Dustin Puts The Other 63 In The Dustbin

26 March 2017
PGA Tour / European Tour

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Dustin Johnson won the WGC Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club on Sunday, defeating a resilient and resurgent Jon Rahm 1 up on the 18th hole in the final, having seen off the challenge of Japan’s Hideto Tanihara earlier in the semi-final. The final match looked all but done with Johnson 5 up after eight holes without having had to produce anything near his best golf to that point. Rahm won the next two holes in succession, but when DJ won the 12th hole to get back to 4 up you felt that Rahm would end up in the garbage can along with the other 62 contenders and DJ would become the first player to win all four WGC titles (Tiger never won the HSBC Champions). Rahm had other ideas though and wins on the 13th, 15th and a dramatic twenty foot putt drained on the 16th meant that DJ’s lead was just 1 up with two holes remaining. The tricky pin position and swirling wind on the short 17th led to steady pars by both, but the 18th was birdieable and I favoured Rahm to claw back the deficit at the death and take it to extra holes. However, when he narrowly misjudged his chip from behind the 18th green, just failing to get his ball to release down the slope towards the pin, his chance for birdie was greatly reduced and in the end a par was not enough. DJ has been performing impeccably since Riviera, notching up WGC wins now seemingly with relative ease, although, as usual his outward demeanour belies the hunger deep inside and the undeniable work ethic on and off the course behind the scenes.  DJ has very much cemented his position at the top of the OWGR with this win, while Rahm now moves up to 14th.

Bill Haas defeated Tanihara to win the third place prize, Bill’s best ever finish in a WGC event, whilst quarter final places for Phil Mickelson, Soren Kjeldsen, Ross Fisher and Alexander Noren all represent very strong returns for the week. There were a few notable group stage casualties including Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas. Match play golf also failed to extract the best out of Ryder Cup aficionados Patrick Reed and Thomas Pieters, whilst Sergio Garcia and Shane Lowry suffered from being drawn in the group of death along with eventual finalist Rahm. Perhaps if the prize for losing all three group matches was not $49,500 just for turning up then we might have seen some different outcomes. Dustin himself (1), Noren (8) and Mickelson (14) were among just five of the top sixteen seeds to reach the knockout stages and the only three of which to make it as far as the quarters. This includes defending champion Jason Day, who very sadly has had to take time out from the game to support his mother who is undergoing surgery. The Scrambler wishes the Day family the very best with this. Day’s press conference was admirable in its bravery and also its honesty – “she’s the reason I am here” – we sometimes forget the importance of what has made the player in the background.

At various points throughout the week, the explosive driving of both Rahm and DJ was highlighted, but on Sunday afternoon in particular this was underlined as they drove a combined 850+ yards on the par five 12th hole, leaving nothing but wedge approaches for both. This was slightly sensationalized in the coverage given that the hole plays significantly downhill and there is a path to help the ball along the way, however, the stats are no less jaw-dropping and it is the accuracy of the driving that is so impressive. Rahm also drove the 13th green over water into the wind and drove his tee shot on the 18th through the green, both similarly huge and accurate hits under pressure playing against the world number one. He may not have won, but Rahm’s stock is rapidly rising, almost as fast as his blood temperature whenever he makes a mistake, but perhaps not quite as fast as that of Tyrell Hatton.

Scrambler Pick – Shell Houston Open: This week the Tour returns to Houston on a course that has staged the event since 2006. Past winners in the field include JB Holmes, Jim Herman, Matt Jones, Phil Mickelson, Paul Casey, Johnson Wagner and Adam Scott, however the former winner that jumps out at me most of all was also the winner of the alternate event last week in Puerto Rico, D.A. Points. At 150/1, not putting a few quid on him each way would be absolute insanity. Yes, the field also includes Spieth (has finished second here), Kuchar (likewise), Stenson (second here twice), Rahm, Rose, Rickie, Swafford and Walker, but some of these guys might have Augusta on their minds, whereas D.A. Points will just be playing on cloud nine, on a track on which he has won before, fresh off his first victory since he last won….right here. Yes, my previous pick for an each way windfall (Schneiderjans at the Valspar: MC) was pathetic, but this week looks almost too good to be true. On Point!

