‘It’s f—– hard’: Jon Rahm comes back to Earth at brutal Bay Hill

Jon Rahm shot 65 on Thursday at Bay Hill — and 76 on Friday.

Jon Rahm opened 75-76 at Bay Hill.

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Coming off the course Thursday, Jon Rahm didn’t bother hiding his excitement.

There was a lot to like, after all. Rahm had entered the week as the hottest golfer in the world, the owner of five wins in his last nine starts. And he’d gotten off to the hottest start possible, making birdie on each of his first three holes. He birdied his final three, too, finishing off a round of seven-under 65, low round of the day by two shots.

The World No. 1 beamed through his post-round interview on Golf Channel. He faltered only when interviewer Damon Hack asked if he was competing not just against his peers at Bay Hill but also against the greats: Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer.

“Ah, I’m trying to go day by day and then think about that, right,” he said. But that was hardly a denial. “To an extent, yes,” he added.

It was a revealing admission. It made sense, too — at the level Rahm’s been playing, how could your mind help but wander beyond the day-to-day? Rahm is such a student of golf history that he knows where his current run stacks up. If he can just keep it going, well…

But come Friday, it wasn’t that easy.

Rahm started on the back nine, so he finished on the front. At the par-4 5th, he hit his drive into Bay Hill’s lettuce-length rough and made bogey. At the par-5 6th, his tee shot found the water and he made double. After an impressive bounce-back birdie at the par-3 7th, he finished with bogeys at 8 and 9. Rahm’s first-round 65 seemed a distant memory after his second-round 76.

Part of being World No. 1 is facing the music. Where a no-name first-round leader could slink to the clubhouse after a second-round blow-up, Rahm spoke to reporters afterwards and was candid about Bay Hill’s slim margin for error.

“How would I characterize it? What do you think I’m going to say?” Rahm asked. Then he said it, laughing. “Excuse my language, but it’s f—- hard. It’s firm, it’s fast and it’s blowing 30 miles an hour. It’s a very difficult golf course.”

Rahm was proud of how he managed it for most of the day, he said. Bay Hill is always tough, and once the gusts picked up late in his round, the test got even tougher. He didn’t have the answers.

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Rahm’s 76 was his highest score since the PGA Championship last May at Southern Hills. This week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational may not be a major championship, but come Friday afternoon it was playing every bit as tough.

In anticipation of high winds and high temperatures, tournament organizers did what they could to keep the greens in check. They applied extra water and kept them slightly slower. But Rahm’s eighth hole was a perfect example of the extra challenge: his ball appeared to stop within tap-in range but then just kept trickling.

“My putt was a foot from the hole, I blinked and it was four feet from the hole. It just kept rolling backwards.”

He missed the four-footer coming back.

While Rahm was surprised by that particular hole location, he had no gripes with the overall setup.

“You also don’t want to go to an extreme of making it a little bit too easy during a difficult day. So, you know, I think it was fairly well done,” he said.

Hard course. Hard game. But that hardly means Rahm’s out of contention; mid-afternoon Friday he was T13, just three shots out of second place.

“Luckily, I shot 7 under yesterday and I’m not too far off,” he said.

Dylan Dethier

Dylan Dethier

Golf.com Editor

Dylan Dethier is a senior writer for GOLF Magazine/GOLF.com. The Williamstown, Mass. native joined GOLF in 2017 after two years scuffling on the mini-tours. Dethier is a graduate of Williams College, where he majored in English, and he’s the author of 18 in America, which details the year he spent as an 18-year-old living from his car and playing a round of golf in every state.