Planet Golf — 18 June 2021 by GW staff and news services
Putter propels Rahm to U.S. Open title

SAN DIEGO — Two career-changing putts for Jon Rahm brought two trophies Sunday.

He cradled his 3-month-old son, Kepa, as he walked off the 18th green at Torrey Pines on Father’s Day. And then he collected the silver U.S. Open trophy after a performance filled with passion and absent of blunders that wiped out everyone else.

Rahm made a bending 25-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole to catch Louis Oosthuizen. He buried another curling, left-to-right birdie putt from 18 feet on the final hole for a 4-under 67 and a one-shot victory.

“Little man, you have no idea what this means right now,” Rahm said to his son on the practice range when he won. “You will soon enough.”

The 26-year-old Rahm became the first Spaniard to win the U.S. Open, finally getting the major prize to go along with his enormous talent. 

On a back nine filled with double bogeys by so many contenders and a shocking meltdown by defending champion Bryson DeChambeau, Oosthuizen was the last to fall.

Trailing by one shot, Oosthuizen drove into the canyon left of the 17th fairway for a bogey that left him two shots behind, and then he missed the fairway on the par-5 18th that kept him from going for the green for a look at eagle to force a playoff.

He settled for a birdie and a 71. It was his second straight runner-up in a major, and his sixth silver medal since he won the Open Championship in 2010 at St. Andrews.

“Look, it’s frustrating. It’s disappointing,” Oosthuizen said .”I’m playing good golf, but winning a major championship is not just going to happen. You need to go out and play good golf. I played good today, but I didn’t play good enough.”

Only two weeks ago, Rahm was on the cusp of another big win. He had a six-shot lead at the Memorial after 54 holes, only to be notified as he walked off the 18th green at Muirfield Village that he had a positive COVID-19 test and had to withdraw.

Worse yet, his parents had flown in from Spain to see their new grandson, and Rahm was in self-isolation and couldn’t be there for a special moment.

Sunday made up for it. His parents were at Torrey Pines to witness a world-class performance capped off by one of the great finishes in U.S. Open history.

“It had to happen in a beautiful setting like this,” Rahm said. “Three generations of Rahms on this green. One of them doesn’t know what’s going on.”

For so much of the back nine, it was utter chaos with blunders that can define a U.S. Open.

DeChambeau, trying to become only the fourth player since World War II to win back-to-back in the U.S. Open, took the lead with an 8-iron that stopped inches away from a hole-in-one on the par-3 eighth. He had gone 30 consecutive holes without a bogey.

And then his lack of accuracy off the tee cost him. A bogey on No. 11. A bogey from deep rough on No. 12. And then on the par-5 13th, DeChambeau went from deep rough to deep rough to bunker, blasting out of the sand over the green next to a beer box, making double bogey.

He took a quadruple-bogey 8 on the 17th hole with a shot in the canyon and a shank. He shot 44 on the back nine for a 77.

“I didn’t get off the rails at all. It’s golf,” DeChambeau said. “I’ve had plenty of times where I hit it way worse than today and I won. It’s just one of those things where I didn’t have the right breaks happen at the right time.”

Mackenzie Hughes, one shot behind going to the back nine, had his tee shot on the par-3 11th bounce off a cart path and get stuck in a tree, leading to a double bogey that ended his chances. Former PGA Championship winner Collin Morikawa chopped his way down the 13th for double bogey that took him from one shot behind to out of the mix.

Rory McIlroy wasn’t immune, either. With a chance to end his seven-year drought in the majors, McIlroy made a careless three-putt for bogey on the 11th when he was one shot behind, and then caught a bad lie in the bunker that led to double bogey on No. 12.

Of the contenders, Rahm was the only player who didn’t drop a shot on the back nine.

Harris English finished with two birdies for a 68 to finish at 3-under 281, giving him third place.

Brooks Koepka got within one shot of the lead — it was so close that 10 players were separated by one shot during one point in the final round — until he made a pair of bogeys coming in for a 69. He tied for fourth with Morikawa (70) and Guido Migliozzi, who shot 68 in his major debut.

Rahm becomes the second player this year to capture his first major, joining with Hideki Matsuyama at the Masters.

What a perfect time, a first-time dad winning on Father’s Day.

What a perfect place — La Jolla, which reminds him of his home in the Basque region of Spain, the site of his first PGA TOUR victory, where he proposed to his wife.

“I’m a big believer in karma, and after what happened a couple weeks ago, I stayed really positive knowing good things were coming,” Rahm said. “I didn’t know what it was going to be, but I knew we were coming to a special place.

“I just felt like the stars were aligning, and I knew my best golf was to come.”

He earned 600 FedExCup points and moved up 17 spots to No. 2 in the FedExCup standings.

Rahm finished at 5-under 278 for his sixth PGA TOUR victory. The first one was at Torrey Pines four years ago when he holed a 50-foot eagle putt on the 18th.

THIRD ROUND

SAN DIEGO — Once the fog finally lifted over Torrey Pines, a familiar figure in the U.S. Open was plain to see.

A long Thursday ended in darkness with Russell Henley in the lead and Louis Oosthuizen poised to join him when the fog-delayed opening round wrapped up Friday morning. There were a few surprises, typical of the start at most majors.

And there was Brooks Koepka.

