unable to get a grasp on in 2022.
“If we get this weather again I’m going to have to shoot most likely 66 or lower to have a good chance to win,” said Rahm about the warmer temperatures and little to no wind. “But that’s the challenge. The level of talent of this tour is only increasing.”
Rahm said he has never met Thompson, but that will change Sunday.
“He’s doing a phenomenal job and he’s playing amazing golf and showing it,” Rahm said.
Bezuidenhout had the second lowest round of the day with his 10-under performance at the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Only Dylan Wu was lower at 11-under 61 on the Nicklaus course, which moved him onto a six-way tie for ninth place at 17-under.
Poston’s round at La Quinta included a stretch of five holes when he went birdie, birdie, birdie, bogey and eagle. Each of his three rounds have been 66 or better.
Also tied for ninth place was defending Masters champion and world No. 2 Scottie Scheffler, who was 6 under on the Stadium Course.