By Neil Leverett
- Jon Rahm wins 121st US Open by one stroke over Louis Oosthuizen at Torrey Pines, San Diego
- Spaniard claims first major after Sunday of high drama, as the big names eventually fall away
- Rory McIlroy floored by 12th-hole bunker; Bryson DeChambeau relinquishes crown after costly driving errors
SAN DIEGO – As Jon Rahm claimed his first major this past weekend in San Diego, what did we learn from the 121st US Open at Torrey Pines?
US Open classic at Torrey Pines
The US Open has often been regarded as the toughest major on the golfing calendar to win.
Just like it was last year at Winged Foot, the 121st edition at Torrey Pines was no different, but before it had shown its teeth, Sunday’s final round had staged great sporting theatre, as Jon Rahm came out on top in San Diego, winning his first major.
Few final rounds in a major have built to such a crescendo, where at one stage over the final 18 holes, just a single shot separated the top 10.
As the field bunched up over the front nine, a stellar cast of names had queued up to claim the prize.
Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas – albeit briefly before another wayward tee shot wrecked his surge – Bryson DeChambeau and Louis Oosthuizen all circled to claim another major for themselves.
It was refreshing to see such competition after last year’s ‘Last Man Standing’ in New York with a margin of victory of six strokes, and as Rahm’s explosive outburst came out over the final two holes, Torrey Pines had played its own part in a US Open classic.
Rahm enters major circle
For Jon Rahm, Torrey Pines was his moment in the sun.
The overwhelming favourite at the tournament’s outset, the Spaniard had been denied victory at Memorial only two weekends prior due to a positive COVID-19 test, but his win at the Farmers Insurance on the same South Course four years ago, had for many, seen the stars align.
So it proved.
As all around him fell by the wayside on Sunday, Rahm meanwhile, finished his round 3-4 to pip Oosthuizen to the trophy, via two left-to-right putts at 17 and 18 of the highest calibre. Jumping to -6 on the final green, the glee of both the San Diego galleries watching and the Spaniard himself, were palpable.
And as a desperate Oosthuizen then found the penalty area following his drive at 17 – dropping a shot – his birdie at 18 proved academic.
Rahm had rightfully earned his placed at the top as former World number one, but it’s worth considering a moment earlier in his round that could have seen a very different outcome for the man from the Basque Country.
After his tee shot on the 9th appeared to have veered far enough left to clear a hospitality fence, Rahm would have breathed a sigh of immense relief, as not only had his ball been stopped by a small line of braiding, but he was then afforded a free relief drop.
Rahm laid up onto the fairway with his second, but his approach was majestic, as he holed his medium putt to make a remarkable four. After the nightmare of Muirfield Village then, it seems the golfing gods were watching over Rahm at Torrey Pines.
McIlroy announces major return
So it appears Rory McIlroy may be on the path back back to the major winners’ circle after all. And perhaps, on another day the man from Holywood would have been the one clutching the US Open trophy late on Sunday night. But it was not to be.
But this was a more steely, less error-strewn Northern Irishman than we have seen in major competition for some two years. Indeed, after shooting 67 on Saturday, McIlroy had positioned himself in the penultimate pairing for the final round, just two strokes off the lead.
During a final round where the names continued to leapfrog one another, McIlroy had the openings, but the putts would not go in often enough.
At the 7th, his effort to tie the lead from nine feet came up short; at the next two holes a similar tale played out. Then, after turning for home, McIlroy three-putted to record a damaging bogey four at the 11th, before his chances were effectively ended at 12.
Finding the sand after his drive, the four-time major winner sliced his shot into the green and found another bunker, as his ball plugged on the downslope, close to the trap’s lip. Blasting out onto the opposite bank, his fourth shot then flopped onto the green, but McIlroy could not get down in two. A double-bogey six ended his chances of ending the seven-year itch, finishing T7.
But McIlroy should take huge heart from this showing, and as he returns to the home shores of The Open, the 2014 winner of the Gold Medal at the Royal Liverpool, may feel is timing his return home to perfection.
DeChambeau not learning from mistakes
Similarly in the case of Bryson DeChambeau, for periods over the final 18 holes, it looked as though a repeat winner of the US Open was on the cards. After missing the cut at the Masters and somewhat scrambling at Kiawah Island last month, the Modesto native made a hearty defence of the crown he won some handsomely at Winged Foot last September, but unlike in New York, The Scientist’s powers backfired here.
But not for the first time. Poised to strike on Sunday, the DeChambeau had forged his way into the lead at the turn over the final 18 holes, but his back nine turned into a tale of woe.
Finding trouble at 11 and 12 to drop consecutive shots, DeChambeau’s continuing errant drives were the source of his downfall again, and after hacking around in the Torrey Pines rough from one side to another, took a seven at 13, before his quadruple-bogey eight at 17, completed his dramatic fall from grace.
Shooting +8 for the final nine holes to finish +3 overall, the 27-year-old appears to be looking to his patented power game to bail him out, but it is only serving to cause greater consternation. Slips on tee boxes aside, familiar foibles remain in the Californian’s game, that mere brawn cannot iron out.
Until DeChambeau addresses those issues, his one major one last year could be his only victory for some time. But will his game allow that?
Louis Oosthuizen will be ruing his latest missed opportunity to end a 10-plus year major drought, but, as the former Open champion prepares to make the trip to Royal St. George’s next month, he can surely be confident of being not only a contender on the Kent links, but as one of the favourites also.
Winner at St. Andrews back in 2010, the South Africa at times on the South Course looked imperious this weekend, but Oosthuizen had not reckoned on the roaring Rahm over the final holes.
Spare a thought also for Richard Bland, who after breaking a record as the oldest man to hold the 36-hole lead in a US Open, found the going over the weekend a rather more chastening experience. The 48-year-old Englishman from Burton, picked up his first European Tour win at the Belfry only last month – at the 478th attempt no less – and for a while in the Golden State, his second win looked like it might be of greater significance.
Bland however, was not the first surprise name to be humbled in a major and will certainly not be the last either. After a bogey on the 11th hole on Saturday, the four signaled a run of 11 dropped shots without a birdie across the weekend.
Bland finished +8, but leaves Torrey Pines with unique memories.
Russell Henley and Mackenzie Hughes also discovered the unforgiving nature of the final round in a major. In the case of the former, Henley, 32, had led the field from the end of Thursday and shared the lead into Sunday with both Hughes and Oosthuizen.
But the South Carolinian bogeyed 6,7 and 8 on the front nine to diffuse his charge, as Henley finished level par. Hughes meanwhile, finished a shot further back at +1, after losing five strokes over the final holes, triggered, by great misfortune at the 11th.
Seeing his iron into the green find a tree but bounce out, his ball rebound back into the branches as he took double-bogey five. In the end, it was a baptism fire for the Canadian.
Brooks Koepka also will be ruing a missed chance of claiming a third US Open in five years, after a 4-4-6 finish.
Having picked up four shots up to the 13th, the 2017 and 2018 winner was just a single stroke off the lead, with all around him finding trouble, and appeared set to sneak in the back door.
But shooting +2 for the final three holes ended his challenge. It is yet another top five finish for the Floridian, but Koepka might just be wondering what might have been. But make no mistake, Brooks is back.
The 149th Open Championship begins at Royal St. George’s on July 15.
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