Jon Rahm stepped onto the 10th tee looking serious, focused, and aware of the responsibility that rests on his shoulders. Just as Justin Rose said yesterday: “He flies the Spanish flag every week in the US, and playing here is like a hero coming home”. Even more so when you realise that today was the National Day of Spain. Of course, the hero delivered. The Spaniard signed for a four-under 67 to keep his chances of winning his fourth ACCIONA Open de España presented by Madrid alive and well.
It is hard to explain how a round that currently has him tied 9th was a damp squib compared to what it could have been. But these are the realms the Basque player operates in, the demands he and his fans place on him are phenomenal.
The first 8 holes were golfing perfection from tee to green; eight greens in regulation, eight fairways found. His driving today was out of this world. It is as if he is playing a different sport to the rest from the tee. The positions he played his second from on the 8th and 15th holes today were a pure demonstration of the fact that Casa de Campo’s par 4s are child’s play to him. Unfortunately for the Spaniard, the putter was not cooperating. Seven times, Jon had significant birdie chances that slipped by the hole. Imagine the day he would have had if the flatstick were behaving itself.
The only blemish on his card came on the 18th (his 9th). To the surprise of the spectators, the Basque opted for the conservative option from the tee, reaching for a long iron rather than his driver. The golf gods were quick to punish him. It is hard to understand, given the way he was striking the ball, why the cover stayed on the ‘big dog’. Even more so when you consider that he almost always hits driver from that tee. In any case, the hole had its way with him. He found a tough lie in the rough, followed by a semi-plugged ball in the bunker, and a lip-out from 3 feet that would have saved his par. It is doubtful we will see him hit an iron off that tee over the next three days, wherever the tee-box might be.
Rahm stayed true to his traditions and again brought Club de Campo’s par 5s to their knees. This is his calling card, and he proves it every time he tees it up. Of the four shots he stole from the course, three came on par 5s. One birdie on each, with a 24-footer for eagle that took a close look on the 14th. His drive on that hole today backed up what he told us here one year ago: “There is a false narrative about me that says I’m unable to hit a draw, it’s not true”. Anyone who witnessed his tee shot on his fifth hole today was left in no doubt.
Rahm looked relaxed all day and handled the floods of people who came to see him better than perhaps even he expected. He remained patient, despite the countless chances that passed him by and even smiled when a ruling did not go his way. ‘Pick and place’ was in play today and his ball settled on the line between the fairway and the first cut. He was ordered not to touch it, but no matter, he smiled and moved on. There was only one moment when he lost his temper, and it was with himself. From 100 yards away he left the ball 60 feet from the hole. His high floating wedge came out hot and flew the flag. There is a slim chance we will see a repeat of the shot again this week. Of course, he saved par with two putts, the first of which was pure class.
On a day on which he could not have let more birdie chances slip by the hole, Jon Rahm looks like he will find himself two or three shots off the lead come Friday morning. Rest assured, there will not be a repeat of today. While yesterday he was favourite, now he is even more so. Rahm takes no prisoners. Expect the Barrika native to go low tomorrow. So frequently does he produce, that we have come to expect it, and he always delivers.