Pressure, that great intangible that separates the greats from the legends. The pressure that consumes most, only spurs Jon Rahm on. We saw it at the Paris Ryder Cup against Tiger, in the US Open with his two magical putts at Torrey Pines and when he stubbornly drained an astonishing 66-foot putt to steal the BMW Championship from Dustin Johnson. We did not see it today though.
He reached the 6th hole at 3 over par and the hordes of fans at the Club de Campo Villa de Madrid were in a state of disbelief. A strange murmur washed over the crowds, the press and even his playing partners, Arnaus and Besseling. Such was Rahm’s favouritism that he had practically been awarded the trophy before he stepped off his plane. There is one simple reason why he has not delivered on it: golf. On Friday he battled through a tough day to shoot 67. To do so two days on the trot with a misfiring swing and without holing a putt is practically impossible.
The man from Barrika is not used to having days like today. The trouble he found early in his round only served as a reminder of yesterday’s difficulties. A poor attempt at a flop shot on the 3rd set the tone for the rest of his day.
A misbehaving driver and a stone-cold putter on the 5th raised the alarm. He hit a provisional ball on the 6th after a wild drive and from there things really began to unwind. The Basque ferociously swished his driver in anger. However, the worst was yet to come. He found his first ball under some bushes and did his best to chip it out. On his third shot, his club snagged in the rough… cue a double bogey, drama and a hot-headed world number one.
On the 7th he hit a nerve-jangling eagle putt. With everything that had come before, Rahm had to go for broke and played to barely trickle his ball over the top of a tier. It all but stopped before, much to the relief of the Spaniard, creeping to the edge of the hole. Gimme birdie and relief.
It would not last long though. Even his ever-reliable bunker game was failing him. His lack of control from the sand on 11 was extraordinarily poor by his standards. His face was a picture of fury and desperation. He was bewildered, and not surprisingly, it has been a long time since the Basque native last played so poorly two days in a row. His biggest source of frustration was his driving. Over the last two days, his fade off the tee seems to have completely deserted him. His ball is stubbornly refusing to cut and Jon was baffled as he watched it make a beeline for the left-hand side of the course time and time again.
Towards the end of his round he looked to have relaxed into the realisation that this is golf and there will always be days on which the course gets the better of you. He frequently talks about his continuous drive to better control his emotions. The psychological work he has been doing is evident. The images of rampant fits of rage from his early days on the PGA Tour are a thing of the past.
He eventually signed for 72, his worst score at an Open de España. Tomorrow he will tee off six shots behind Rafa Cabrera-Bello who reached -17 to top the leaderboard. Despite the mountain he is faced with in round 4, you can be in no doubt that he will give his all to conquer it.
He is by far the best player in the world, and more than worthy of his world number one spot, but he is not immortal. Saturday was one of the most difficult rounds in his professional career, but don’t worry, he will come back stronger.