WASHINGTON (AFP) - Defending champion Jon Rahm was forced to withdraw from the US PGA Memorial tournament following a positive Covid-19 test on Saturday (June 5) after having seized a six-stroke lead with a stunning third round at Muirfield Village.
Rahm had tested negative for four consecutive days only to return a positive test from a sample collected Saturday morning, after he made an ace at the par-three 16th in concluding his darkness-halted second round with a two-shot lead.
The world No. 3 fired an impressive eight-under par 64 in Saturday’s third round, matching all-time records with an 18-under 198 score for 54 holes and a six-stroke lead at the famed Dublin, Ohio, layout.
Instead, Rahm was withdrawn and left Americans Patrick Cantlay, the 2019 Memorial winner, and Collin Morikawa, the 2020 PGA Championship winner, sharing the lead on 204.
Rahm was given the news by PGA Tour medical personnel as he walked off the 18th green at Muirfield Village Golf Club, where he is the defending champion.
“I’m very disappointed in having to withdraw from the Memorial Tournament,” Rahm said in a statement posted on Twitter.
“This is one of those things that happens in life, one of those moments where how we respond to a setback defines us as people.
“I’m very thankful that my family and I are all OK. I will take all of the necessary precautions to be safe and healthy, and I look forward to returning to the golf course as soon as possible.”
Unexpected co-leader Cantlay called it “the worst situation”.
“He played awesome today and it’s just really a shame,” he added.
The US PGA Tour said in a statement it had informed Rahm on Monday he had been in close contact with someone confirmed with Covid-19 and the 26-year-old Spaniard, who was asymptomatic, chose to compete under tighter virus safety protocols, including daily testing and restricted access to facilities.
Rahm’s Saturday test was returned as positive while Rahm was on the course in his third round, the tour said, and a second test requested by a PGA medical advisor also came back positive just before Rahm finished the third round.
When told of the result just off the 18th green, Rahm bent forward, his head in his hands and at his knees, then rose and yelled, “Not again.”
Rahm had dazzled on the back nine with a stretch of six birdies in seven holes to stand on 18-under 198 after 54 holes and six strokes ahead in Dublin, Ohio.
He had matched Tiger Woods from 2000 for the largest 54-hole lead in Memorial history. He was hoping to match Woods as the event’s only back-to-back winners.
His 198 matched Scott Hoch’s 54-hole tournament record from 1987.
American Scottie Scheffler, who played alongside Rahm and Cantlay in the third round, and South African Brenden Grace shared third on 207.
“My heart, it just sinks for him,” Scheffler said. “I just feel awful.”
Scheffler was confused by Rahm’s frustrated expression as they signed their cards, saying that when Rahm explained why “my heart just sank".
“It’s terrible that that happened,” Scheffler said. “I think it’s terrible they told him in front of the cameras.”
Cantlay said he has not been vaccinated for Covid-19.
“I’ve already had Covid, so I got to imagine I have antibodies, so I don’t feel too concerned,” Cantlay said.
Until the shock test result, the story of the day was Rahm’s impressive shotmaking, starting with his 183-yard ace with an eight-iron at the par-three 16th hole in the morning finish of round two, the third hole-in-one of his PGA career.
Rahm holed a birdie putt from just inside 17 feet at the par-four second and blasted out of a bunker to 13 feet before holing a birdie putt at the par-five fifth.
Rahm’s tee shot at the par-three eighth landed just outside five feet and he rolled in the putt before a bogey at the ninth left him one ahead of Cantlay at the turn.
Rahm had two runs of three birdies in a row on the back nine.
He two-putted from 12 feet to birdie the par-five 11th, angled in a 13-foot birdie putt at the par-three 12th and curled in a 15-foot putt at the par-four 13th.
He tapped in for birdie at the par-five 15th after missing a 10-foot eagle putt, then sank a 36-foot birdie putt at the 16th and holed an 11-foot birdie putt at the par-four 17th to reach 18-under before getting the devastating news after a closing par.