Is Jon Rahm now chasing … Tiger Woods? His answer is notable
“You’ve won five starts in nine around the world. As much as you’re competing against Rory McIlroy and Scottie Scheffler, how much are you chasing Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer?”
The question was expertfully asked on Thursday, on live TV, by Golf Channel’s Damon Hack. Things have progressed to that level with Jon Rahm, haven’t they? Yeah, they kinda have.
But before getting to the Spaniard’s answer — and it’s notable — let’s quickly review. (We’ll trust that you know Tiger and Jack and Arnie.)
— There are his five wins: the Open de Espana in October, the DP World Tour Championship in November, the Sentry Tournament of Champions and American Express in January, and the Genesis Invitational two weeks ago. That’s a .555 winning percentage.
— There are his finishes in the other four tournaments over the nine-start stretch Hack had mentioned: a tie for fourth at the CJ Cup, a tie for eighth at the Hero World Challenge, a tie for seventh at the Farmers Insurance Open, a third at the WM Phoenix Open. If you want to toss on his tie for second at the BMW PGA Championship last September, he’s not finished outside of the top eight since last August’s Tour Championship.
— There are his Strokes Gained metrics on the PGA Tour this season. He is no worse than 22nd in any category: first in SG: Total; third in Tee to Green; seventh in Off the Tee; sixth in Approach the Green; 22nd in Around the Green; and ninth in Putting.
— There’s his presence, his swagger, his ‘inevitably.’ Max Homa noted this after coming up short to Rahm at the Genesis. “Yes, he’s probably Thanos,” Homa said, comparing Rahm to the Marvel baddie. “He has a lot of the stones in his toolbox. He’s a tremendous golfer. He has zero weaknesses. He’s been this dude for a long time.”
There was Thursday. And magic. At Bay Hill, one of the Tour’s most tortuous tracks, he was three-under through 14 holes, he had hit his tee ball near a tree on 15, and he then:
— Dropped a 35-footer for par.
— Eagled the par-5 16th by going: 310-yard fairway drive, 205-yard iron to 24 feet, putt.
— Birdied the par-3 17th after hitting to 2 feet, 7 inches, the closest of the day on the hole.
— Birdied the par-4 18th with an iron to 5 feet. That’s a four-under-over-three-hole finish, and after a seven-under 65, he’s your leader by two through 18.
That’s some run. Tiger-like.
So you chasing him, Jon?
At “Tiger Woods” in Hack’s question, Rahm laughed. When the question was finished, he rubbed the left side of his beard with his left hand. He stammered. At the least, the 28-year-old was finally slowed, but it was something that he clearly has thought about.
“Ah, I’m trying to go day by day and then think about that, right,” he said. “To an extent, yes.
“Once I’ve done what I’ve done — have three wins already — you can start thinking of some of the things Tiger did. I’m trying to do it for the first time at my age. He had done it about 12 or 13 times at this point, so I’m trying to get myself going. But yeah, there’s sometimes where even this early in the week, you put yourself in position to maybe start dreaming of some moments like that, and I certainly started the year thinking about it and did what I had to do. So, so far, I can’t really say much but still a long way to go.”
His answer was humble (though it was a little unclear what mark he was referring to). Still, there’s something significant there, right?
Maybe the other question with Rahm is: Where is this all going? A Masters win? More? The majors are all fast approaching, and that’s where we best knew Tiger and Jack and Arnie. And if Rahm outwardly says he’s dreaming of the chase — or said another way, he’s not backing down from history — well, then, we could be in store for something memorable.
Perhaps this is telling, too. In case you were wondering if all this is getting to his head, we’ll leave with this exchange, with another group of reporters.
“Five wins your last nine worldwide starts, all top-10 finishes. You were asked this week if you are clicking on all cylinders, can anybody beat you. And you said no. So the question is, right now, do you feel like you’re clicking on all cylinders?”
“What needs to improve?”
“Gosh, go through the round, and you’ll see plenty of mistakes,” Rahm said. “I just took advantage of, let’s say, of minimizing mistakes and converted a couple situations into really good scores. But it can always be better. But it’s the first day. Ask me that on Sunday if I keep playing like this and I’ll probably change my answer.”