RBC Heritage - Round Three
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This time last year, Jon Rahm was going into the Mexico Open with just one top-10 finish in his previous five PGA Tour stroke-play events, a non-competitive Masters in which he played with Tiger Woods in the final round and finished T27 and just one victory since the summer of 2020.

Things, you might say, have changed.

Rahm won that Mexico Open by one over Tony Finau, Kurt Kitayama and Brandon Wu, and he has not stopped winning since. He's racked up seven victories in his last 24 events worldwide, including four (!) on the PGA Tour this year. Oh yeah, and comes in as the reigning Masters champion.

To the surprise of nobody, Rahm finds himself in contention to repeat as Mexico Open champion entering Sunday after entering the tournament as a +280 favorite, according to Caesars Sportsbook. Once again, he'll have to outlast Finau, who entered with the next shortest odds at 8-1. 

In the span of those 24 events, Rahm has 15 top 10s to go with his seven victories, has not missed a cut and has just six finishes outside the top 15. He has gained strokes on the field in all 24 stroke play events and gained strokes in 74 of his last 89 rounds. He has been on, as they say, a heater (although, somewhat improbably, he does not lead the world in strokes gained over the last 12 months -- Rory McIlroy does).

In doing all of this, he has raised his own ceiling in the minds of golf fans. He's gone from, Oh hey, that Jon Rahm is a nice player who needed two long putts to win his only major championship to, Wait a second, what's actually going on here -- is this guy an all-timer? in the span of 12 months.

Numbers matter, and Rahm's told the story of somebody who was always destined for the latter. But numbers also don't matter at all because you actually have to go out and win the tournaments and collect the majors. Rahm checks all the boxes. The statistical boxes. The "he's got the goods" boxes. The major boxes. The worldwide boxes. He ticks them all.

So ... now what?

It seems to be a numbers game. Since the month Rahm turned pro (June 2016), he has been by far the best player in the world. He's gaining 2.25 strokes per round in that timespan. Only McIlroy (2.12), Dustin Johnson (2.09), Patrick Cantlay (1.99) and Justin Thomas (1.98) are even close to that. 

What we're seeing over the last 12 months is probably a bit of a correction to the mean in terms of wins. That is, a player of Rahm's caliber should not win just once between summer 2020 and spring 2022. But a player of that caliber probably also shouldn't win seven times in 24 starts. These things don't happen linearly, though, and you get absolutely sick winning heaters like the one Rahm is currently on.

How am I convinced that Rahm is an all-timer who is going to have a handful of these heaters over the course of his career? Well, I'm not, but I'm more sure of it than I am with anyone else in the world. Two things stand out.

The first is that Rahm's best 50-round stuff is up there with some of the greats of the last quarter century. Rahm hit his 50-round peak earlier this year, and buddy, it was insane. Right there with Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, David Duval, Ernie Els and Rory McIlroy. Nobody on this list has fewer than 12 wins other than Rahm, and only Duval (fell off mentally), Day (fell off physically) and Spieth (still playing) have fewer than 17 PGA Tour wins. 

Rahm is not really a huge physical or mental risk, and he's younger than Spieth and McIlroy. This is, "well he's going to have 30 wins and five majors" territory. That doesn't mean it's going to happen, only that it could.

Data Golf

The second thing is this chart showing Rahm's absolutely insane top-five percentage on the PGA Tour. In about one out of every three PGA Tour events he's played over the course of his career, he's finishing in the top five. And Rahm doesn't play bad events. The blue line below is Rahm, the yellow is McIlroy and the green is Spieth. If Rahm keeps posting this percentage of top fives, he's going to win a percentage of that percentage. The only way you don't is if you have a winning problem, and Rahm seemingly does not have a winning problem. 

Data Golf

This week was perhaps the rarest PGA Tour event: a bad field with an all-time great possibly in the middle of an historic run. That's why he was nearly 2-1 to win the event, and it's honestly didn't feel all that crazy. Those 2-1 odds didn't tell the entire story, but they certainly allude to it. Dig a little deeper and you find that the truth is represented by that 2-1 number, though, and that truth is this: We are currently witnessing one of the great careers in golf history unfold. It perhaps took a Masters win for everyone to realize it, but now it's clearly in view and not going to change anytime soon.