Star-studded PGA Tour season begins with thrilling Jon Rahm comeback

By Sports Desk January 10, 2023

Impossible as it was to avoid the buzz and the enormity of the news reports – a $15million purse, $2.7m to the winner – the most valuable commodity to the PGA Tour and its membership arrived at the end of the Sentry Tournament of Champions with no advance hype.

That's because it was unscripted and didn't cost a thing – except for a heavy dose of Jon Rahm's might and a small hole in Collin Morikawa's gut.

"A crazy day," said Rahm, shaking his head.

If you think he was surprised to make up a six-shot deficit over the final seven holes and win on the Plantation Course at the famed Kapalua Resort on the Hawaiian island of Maui, imagine the shock that enveloped Morikawa. He had a commanding lead to start the final day and was 27-under to Rahm's 21-under through 11 holes.

Then, the improbable crashed in like one of those waves exploding against the rocks in Honolua Bay beneath the par-three 11th hole.

Rahm went birdie, birdie, birdie, eagle, par from holes 12-16; Morikawa played those five holes in three-over. Factor in matching pars at 17 and birdies at 18 and you've got an eight-stroke swing. Six back as he teed off on the 12th, Rahm won by two.

Set aside, for a moment, what the unfathomable turnaround means to the growing aura of Rahm, 28, or what the challenge will now be for the 25-year-old Morikawa, a ball-striking wonder whose short game failed him horribly down the stretch.

Instead, appreciate what this tournament finish meant for the PGA Tour as it debuted the first of 13 designated events that feature huge increases in purses and commitments from the best players to be in all 13 (plus the four major championships).

Its fundamental strength is set to shine through, as it did at the Sentry.

Elite players battling over the same holes at the same time late in a fourth round of a tournament that had attracted 17 of the world's top 20 players. These are the moments that reinforce the notion that the PGA Tour's steadfast commitment to individual play over 72 holes works best.

When at its best, golf that is fuelled by raw passion delivers the purest form of entertainment. And athletic entertainment, remember, is both the unmistakable face of joy and the can’t-take-your-eyes-off gut-wrenching anguish.

Because it was what elite golfers want in their competition – the individual challenge to prove you have what it takes – there was a series of thundering Rahm fist pumps over the Plantation Course's back nine that could have been emphatic exclamation points to a series of truisms.

Designated events will work. Fist pump.

The money is great, but the true lure is the attendance of nearly every top 20 name. Fist pump.

This is how the game's hottest player stays on a mission. Fist pump.

No time to rest, as four more designated events will be played in the next nine weeks. Fist pump.

"Obviously, a great start for me, for what's going to be a very different year," Rahm said.

Admittedly, the Spaniard was still a bit stunned by the unexpected end. Morikawa had played 54 bogey-free holes in 24-under and everyone, Rahm included, thought he would push towards 30-under and coast.

"Honestly, I wasn't thinking about winning," he added.

But this is why you play the game. Especially 72 holes with a field that was jam-packed with those top 10 guests Scottie Scheffler, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele (last-minute withdrawal with a back issue), Will Zalatoris, Justin Thomas, Matt Fitzpatrick, and Viktor Hovland, while invitations were accepted by Tony Finau, Sam Burns, Tom Kim, Jordan Spieth, Max Homa, Cameron Young, and Billy Horschel.

The gang's all here. Get used to it, because it's going to be delightfully frequent according to Rahm, whose smile seemed to indicate he relishes it. And the flow of fist pumps suggested he's not backing down from any of them.

"I feel like I've been the best player in the world [since last summer]," Rahm continued. He acknowledged that Scottie Scheffler was clearly No. 1 early in 2022, then it was Rory McIlroy, "but I feel like right now it's me."

Computers spit out a different set of numbers – McIlroy, Scheffler, Cameron Smith and Cantlay are Nos. 1-4. Rahm concedes he's confused by that, but clearly he doesn't bring such cloudiness to the golf course.

He's won three of his last worldwide starts and in his last eight starts, going back to August, Rahm's been top five six times, with his other tournaments being a T-8 and T-16.

As torrid as that has been, McIlroy's achievements read splendidly, also. Since the Masters last April, the Northern Irishman has three wins, a total of 11 top-five finishes, and 13 top 10s. His last seven starts saw finishes of 4th, 1st, T-4, 4th, T-2, 1st, T-8, which adds up to a worthy claim to the No. 1 spot.

But if you wanted to side with Rahm's contention that he's playing like the real No. 1, not many would fight you. It helps explain why this series of designated tournaments will do more than reward players financially; it will pump up the entertainment to delightful levels.

"We're all working hard. I know everybody's putting in a lot of effort to try and stay [high in the OWGR] as long as possible," said Rahm. "But, yes, I want to be back up there [at No. 1]."

So, too, is Morikawa promising to shake off the back-nine meltdown on Maui. That his only bogeys of the tournament came at an ill-advised time – his 68th, 69th, and 70th holes of the week – seemed to gnaw at the two-time major winner.

"It's just kind of going to hopefully push me more and more to really figure out what it's going to take for 72 holes," he said.

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