By Andrew Both
LA JOLLA, California (Reuters) – Jon Rahm will enter the Farmers Insurance Open this week as the number two player in the world, but he realizes that most of the attention will be on a player ranked 645 places behind him.
Rahm has made a meteoric rise up the rankings over the past year, and Sunday’s playoff win at the CareerBuilder Challenge lifted him one spot to second, behind American Dustin Johnson.
The sky appears to be the limit for the 23-year-old Spaniard, but he will still have to play second fiddle at Torrey Pines to world number 647 Tiger Woods.
Woods, seemingly healed after spinal fusion surgery last April, is playing his first official PGA Tour event in a year, and such is his status that even his competitors are genuinely excited by his presence.
“The more attention you guys have on Tiger, the better for me, frankly,” Rahm told reporters on Tuesday.
“Hopefully, I keep playing good and give you guys something to talk about, but it’s not bad that the attention’s on Tiger. It’s good for golf, it’s good for all of us.”
Rahm did not speculate on what he expected from Woods this week, but he certainly hopes the 14-times major champion finds his old form sooner or later.
“Tiger getting in contention, it would be absolutely amazing,” he said. “A lot of us dreamt about having the opportunity to maybe walk the back nine with Tiger in contention and have a battle hand-in-hand.
“I hope it happens and I hope I’m the one, and quite truly I hope I come out on top if it happens.”
Only time will tell whether 42-year-old Woods can recapture the greatness of his halcyon days, but if he does then Rahm looms as one of his biggest roadblocks to success.
Only the fourth Spaniard to rise so high in the world rankings — after Seve Ballesteros, Jose Maria Olazabal and Sergio Garcia — Rahm’s stock has likely not yet peaked.
Rahm said he realized the magnitude of his accomplishments over the past year when he returned home last year.
“I realized what a huge deal my year had become over there, but I feel like the less I think about it the better,” said the Spaniard, adding he was under no illusions of the difficultly of becoming world number one and then staying there.
“Beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task.
“I’ll try to focus more on what’s going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win.”
(Editing by Ken Ferris)