PUERTO VALLARTA, Mexico (AP) — Jon Rahm could have done without the stress he faced over the final two hours in the Mexico Open. It still was worth it to pick up his first victory since the U.S. Open last summer.
Rahm rolled in a 12-foot birdie putt on the par-5 14th hole to pull out of a four-way tie for the lead, and he had to make two tough pars and a finish more nervy than he expected.
The relief and satisfaction was evident when he tapped in for par on the final hole at Vidanta Vallarta for a one-shot victory. He pumped his arm and then pounded his fist downward, and at point he looked skyward and exhaled.
“Today was a battle,” Rahm said. “But I got it done.”
Tony Finau and Brandon Wu each closed with a 63, while Kurt Kitayama birdied the final hole from a back bunker for a 68. They tied for second.
Rahm had a couple of close calls in Mexico City when it was a World Golf Championship at Chapultepec. Now the Mexico Open, which has a history dating to 1944, is a regular PGA Tour event for the first time. And it got a popular winner.
Against one of the weaker fields of the year — Rahm at No. 2 was the only player from the top 15 in the world — the Spaniard was a heavy favorite and he played that way from his opening 64. He just didn’t feel any expectations.
“I like to think every time I tee it up I’m a favorite. I play to win,” Rahm said. “Fortunately, I got my seventh PGA Tour win. It was a pretty stressful weekend, all the way to the end.”
Staked to a two-shot lead going into the final round, he never trailed. But it was never easy.
Rahm’s had a one-shot lead after his lone bogey of the round on the tough par-4 10th.
Well ahead of him, Wu holed a 25-foot birdie putt on the 16th hole to join him at 16 under. Kitayama, playing in the final group with Rahm, got up-and-down from right of the green on the par-5 12th to tie. And then Finau went birdie-eagle-birdie to get in the mix and capped off his 63 with a birdie to make it a four-way tie.
“I really wanted to put together a nice week and I was able to do that this week and gave myself a chance to do something special right at the end,” Finau. “Making a 3 on 18 probably would have been a big deal, but making that putt for birdie, a lot of confidence builders on a day like today and I’ll carry that with me the rest of the season.”
Rahm never lost his patience. His chip left of the green on the par-5 14th raced 12 feet by the hole, but he hit his best putt of the round and made it for birdie for a one-shot lead.
His wedge to the 15th came up short and his chip ran 5 by the hole. He made that to stay in front, and then had to two-putt from 50 feet on the 16th for his par. Rahm missed a 10-foot birdie putt on the 17th that would have given him room for error.
Still, the closing par 5 at Vidanta Vallarta is easy reachable, and Rahm birdied it the three previous times. This time, his fade stayed straight and instead of dropping into the bunker, it nestled in deep rough on a steep slope just above the sand. He did well to punch that out just over a waste area and into the fairway.
His approach to a back pin just trickled off the green, and he navigated the slick putt perfectly to a few inches. Instead of waiting for Kitayama and Cameron Champ to finish, Rahm quickly stepped in and closed the deal.
“I didn’t think a par 5 that requires a fade that I’d be stressing this much,” Rahm said. “It wasn’t my best putting weekend, but I stayed aggressive. I was confident in what I was doing. I have faith in every part of my game and it showed.”
Champ, who like Kitayama started the final round two shots behind, took himself out of the mix with a triple bogey on the par-4 eighth hole. He never recovered, shot 70 and finished three shots behind in a tie for sixth.
Rahm has 14 victories worldwide. He had gone 17 starts without winning, matching the longest such in is career. The victory moves him a little closer to Scottie Scheffler in his bid to reclaim the No. 1 ranking, and he’ll a have at the PGA Championship in three weeks.
The Spaniard has at least one victory in six full years as a pro.
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