In the U.S. Open, there is always Brooks Koepka.

“Not the best,” he said. “But I’ll definitely take it.”

With a simple plan and solid execution for most any U.S. Open course, Koepka shot 2-under 69 to extend his incredible record. It was his sixth consecutive round in the 60s at the major with a reputation for being golf’s toughest test.

Dating to the final round at Oakmont, 11 of his last 14 rounds have been in the 60s in the Open.

“I’ve just got a good game plan, focused, I know what I’m doing, and I don’t try to do anything I can’t,” Koepka said. “It’s just all about discipline in a U.S. Open. That’s I guess the gist of it.”

Oosthuizen was among 36 players who failed to finish because of the 90-minute fog delay at the start. They were to resume Friday morning and then head right into their second rounds.

Henley’s first visit in seven years to the rough-and-tumble South course at Torrey Pines went a lot better than the last time, especially under the circumstances. Anything around par never hurts in a U.S. Open, and his 4-under 67 was 12 shots better than his one-and-done appearance in the PGA Tour stop.

osthuizen, a runner-up at the PGA Championship last month at Kiawah Island, was at 4 under and had two holes remaining.

The course was as tough as advertised. The wind was a little more than expected, and it doesn’t take much to add to the challenge.

“If it’s blowing like this the whole week, it’s just going to be a hard week. That’s kind of what you want in a U.S. Open, though, right?” Henley said.

Henley got up-and-down by holing a 6-foot birdie putt on the par-5 18th hole for a one-shot lead over Francesco Molinari and Rafa Cabrera Bello among those who finished.

Koepka, with two wins and a silver medal in his last three U.S. Opens, was joined at 69 by the likes of Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama, Jon Rahm, San Diego native Xander Schauffele and Hayden Buckley, who plays the Korn Ferry Tour and made his major championship debut.

“Any time in a U.S. Open you’re under par it’s a great start and today was just that,” Rahm said.

Sebastian Munoz also was 2 under and had four holes remaining.

The difference between Torrey Pines for a PGA Tour stop in January and Torrey for the toughest test in golf? Henley couldn’t say. He has only played the Farmers Insurance Open one time, in 2014, and it was memorable for the wrong reasons. He holed a 40-foot shot on the 18th hole for birdie to break 80.

That’s about all he remembers except for “leaving the course feeling like I just got beat up.”

There was plenty of bruising going on Thursday in the U.S. Open.

Former U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson had to birdie the last hole to break 80. Jordan Spieth opened with a 77 — he now is 25-over par in his last four U.S. Open rounds. Max Homa four-putted from 20 feet for triple bogey on No. 12 and three-putted for double bogey on No. 14 on his way to a 76.

Defending champion Bryson DeChambeau pounded driver and did plenty of gouging from the rough, though Torrey Pines doesn’t seem quite as suitable for the style he so beautifully executed at Winged Foot last September in a six-shot victory. DeChambeau had to play the final five holes in 2 under to salvage a 73.

PGA champion Phil Mickelson, who turned 51 on Wednesday, shot a 75 on Thursday. That’s not the start he hoped for in his bid to finally get a U.S. Open title for the career Grand Slam. What bothered him were two soft bogeys toward the end of his round.

“Look, it’s part of this tournament, and I was able to go without any doubles. I just didn’t make enough birdies to offset it,” Mickelson said.

Rory McIlroy birdied his final hole in near darkness for a 70, a good sign for a player who has fallen behind too far in too many first rounds at majors. Dustin Johnson had a 71 with one birdie and one bogey, nothing dynamic but suitable for a U.S. Open.

There were a few cheers for “Bryson” directed at Koepka as fans tried to keep their feud going, though Koepka didn’t appear to be the least bit distracted. This is a major, and he showed why he’s called “Big Game Brooks” when the biggest tournaments roll around.

Koepka has beaten 464 or the 465 players he has faced in the last three U.S. Opens he played. He sat out Winged Foot last year with injuries to his left knee and hip.

For so much of the day, Koepka made it look easy by keeping it in the short grass, off the tee and on the green. He was bogey-free and 4 under through 11 holes when he missed the green on the par-3 third and made bogey, and he dropped another shot from on the sixth, which has been converted to a par 4 for the U.S. Open.

Even so, it was a solid start for Koepka, a four-time major champion coming off a runner-up finish to Mickelson at the PGA Championship. It wasn’t easy. He made it sound that way.

“It’s pretty simple. It’s a lot simpler than what guys make it,” Koepka said. “I think a lot of guys make it more difficult than it needs to be. Just got to understand where the flag is, what you’re doing and where to miss it.”

The surprise might have been Molinari, the former British Open champion who has not been the same since losing a two-shot lead on the back nine at the Masters two years ago that paved the way for Tiger Woods slipping on another green jacket.

The Italian had to pull out of the PGA Championship with a sore back. He mentioned other nagging injuries. He’s had three top 10s this year. He also has missed the cut in three of the last four tournaments he played. But he was solid at Torrey, and two birdies over his last three allowed him to match his best start in a U.S. Open.

“There’s no tricks. You need to grind and fight for 18 holes and then relax until tomorrow and start over again,” he said. “I haven’t played recently, so it’s nice to get off to a good start, but there’s a long way to go. Start over tomorrow like nothing happened today.”

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