The stage is set for a thriller in the village. Muirfield Village Golf Club could produce a sensational drama on Sunday, with the course playing tight and the greens behaving like a slab of glass. Jon Rahm (68) continued to keep the ball in check though as he produced four straight birdies on the home stretch to snatch the lead from Tony Finau (73). Ryan Palmer (73) and Finau did everything in their powers to keep within striking distance ahead of the final round. But bogeys on the home stretch proved expensive, as Rahm was presented a four-stroke advantage. The Spaniard could become only the second man from his country to become the world No.1 after Seve Ballesteros with a victory on Sunday.
Late evening spills proved costly for Ryan Palmer and Tony Finau as they slipped into the shadow of Rahm towards the end of the third round. Rahm shot a brilliant four-under 68 on a day when there wasn’t a single bogey free round on the course. Finau’s misery was mostly accounted for in the double bogeys at the 12th and 17th holes.
Rahm delivered a typical ambush, sneaking ahead of the duo in the final group with a string of birdies late in the day. The Spaniard seemed set to play out an insipid round after canceling out his first birdie of the day at the 7th hole with a bogey at the next hole.
He started his hot run with a nice birdie from 13 feet on the 13th hole. After going two in a row, he produced a brilliant chip from the rough on the par-5 15th for a third straight birdie. On a racy green, Rahm made the ball spin and stall for a three foot birdie, to take the lead.
At the par-3 16th, Rahm produced another substantial putt. He made no mistake from more than 26 feet as he gained a two-stroke advantage over Finau and Palmer. That advantage grew to three even as he took two putts from 18 feet on the par-4 17th, with Palmer and Finau scripting another layer of drama, trying to wriggle out of the Bear Hug between the 16th and 18th holes at the Muirfield Village course.
Meanwhile, Palmer made his third bogey of the round, when he missed his par putt from around seven feet. That dropped Palmer into third behind Finau, who was 10-under with two to play. On the par-4 17th, Finau found himself playing off the steep slope of a fairway bunker, swallowing valuable strokes just to sweat his way into the greenside bunker. A double-bogey knocked his sails as he slipped to 8-under, dropping behind Palmer. But Palmer joined Finau on 8-under with a bogey at the 18th to cap off an incident-packed back nine.
Rahm was four back at one stage during the day and finished four ahead by the end of it. “It’s obviously a big deal. I can’t sit here and not — and try to diminish it and avoid it, because it would just be lying to myself, because it is a big deal,” admitted Rahm about being world No.1 “But it is a consequence of me winning tomorrow. What’s important to me tomorrow is hit good shots, be committed and get the job done. Everything else will be
taken care of afterwards.”
“I looked at the scoreboard and I knew I had a four-shot lead at the
time,” said Finau, recollecting the situation when he reached the 11th hole. “Man, I had a tough number on 12. It was just a tweener, decided to go with the long one. The wind should have been hurting off the left and barely pulled it but it went a lot further than I thought it was going to, and it was death back there. I would have been happy to walk off with a 4. Unfortunately made a 5, and things can change fast in the blink of an eye in a golf tournament. It definitely changed there.”
Danny Willett shot 70, planting himself one ahead of Henrik Norlander (71) at 6-under 210 through 54 holes. Jason Day was in a promising position through 16, where he made a birdie. But he paid for his milkshakes with consecutive bogeys to end the round in T5 with Norlander at 5-under 211.