Galaxy of stars

KATELYN MULCAHY/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE Jon Rahm puts the finishing touches on his preparation for the PGA Tour American Express in the desert city of La Quinta, California. The first round of play starts Thursday (Friday in Manila).

LOS ANGELES (AFP) — Jon Rahm is relishing the challenge of a strong field as he attempts to win his second title of the year at this week’s PGA Tour American Express tournament.

The Spanish star tees off in the southern California desert city of La Quinta on Thursday fresh from a superb victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii two weeks ago.

World No. 4 Rahm is now back in California aiming to recapture a title he won in 2018.

A second victory of 2023 is far from certain, however, with the 2021 US Open champion part of a field that includes five of the world’s top seven players.

Joining Rahm in La Quinta are world No. 2 and Masters champion Scottie Scheffler, world No. 5 Patrick Cantlay, sixth-ranked Xander Schauffele and world No. 7 Will Zalatoris.

The field also includes last weekend’s Sony Open champion Kim Si-woo, who is also chasing a second win of the calendar year at a tournament he won in 2021.

It all adds up to what is likely to be a stern test for Rahm — but the 28-year-old Spaniard said Wednesday he is more than ready for the challenge.

“You want to beat the best. And I’m glad people are coming,” Rahm said of the stacked field for the tournament long known as the Bob Hope Desert Classic.

Rahm believes more players opted to play in La Quinta due to the PGA Tour’s more lucrative Player Impact Program — the bonus pool of prize money offered to the tour’s best performers.

The cash on offer has increased from a total of $40 million in 2021 to $100 million, part of the tour’s efforts to dissuade top players from joining the lucrative Saudi-backed LIV Golf circuit.

“It’s good that more players are trying more events,” Rahm said.

“I think it’s due to some of the new events going on during the year. The fact that we have all those big events that we have to play if we want to earn that PIP reward.”

“It opens peoples’ eyes to maybe some events they haven’t played in the past because your schedule changes a little bit. I know I’m one of those. This event really serves a lot of purpose in more than one way.”

Rahm’s victory at La Quinta five years ago was only his second win on the tour.

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