Outdueled by Cam Smith last year, the Spaniard returned to Kapalua and fired a Sunday 63 to win and further lay claim to perhaps being the game’s best player right now.
KAPALUA, Hawaii — 60 under!
That is Jon Rahm’s total over the last two years in the Sentry Tournament of Champions on the Plantation Course and it’s only been good enough for one victory, but that victory was a stunner.
In the final round, Rahm was coming from nine shots back after a bogey on the first hole could have derailed his chances. It turned out to just be a brief interlude to a scoring onslaught that saw Rahm record nine birdies and an eagle on the 15th hole that tied him for the lead with overnight leader Collin Morikawa.
The last of the nine birdies on the par-5 18th, sealed a three-shot lead for Rahm while Morikawa was self-destructing midway through the back nine with three consecutive bogeys from Nos. 14-16.
“I’m like ‘we’re going to need a small miracle,’” Rahm said about his mindset at the start of the day. “After bogeying 1, I was going to need somewhat of a larger miracle. It goes to say, you just got to do the little things properly.”
This was nothing short of epic, and Rahm was looking for redemption after losing to Cam Smith last year when the Australian shot 34 under and Rahm 33 under.
Finding redemption was not easy and surely Rahm would not want to make a living coming back from nine-shot leads on Sundays, but he also was very aware that if someone was going to shoot a number, why not him?
“No matter the lead, if in a regular course you have to expect somebody’s going to come and shoot 64 or 65, out here you have to expect the same thing,” Rahm said. “Somebody’s going to shoot a very low number.“
With the win, Rahm is on a different mission.
Rahm has won at least once every year since 2017 and his eighth win comes when his game is as good as anyone’s worldwide.
Since the Tour Championship at the end of August, where Rahm finished T16, the Spaniard has been on a tear with a T2 at the BMW PGA Championship on the DP World Tour, followed by a win at the Spanish Open, a T4 at The CJ Cup, a win at the DP World Tour Championship and a T8 at Tiger’s event, the Hero World Challenge.
Rahm’s only question is why he isn’t ranked higher in the world rankings.
Currently sitting at fourth in the world, Rahm has only moved up one spot since going on this run. He believes he should be further up.
“In my mind, I feel like since August I’ve been the best player in the world, I feel like, and I think a lot of us should feel like a lot of times we’re the best,” Rahm said. “Earlier in the year clearly Scottie (Scheffler) was that player, then Rory (McIlroy) was that player, and I feel like right now it’s been me.”
Rahm may have a point, just by watching how he strategically took apart the Plantation Course, making only one mistake with the bogey on the first and then running the table against Morikawa, who could do no wrong through 67 holes.
Rahm was quick to point out that the Plantation Course is a scoring paradise, but it can get you at times.
“On this golf course you just always have to go out for birdies,” Rahm said. “This is what it is. When you go off to make those birdies, sometimes mistakes happen. Not only for him (Morikawa), for everybody.”
Giving credit where credit is due, Rahm believes his hard work is starting to pay off and the numbers don’t lie when you look at the accuracy of his approach shots over the last year making the difference.
That difference has allowed his putter to become more effective and he believes over the last four or five month it has been as good as it gets with the flatstick.
Things can turn in mysterious ways; for Rahm it turned with a birdie on the difficult hole, when even his caddie Adam Hayes had a larger-than-usual smile as Rahm drained his first birdie of the day.
A thinned bunker shot by Morikawa on the 14th hole produced his first bogey and put immediate doubt in his mind.
It’s a combination of things that put Rahm on the top of the leaderboard when it was all said and done.