Jon Rahm was in career form when he was forced to withdraw from last month’s Memorial golf tournament in Muirfield Village due to a positive coronavirus test while leading by six shots after 54 holes. A period of self-isolation that compromised his preparations for the US Open did nothing to change that.
On Sunday, the fiery 26-year-old became the first Spaniard to capture the United States national championship with a pair of birdie putts on holes 71 and 72, winning by a shot over timeless bridesmaid Louis Oosthuizen as he was at the height of the gamblers. Billing as the pre-tournament favorite on a hectic final day at Torrey Pines Golf Course.
“This is the power of positive thinking,” said Rahm, whose first major title will return him to number one in the world rankings next week. “I was never resentful of anything that happened, and I don’t blame anyone. It has been a difficult year and, unfortunately, Covid is a reality in this world.
“Covid has affected many people, and I had the best possible hand: no one in my family got sick, I hardly had any symptoms. But we have lost a lot of people at home. I know some people may say it was unfair, but it had to be done. We have to be aware of what is happening in this world ”.
The world No. 3 started Sunday’s final round as one of 13 players four shots behind the leader, a jam packed with rising wits and proven winners, including five top champions. As one contender after another was out of contention, Rahm played consistent and effective golf up and down the South Course for 7,685 yards until he moved to hit the final reel.
Following Oosthuizen for a shot, Rahm curved on a left-to-right downhill putt from 25 feet on the 17th hole for a birdie. He then went up and down from a bunker next to the green at par five 18, sinking an 18-foot birdie putt for a one-shot lead on the same green where he made a 60-foot eagle to win his first PGA Tour title. Five years ago.
An agonizing wait followed as Rahm headed to the practice field to keep warm for a possible two-hole playoff. But when Oosthuizen bogey on the 17th after sending a tee shot to the canyon to drop two shots adrift, and then failed to enter for the eagle from 69 yards on 18th Street, Rahm was finally able to celebrate with his wife Kelley and her three-month-old son, Kepa. on a father’s day you won’t soon forget.
The return of the US Open to Torrey Pines was always going to suffer compared to the first and only time it took place on this seaside track in 2008, when Tiger Woods duels Rocco Mediate in a 19-hole playoff. while playing on a double stress fracture and anterior cruciate ligament tear that required surgery the following week.
The atmosphere for this year’s contest was at least partially neutralized by the reduction in attendance of around 13,000 viewers each day, roughly a quarter of the turnout 13 years ago, despite the total reduction in coronavirus restrictions. at public meetings in California earlier this week. And aside from a handful of compelling human-interest stories, the fairy tale rise of English officer and unlikely midway leader Richard Bland, the return of young Matthew Wolff to a major feud amid a rare public fight with mental health, there was little particularly memorable about golf. for most of the first three days, prompting family complaints among the talkative class of the sport about the fitness of Torrey Pines as the host of the US Open.
All of that changed in the latter stages of Saturday’s third round when Canadian Mackenzie Hughes made a 60-foot eagle putt on the 13th hole and Oosthuizen sank a 50-foot eagle putt on the 18th, sparking roars evoked by eagles. of Woods in the same hole. holes all those years ago as he moved them to a three-way tie for the 54-hole lead alongside Russell Henley, the rocky 32-year-old from Georgia who resigned Torrey Pines seven years ago, but now he may be re-evaluating his decision.
A curiously devoid of emotion US Open was suddenly filled with possibilities, setting the stage for a final round as open as the massive canyon that separates the South and North Courses. Thirteen players were separated by four shots when the final group kicked off Sunday afternoon, eight of them within three, a star-studded platoon that included five major champions.
None of the evening leaders in five-under-par were considered favorites to claim the winner’s share of roughly $ 2.25 million (£ 1.59 million) out of a $ 12.5 million purse, the highest among the four pivotal events in professional golf: no Oosthuizen , the 2010 Open champion who can boast of being runners-up in the other three majors, including last month’s US PGA Championship; not Hughes, the little-known Canadian who entered the tournament on a streak of five unsuccessful cuts in a row; Not Henley, the 10-year PGA Tour veteran who has won three PGA Tour titles but none since 2017.
And it wasn’t long before each of them threw punches in the first nine, only intensifying the crowd at the top of the leaderboard. After the first attacks by former Major League Baseball champions Bryson DeChambeau, Rory McIlroy and Collin Morikawa and a couple of dodges by the leaders, no fewer than nine players were in the lead with four under par or one blow back: formidable scores in a tournament where anything below par is enough to win.
Others in the quagmire included Rahm and Cheltenham-born Paul Casey, who made up ground from end to end to move within a shot of pace. They were joined by Brooks Koepka, the two-time US Open champion who had drifted five shots with a 71 in the third round, but joined in on Sunday’s fun with birdies in the first, eighth, ninth and 13 holes.
The thinning started almost immediately in the last nine, where one by one the excess of contenders began to move in the wrong direction. No hole racked up more punishment than the 11th par-three of 222 yards, the most difficult on the South Course, where more than half the peloton derailed. That’s where things went pear-shaped for Hughes, who loaded a double bogey after his tee shot. stayed in a tree, and McIlroy, who made three putts to drop three shots adrift from the leader (before double bogeying 12th).
The same happened to defending champion DeChambeau, less than half an hour after taking sole possession of the lead at five under par by almost reaching par three on the eighth hole, who ended a streak of 30 holes followed by par or better with a ghost. at 11. Any lingering hope of a title defense was dashed with another bogey at 12, followed by a double at 13, where a streaker briefly interrupted the game out on the street before being lit up by the best of San Diego. The surprising collapse was completed long before his triple bogey eight on the 17th.
Wolff made three putts at 12 to fall to one more and exit the race. Morikawa messed things up after finding a thick patch of rough at par five 13, then spotted a 12-foot putt for a double-bogey seven. Koepka exited the contest with ghosts on the 15th and 18th. The carnage benefited Harris English, tied for 14th entering the final round and barely mentioned all day, who was in the dressing room after making seven birdies in a final round of 68 to go three under par this week. He finished third.
By the time Oosthuizen made his first birdie of the day on the 10th to move six under par and open a two-stroke lead as Rahm escaped the dangerous 11th and 12th holes unscathed, it was an effective two-man run. But for Oosthuizen, a six-time runner-up in major championships since his big win at the 2010 Open in St Andrews, it was not.
“I’m second again,” he said. Look, it’s frustrating. It’s disappointing. I’m playing golf well, but winning a big championship isn’t just going to happen. You have to go out and play golf well. I played well today, but not well enough.
“I feel like I had my shots, I went for it, and that’s what you have to do to win majors. Sometimes it goes your way and sometimes it doesn’t. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism