Golf: Rahm, Stenson share halfway lead at Hero World Challenge as Tiger escapes penalty

Jon Rahm (left) fired a nine-under par 63 to join Henrik Stenson (right) on 10-under 134.
Jon Rahm (left) fired a nine-under par 63 to join Henrik Stenson (right) on 10-under 134.PHOTOS: AFP/GETTY IMAGES

NASSAU (AFP) - Big-hitting Spaniard Jon Rahm muscled his way to a share of the Hero World Challenge lead on Friday (Nov 30), firing a nine-under par 63 to join Henrik Stenson on 10-under 134.

Rahm, 24, birdied four of his outward nine holes and five over the home stretch on the Albany course to share a one-shot lead with Stenson, who signed for a 66.

The victorious European Ryder Cup duo are one shot clear of the American pair of Dustin Johnson (67) and overnight co-leader Patrick Cantlay (70).

Tournament host Tiger Woods had a share of ninth place in the elite 18-player field with five birdies through 16 bogey-free holes before coming unstuck at the last.

The 14-time Major champion's tee shot came to rest under a bush. He crouched down to hit an eight-iron back to the fairway, finally walking off with a double bogey six that left him sharing 14th place on two-under par.

Woods at least escaped a penalty for hitting the ball twice as he tried to get out from under the bush.

Ultraslow motion, high definition video replay showed the ball did indeed make contact with the clubface twice, but a rule measure introduced in May 2017 says that such high-tech means cannot be used to impose a penalty if an infraction cannot be "reasonably" seen by the naked eye.

"Under slow motion and high definition you can see the ball did hit the clubface twice, but in real time I didn't feel that at all," Woods said after waiting out a 40 minute review. "So there is no penalty."

Rahm's round was smooth sailing in contrast.

"I missed one fairway, I believe, and that's only because they put a patch of rough in the middle of the fairway on four, so that was kind of how everything went today," said Rahm, who is making his debut in the US$3 million (S$4.1 million) tournament that offers world rankings points even though it is not an official US PGA Tour event.

Rahm's 63 was one shot shy of his career-best 62 posted en route to a second US PGA Tour title in La Quinta, California, last January.

That was not Rahm's only taste of success in 2018. He also won the Spanish Open and after finishing fourth two weeks ago in defence of his DP World Tour Championship title, he is looking to end the calendar year on a winning note.

"This year was a big year of personal growth more than my golf game," he said. "I was actually quite surprised on how well I played compared to what I had going on in my personal life and a lot of things going on.

"A lot of like I said, personal growth. I was able to play just as good golf. I won twice, the Career Builder and the Spanish Open, which is a huge win for me, got in contention in a couple of majors, and then hopefully finish strong today and this week."

Stenson, who has battled tendonitis in his left elbow, was runner-up in the event two years ago and like Rahm, is keen to continue an impressive list of 'international' champions of the event with six of the past 19 winners being non-American.

"I'm trying hard to be first making it to the finish line," he said.

"I haven't played a lot of golf since the Ryder Cup as I've had an injury problem, so I was out for five weeks and I haven't played that much.

"I guess I should be a little bit fresher than some of my colleagues who played out in Hong Kong or somewhere else at this point of the year. So, we'll just keep on going, try to make as many birdies as we can."