Rahm Full Of Memory

30 January 2017
PGA Tour

Jon Rahm may still have won the Farmers Insurance Open with a score of -11 had he three-putted from the back of the 18th green at Torrey Pines South Course on Sunday, however, when the monstrous 60-foot screamer eagle putt dropped, there was a palpable sense of deflation amidst the groups behind, as what had developed into an intriguing close to the tournament was abrubtly cut short by the Spaniard’s birdie-eagle finish. The toiling challengers, moments after undoubtedly hearing the huge roar from the 18th green, would have been flummoxed at the sight of Rahm’s name on the leaderboard jumping from -10 to -13 over his final two holes in what seemed like the blink of an eye. At the close of play Rahm’s round of 65 left him three shots clear of CT Pan and Charles Howell III, with five players languishing behind at -9 and five more at -8. Perhaps a couple of the challengers might have got closer to -11 had Rahm only parred the 18th, but with their fight extinguished by his final blow, all they could do was trudge their way home as Rahm began his celebrations.

Rahm had progressed steadily through the week with rounds of 72, 69 and 69 and was just about staying in contention entering the back nine on Sunday. He snuck a little bit closer to the lead with a birdie on the 11th, yet most of the focus still remained with other contenders in what was a bunched leaderboard. Then, after two blows to 18 feet on the shortened par five 13th hole, Rahm drained his 18-foot eagle putt and was suddenly a major factor. He parred the next three holes, hitting every fairway and green in regulation on the way, but without giving himself any particularly easy looks for birdie. Not content to par his way home, attack mode was set to ON again on the 17th, when another perfect tee shot set up a 144 yard approach to 5 feet duly converted, and now Rahm became the man to beat. Like many of the young stars on Tour, Rahm’s chosen strategy when leading was simply attack as the best form of defence, with the objective of giving himself a decent look for birdie on the 18th. Attack mode notwithstanding, his second shot to the back of the green was as much a percentage play as would have been a decision to lay up and leave a wedge approach to that treacherous front pin. It was a very strategically-well-played hole to that point, but what he did next will go down in Torrey Pines folklore.

It is no surprise that Rahm has made such a prompt ascent to the winner’s circle on Tour given his amateur career and results in professional events to date. For the 2016/17 season thus far before the Farmers, results had been robust, albeit unspectacular. A T15 finish at the Safeway Open in October was followed in November by T15 and T50 at the Shriners and Mayakoba events respectively. His largest cheque pre-Christmas came from representing Spain in the World Cup down under thanks to a T8 finish alongside Rafael Cabrera-Bello. Rahm’s first appearance in 2017 resulted in a T34 at the CareerBuilder, leaving him a respectable 67th position in the FedEx standings. A reasonable start, but this form slightly belied what Rahm had shown during the 2015/16 season in two events in particular. Following the US Open at Oakmont, where a T23 week gave him the title of low amateur, Rahm turned pro and immediately made an impact finishing T3 at the Quicken Loans National, a result that also re-qualified him for The Open at Troon (he had forfeited his spot by turning professional), where he was T59 in his first major appearance as a pro. A few weeks later, Rahm went one better and finished in a tie for 2nd at the Canadian Open. It was too late for Rahm to make the Playoffs, but he had laid down a marker with these significant performances. One would expect him to feature a lot more on final day leaderboards in the months ahead, but he will do well to surpass a finish as memorable as that of Sunday.

Rahm’s final round of 65 was the lowest round of the week on the South Course and the joint-lowest round of the week in the tournament along with Justin Rose, who shot 65 on the North Course on Thursday. The win catapults Rahm to 6th in the FedExCup standings and 46th in the OWGR.

Scramble Picks – Waste Management Phoenix Open: I am keeping it straightforward this week. Why look beyond Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Hideki Matsuyama (defending champ) and Jon Rahm. Ryan Moore is one to watch here and certainly Phil Mick cannot be ignored around Scottsdale. My outside shot for an up-and-down is going to be Kyle Stanley. Winner here in 2012; having a steady season to date; T14 last week at Torrey; I feel he is trending towards an each-way place which is surely worth a look at 80/1.