PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. – When Genesis Invitational tournament host Tiger Woods congratulated Jon Rahm on his victory, Rahm told him he was just trying to copy Woods.
“He said, ‘Well, I never won here,’ ” Rahm recounted. “I was like, ‘At least I looked like you off the tee this week,’ because it wasn’t my most accurate week. But my irons were always strong, my short game was strong, and I didn’t have my best stuff today, but I pulled through when I needed to.”
Rahm watched his three-stroke lead heading into the final round disappear as Max Homa made five birdies in his first 10 holes, but Rahm never quit and he finished with two birdies in his final five holes to shoot 3-under 68 at Riviera Country Club on Sunday and reclaim the title of No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking.
Rahm admitted that despite shooting his third round of 65 on Saturday in his last four rounds at Riviera he was nervous going home last night with so much at stake.
“I’m a human being after all and I’m aware of the magnitude of this moment and this golf course, right? I’ve never had three PGA Tour wins in a season and to do it this early on is incredible, and to do it at this golf course. Talk about the history of Riviera as a golf course, the history of Tiger Woods as a player, those two combined in this tournament, it’s a pretty big deal. As a historian of the game, to be able to win a tournament hosted by Tiger and the one hosted by Jack (Nicklaus at the Memorial) as well, it’s pretty incredible,” he said.
What calmed him down? It was slipping effortlessly into dad mode with his two young kids.
“From 5:00 p.m. until he went down, two, two and a half hours, I completely forget about what’s going on and what I’m doing,” he explained. “Ever since they came along, going home after a golf tournament and a golf round is a lot easier just because of things like that.”
The final round shaped up into a showdown worthy of the bright lights of Hollywood. Rahm and Homa had been the two best performers on the West Coast Swing and Riviera was the perfect ball-striking paradise to settle the score.
Homa came out hot and grabbed a share of the lead for a hot minute, but Rahm answered with a birdie at No. 7 and looked like he might coast to victory after his sand wedge at No. 8 from 127 yards in a flyer lie from the rough trickled to a foot for a tap-in birdie and Homa took three putts from 35 feet to fall three strokes back.
“If you tell me on the ninth tee after that tee shot that I was going to be one back on 13 tee, I wouldn’t believe you because I was feeling that good,” Rahm said. “But it’s golf and this golf course especially, this golf course can get you.”
Riviera bit back but so did Homa, who made birdies at Nos. 9 and 10 and Rahm needed to sink a 6-foot putt after chipping into a bunker just to salvage bogey at the drivable par-4 10th. Afterwards, Rahm watched the replay of 10 in the clubhouse and tabbed it, “a sick up and down.”
“I tell people all the time that’s nightmare material,” said Rahm’s caddie Adam Hayes. “It’s an unsettling feeling.”
Rahm’s lead was gone and he found himself trailing after taking three putts at No. 12. Homa, who closed in 68, coughed up the lead with a bad tee shot that led to a bogey at 13.
“I wanted to make him beat me and I think I did that. I let him off the hook on 13, but man, it was cool to see myself push him and not feel like I had 100 percent of my game,” he said.
Rahm took the lead for good when he drained a 46-foot birdie putt from the fringe on 14. He seized the moment at the 158-yard par-3 16th, planting an 8-iron inside 3 feet – “That was probably the best swing of the week,” he said – for another easy birdie. Homa nearly holed a pitch from the kikuyu grass at 18 for birdie that would’ve have applied some pressure on Rahm, but it slammed into the stick and wouldn’t go down.
“I just wanted to keep pushing him and I didn’t want it to be over, and when that missed, it was over,” Homa said. “I’m not disappointed in my golf, I’m just disappointed in the ending.”
Rahm finished with a 72-hole total of 17-under 267 for his 10th career PGA Tour title. Patrick Cantlay (67) finished third at 14 under. Will Zalatoris fired the low round of the day with a 7-under 64 to finish fourth. It capped off a remarkable West Coast Swing for Rahm, who notched his third win in his last five events and fifth title worldwide in his last nine starts. He hasn’t finished worse than a tie for seventh this season on the PGA Tour.
“It’s Tiger-esque,” said CBS’s lead analyst Trevor Immelman.
Finally the mathematical algorithm that is the OWGR has spit out numbers confirming what most golf fans already knew: Rahm is the best at the moment.
“Having the best season of my life and hopefully I can keep it going,” he said.