Jon Rahm thinks he has played as well as anyone of late, and he has three victories worldwide in his last five tournaments to show for it. The latest was one he never saw coming.
Never mind that Rahm was seven shots behind Collin Morikawa at the start of the final round in the Sentry Tournament of Champions. Morikawa was playing so cleanly that he had yet to make a bogey at Kapalua. “I’m going to need a small miracle,” he said, and then when the Spaniard made bogey on the opening hole he said, “I was going to need somewhat of a larger miracle.”
He got it, with help from Morikawa.
Rahm certainly did his part with a 10-under 63, playing the final seven holes with four birdies and an eagle for a two-shot victory. But this was as much about Morikawa, who looked for so long like the sure winner until his wedges and putter — two areas he sought to improve — let him down. The tournament flipped during a wild hour on the Plantation Course at Kapalua in what amounted to a seven-shot swing in four holes.
Rahm made three straight birdies and then ripped an 8-iron to 12 feet on the par-5 15th to 12 feet for an eagle. Morikawa was two groups behind him, now 67 holes without a bogey, when he had a Maui meltdown that put him in the PGA Tour record book. Morikawa is the ninth player to lose a six-shot lead going into the final round.
From 25 yards away, he bladed a bunker shot over the 14th green. Facing a pitch up the steep slope to the par-5 15th, he muffed it. And his wedge to the 16th didn’t carry the false front and ran 70 feet back to the fairway.
By then, it was too late. Morikawa’s birdie on the 18th — his first on Sunday since the sixth hole — left him two shots behind, and the USD 1.5 million was no consolation. “I’m going to take two days off and enjoy Hawaii a little bit more,” Morikawa said. “It’s not going to be as great, but it will still be good. My mind is already thinking about what we need to do. It’s going to hurt, but I’ve got to get over it because we’re still in the very early parts of the season.”
So much of the focus was on a season that promised big riches, especially with “elevated” events — the PGA Tour now calls them “designated” — that average USD 20 million purses to rival the big money on the Saudi-backed LIV Golf circuit.
Yes, it’s early. And even if it was a win Rahm didn’t see coming, it was quite a statement.
He was most disappointed in failing to register a top 10 in any of the majors last year. But since August, with the start of the PGA Tour’s postseason, Rahm has played nine times around the world and only finished out of the top 10 once. He won the Spanish Open and DP World Tour Championship, and now he has his ninth PGA Tour victory, having one in each of his seven full years on tour.
“In my mind, I feel like since August I’ve been the best player in the world, 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.”
He could only wonder how he would have felt if not for Morikawa’s shocking slide. A year ago, Rahm was 33-under par at Kapalua, which would have set a PGA Tour record except that Cameron Smith won at 34 under. So that’s 60 under in his last two appearances at Kapalua.
“Had I shot 60 under par in two starts here and not won either one of them, that would have been a hard pill to swallow,” he said.
And if he had not decided on a wardrobe change? Rahm had been wearing navy blue slacks all week — he forgot all his belts and didn’t want to wear black in warm weather — and then decided with a mid-morning start to go with black slacks and his red shirt.
That’s the Tiger Woods combination for Sunday, and Rahm is leery about copying him. “I usually don’t want to wear anything that’s close to red with black on Sundays because of Tiger. That’s his outfit,” he said.
Rahm delivered a performance that lived up to it.