Jon Rahm held off a spirited challenge from Max Homa in a rollercoaster final round to take the Genesis Invitational at Riviera, and with it, overtook Scottie Scheffler at the top of the world rankings.
Having started the day with a three-shot lead over Max Homa, and with Keith Mitchell one further back, Rahm knew that shooting anything under-par would make him very hard to catch.
All three of the final group would birdie the short par 5 opening hole and traded pars on the next, but after Homa knocked his approach close at the par 4 third, Rahm was a little sloppy with his chip from the back of the green, leaving nearly 12 feet for par. He missed, and Homa rolled in his ten-footer to reduce the lead to a single stroke.
Mitchell was struggling to make any additional inroads and would make eight successive pars to close out his front nine, and it was beginning to look like a two-horse race when Rahm and Homa both birdied the seventh.
Lady luck had been kind to Rahm on several occasions throughout the week, and she shone again on the eighth hole. After pulling his tee shot left, a kind ricochet ended up just off the fairway with a clear line to the flag. From there, his approach pitched just short and trundled up to the hole, coming to rest just inches away. This time, it was Homa’s turn to be sloppy, leaving his long birdie putt well short and the resulting bogey restored Rahm’s three-shot lead.
Homa would’ve been forgiven for fearing the worst, but to his credit, he bounced back at the next, sinking a 14-footer to reduce the deficit to two as they made the turn for home.
In the group ahead, Patrick Cantlay was making a move. Three birdies on the opening nine took him to -13, four behind Rahm, and he’d birdie the 10th to edge closer.
On the tee first, Homa took the aggressive option and it paid off as he drove the front edge of the green, Mitchell followed, but Rahm pulled his tee shot again and this time, he wasn’t so fortunate. Faced with a delicate chip through the trees, he was a little tentative and his ball trickled off the left edge and fed down to the collection area left of the green.
With little green to work with, where he was tentative on the previous shot, he was heavy handed here and had to make an impressive up-and-down from the back bunker for bogey. Homa two-putted from the front edge and just like that, they were tied at the top.
The Cantlay charge continued with a birdie at the par 5 11th to get within one. Back on the tee, Rahm again pulled his drive to the right and his low-drawing recovery shot ended up short sided in the rough. Homa missed on the right side, and when Rahm could only par, Homa had a six-footer to take the lead. He missed.
One of the harder holes on the course, Cantlay would bogey the 12th to drop two back, but coming behind, this time it was Homa’s turn to get a stroke of luck when his approach from the rough flirted with ‘Bogey’s’ tree but found it’s way past to a favourable spot just short of the front edge and he’d get up and down for par.
But Rahm was feeling the heat and left his downhill birdie putt five feet short and misread the par putt to fall out of the lead for the first time since the ninth hole on Saturday.
The drama wasn’t letting up and both Homa and Rahm pulled their tee shots into the large trees that stand sentry to the left of the 13th fairway, but fortune reversed again and Rahm found a clear path while Homa was blocked out. The American tried an ill-advised miraculous recovery shot that was fortunate to remain in play, but it would cost him a bogey and they were tied at the top once again.
If Rahm seemed cagey with his birdie putt on the 12th, he was far from it on the par 3 14th. From the back of the green, he canned one from 46 feet and it never looked as though it was destined for anywhere other than the bottom of the cup. A crestfallen Homa could only make par.
Rahm doubled the advantage on the 16th when he almost aced the par 3, and when they both parred 17, the Spaniard took a two-shot advantage to the 18th tee.
When Rahm safely found the green in two, Homa, blocked out on the right, knew he had to hole his second shot, but his punch-cut got caught up in the greenside rough and he was left a tricky up-and-down for solo second worth $400,000. And he nearly holed it. He’d roll in the par putt, leaving Rahm, who’d lagged up to 18 inches, the honour of tapping in for his fifth win in nine worldwide starts and a 10th PGA Tour title, eclipsing fellow Spaniard Seve Ballesteros’ total of nine.
“I know that Seve didn’t play full time on the PGA Tour,” said Rahm of his childhood idol on the 18th green, “and I know five of those wins were majors, but still, to reach that milestone of double-digit wins is pretty incredible and to do it at a golf course with this legacy and this history and hosted by the man himself, Tiger Woods, it’s a true honour.”
Woods had dominated the headlines for much of the week, and his third-round four-under had given him an outside chance of a top-10 finish. Sadly for the tournament host, he failed to recapture the previous day’s magic, but a two-over 73 left him on -1 for the tournament and a T45 finish. Where we next see Woods is anybody’s guess, but once again, he proved this week that any epitaphs were premature.
“Yeah, it means a lot,” Woods said post round. “It’s progress, headed in the right direction, yes. It certainly was a little bit more difficult than I probably let on. My team has been fantastic in getting my body recovered day to day and getting me ready to play each and every day. That’s the hard part that I can’t simulate at home. Even if I played four days at home, it’s not the same as adrenaline, it’s not the same as the system being ramped up like that, the intensity, just the focus that it takes to play at this level.”
“I’m not going to play any more than probably the majors and maybe a couple more. That’s it, that’s all my body will allow me to do. My back the way it is, all the surgeries I had on my back, my leg the way it is, I just can’t. That’s just going to be my future.”
Seamus Power and Shane Lowry finished tied for best of the Irish, with the Offaly man’s three-under 68 edging Power’s 69 by one.
Lowry capped off a vastly improved week with a birdie-birdie finish to reach the -7 finishing score. The closing birdie – following a pinpoint approach from 179 yards to inside three feet – was his sixth of the day and only Jason Day made more.
Power briefly reached -8 after birdieing the 11th, but gave that shot back on the next and parred his way home to join Lowry in the clubhouse in a tie for 14th.
Rory McIlroy will be delighted to see the Tour head to the East Coast after another frustrating day on the Riviera greens. After a debilitating putting performance in round three, a birdie on the 11th saw him briefly get to -3 for the day, but three bogeys on the closing seven holes dropped him back to level par for the day and -4 for the tournament.