What Hawaii swing winners can tell us about The American ExpressFirst two TOUR winners of 2023 are past champions in La Quinta
January 16, 2023
By Justin Ray, Twenty First Group , PGATOUR.COM
- January 16, 2023
Si Woo Kim's winning highlights from Sony Open in Hawaii
Jon Rahm and Si Woo Kim, the first two PGA TOUR winners of 2023, have more in common than may meet the eye.
Both are prolific TOUR winners in their 20s with significant trophies to their name – Rahm won the 2021 U.S. Open; Kim won THE PLAYERS in 2017. Both have starred in international team play, Rahm at the Ryder Cup and Kim at the Presidents Cup. And both players have claimed past victories at this week’s event, The American Express. Rahm earned his second PGA TOUR title in La Quinta in 2018, while Kim’s third TOUR win came here in 2021.
Si Woo Kim
How he won The American Express in 2021
In early 2021, with the world still heavily impacted by COVID-related restrictions, just two courses were used for The American Express (both at PGA West) – the Nicklaus Tournament Course for one round, and the Pete Dye Stadium Course for the other three. Kim seemed to love the circumstances, doing most of his damage on the Stadium Course (19-under).
Kim leaned on stellar iron play that entire week, ranking second in the field in Strokes Gained: Approach (+2.63 per round) at the Stadium Course. He also the field in greens in regulation – a stat measured on both tracks. For Kim, getting as many looks as possible for red numbers was especially vital. Despite ranking 13th in birdie conversion rate, Kim was tied for fourth in total birdies-or-better made. Kim needed every one of his eight final-round birdies – hard-charging Patrick Cantlay shot a closing 61 to finish just one shot back.
How he won the Sony Open in Hawaii last week
Kim’s statistical template looked similar in his win at Waialae. While his most memorable moment last week may have been the chip-in from behind the green at 17 on Sunday, it was his elite approach play all week that again propelled him to victory. Kim led the field for the week in Strokes Gained: Approach, picking up more than two strokes per round on the competition. He led the field in both overall proximity to the hole and proximity from the rough, and he ranked T2 in greens hit for the week.
Kim was able to make 24 birdies for the week – most of any player – despite ranking 40th for the week in distance of putts made per round. Kim got it closer, more often, than just about anybody playing Waialae last week, and he made enough putts to beat Hayden Buckley by a stroke.
How he won The American Express in 2018
In the opening round, Rahm lit up La Quinta CC to the tune of 10-under 62, nailing his first 13 of 14 greens in regulation. After starting Sunday two shots off the lead, Rahm was one of just three players in the field Sunday to go bogey-free at the Stadium Course, getting him into a playoff against Andrew Landry. The duo needed four playoff holes to decide it, with Rahm eventually coming away with his second PGA TOUR win. At 23, Rahm became the second-youngest winner in tournament history, about two months older than Jack Nicklaus when he won in 1963.
Rahm’s ball striking was excellent that Sunday, as he ranked among the field leaders in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee (+1.64, No. 3) and Strokes Gained: Approach (+2.42, No. 7). His putting wasn’t poor at the Stadium Course – he gained strokes on the field in both Rounds 3 and 4 – but he ranked outside the top-20 in the statistic each round.
How he won the 2023 Sentry Tournament of Champions
Rahm’s recipe in Maui two weeks ago was decidedly different than the previous three wins outlined. His power proved valuable, as he ranked second in the field in both driving distance and Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee (in all, he hit more than 11 miles worth of drives for the tournament). That became even more significant when juxtaposed with his approach play: -2.72 Strokes Gained for the week, ranked 34th of 38 players. In 19 years of ShotLink tracking at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, Rahm is the only winner to have negative Strokes Gained: Approach for the week.
His putting, though, was magnificent. Rahm led the field in Strokes Gained: Putting, putts per GIR and one-putt percentage. Trailing at one point Sunday by nine strokes, Rahm staged one of the more memorable comeback wins in recent PGA TOUR memory.
Most Birdies or Better Per Year by Winner - PGA Tour Events Since 2012 Tournament Amount CIMB Classic 26.7 The American Express 26.2 Sentry Tournament of Champions 25.4 Barbasol Championship 24.7 *Minimum 5 tournaments in span
Teachings for this week
As is the case typically when scoring is low, avoiding bogeys isn’t as important as putting heaps of red numbers on the board. Since 2016, winners at The American Express have had an average bogey avoidance rank of 11.9. Contrast that to a TOUR event that typically yields higher scoring averages: since 2005, the bogey avoidance rank for players who have won The Honda Classic is 5.5. Rahm and Kim’s Hawaii victories fit the same low-scoring profile, with winning scores of 23-under and 18-under. Since this event switched to a 72-hole format in 2012, every winning score has been 20-under or lower.
Multi-course setups inherently generate less reliable performance trends. Regardless of venue, though, this tournament has historically placed an enormous emphasis on the par 5s: each of the last six winners in the Coachella Valley has ranked T6 or better for the week in par-5 performance. Both Rahm and Kim embodied that trend perfectly when they won, each playing the par 5s in 13 under en route to victory, tied for best in the field.
Par 5 Scoring - Last 5 Winners of The American Express Year Player To Par Field Rank 2018 Jon Rahm -13 T-1 2019 Adam Long -11 T-4 2020 Andrew Landry -11 T-3 2021 Si Woo Kim -13 T-1 2022 Hudson Swafford -12 T-6
Other recent strong performers at The American Express
• Three players have finished in the top-10 here each of the previous two years: Patrick Cantlay, Francesco Molinari and Brian Harman. Harman is a combined 49-under here since 2020, tied for best of any player during that stretch.
• Cam Davis has averaged 5.92 birdies-or-better per round in his career here, third-best among players with 12 or more rounds since 2016. The powerful Davis (T3 in driving distance) is also ranked in the top-10 so far this season in par-5 scoring average.
• Tony Finau has accumulated 74 birdies-or-better at this tournament the previous three years, seven more than any other player in that span. Finau had top-15 finishes here in both 2020 and 2021.
• In four previous starts at this event, Sungjae Im has never finished worse than T12. He has averaged 5.5 birdies-or-better per round in his career at The American Express, and he is ranked in the top-10 this season in par-5 scoring average.