To the surprise of absolutely nobody, Jon Rahm played tremendous golf on Thursday morning at the Spanish Open where he shot 63 and trails leader Ross McGowan by just two strokes.
Rahm started on the back nine and went out in 30 (with a bogey!) before cruising home in 33 to shoot his ninth consecutive round of 68 or better at this event. He's in solo third after 18 holes of play at Club de Campo Villa de Madrid.
"It's a really good start," Rahm said. "I played eight flawless holes, and then had a bit of a stumble [in the middle of the round]. I was able to save a couple pars and minimize the damage. After that, I played some good golf coming down the stretch again."
Rahm's assault on the rest of the world (as well as this particular golf tournament) has been breathtaking. In his last 10 starts dating back to the PGA Championship, he has eight top 10s, one missed cut and one withdrawal (which came after the third round of the Memorial -- where he was leading -- because of a positive COVID-19 test). In that span of time, he has only won once but threatened on several occasions and, based on 72-hole scores, finished T1 at the Tour Championship where scores are staggered based on where players rank in the FedEx Cup standings coming into the week.
His stature at the Spanish Open is peerless. He's won both times he's teed it up here (2018 and 2019) and is trying to become the only golfer other than Seve Ballesteros to win this tournament three times in the European Tour era. Furthermore, he's trying to join Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam and Colin Montgomerie as the only players to win any non-major or non-WGC event on the European Tour three consecutive times.
"You get quite a few fans out here," said Rahm. "They are rather enthusiastic. They've been cooped up for too long. They get the chance to come out here and watch me play. I haven't played on Spanish soil since this event two years ago. They're golf hungry. It was great from the beginning. Every single shot, every single putt I make they're extremely supportive, and every time I miss a shot, they're extremely supportive as well. That always helps."
He was a staggering favorite coming into the week and is now -150 to win an event he doesn't lead with 54 holes to go and nobody else shorter than 20-1. That's one indication of how scorching hot Rahm has been this summer and fall. Another is this: Over the last three months, Rahm has gained 2.8 strokes per round on the field in tournament he's played in (he gained over 6.2 on Thursday). Next best in this field over that period of time is Richard Bland, who is gaining 0.9 strokes per round. Rahm has been three times better than the second-best player in this field over the last three months.
None of this means he's going to win this tournament for a third straight time, of course, but at this point it's difficult to see it ending any other way. Based both on past history and current form, Rahm is a freight train at any tournament he plays. A 63 in Round 1 in Madrid means that train is now running downhill, and I'm not sure anyone (or anything) can stop it.