DUBLIN, Ohio (AP)Jon Rahm is ready to start over at the Memorial as tempting as it is to look back.
That last shot he hit at Muirfield Village was tapping in for par on the 18th hole that gave him a six-shot lead and a place in the tournament record book for sharing the lowest 54-hole lead. And that’s as far as he got.
Rahm was notified of a positive COVID-19 test that knocked him out of the tournament.
”I was mad for about 10 minutes,” Rahm said. ”I allowed myself to be upset. But instantly, my switch flipped and I called my wife and I made sure that she was OK and my son was OK.”
Moments later, he said he was sharing a laugh with his caddie as they sipped on a milkshake. What else was there to do?
”At that moment, I chose to just remember how good I had played,” Rahm said, and that good form continued when he returned two weeks later and captured his first major in the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.
He returns to Memorial having won a month ago in the Mexico Open, and there is no feeling of Muirfield Village owing him anything. Patrick Cantlay wound up winning in a playoff over Collin Morikawa – oddly enough, Cantlay ended up beating Rahm again at the end of the season in the Tour Championship to claim the FedEx Cup.
”It’s not like I get one more round. It’s a whole new tournament,” Rahm said. ”Is it motivation? Yes. But you know, it’s not much more added to what I already had. … The good thing about golf is there’s always a next week and a next year. I have another chance this time.”
Winning the Memorial is motivation enough. It is one of three PGA Tour events of elevated status that offers a $12 million purse and a three-year exemption. The others are the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Genesis Invitational at Riviera with Tiger Woods as the host.
And the field, again, is among the strongest.
Even without Masters champion and world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, the Memorial has attracted seven of the top 10 in the world ranking, many of whom see this as a strong test ahead of the U.S. Open in two weeks outside Boston.
Rahm missed out on his chance to join Woods as the only back-to-back winners at the Memorial. Even so, it’s a reminder that he can play this course as well as any – a win in 2020 and everything but a trophy the following year.
It wasn’t always that way.
A year after he received the Jack Nicklaus Award as the nation’s best college player, Rahm made his Memorial debut in 2017 with rounds of 73-77 to miss the cut.
”I absolutely hated it. I didn’t play good,” Rahm said. ”I was just like, `I’m done. Never going back. And Adam (Hayes), my caddie, kept telling me, `This place is great for you. You just need to learn certain holes and certain shots, and you’ll be great for it.’
He returned three years later and won.
”Yeah, feelings changed. It’s definitely a golf course where you have to learn a bit of the strategy, and you have to think your way around it,” he said.
The main characters are back from last year, all with good memories at one time or another. Cantlay won in 2019 and 2021. Morikawa won at Muirfield Village in 2020 for a one-time event (Workday Charity Open) that was filling a gap in the schedule brought on by the pandemic.
Cantlay has his own memories from last year due to Rahm’s misfortunes.
”It was the fastest I’ve ever gone from six shots back to tied for the lead. It happened while I was eating dinner, basically. So Saturday was odd,” Cantlay said. ”By the time Sunday rolled around, I had acclimated to the new situation, and carried on as if yesterday didn’t happen. But Saturday was a weird and obviously very unfortunate day.”
Rory McIlroy has his own score to settle. He has missed only two years since he first joined the PGA Tour in 2010, and it’s a course that suits him with its wide fairways and reachable par 5s. But he has found the fairways being pinched in, making it tougher for him to hit driver.
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