All that mattered was that punch – not a handshake – with Jack Nicklaus, and taking his place alongside his idol Seve Ballesteros as the only Spaniards to reach world No. 1.
With a two-stroke penalty for his ball moving the length of a dimple on his chip-in behind the 16th green, Rahm finished 3 of 75 for a three-stroke victory over Ryan Palmer.
Rahm was going up and down the last four greens, which made him even smoother.
“One of the best performances of my life,” said Rahm. “Yesterday was probably one of the best rounds of my life, and ended today with a few ups and downs of the clutch. As a Spaniard I’m pretty glad it happened that way.
The fiery emotion is his trademark. He showed it with a tee shot that sailed left into a stream on the 11th hole, Rahm slamming his club into the ground in a dive of anger. And that was evident with that fierce fist pump when his flop kicked hard behind the 16th green rolled into the cup.
Birdie or bogey was a winner, a shot that would have made Ballesteros proud.
“I still can’t believe it, I’m not going to lie,” he told Nicklaus on the 18th green.
With the penalty – Rahm didn’t know this was a problem after his turn, but accepted the penalty when he saw video that zoomed in closely on the ball – he finished 9 under 279 for his 10th win in career, fourth on the PGA Tour.
Muirfield Village played their hardest in 42 years, with just five under par, the fewest for the final round since this tournament started in 1976. Rahm’s 75 was the best result by a winner as Roger Maltbie shot 76 the first year.
The crude hasn’t been cut all week. The greens have been allowed to go to the brink because they are being replaced. The crews had already removed the entire fifth green while the leaders were on the return nine.
Rahm seemed to be playing a different course. He played without a bogey on the top nine with birdies on both par 5. That put him eight shots clear on his way to No.1.
And then he made bogey on the 10th. No problem.
He fired his tee shot in a stream on par 5-11, and that was a bigger problem based on how hard he slammed the club into the ground in a snap of anger. He did a double bogey. Palmer birded on the 12th, then Rahm made another bunker bogey on the 14th.
Just like that, the lead was three strokes.
Just a week ago at Muirfield Village for the Workday Charity Open, Justin Thomas was three strokes ahead with three holes left and ended up losing in the playoffs to Collin Morikawa.
Rahm was concerned that his tee shot would find the rear bunker, although the rough was not a good option with the speed at which the greens were running. Rahm thought anything within 10 feet would be fine. It was perfect, the ball landing on the bangs and sliding down the slope into the cut.
As for the penalty?
“It doesn’t change the outcome of the tournament,” he said. “It just puts a little asterisk in it that I wish I could keep that birdie because it was one of the best shots of my life, right?” ”
The chip was similar – but from a different angle – to Tiger Woods who came from behind the 16th green when he won the Memorial for the fifth time in 2012.
Woods, in his first competition since February 16 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, shot 76 and tied for the 40th.
“Tough, tough conditions to start my first week back, Thursday and Sunday,” said Woods. “But it was good to get the feel and flow of the competition back.”
Matthew Fitzpatrick had a 68 for the low score on the final day to finish third.
The consolation prize went to Palmer (74) and Mackenzie Hughes (72), who won places at the US Open at Winged Foot in September as two main players in the top 10 who were not already eligible.
Henrik Norlander could have taken last place with a par 18, but he missed the fairway to the right, couldn’t reach the green, and bogeyed. Norlander and Hughes drew at 3 under 285, but the place went to Hughes because he had the best world ranking.
That ranking now begins with Rahm, who just four years ago was at the Memorial to receive the Jack Nicklaus Award as the country’s top college player.
Now he’s the best in the world, a ranking McIlroy had since Feb.9.
“He deserves it,” McIlroy said after his tie for 32nd place. “He has been playing very well for a long time. Even the display this week is quite impressive.
to see it reduced to three shots with three holes to play.