Jon Rahm won his first PGA Tour event of the season on Sunday by shooting a 75 at Muirfield Village on Sunday to finish at 9 under and take home the trophy by 3 over Ryan Palmer. You can call it the Memorial Tournament or a PGA Tour event or whatever you want, but what I watched was a major championship-like field competing on a major championship course in major championship conditions, and it was Rahm running laps around the course for most of the day.
Rahm built an eight-shot lead early on Sunday by destroying the field from tee to green for the first three and a half rounds. He touched 20 strokes gained against the field (most of them from tee to green) -- always a winning number -- before going to the back nine on Sunday where things got a little dicier than he would have preferred.
He played the first five holes on the back nine in 4 over, and it was clear he was hanging on for dear life despite continuing to take Jon Rahm-like lines and hit golf shot after golf shot. Then he put the nail in the coffin on the 16th to go up four from an impossible position. It's the type of shot that will be replayed every year for the next five Memorials and a position Rahm may not have mentally been able to hang in for previously in his career.
The sometimes-volcanic Rahm often struggles to stay locked in when things start going sideways like they did over those first few holes on the back nine. He never lost the lead, but he wasn't having much fun either. So to stay checked in and then hit that shot in that spot in those conditions. It's an all-time moment in a career that will have plenty of them.
Unfortunately, it now has a bit of an asterisk next to it as Rahm was assessed a two-stroke penalty after his round for causing the ball to move before he holed out for that miracle birdie on No. 16. He was flabbergasted when asked about the ball moving after his round but agreed with the final call. This actually exacerbates the point here. Normally ,the noise is emanating from Rahm. This time, with chaos around him, he remained mostly calm (well, for him) throughout.
The win makes Rahm the newly ranked No. 1 golfer in the Official World Golf Rankings. He's the second Spaniard to reach that plateau and just the 24th golfer ever to summit the mountain. It also doubles as the best win of a young career that's already had a lot of them.
The thing that often separates Rahm is exactly what separated him this week at Muirfield Village. He has every shot you could ever ask to see and knows when and how to use them. This played itself out on the 16th hole, for sure, but it also came to pass four holes earlier on Sunday.
On the par-3 12th hole, after Rahm had just played the previous two in bogey-double bogey, he went after a back right (and mostly tucked!) pin and gave himself an easy two-putt par when he badly needed it. You win majors with your head more than you do with your game, but if your game can't match how it's playing out in your head, you're not going to do much winning at all. Rahm has always had the shots, and on Sunday he married them to a resiliency that he's maybe struggled with in major championship-like conditions in the past. He just kept coming and kept coming even when it felt like he could have ejected.
Despite my best efforts to make it so, Sunday's Memorial wasn't in fact a major championship, but it sure felt like one at times. And now Rahm has the experience of winning in these conditions against this field. That portends well for the future of the new No. 1 in actual upcoming majors. He can win those -- maybe several of them -- and now he knows it. Grade: A+
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Matthew Fitzpatrick (3rd): I'm tossing him in here just to pay homage to the preposterous 68 he shot on Sunday, which was eight (!) strokes better than the field average at the time he finished. Nobody else even sniffed shooting in the 60s (there were only a handful of rounds under par all day), and Fitzpatrick posted 4 under with Jim Bones Mackay on the bag for him. "It was very, very good," he said after his round. "To go back out there after the restart and finish with three birdies, it's way better than I could have imagined." Grade: A
Tony Finau (8th): Saturday afternoon to Sunday afternoon was a tough scene for Finau. He led by four on the back nine in Round 3, and then there was a 16-shot swing in 16 holes. He trailed by 12 going to the back nine in Round 4. That's insane. I like Finau a lot, and I think he has a ton of game. If he wants to be considered among the best players in the world, he's going to have to start stacking wins at some point, and it's not something he's been able to do very often over the course of his professional career. Part of the problem seems to be that I'm not positive he's fully internalized when to push and when to pull back during a four-round event. Hopefully that comes for him at some point because he's too good to only have a single victory. Grade: B+
Rory McIlroy (T32): A fairly disappointing week for McIlroy, who putted it petty well but had a pair of very below-average ball-striking days. Something is not quite clicking for him to play at the plane we expect, and the firm and fast setup exposed him a little bit. He had moments of brilliance -- the 5-wood he hit into No. 5 on Friday for eagle was majestic -- but he wasn't as consistently good as he would have liked in a major championship-like setup. The good news there is that a lost No. 1 position in the world means he could fly in under the radar a bit at the PGA Championship at Harding Park. Grade: C+
Tiger Woods (T40): Big Cat had a nice week, all things considered. Though he didn't finish in the top 25 (or anywhere near it), Woods got through four rounds on a tough course with limited amounts of pain. That's tantamount to a successful outing for Woods at this stage of his career. He hit the ball beautifully for the most part, too. The most intriguing version of Woods is one who's an absolutely elite ball-striker but doesn't have the distance he used to. That's a Woods who, after cleaning up some of his short-game woes, can absolutely be competitive in big-time events like the PGA Championship here in three weeks. Grade: B