Jon Rahm claimed his first major title in typical swashbuckling style with a superb closing round of 67 at the 121st US Open helping him scramble over the line after a chaotic closing Sunday in San Diego.
In producing a glorious finale at a windswept Torrey Pines, Rahm emulated icons Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson as the only US Open winners to settle their respective victories with birdies on the 71st and 72nd holes at America's national championship.
While several leading names collapsed – most notably defending champion Bryson DeChambeau who carded a farcical 77 on an afternoon of widespread carnage in the wind on the unforgiving 7,685-yard South Course perched on the Pacific Ocean – Rahm stood up to the pressure to finish on six under having started the day on two under, three strokes off the lead.
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He rolled home a birdie from around 25 feet on the 17th hole and repeated the trick on 18 from 18 feet before pumping his fists before a raucous gallery, realising the enormity of the moment having made a birdie on nine before piecing together seven straight priceless pars with the chasing pack reduced to tatters by tight fairways and tighter pin positions.
Louis Oosthuizen – Rahm's nearest challenger all afternoon while the field was crushed in the breeze – saw his hopes collapse when a wayward drive on the par four 17th hole forced him to take a penalty shot as he dropped a stroke to fall back to four under when he needed a par to stay within one before the closing par-five.
The 2010 Open champion required an eagle on the 18th hole to match Rahm, but finding rough on the final hole with his drive condemned him to an agonising sixth runner-up place at a major.
He was forced to lay up and could only make birdie to fall one shot short of Rahm, who joins Seve Ballesteros, Jose Maria Olazabal and Sergio Garcia as Spain's fourth major winner and the country's first US Open champion.
26-year-old Rahm also returns to the summit of the sport as world number one with rounds of 69, 70, 72 and 67 giving him a winning total of 278 with a maturity of shot selection belying his former status as a player prone to tantrums in arguably the most demanding test in major tournament golf.
It was perhaps fitting that Rahm – the 8/1 pre-tournament favourite – finally came good at Torrey having being cleared to play in the event only two days before it began after testing positive for Covid-19. He came good only five years after turning professional.
The Ryder Cup player was forced to suffer the agony of withdrawing from the Memorial Tournament in Ohio on 5 June holding a six-shot lead after three rounds before being forced to self-isolate, but it could not rob him of his trademark desire or intensity.
"I'm a big believer in karma and after what happened a couple of weeks ago, I stayed really positive knowing that big things were coming," he said after carrying baby son Kepa to the scorer's office knowing he was on the cusp of greatness.
"I didn't know what it was going to be but I knew we were coming to a special place, I got my breakthrough win here and it's a very special place for my family.
"The fact my parents were able to come, I got out of Covid protocol early, I just felt like the starts were aligning. I knew my best golf was to come and I have a hard time explaining what just happened because I can't believe I made the last two putts and I'm the first Spanish player to win the US Open."
Paying tribute to the five-times major winner and Ryder Cup magician Ballesteros – who tragically died aged only 54 in May 2011 after fighting a brain tumour – Rahm believes the US Open was one the Spanish icon wanted having lifted two Masters and three Open Championships. Ballesteros' best finish was third at the 1987 US Open.
Seve Ballesteros while Ryder Cup captain in 1997
Image credit: Reuters
This was definitely for Seve. We talk about the Masters, but I knew he tried a lot..he wanted to win this most of all.
"Everything that has happened here, I'm just happy. In San Diego, we are in our spot," commented Rahm in reference to the scene of his first PGA title in 2017 and the backdrop to proposing to his wife Kelley at Torrey Pines.
It was perhaps a matter of time before Rahm snared a big one, but such major moments are hard to come by. He shared fifth spot at the Masters in April and eighth at the US PGA Championship last month.
Jon Rahm celebrates holing a key birdie putt at the 72nd hole.
Image credit: Eurosport
His best finish before this trip to Torrey in a major was a share of third spot at the US Open two years ago when Gary Woodland claimed the title at Pebble Beach.
While Rahm was rampant, DeChambeau will reflect on a back nine of nightmarish proportions including two bogeys, a double bogey on the 13th and a quadruple-bogey eight on the par-four 17th.
He had led the tournament at five under having reached the turn in 33, but astonishingly needed 44 hacking blows on the way back to finish in a tie for 26th place on plus three.
Rory McIlroy enjoyed a share of the lead on four under early on the final day after making birdie on the fourth, but the Northern Irishman, chasing a first major since 2014, finished with a 73 and a tie for seventh place on one under.
121st US Open final leaderboard
- -6 Jon Rahm
- -5 Louis Oosthuizen
- -3 Harris English
- -2 Guido Migliozzi, Brooks Koepka, Collin Morikawa
- -1 Rory McIlroy, Branden Grace, Scottie Scheffler, Daniel Berger, Paul Casey, Xander Schauffele
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