COVID-19 couldn’t take this one from Jon Rahm.
The 26-year-old Spanish phenom emphatically removed himself from the top of the “best golfers without a major” list, nailing difficult, clutch birdie putts on the final two holes to win the U.S. Open by one stroke over Louis Oosthuizen.
The major championship victory, the first of Rahm’s career, comes just one start after a positive COVID-19 test forced him to withdraw from The Memorial Tournament at the 54-hole mark, when he was leading by six strokes.
Led by Rahm at 6-under-par, there were 11 players that finished this year’s edition of the U.S. Open in red figures, which is high for this grueling event (last September’s U.S. Open had just one), but the USGA can still take solace in the fact that an impressive profile of contenders saw their championship hopes vaporize one after another.
At one point on the front nine, there was a four-way tie for the lead, with seven more players just one stroke behind. Among an extremely crowded, and talented, Sunday leaderboard was Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, Collin Morikawa, Xander Schauffele, Rory McIlroy, Paul Casey, Russell Henley, Mackenzie Hughes, Dustin Johnson, Scottie Scheffler, and Matthew Wolff. Each had serious title hopes at the turn, only to collapse later. With four holes to go, the logjam had been whittled down to just Rahm and Oosthuizen.
Rahm began the final day in a share of sixth place, three strokes behind the trio of Oosthuizen, Hughes, and Henley. He birdied the first two holes of his round to assert himself as a primary threat, and despite playing 3-9 in even par (one bogey, one birdie), Rahm was just one stroke back at the turn.
He then stagnated somewhat, parring each of his first seven back-nine holes. Fortunately for Rahm, it was the U.S. Open, and pars are good. The fact that he only stagnated while everyone around him imploded won him the tournament.
The first contender to post a score was Harris English, who birdied 14, 17, and 18 to get into the clubhouse at 3-under. English had started the final day at 1-over, and in 14th place. It looked like Koepka, the winner of the 2017 and 2018 U.S. Opens, would at least match English. He needed just a par on the par-5 final hole to also post at 3-under, but a duffed shot from the sand and then missed his par putt. He finished 2-under, which was good for a share of fourth place.
McIlroy, Morikawa, Hughes, Casey, and DeChambeau all had a double-bogey somewhere in the 11-13 stretch. The difficulties were especially pronounced from DeChambeau. The 27-year-old, eight-time Tour winner was the event’s defending champion, and took the solo-lead after a birdie on 8, but chased bogeys at 11 and 12, with a double at the par-5 13th, and things went from bad to worse with a quadruple-bogey 8 on the par-4 17th. DeChambeau’s 6-over 77 dropped him all the way to T26.
With he and Oosthuizen the only two left in the picture, Rahm did what he often does late: sink big putts. On 17, it was a 24-footer, and on 18 it was an 18-footer, both which broke significantly from left to right, to shoot a co-field-low 4-under 67 and post at 6-under.
Oosthuizen, a 38-year-old South African who won the 2010 Open Championship by seven strokes, needed to play the final two holes in 1-under to match Rahm. However, a tee shot into the canyon on 17 led to a bogey, and now needing an eagle on 18, his lie after a mediocre drive was too deep to realistically reach the green in two. He laid up and settled for a birdie to finish second alone. Also among the runner-ups at last month’s PGA Championship, Oosthuizen notched his sixth career runner-up in a major. He was solo-third at September’s U.S. Open.
For Rahm, it was his sixth career win, and third in the past 12 months. Not only was it a breakthrough victory for him, it was the U.S. Open taken by a Spaniard. Previously, Sergio Garcia and Seve Ballesteros had finished third in a U.S. Open, both losing by five, while Miguel Angel Jimenez took runner-up honors in 2000, but that was still 15 strokes behind Tiger Woods.
It was also fitting that Rahm won the U.S. Open on his first father’s day since he had his first child just days before The Masters. He has done a remarkable job this season staying competitive in the midst of personal distractions.
2021 U.S. Open: Top-10 Leaders
Pos-Name-Score (Rd 4)
1. Jon Rahm -6 (-4)
2. Louis Oosthuizen -5 (E)
3. Harris English -3 (-3)
4. Guido Migliozzi -2 (-3)
4. Brooks Koepka -2 (-2)
4. Collin Morikawa -2 (-1)
7. Branden Grace -1 (-4)
7. Daniel Berger -1 (-3)
7. Paul Casey -1 (-1)
7. Xander Schauffele -1 (E)
7. Scottie Scheffler -1 (+1)
7. Rory McIlroy -1 (+2)
13: Francesco Molinari, Russell Henley (E); 15: Patrick Cantlay, Matthew Wolff, Mackenzie Hughes (+1); 19: Patrick Reed, Sergio Garcia, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson (+2); 26: Hideki Matsuyama, Martin Kaymer, Bryson DeChambeau (+3); 35: Adam Scott, Sungjae Im (+5); 40: Ian Poulter (+6); 46: Lee Westwood (+7); 50: Tommy Fleetwood, Bubba Watson, Richard Bland (+8); 55: Kevin Kisner (+9); 62: Phil Mickelson (+11); 64: Marc Leishman (+12); 65: Shane Lowry (+13); 70: Jimmy Walker (+19)
How Jon Rahm Won The U.S. Open
Rahm had posted a number of high finishes in majors, but had yet to really contend in one down to the 72nd hole. With a T3 at The Masters followed by a T8 at the U.S. Open, both propped up by exceptionally low Sundays, Rahm had at least been keeping himself relevant in the major season. This time, however, he finally hit a number nobody else could reach.
