For a while on Friday afternoon, it looked like the world’s top-ranked golfer wasn’t going to see the weekend at Oak Hill Country Club.
After his dominant run in the sport and win at Augusta National last month, that’s not something many expected to see this week at the PGA Championship.
Jon Rahm, after carding a 6-over 76 in his opening round on Thursday, was hovering outside the projected cut line at the second major championship of the season late on Friday afternoon. He was even on the day through 12 holes and still a shot outside the projected cut.
That’s when he finally flashed the game that’s lifted him back to No. 1 in the world. Rahm, after bogeying what he called one of the easiest holes on the course, rattled off three straight birdies — a pair of up-and-downs and then a dart at the par-3 15th — to suddenly get to 3-over for the tournament.
It looked like Rahm had finally found his footing and, at best, seemed poised to rally himself into contention like he’s done so many times before.
“All you need to do is somehow hit it in between the lines,” Rahm said. “Doesn’t even need to go far, and you have a short iron into a pin. That’s doable today. I wasn’t happy [after No. 12]. Knowing that those next three holes were doable, I tried to be a little bit more aggressive and go after it and hit the shots I needed to and made the birdies I needed to.”
That, however, is about where it ended. He bogeyed the 16th after hitting his drive way left of the fairway, and then parred his final two holes for a 2-under 68 and 4-over mark for the tournament.
While Rahm jumped more than 60 spots up the leaderboard on the day got through the cut and into the weekend, it ended what has been a very uncharacteristic 36 holes of golf.
“Again, I keep going back [to Thursday],” Rahm said. “You’re going to hit it better or worse, but I wish I would have made a couple putts closer to the hole. Those are shots given away that you can’t afford to give away in majors.
Is it too late to make a run?
Rahm will start the third round at 4-over, which is nine shots back from a trio of leaders — Viktor Hovland, Corey Conners and Scottie Scheffler.
While Rahm has another 36 holes to close that gap, that’s a lot of strokes to make up in just two days — especially when looking at how many other big names are near the top of the leaderboard.
But if anybody’s capable of pulling that off, it’s probably Rahm.
Rahm looked almost unstoppable at Augusta National last month. He turned a two-shot lead into a massive four-shot Masters win to claim his first green jacket and second major championship. That was the highlight of what has been a very successful start to the season for the Spaniard. He already has four PGA Tour wins to his name, and went on a stretch where he won five times in his last nine combined U.S. and international starts after his win at the Genesis Invitational in February. Nobody could catch him.
Outside of an early exit at the WGC-Match Play in Austin and his withdrawal at The Players Championship due to an illness, Rahm hasn’t really missed a step all year — until this week. His worst showing anywhere this season came at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, but even that was still a top-40 finish.
Rahm rallied back from a seven-shot deficit once already this year when he won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in January. And even though he’s not played well this week so far, his game has only improved. He was eighth in the field in strokes gained and made an eight-stroke improvement day-over-day even as a storm rolled in on Friday afternoon.
“I struck it much better, only missed two greens, hit it really, really well, and gave myself a ton of birdie opportunities,” Rahm said. “Had I putted a little better, obviously I would be a little bit closer to in contention. I’m not being too far fetched, I missed three putts yesterday inside five feet and a lot of good looks today that just didn’t want to go in.
“Really happy that coming down the stretch I played good, especially those last two holes. Finishing with those two pars having two 15-footers for birdie, that’s a good way to finish.”
If he’s going to truly get back in contention, something it sounds like he believes he’s capable of doing, Rahm is going to have to come out firing on Moving Day. He’s just about out of time as it is.