Spaniard Jon Rahm unseated Rory McIlroy to become the new World No.1 but only after a final round slog at the Jack Nicklaus-hosted Memorial in Dublin, Ohio.
Holding an eight-shot lead with nine holes to play, Rahm double bogeyed 11 and incurred a two-stroke penalty for a 16th hole infraction before eventually claiming the title by three shots on a brutal Sunday in Ohio.
Rahm, a double Dubai Duty Free Irish Open winner, posted a closing round 75 to win with a nine-under par tally.
Rahm, 25 looked set to ensure daylight was second in making the turn leading by a massive eight shots but in the space of five holes, from the 10th to 14th, he gave four shots back. Then at the par-3 16th he brilliantly chipped-in for a birdie ‘2’ but it emerged, while Rahm was playing 18, that in addressing his ball in deep rough he unbeknown caused his ball to move at address.
Rahm was handed a two-stroke penalty so he had to change his score to a bogey ‘4’.
“All I can say is as minimal as it was, it moved; I accept it,” said Rahm after seeing zoomed in video footage. “It doesn’t change the outcome of the tournament. It just puts a little bit of an asterisk in it in the sense of I wish I could just keep that birdie because it was one of the greatest shots of my life, right?”
The Arizona-based Rahm hung on to be greeted by Nicklaus on the final green and become only the second Spaniard after the late, great and his boyhood hero Seve Ballesteros, in the 34-year history of the Rankings, to be World No. 1.
“There’s no chance I would have won this tournament four years ago, I can tell you that. How many times have you guys seen me dial back and hit so many 3-woods and 5-woods off the tee. I mean, hardly ever, right,” said Rahm who credited his maturity for staying cool in the heat of the battle.
“It shows to the little bit of work that I’ve been doing, or the lot of bit of work that I’ve been doing, and it’s been changing. I’m a person who unfortunately I’m fully aware I learn from mistakes. I act, foolishly or not. I’ll do my action, and I’ll learn from it, good or bad.
“Luckily I’ve been pretty good at learning from my mistakes and getting a little bit better each time and each time, and today was a clear example of it. I could have completely lost it many times. Maybe in the past I would have, but I didn’t. I just kept fighting. I knew it was a complete grind, and it’s a true honour to be now the Memorial Tournament champion.”
And far from top spot triggering change for Rahm, the Spaniard will remain true to who he is despite his new lofty ranking, while celebrations will be kept to a minimum.
“Golf is just what I do, it’s not who I am,” said Rahm. “It’s the best way I can explain it. It’s a goal accomplished, yes. If anything, it fuels me to know that if I keep this trajectory I’ll be able to accomplish many more things in the future. It’s added motivation that I have the talent that I have, and I need to keep working on it. It’s as simple as that.
“But it doesn’t change the core of who I am, honestly. Like I’ve been doing all week, I’m going to go home with my wife. We’re probably going to watch a kids’ movie like How to Train Your Dragon, and go to sleep. The one thing I’ll do differently is I will go get a milkshake. I did not do it any of the competition days. I think Wednesday after the charity event is the last one I had, so I’m really looking forward to getting a milkshake.
“But, again, it won’t change the person that I am, and I hope it never does. Nothing that I’ve done has changed the core person I am off the golf course. Like I said, golf is just a part of my life. It’s what I do. If I ever had to choose, and I’ve said this before, between being a good husband and a good father and a good golfer, I’d always choose being a good husband and a good father. I’d rather be a good person outside of it, and I take pride in that and hopefully I can keep doing it.”
American Ryan Palmer was runner-up in signing for a 74 and a six-under par total , and while disappointed not to got the better of his victorious partner at last year’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans, the Texan earned an invitation into September’s US Open.
McIlroy had returned to World No. 1 for an eighth time in his career on February 2nd earlier this year and in the ensuing official ‘counting’ weeks, considering the Rankings were halted for a time due to a golfing lockdown, the Ulster golfer moved to the third all-time longest No. 1.
