Turns out I had the highest mark on the micro midterm by about an epsilon (.1/16). I'm surprised, I'm not here to do micro. Frankly, it's only because half the test was a really, really weird question that I thought the professor liked and nobody else thought he'd ask. It's particularly nice to get it back the day after a classmate posted the following on their own blog: "It appeared not too difficult (neither too easy) to prove that I am one of the most brilliant students in my class and possibly in many years." From the results the professor posted, I beat him by at least 12%.
The PhD program is, in every sense, a marathon. What's more, nobody particularly cares how well one does in these courses as long as they do satisfactorily - at which point it becomes all about one's ideas and research. Laying claim to the pole position two months in is meaningless - the metric is placement and then the CV in fifteen years.
In truth, this is an aberration - the person in question typically scores higher on all the assignments and did so on the other midterm we've gotten back. I expect him to continue to do so. He certainly seems more motivated, and given the midterm was only two questions, one's score could adjust dramatically based on a single error.
P.S. Yes, the department deliberately tries to foster this sense of competition among students - for example, at the end of the year, funding is adjusted depending on one's relative placement within the class.