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Golf: Rahm a champion-in-waiting no more

By Andrew Both

SAN DIEGO, Calif. (Reuters) – Thirteen years after Torrey Pines hosted one of the greatest performances of Tiger Woods’ career, the city-owned course above the Pacific cliffs produced another compelling U.S. Open and a winner who has been a champion-in-waiting from the day he turned professional.

Jon Rahm appropriately took over the world No. 1 position on Sunday after finally securing his first major victory at the age of 26.

It speaks to Rahm’s talent that the only surprise is that it took him five years as a professional to secure one of the four championships that comprise the grand slam.

But when the Spaniard slammed the door shut on Louis Oosthuizen with clutch birdie putts at the final two holes on Sunday, the wait was over.

“He was a major champion-in-waiting. It was just a matter of time,” said Rory McIlroy, among those vanquished by Rahm.

“He’s won two tournaments in a row. I don’t care what anyone says.”

McIlroy was referring to the positive coronavirus test that knocked Rahm out of the recent Memorial tournament when he had a six-shot lead with one round left.

“He had that title,” McIlroy said.

“It was unfortunate at the end of the day, but he’s been playing some really, really good golf. Mentally, I think you have to be in a good place to bounce back from something like that.”


Rahm was the world’s top amateur when he left Arizona State University with a short, unique swing that was almost as quick as his famously hot temper.

Renowned as a gentle giant off the course, he frequently snapped on it after a bad shot.

And while certainly not unique in that regard, it was not a reputation he wanted his baby boy, Kepa, to grow up watching.

He perceived a new attitude at last month’s PGA Championship and it carried over at the U.S. Open.

“I believe it’s because I really set out myself to be an example for my son that he would be proud of, and I’ve done some stuff in the past on the golf course that I’m not proud of, and I wish I could eliminate it,” Rahm said.

“But I’ve accepted it. I’m not saying it’s going to be smooth sailing until the end, but … in the past I’ve gotten frustrated in the U.S. Open.

“I’ve made a lot of birdies and a ton of bogeys and double bogeys, and I was able to kind of switch it up this week and actually made more birdies than bogeys.”

Rahm’s victory capped off a drama-filled U.S. Open Sunday that had it all: a close finish, a collapse by the defending champion, a ball up a tree and even a golf club-carrying streaker who ran onto the 13th fairway wearing what appeared to be a gay pride flag.

The man even had time to take a few impressive-looking swings before being finally apprehended by the long arm of the law.

The incident was just another footnote to a major season that has produced the first Japanese player to win a major (Hideki Matsuyama at the Masters), the oldest-ever major champion (Phil Mickelson at the PGA Championship) and now the first Spanish winner of the U.S. Open.

Next up, the British Open at Royal St. George’s next month.

It will take something pretty special to provide a fitting finale to the 2021 major campaign that is already destined to go down as one for the ages.

(Reporting by Andrew Both in San Diego; Editing by Matthew Lewis)



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