PUERTO VALLARTA – Jon Rahm is the biggest star in the Mexico Open and he lived up to his billing Thursday, chipping in for birdie and making a late eagle putt for a 7-under 64 and a six-way share of the lead in the first round.
Jonathan Byrd, Brendon Todd, Trey Mullinax and Monday qualifier Bryson Nimmer also were at 64 from the morning wave. Nimmer played his final five holes in 5 under, including a bunker shot he holed out for eagle on the par-5 sixth hole.
Kurt Kitayama faced the strength of the afternoon wind and made nine birdies, getting up-and-down from behind the green on the par-5 18th for his 64.
The Mexico Open is part of the PGA Tour schedule and inherits the history of a national open that dates to 1944. It takes the place of the World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship that was at Chapultepec in Mexico City for four years through 2020.
Rahm knew very little about the Vidanta Vallarta course except that he felt comfortable off the tee, and it showed. The Spaniard missed only one fairway, and three greens.
He opened with a 15-foot birdie putt on the par-5 12th hole, but it was the chip-in from 30 feet on the 13th that really got him going. He had to save par on the 10th and 11th holes at the start of his round.
“I hadn't hit my best irons shots early on,” Rahm said. “Chipped that one in from an uncomfortable lie and a tough one. That was a huge bonus. I think a lot of people obviously would look at the eagle on 7, but that one early on was a huge booster.”
The eagle on the 311-yard seventh hole was set up by a big drive to the middle of the green on the par 4 and a 40-foot putt that gave him a share of the lead.
Rahm also made birdie on each of the three par 5s on the back nine, and perhaps his finest shot was his approach from 206 yards to just inside 4 feet for birdie on the par-4 fourth.
Nimmer finished with a blaze of good shots. After a 12-foot birdie putt on the par-3 fifth, he holed out for eagle, pitched to 2 feet on the reachable seventh and made a 12-foot birdie putt on the par-3 ninth to close out his round.
Aaron Rai, Aaron Wise, Sahith Theegala and Scott Brown were at 65. Rai and Theegala could use top finishes this week to move up in PGA Championship points and try to secure a spot at Southern Hills in three weeks.
Next week is the final event for players to qualify in points, which is PGA Tour earnings.
Rahm and Abraham Ancer (71) are the only players from the top 20 in the world at the Mexico Open. That allowed for players like Byrd, who has status as a past champion, to get in.
He improved his status with a pair of cuts made in the fall. He tied for ninth at Pebble Beach, which got him into the Phoenix Open. Byrd has managed to get in 10 tournaments so far, and feels he is getting some momentum.
“I started the year thinking I might get in 15, looks like I might get in more like 20. I’m just happy to have starts,” Byrd said. “And my game’s good, so trying to stay aggressive and see what I can make of it.”
Byrd went out in 29 and reached 7 under for the round with a birdie on the par-5 12th. He added a bogey and a birdie the rest of the way.
Patrick Reed won the Mexico Championship at Chapultepec two years ago. He had six birdies in his round of 68, leaving him three shots behind.
The wind off the Pacific began to blow as Rahm and other starters had an hour or so to go in their rounds, so the Spaniard will have that to contend with on Friday.
“We had no wind for 13, 14 holes. It’s very, very scorable,” Rahm said. “Once the wind starts going 20, 30 miles an hour, this golf course starts showing some teeth.”
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