The formidable posture and play of Jon Rahm when he’s at his best is something to behold, and on Saturday it was all on display over just a few minutes in the late afternoon light at Riviera Country Club.
The day’s last threesome of Rahm, Max Homa and Keith Mitchell arrived at Riviera’s majestic 18th in the third round of the Genesis Invitational with the Spaniard holding a two-shot lead over the other two. Rahm made three birdies over four holes in the middle of the round, while Homa cracked a bit with bogeys at 15 and 16, and Mitchell was hanging on for dear life without a bogey.
If either of the pursuers could birdie the finisher to go with a Rahm par, the margin would be a single shot heading into Sunday’s final round.
But this is Jon Rahm in Southern California, playing on the kikuyu and poa annua surfaces that are like an expensively woven carpet to him. And he is a man playing with the highest of confidence that comes with two wins and a pair of other close calls in a calendar year that is not two months old.
So this is what happened: Mitchell missed a 6-foot putt for par, Homa terribly fluffed a greenside chip and made a nervy par save, and Rahm lofted his an iron from the rough to 24 feet and drained the birdie putt to elicit a roar in Riviera’s grass amphitheatre.
Is there any better way to step on the necks of your closest competitors than to have them witness it first-hand?
Rahm’s bogey-free, six-under-par 65 pushed him to a 15-under total and a three-shot lead over Homa (69) and a four-stroke advantage against Mitchell (69) heading into a final round in which they will again be grouped together. Behind them and barely within striking distance, considering Riviera’s stubbornness at giving up low scores, are UCLA alum Patrick Cantlay (68) at 10-under and Gary Woodland (67), who won the 2019 US Open at Pebble Beach, at nine-under.
There’s a pattern there. Mitchell, with one PGA Tour victory, is the only player among the top five who has not won an event in California, and Rahm is seemingly on his way to joining the likes of Johnny Miller, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods in becoming golf’s golden boys in the Golden State. He’s won twice at Torrey Pines (in the Farmers Insurance and 2021 US Open) and twice, including this year, in the Coachella Valley, and a victory here would give him the SoCal trifecta, along with a distinction that Rahm himself pointed out on Saturday: Neither Woods nor Nicklaus have ever lifted a trophy at Riviera.
“I can make an argument about any event that I play in about being able to check something off, but the fact that Tiger is the host – the fact that he’s out here playing and the history of this golf course as a venue – is two reasons why I would love to be able to win here. It’s a very select group of champions, and you join a list of champions that, frankly, Tiger and Jack have never joined, which probably never happens on any other golf course but this one, right?”
Woods’ presence was felt in the third round after he made the weekend cut on the number at one over and started on the 10th tee. There were times when Woods’ and Rahm’s galleries were nearly side-by-side on the cozy property, albeit with a much larger crowd following the tournament host.
They got their share of excitement when Woods eagled the first en route to shooting 67, but the man playing in his first tournament since last July finds himself 12 shots back of the leader and World No.3.