He opened his week at Torrey Pines, the same venue where he won his first Tour event (2017 Farmers Insurance Open), with a 2-under 69, which he followed up with a 1-under 70. A late double-bogey on Saturday meant a 1-over 72, but he turned a three-stroke deficit into a one-stroke just two holes into Sunday.
For the week, he carded 15 birdies, which tied for fourth in the field, and of his eight holes of bogey or worse on the week, just one occurred on the final day. His irons were especially sharp, as he hit 14 of 18 greens in regulation on both Saturday and Sunday, despite hitting just 14 fairways total over those two rounds.
Rahm’s Winning Numbers
Driving: 317.6 yards (T12)
Fairways: 29/56, 52% (T28)
Greens: 49/72, 68% (T4)
Putts: 1.61 (T15)
SG: Off the Tee: 4.23 (5th)
SG: Short Game: 2.27 (17th)
SG: Putting: 3.62 (21st)
What It Means For Rahm
A major championship was really the only significant thing missing from Rahm’s impressive career resume which, in addition to the six Tour victories, also includes seven European Tour wins. Nobody would be surprised if this opens up the floodgates for Rahm in future majors, and the expectation now is that he will win several more.
With the victory, Rahm rose from No. 3 to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking, a position he held for two brief periods in 2020. Dustin Johnson had held that position since winning last year’s BMW Championship, the first event of the FedExTour playoffs. He also jumped to second place in the FedExCup standings, where he now trails only Patrick Cantlay, the main beneficiary of Rahm’s Memorial Tournament withdraw.
Rahm’s 2021 Season
Cuts Made: 16
Wins: 1 (US Open)
Additional Top 10: 8
Earnings: $6,111,433 (1st)
FedExCup Pts: 1,823 (2nd)
World Rank Before/After: 3/1
It was a relatively standard final round at the U.S. Open, with red numbers being sparse. Among those who matched Rahm’s 67 was South Africa’s Branden Grace, who was bogey-free on the final day to soar 24 spots up the final leaderboard, from T31 to T7.
The 33-year-old has been in good form as of late, contending early at the PGA Championship and finishing fourth two weeks ago at The Memorial Tournament.
Also shooting a 67 was Patrick Reed, who was among the favorites coming into the week, since he won the other Torrey Pines-hosted event, the Farmers Insurance Open, back in January. With six birdies, the former Masters champ jumped a field-high 35 spots up the leaderboard, from T54 to T19. Reed hit 12 fairways on Sunday, in addition to 12 greens in regulation.
Sunday was also great for little-known Italian Guido Migliozzi, making not just his major championship debut, but his PGA Tour debut, the 24-year-old shot a 3-under 68 to move 17 spots up the leaderboard, finishing an impressive T4.
Hughes, a 30-year-old from Canada, was a surprise 54-hole co-leader, given that he had missed his five previous cuts on Tour, and had never finished better than T40 in a major. He was far less spectacular on Sunday, shooting a 6-over 77.
Hughes saw his final hopes disappear on the par-3 11th, when his tee shot hit the cart path and got stuck in a tree, leading to a double-bogey. He finished in a share of 15th place.
Similar to Hughes, Henley was also a 54-hole co-leader despite poor recent form, going CUT-T72-T71-CUT over his previous four starts. Also similar to Hughes, Henley was not able to keep his best stuff going in the final round, shooting a 5-over 76 to drop all the way to T13.
The 32-year-old was one stroke short of posting his first career top 10 in a major.
51-year-old Phil Mickelson made international waves in the sports world when he won last month’s PGA Championship, becoming the oldest-ever major winner in the process. The Arizona State product did well to make the cut at Torrey Pines this week, where he was attempting to become just the sixth player in Tour history to complete the career grand slam, but a 76 on Saturday was compounded with a 4-over 75 on Sunday.
Mickelson carded five bogeys over his final eight holes, as the damage resulted in, somehow, a RISE of a spot on the final leaderboard, but a T62 was not what the 45-time Tour winner had in mind this week.
“I’m a big believer in karma, and after what happened a couple weeks ago, I stayed really positive knowing good things were coming. I didn’t know what it was going to be, but I knew we were coming to a special place, I knew I got a breakthrough win here, and it’s a very special place for my family. The fact that my parents were able to come, I got out of COVID protocol early, I just felt like the stars were aligning, and I knew my best golf was to come”.
– Jon Rahm, U.S. Open Champion