Albany (Bahamas), 02 December 2018: The Conch course at the Albany resort is a desert course with only the sand, slope and swale for protection. The wind kept down on Sunday and the two men in the final group – Tony Finau and Jon Rahm – made it seem like a barbecue party between good friends. Only this was a bout of heavyweights for a million-dollar cheque and a hefty trophy that takes some muscle to move. Jon Rahm produced a blemish-free 65 to draw clear and emerge with a thumping victory over an elite field in the Hero World Challenge at Albany.
The banter only lasted a third of the way on their journey toward the clubhouse. By then Rahm and Finau traded blow for blow with each other, without ever losing the smiles on their faces.
Finau punctuated a run of four birdies in six holes, missing the short par-putt at the fourth hole. Rahm kept it simple – posting birdies at the third, sixth and seventh holes.
Contest turns at the bend
The two young men were trading birdie for birdie, playing some intense golf along the way. But no sooner had the seats warmed in anticipation of a great duel, nature intervened to distract Finau. As he was about to set up his tee shot at the eighth, a flea caught his attention.
Finau drew back and when he finally took his strike, the ball flew left, off the embankment into a deep swale below the green. He had to settle for bogey from there, separated from Rahm and this time for good.
The Spaniard flew his approach at the ninth to near perfection, scenting an opening. Rahm missed a makeable eagle putt but made birdie to gain a two-stroke cushion over Finau. The course drove a final wedge into the Utah man’s heart when he found his tee shot nestled in the rocky sand to the left of the fairway.
Finau’s attempt to reach the green from there fell woefully short, the ball settling in the left bunker. He played a brilliant wedge from there, but as irony would have it, the ball slid right past the top lip before sliding down the other side of the green.
“I made a 6 there, one bad swing can do that on any hole and that’s what happened,” surmised a disappointed Finau. “I hit about a 20-, 25-yard pull there and just ended up being hosed. I didn’t get any kind of shot toward the greens there. I tried to chunk and run something out there in the middle of the green, but, you know, again, even if I make a 4 there, I’m going to have to do something pretty dang special. Hats off to John this week, he played incredible golf and he deserved to win this week.”
A double bogey there settled this fight for good. Rahm added a pair of consecutive birdies at 14 & 15 to good effect. The rest of the round was a mere formality. Rahm made three straight pars to emerge a deserving winner.
“Well, I can say that ball-striking wise it’s pretty much where I want it to be. It’s about as perfect as it could have been today. It was a ton of fun out there,” gushed a delighted Rahm. “Tony’s arguably one of the nicest guys in this world. If there was anybody I wanted to see win today it would have been him, other than me. But I played so solid today, didn’t make any mistakes. Like I said every day after the round, if you can capitalize on the five par 5s and the two drivable par 4s, which I did all of them today, you have a chance.”
Finau picked up a consolation birdie at the 72nd hole, only to deny a determined Justin Rose another short stint at the top of the rankings.
Finau cannot deny Rahm, but he denies Rose
Justin Rose needed to finish in at least a tie for second to snatch the ranking from Brooks Koepka, who wasn’t in action this week. The Englishman kept his side of the bargain, making six birdies and an eagle at the 15th. His 65 though was only enough for third place.
“I kind of told myself, I was 5 down standing on the 10th tee and I played the back nine 5 under. I was trying to chase — I knew this week I had an opportunity to get back to No. 1,” admitted Rose. “I knew today was going to take a low round, and I’m kind of right on that knife edge now depending on what the guys do coming in whether that happens for me or not. That’s what I was chasing coming down the stretch. I knew Jon had pulled away, but I knew I was playing for top-3.”
Stenson began the day in a tie for the lead, but never really got enough going to catch up with Rahm. The Swede shot a 71 containing four birdies and bogeys at 10 and 18 only served to dampen his spirits in an otherwise good week. At 14-274, he finished in fourth place, one behind Rose and six strokes poorer than Rahm.
Patrick Cantlay, the first round leader with Patrick Reed, and Rickie Fowler finished at 13-under in T5. Cantlay made a brilliant 64 while Fowler shot 69. Dustin Johnson also shot 69 to secure the seventh spot. Alex Noren, Xander Schauffele and Gary Woodland brought up the rear of the top ten in this 18-man field.
The tournament host and still the biggest draw in golf – Tiger Woods had another rough day on the course. But he turned it around as only he can. After conceding four bogeys on the front nine, Tiger clawed back to even terms stringing together four birdies in five holes from the eleventh. A bit of a mistake at the 17th cost him another bogey and accounted for his final round card of 73.