Golf: Birdie blitz and eagle lift Rahm to Kapalua victory as Morikawa suffers meltdown

Jon Rahm of Spain celebrating with the trophy after winning the Tournament of Champions on Sunday. PHOTO: AFP

LOS ANGELES – Jon Rahm fired nine birdies and an eagle in a 10-under 63 on Sunday to surge past a faltering Collin Morikawa and win the Tournament of Champions by two strokes.

The Spaniard trailed third-round leader Morikawa by nine after a bogey at the first hole, and two-time Major winner Morikawa had pushed his six-shot overnight lead to seven after his third birdie of the day at the sixth.

Rahm, however, poured it on and his American rival cracked, allowing the former world No. 1 to capture his eighth PGA Tour title with a 27-under 265 on the par-73 Plantation Course at Kapalua in Hawaii.

Morikawa, whose bogeys at the 14th, 15th and 16th were his first of the week, carded a 72 for a 267. Tom Hoge (64) and Max Homa (66) were joint-third on 268.

Rahm said he would never have dreamt after his opening bogey that he would walk off the 72nd green with a three-shot lead.

“At that point, it’s not like winning is really that in mind,” he said. “You’ve just got to get to work and start making birdies, and that’s what I did.”

He drained a 12-footer for birdie at the second and added four more on the outward nine. “That stretch of four through six, birdieing nine, allowed me to get into a rhythm,” Rahm said.

But the real push came later, when he picked up five strokes in four holes with birdies at the 12th, 13th and 14th and an eagle at the par-five 15th.

The run started with a two-foot birdie at No. 12. After a 13-footer at No. 13, he tapped in at No. 14. After he rolled in an 11-foot eagle putt at No. 15 to get within one stroke of Morikawa, “that’s when I started thinking about it,” Rahm said.

He could not get a 10-foot birdie attempt to drop at No. 16, and he got a scare when he missed the green at No. 17 but got up and down for par before closing with a birdie at the par-five 18th.

Morikawa could not respond. “Sadness,” said the 25-year-old, seeking his first win since his second Major title at the 2021 British Open. “It sucks,” he added. “You work so hard and you give yourself opportunities and just bad timing on bad shots and it kind of added up really quickly.”

He was in a greenside bunker at the 14th, made a poor shot out and was unable to make the 10-footer to save par. He needed four shots to reach the green at the 15th and missed an eight-footer and bogeyed from the fairway at No. 16.

Morikawa said the result was more painful than his 2021 Hero World Challenge finish, where he took a five-shot lead into the final round with a chance to be world No. 1 but ended up tied for fifth and missing out on the top ranking.

“I don’t know what I’m going to learn from this week,” said Morikawa, who had appeared to be reaping the rewards of recent work with a putting specialist and short-game coach. “It just didn’t seem like it was that far off.”

Rahm’s win comes a year after his scorching 33-under total at Kapalua left him a stroke behind winner Cameron Smith, whose 34 under set a record for the lowest 72-hole score in relation to par in PGA Tour history.

He also scooped a US$2.7 million (S$3.6 million) winner’s prize from the US$15 million purse. It was boosted in the first of the Tour’s “elevated events” for 2023, featuring increased purses and promises of top fields in response to the Saudi-funded LIV Golf series.

World No. 2 Scottie Scheffler missed a chance to supplant Rory McIlroy atop the rankings. The reigning Masters champion needed to finish in a two-way tie for third or better but his 70 left him tied for seventh on 271. AFP

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