His latest rein was 11 weeks while McIlroy has been World No. 1 for a total of 106 weeks.
Rahm began his move to the top, and a four-shot 54-hole lead, thanks to four straight birdies late on day three on the Muirfield Village course.
Not even a 49-minute delay due to a threat of bad weather early into his final round would deny the powerhouse 25-year old Rahm claiming a third ‘individual’ PGA Tour win and an 11th win worldwide..
Sadly, McIlroy was yet another Sunday after thought signing off for a last day 78 for a very disappointing four-over par tally.
McIlroy failed to break par over the four days and for a first occasion since October, 2018 in also ending well down in the field at the WGC – HSBC Champions in Shanghai.
McIlroy birdied the third to get back to get to three-under but sticking out on his Sunday scorecard like the proverbial dog’s hind leg was a triple-bogey ‘8’ at the par-5 fifth where he found the water guarding the green not once but twice. Two days earlier, McIlroy had eagled the same hole.
The triple saw McIlroy tumble outside the top-20 and then after bogeys at eight and nine, to be four-over for the round and two-over for the tournament, he was sharing 26th place.
Twenty-sixth was key as World Ranking officials worked out that if Rahm did not win but were to be runner-up, then McIlroy had to be outside the top-25 for Rahm to go to No.1 in the world.
The last round was played under very humid conditions and that gave way when the siren sounded at 3.41pm local time with players leaving the course due to the threat of an approaching storm.
Rahm was staring at a 45-foot chip shot for an eagle ‘3’ at the par-5 fifth hole with McIlroy eyeing a 20-foot birdie on the par-4 10th to be four-over for his round.
The storm skirted around the host course with players getting the all clear to recommence play at 4.30pm local time.
Rahm walked off with his first birdie of the round whereas McIlroy took a par.
Though there was no halting the powerhouse Rahm grabbing a first birdie at the fifth and then ensuring daylight was second when he moved to 14-under par and now seven shots in front when he birdied the par-5 seventh.
While Rahm was shining brighter than any of his Memorial rivals, the sky was again getting darker by the second and winds whipping-up with heavy rain on the radar and again the threat of a second stoppage.
There was light at the end of the tunnel for McIlroy’s game that got darker when he bogeyed the 12th to be now five-over for his round and three-over for the $US 9.3m event.
Rahm rolled on and earned the applause of a small gathering on the veranda of a house opposite the eighth green in making par before moving eight shots clear when playing partner, Palmer bogeyed the same hole to drop to a distant six-under par.
The skies opened as Rahm neared the turn with McIlroy dropping yet another shot and in finding water guarding the green at the 14th to now drop outside the leading 30 at four-over for his round and six-over for the event.
Rahm headed to the 10th opening the day slightly on those behind when he bogeyed the 10th and doubled the 11th and head to the 12th now just four ahead at 11-under par.
Up front, McIlroy after having bogeyed 12 dropped a further shot at 14 and while he birdied 15, he made a total mess of the last for an eighth dropped shot of his round and eventually ended the hurt sharing 32nd place at four-over par.
McIlroy has this week off before heading to Memphis and the July 30th starting WGC – FedEx St. Jude Invitational on the TPC Southwind course.
And McIlroy will need no reminding of the events last year when he came from nowhere on day three posting a 62 and led by a shot with a round to play before arch rival Brooks Koepka won by three after McIlroy shot a 73 to be relegated to a distant share of fourth.
Meanwhile, Tiger Woods marked his return to the Tour with a last day 76 for a six-over par total
“Well, I completed and played again and it’s been a while so it was nice to get my feet wet and compete and play again,” said Woods.
“It’s been tough, tough conditions to start out my first week back, Thursday and Sunday. But it was good to get the feel and the flow of competing again.”
And when quizzed on what he felt he learnt in a first event in five months Woods said: “Well, I didn’t putt well. I didn’t feel comfortable playing break.
“I’ve been in Florida playing Bermuda and seeing minimal break, come out here and playing 10, 12 feet of break was a bit different and something I’m going to have to get used to.”
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