Modest as well as formidably talented, Jon Rahm says that the return of Tiger Woods in today’s first round of the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines is “a much bigger story than I’ll ever be”.
Well I wonder about that. If you have a look early on my blog there’s a piece that I wrote for Golf International about fate. There are times when the golfing gods clear the path of dominant players for someone special to come through. It happened at the 1996 Masters when the extraordinary battle between Norman and Faldo was the final fight before the Woods era dawned. And similarly, the completely unexpected decline of Woods has cleared the stage again. We have another comeback again this week, like Frank Sinatra Tiger does not want to really leave the stage. And everyone is really excited that Tiger came ninth at a very limited field at the Hero Challenge in December. Granted he has won at Torrey Pines eight times, but this week he will come up against defending champion Rahm who is just 23 years old, 19 years younger than Tiger. I am beginning to fear that the interest in Tiger is becoming more of morbid curiosity to watch how his story pans out rather than excited anticipation of him returning to win five more majors and beat Jack Nicklaus’ record.
I think that putt that Rahm holed on the 18th green at Torrey Pines last year, the extraordinary 60 foot putt from the fringe behind the green was a seminal moment. The beginning of the baton being passed to the next dominant player. He went on to win twice again on the European Tour last year and jumped from 137th in the world rankings to 4th. He is now 2nd after winning last week and the world number one spot is now within his grasp.
How this is possible is due to the incredibly complicated way the World Rankings are set up. Although Rahm has said “I never thought that I was going to be here at this point in my life” other players have said this would be unfair if he overtakes Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth who have multiple wins and majors.
To try and simplify – any tournament played in the previous 13 weeks has full point value. (Rahm has a win and a runner up place and if he wins at Torrey Pines he goes top). Over time points earned decrease in value until they drop off after two years. Stronger fields attract more points. points are divided by number of events played. This works to Rahm’s advantage. In the two year counting period he would have played 40 events. 383.51 points divided by 40 give him a points average of 9.58. Dustin Johnson has 502.8 points divided by 46 tournaments in 2 years giving him 10.93 average. Easy! fair, perhaps not, but it’s all about rewarding current form.
As far as Rahm playing for Europe in the Ryder Cup, he is a golfer who has been so intertwined with the other side. It was almost like providence that he gained his place at Arizona State when coach Tim Mickelson was told about him and he offered a Rahm a place without even interviewing him or seeing him play in person. It was a good gamble because a Rahm went on to be two time winner of the Ben Hogan Award for College golf’s top player and the McCormack Medal for Top Amateur in the world. Tim Mickelson had a job on his hand breaking some of his fiery temperament along the way. He made him run up and down the 56 steps of the Sun Devils Stadium as punishment for breaking a club in a fit of temper. So this is a man who knows Rahm’s temperament inside out, and he will be on brother Phil’s bag when inevitably Phil Mickelson gets a wild card to play in Paris. I have no doubt that will happen and it will be interesting to see what happens when they get put together on opposite sides, it may be history repeating itself. I think Rahm may be about to relive some of what Seve went through.