After Tiger Woods provided the golf world with the ultimate heart-stopping moment with his putt on the 72nd hole at Torrey Pines in 2008, Jon Rahm gave us one hell of an encore Sunday sinking two long-range birdie putts at 17 and 18 to win his first major title.
Rahm was sitting pretty at three-under par through 36 holes and battled hard to shoot 72 on Saturday to remain in contention. He got off to a hot start, birdieing the first two holes and bouncing back from a bogey at 5 with another birdie at 9 to turn in 33. Things didn’t seem to be going his way on the back nine as Rahm made seven straight pars to begin the back nine as great birdie looks at 13 and 14 burned edges.
But the lid came off at the best possible time at the 17th as a birdie putt with about eight feet of break went in dead center and put Rahm into a share of the lead with one hole to play as a big fist pump showed just how much this title meant to the Spaniard.
Looking for another down the last, Rahm’s second shot took a poor bounce to the right onto the downslope of the right bunker. Rahm had to play it safe out of the bunker as his third settled 18 feet behind the front hole location. Rahm poured in a birdie putt that was reminiscent of the one he made on the same hole for his first PGA Tour win in 2017.
As the putt settled in the bottom of the cup, Rahm let out every ounce of that Spanish fire he has become known for. An epic fist pump that rivaled Woods’ from the same hole 13 years earlier.
“I knew it snaps hard right at the end. I know it does. It doesn't really look like it, but it does,” Rahm said. “That's why Tiger's putt took so long to end up breaking left the same year. So I was aware of that, I trusted my read, and as soon as I made contact, I looked up and saw where the ball was going. It was exactly the speed and line I visualized, and I told myself, that's in.
Rahm’s battle with his emotions made headlines in a negative way early in his career, and the entire world got to see another emotional test when he was forced to withdraw with a six-shot lead through 54 holes at The Memorial.
We often hear players talk about thinking positively, staying in the moment, and believing that the right breaks will eventually come their way. The circumstances Rahm faced in the last few weeks were unprecedented, and to win his first major just a week after coming out of isolation is one of the greatest feats in golf history that will surely go unmatched.
“This one is incredible, very hard to believe, that this story can round up and end up so good,” Rahm said. “It almost feels like it's a movie that's about to end and I'm going to wake up soon. With the setback I had a couple of weeks ago, to end up like this, it's incredible. I do love Torrey Pines, and Torrey Pines loves me.”
Throughout the entire process, Rahm’s positivity and belief in himself, his family, and the golf gods came across as entirely genuine. When the lights were brightest, when he achieved a lifelong dream, Rahm looked human. A human with talent that rivals some of the all-time greats of the game, but a human nonetheless. In that moment, the golf was secondary, Rahm’s ability to speak at length about what this achievement means to him was more important than any breakdown he could give about his putt on the 72nd hole. For Rahm, off-course happiness is the key to on-course success.
“Getting my first PGA TOUR win here the way I did with my dad watching, I was happy my dad was here at that time,” Rahm said. “As a father on my first Father's Day with my dad here, to get this one done the way I did, on top of that, you add the fact that we got engaged here, as well, and I have a very happy life.”
No matter how much Rahm tried to avoid it during the final round, there was no masking the magnitude of this final round.
“I was trying not to look at the leaderboards, but the crowd was not cooperating. They were telling me exactly what was going on,” Rahm said. “So I decided to embrace it You see all those great names, and to myself I thought whoever wins this one is going to be the one who won a U.S. Open with a star-packed leaderboard. It was something I knew I could do, and I was just focusing on each shot, and I ended up getting it done.”
Sunday shaped up to be an epic final round, and it certainly lived up to the billing. Mackenzie Hughes, Louis Oosthuizen, and Russell Henley entered the day as solo leaders, but there was a host of big names behind them. Hughes and Henley faded out of contention quickly and the best players in the world looked to take control of the tournament.
Rory Mcilroy mounted a front nine charge, defending champion Bryson DeChambeau hit a pitching wedge to six inches at the par-3 8th to take the outright lead, and Brooks Koepka lurked around the lead for most of the day. About midway through the final round, NBC announcer Paul Azinger proclaimed “the cream is rising to the top,” and it seemed we would be in for a roller coaster back nine.
But one by one the best players in the game faded nearly as quickly as they moved up the leaderboard. Mcilroy made a bogey at the par 3 11th and followed it with a double at the 12th. Collin Morikawa made a double at 13 and a bogey at 15. Koepka couldn’t summon some more major magic with bogeys at 16 and 18. DeChambeau came home in 44 and looked perplexed throughout.
Louis Oosthuizen once again proved to be the most-worthy challenger on this Sunday, but just couldn’t close the deal at the end. While the bombers missed fairways left and right, Oosthuizen continued to hit fairways and greens and sink clutch putts. A drive into the penalty area on 17 killed his hopes of a second major championship, but like so many times before, yet another major was seemingly stolen from the South African.
“I played good today, but I didn't play good enough,” Oosthuizen said. “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 other times it doesn't.”
Just about everyone in the golf world knew that it was only a matter of time before Jon Rahm won a major championship, and it seemed like destiny that it would come in San Diego. And with the win, Rahm takes his rightful place as the number one ranked player in the world once again.
He will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come, and his closest competitors certainly understand that.
“He was a major champion in waiting. It was just a matter of time. He's won two tournaments in a row. I don't care what anyone says. He had that title,” Mcilroy said. “It was unfortunate, but he's been playing some really good golf. Mentally, I think you have to be in a good place to bounce back from something like that, but he obviously knew his game was there, and he just had to go out and play the way he knows he can."