World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler enjoys return to desert at 2024 American Express

LA QUINTA, Calif. — Scottie Scheffler remembers how two good days at the American Express tournament in 2022 may have started him on his climb to the No. 1 spot in the world rankings.

“I was outside the cut line by maybe three shots with three holes to go over on Stadium Course (at PGA West), and I chipped in for eagle on 16, and made a 30-footer for birdie on 18 to make the cut on the number,” Scheffler said. “Then I went out on Sunday and had a really good round (a 67), I finished 20th or 25th, something like that.

“It kind of jumpstarted the rest of my year,” Scheffler said. “I think I played Torrey Pines the next week, and won in Phoenix a couple weeks after that, and kind of started my run there in 2022.”

That run included four wins including the Masters in 2022 and is a big reason Scheffler returns to the 65th annual the American Express this week as the No. 1 player in the world golf rankings and a two-time PGA Tour player of the year.

American Express: Thursday tee times

Scheffler is one of 155 pros and one amateur, U.S. Amateur champion Nick Dunlap, who begin play Thursday at three different golf courses in La Quinta — the Pete Dye Stadium Course and Nicklaus Tournament Course at PGA West and La Quinta Country Club. The pro field will be joined by 156 amateurs for the first three days, with the pros only playing the Stadium Course on Sunday for the $8.4 million purse.

Not included in the field is Jon Rahm, the 2023 American Express champion who announced last month he has joined the LIV Tour, disqualifying him from PGA Tour events. It’s the second year in a row the American Express has lacked a defending champion, with 2022 winner Hudson Swafford also joining the LIV Tour before the 2023 event. It marks just the third time the defending champions has not played in the event’s 65-year history.

2023 American Express
2023 American Express

Jon Rahm of Spain celebrates with the trophy after winning during the final round of The American Express at PGA West Pete Dye Stadium Course on January 22, 2023 in La Quinta, California. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

Without Rahm, the tournament still has three of the top six players in the world ranking, including Scheffler, No. 5 Xander Schauffele and No. 6 Patrick Cantlay. Also in the field is reigning U.S. Open champion Wyndham Clark and high-profile players including Rickie Fowler, Tony Finau, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Shane Lowry and Matt Kuchar. In all, nine of the top 25 and 21 of the top 50 in the world rankings will tee off in La Quinta.

Also in the field are the winners of the first two tournaments of the season, Chris Kirk (The Sentry) and Grayson Murray (The Sony Open). Without Rahm, the event has seven past champions in the field.

The tournament also features two concerts on the practice range at PGA West this week as country star Keith Urban will play Friday and rock group Train on Saturday. The concerts begin after play on those days, about 5 p.m. local time.

Loving the desert vibe

The American Express is Scheffler’s second start in the new schedule for 2024 after a fifth-place finish at The Sentry in Hawaii two weeks ago. Scheffler said the La Quinta tournament is a great place to start a year.

“Kapalua (The Sentry) is a great, fun event, but you don’t really get a good feel for where your game is at. You’re playing on the side of a volcano, basically, and the wind’s blowing hard, and it’s a different type of golf course,” Scheffler said. “Come here to the desert, there’s not many conditions, you get a really good gauge of where my game’s at going into the rest of the year.”

The American Express has a reputation of low scores, with Rahm winning at 27 under last year. Scheffler said low scores early in the year don’t scare him. The four-day scoring record is 28 under by Patrick Reed in 2014, but that came on two courses that are no longer in the three-course rotation.

2023 American Express
2023 American Express

Scottie Scheffler plays his shot from the third tee during the third round of the 2023 American Express at Pete Dye Stadium Course in La Quinta, California. (Photo: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports)

“Usually at the beginning of the year I’m excited to go out and make birdies and not bogeys, so it’s nice coming into tournaments where you got to make birdies,” Scheffler said with a smile. “But just like any golf course, you got to be precise. I feel like on the easier courses on tour, you can’t really get behind, just because it’s so much harder to catch up.”

In his four previous starts in the American Express, Scheffler has posted a third in 2020, a 25th in 22 and an 11th-place finish last year.

Scheffler was first ranked No. 1 in the world in his breakout four-win 2022 season, and he has been No. 1 for the last 35 weeks. While this is the first time Scheffler has been No. 1 at the start of a season, he said he tries not to focus on that position.

“Wherever I sit at in the world rankings doesn’t really affect how I’m going to play this week,” Scheffler said. “Still going out and trying to play good and win the tournament. I feel like I harp on preparation a lot, and so when I show up to tournaments I want to be as prepared as possible.

“Then, when I step up on the first tee, I have a little conversation with myself, that I did everything that I could do to play good this week,” he added.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek