LOS ANGELES: Jon Rahm is playing at such a high level he felt he didn’t need the Official World Golf Ranking to tell him he was the No. 1 player in golf.
Rahm earned another trophy Sunday in the Genesis Invitational, his fifth in his last nine tournaments worldwide, and this was a big one. He won on a course like Riviera, at a tournament hosted by Tiger Woods and after a tense battle with Max Homa that required Rahm’s best golf.
And now he’s officially No. 1.
“I don’t need a ranking to validate anything,” Rahm said. “Having the best season of my life, and hopefully, I can keep it going.”
In a back-and-forth final round — Rahm went from a three-shot lead to a one-shot deficit at one point — the Spaniard pulled away with a pivotal recovery for par, a 45-foot birdie putt and an 8-iron to 2 feet on the par-3 16th.
That carried him to a 2-under 69 and a two-shot victory over Homa (68), with Patrick Cantlay (67) another shot behind.
“I wanted to push him. He is a spectacular golfer,” said Homa, who got choked up twice speaking to the media because of how much his hometown event means to him. “I’ve known him since college and he’s been like this since then — No. 1 amateur in the world, No. 1 player in the world, all the accolades.
“I wanted to make him beat me and I think I did that.”
Woods could claim a small consolation. He finished a 72-hole event for the first time since the Masters last April, though he was quick to joke, “Unfortunately, my streak continues.” He now has played 12 times as a pro at Riviera without winning.
Under the circumstances, this wasn’t a bad week.
Woods played only three times last year because of a fused back and battered legs from surgeries (left) and a car crash (right). This was a rare appearance, and Woods doesn’t know if he’ll play again before the Masters.
He still had the largest gallery to the end, thousands of fans packed on the hill over the 18th green to watch him close out with a par in that familiar red shirt under a black vest.
And then the spectators turned their attention to a terrific duel between Rahm and Homa that wasn’t really decided until Homa tried to chip in for birdie on the 18th and fell to his knees when the ball banged off the pin.
Rahm has not finished out of the top 10 in his last 10 tournaments. It was his third win in five starts on the PGA Tour this year, and he already has earned more than $9 million the last two months.
This wasn’t as easy as it looked at the end, when all he had to do was tap in for par and scoop up his two young sons.
“That was a tough week and a tough Sunday,” Rahm said.
Homa, who won at Riviera two years ago, began the final round three shots back. He quickly closed to within one shot, only for the Spaniard to come within inches of holing out from the fairway at No. 8 for a tap-in birdie, while Homa made bogey from behind the green to slip three shot behind again.
And then it changed quickly.
After Homa birdied the ninth from 15 feet, he drove to the far edge of the 10th green and got down in two for a birdie. Rahm went well left. His pitch was short and rolled down the back of the green, behind a bunker. He pitched onto — and then over — the green into another bunker, and he had to make a 6-footer for bogey.
Two holes later, Homa took the lead for the first time when Rahm three-putted for bogey, only for Homa to give it back with a bogey from a bad tee shot.
“If you tell me on the ninth tee after that tee shot that I was going to be one back on 13 tee, I wouldn’t believe you because I was feeling that good,” Rahm said. “But it’s golf and this golf course — especially this golf course — can get you.”
He steadied himself with a 6-iron for a dirt lie left of the 13th fairway that set up a long two-putt par, and then the par 3s won it for him.
Rahm holed a 45-footer on the 14th, and then hit 8-iron — “Probably the best swing of the week,” he said — over the bunker to tap-in range for birdie on the 16th.
He finished at 17-under 267 and earned $3.6 million from the $20 million purse, the second straight elevated event on the PGA Tour. Rahm now has won just over $9.4 million in the last two months on the PGA Tour.
Golf now has had three players at No. 1 in the last three weeks — Scottie Scheffler won in Phoenix last week to replace Rory McIlroy, and now Rahm is back on top.
“It’s the beauty of the year that we’re living right now,” Rahm said. “It’s exciting for us to play and exciting for the golf fans because things like this can happen.”
For the last six months, dating to that 62 in the final round at Wentworth, they seem to be happening mostly to him.