Jon Rahm’s strong start to 2023 continues with Genesis Invitational triumph
With the gallery wildly cheering a golfer struggling to stay one measly shot under par, Jon Rahm enhanced his status as the best player on the PGA Tour by holding off pesky Max Homa to win the Genesis Invitational on Sunday by two strokes.
The focus of many spectators at Riviera Country Club was Tiger Woods, who played his first meaningful golf since last year’s British Open before shifting into tournament host mode to present the championship trophy to Rahm, whose win was his third this year, fifth in his last nine worldwide starts and 10th on the PGA Tour.
Woods shot two over par in the final round to finish one under, not an unimpressive accomplishment given his rust and a sore right ankle that had him limping a bit more each day and remains a reminder of his horrific car crash two years ago the day after this tournament.
“It certainly was a little bit more difficult than I probably let on,” he said, smiling. “It usually takes me a few holes to kind of get back into the ebb and the flow of it. But then again the reality of it is I really won’t be able to play much.
With a video of Tiger Woods playfully handing Justin Thomas a tampon after outdriving him going viral, Woods apologized and barely made the cut at one over par.
“It’s hard. I’ve done it for a long time, but it’s just not — the body is sometimes saying no even though the mind says yes.”
Woods said he planned to play in all four majors this year, beginning with the Masters in April. The U.S. Open will be held at the L.A. Country Club in June.
Expect Rahm to remain a force when the majors roll around after winning Sunday at 17-under-par 267. He won the 2021 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines and vaulted to No. 1 in the world rankings after winning the Memorial in 2020. Now he’s back on top, eclipsing Scottie Scheffler, who won the WM Phoenix Open a week ago but finished tied for 12th at Riviera.
“I’ve never had three PGA Tour wins in a season and to do it this early on is incredible, and to do it at this golf course,” Rahm said. “Talk about the history of Riviera as a golf course, the history of Tiger Woods as a player, those two combined in this tournament, it’s a pretty big deal. As a historian of the game, to be able to win a tournament hosted by Tiger and the one hosted by Jack [Nicklaus] as well, it’s pretty incredible.”
Rahm was met a few steps beyond the green by his wife, Kelley, who handed him his 22-month old son, Kepa.
“Max battled out there and Patrick [Cantlay] gave us a scare,” Rahm said between kisses from his family. “To reach a milestone of double-digit wins is incredible.
“I kept telling myself after [the bogey on] 12 that even though it was an unforced error, this is a really freaking difficult golf course to finish at. At that point you just have to change focus and stay positive.”
Rahm took home $3.6 million, nearly $2 million more than the $1.625 million Homa earned by winning the Genesis in 2021. Why? The PGA Tour’s immediate answer to the threat of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf tour is to elevate the purses of 13 tournaments. The Genesis Invitational is one of those.
“This is a big year for us, big year for the Tour and the commitment of the players to stay unified, to — we’re all working to make this Tour and our product the best we possibly can,” Woods said. “To have all the top players come and play these elevated events or designated events is very important.”
After his short par putt on No. 18 was greeted by sustained applause from an adoring gallery, Woods was buoyant. His lone misstep was trying to hand Justin Thomas a tampon after outdriving him on the ninth hole Thursday. Woods apologized for the childish, sexist prank, and the topic didn’t come up again Sunday.
Once Woods was done with his round, attention turned to Rahm, Homa and a hard-charging Cantlay.
After bogeys on Nos. 10 and 12, Rahm trailed Homa by one stroke. Birdies on both par-three holes down the stretch calmed him. Homa bogeyed No. 13 and finished by scrambling for pars that enabled him to hold off third-place Cantlay, the former UCLA star who was 14 under for the tournament.
Homa’s tee shots were errant, but he stayed in the hunt with excellent putting. He was 15 for 15 from four to eight feet in the tournament until missing from seven feet on No. 8. When Rahm slipped on Nos. 10 and 12, Homa seized the lead by one stroke.
Rahm rebounded quickly, retaking the lead in two holes. Both golfers pulled their tee shots into the left rough on No. 13, but Rahm put his second shot on the green and Homa’s flew into a tree trunk, coming to rest 159 yards from the hole.
On the par-three 14th Rahm made a 46-foot birdie putt and he picked up another stroke with a birdie on the par-three 16th after landing his tee shot less than three feet from the pin.
Homa made a bold attempt to chip in for birdie on the 18th and fell to his knees when the ball banged off the pin. Homa, who grew up in Valencia and will spend Monday at the junior tournament he sponsors in Beaumont, became emotional afterward.
“I’m very proud,” he said, fighting back tears. “I did not have it off the tee today, but man, I fought. I really just wanted to push [Rahm]. I don’t know why this is happening now, I’ve been fine for 15 minutes.
“I wanted to push him. He is a spectacular golfer. I would say other than Tiger and I don’t even know, he’s the most consistent player I’ve seen.”
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