|US Open final leaderboard|
|-6 J Rahm (Spa); -5 L Oosthuizen (SA); -3 H English (US); -2 G Migliozzi (Ita), B Koepka (US), C Morikawa (US)|
|Selected others: -1 P Casey (Eng), R McIlroy (NI); level F Molinari (Ita); +2 J Spieth (US), J Thomas (US), D Johnson (US); +3 B DeChambeau (US); +5 R MacIntyre (Sco); +6 I Poulter (Eng)|
Spain’s Jon Rahm claimed an incredible first major after finishing with back-to-back birdies on a breathless final day of the US Open at Torrey Pines.
Rahm, 26, roared at a wall of fans after his putt on the 18th took him to six under and gave him a one-shot lead over South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen.
Oosthuizen then bogeyed the 17th, meaning he needed to eagle the last to force a play-off but could only birdie.
Rory McIlroy and Bryson DeChambeau challenged but faded late on.
Both players held a share of the lead early in the round but were among many to struggle on the back nine, while Rahm was the only contender to not drop a shot in the closing holes.
The victory comes two weeks after he was forced to withdraw from a PGA Tour event he was leading by six shots after three rounds because of a positive coronavirus test.
The world number three said his main concern at that time was for his wife and two-month-old baby and it was them he celebrated with – on his first Father’s Day no less – after the nerveless birdie putt saw him close out a four-under-par 67, the joint lowest score of the day.
“You have no idea what this means right now,” he said to his son Kepa after hearing of Oosthuizen’s closing birdie. “You will soon enough.”
‘The stars were aligning’
The leaderboard was congested after a flurry of birdies on the front nine, but players were fighting to avoid bogeys on the back nine.
Oosthuizen was the last to fall when he dropped a shot on the 17th and he could not repeat the sensational eagle he made on the 18th on Saturday, which had given him a share of the overnight lead.
The 38-year-old, who won the 2010 Open Championship, also shot a closing 67 but has now finished runner-up in a major on six occasions, including last month’s US PGA Championship.
“It’s frustrating. It’s disappointing,” Oosthuizen said. “I’m playing good golf, but winning a major championship is not just going to happen. You need to go out and play good golf.”
Rahm played the back nine in two under par, carding seven pars before the grandstand finish saw him become the first Spaniard to win the US Open.
“I’m a big believer in karma and after what happened a couple of weeks ago, I stayed really positive knowing that big things were coming,” said Rahm, who won his first PGA Tour event at Torrey Pines in 2017.
“I didn’t know what it was going to be but I knew we were coming to a special place. I got my breakthrough win here and it’s a very special place for my family.
“The fact my parents were able to come, I got out of Covid protocol early, I just felt like the stars were aligning.”
Rahm dedicated his win to Spanish legend Seve Ballesteros, who claimed five major titles but died 10 years ago of brain cancer at the age of 54.
“I knew my best golf was to come and I have a hard time explaining what just happened because I can’t believe I made the last two putts and I’m the first Spanish player to win the US Open,” Rahm continued.
“This is definitely for Seve – I know he tried a lot, I know he wanted to win this one most of all.”
Rahm rises as other big names fall
A memorable final day began with numerous major winners crowding the top of the leaderboard and 17 players within five shots of Oosthuizen, Mackenzie Hughes and Russell Henley’s five-under overnight lead.
McIlroy started two shots off the lead, hoping to win a second US Open title 10 years after his first, but the Northern Irishman’s double bogey on the 12th put paid to his chances as he closed with a 73 to finish joint seventh on one under, alongside leading Englishman Paul Casey (70).
“I feel close. It’s the first time in a while,” said McIlroy, who won the last of his four majors at the 2014 PGA Championship.”I felt way more comfortable with what I was doing out there [today] which is a huge positive.”It was better, for the week as a whole it was a positive and I can take a lot from it and kick on.”
At the start of the week, defending champion DeChambeau had vowed to use the “bomb and gouge” tactics that propelled him to the title at Winged Foot last September.
They had worked to a degree over the first three days and he too was just two back at the start of play.
But he floundered on Sunday and suffered an even worse fate than McIlroy, dropping four shots in three holes from the 11th and then taking eight shots on the par-four 17th as he signed for a six-over 77 and three over total.
“I’ve had plenty of times where I hit it way worse and won,” he said.
“A lot of it is luck. I caught the bad lies on the back nine. It’s frustrating in the moment when it’s happening, but afterwards I don’t really care as much. I’ve already won it.”
Unheralded Henley had held the lead throughout much of the first three rounds but failed to move away from a dangerous-looking chasing pack and a run of three bogeys starting on the sixth hole were enough to put him out of the running on Sunday as he closed with a 76 to finish level par.
England’s Richard Bland, 48, had provided the fairy-tale opening to the tournament, becoming the oldest man to lead at the halfway stage but he too fell foul of the challenging course, with rounds of 77 and 78 over the weekend.
Conversely, Rahm bided his time with opening rounds of 69 and 70 before slipping to two under with a one-over 72 on Saturday but brought his best golf when it counted.
Rahm holds out in tricky back nine
With the title wide open for most of Sunday and the lead changing hands numerous times, the Spaniard got off to a promising start as he began the final round of a major with two birdies for the first time.
That put him one off the lead and he managed to rectify a wayward tee shot with a classy chip on to the third green but he could not avoid a bogey on the fourth.
Two-time US Open winner Koepka and McIlroy moved ominously up the leaderboard, but like many others faded on the back nine.
In a sign that perhaps Rahm was always destined to win, he got a free drop after his tee shot on the ninth flew perilously close to a boundary fence and he took advantage to card a birdie to get back to four under, one off the lead.
Then, Oosthuizen left a group of six players tied for second to join DeChambeau – who had moved top of the leaderboard after coming within inches of holing his tee shot on the par-three eighth – in the lead with a birdie on the ninth.
Down the back nine, tee shots became increasingly wayward and birdies evermore scarce as a series of errors by those near the top of the leaderboard changed the scene dramatically.
After a DeChambeau bogey, Oosthuizen extended his lead to two shots with an excellent birdie putt on the 10th but immediately fell foul of a cursed 11th to drop a shot.
As McIlroy and DeChambeau fell back, Oosthuizen tried to cling onto his lead with Rahm chasing and the clubhouse target of three under set by Harris English suddenly looked promising.
Rahm missed birdie chances on the 14th and 15th and his tee shot into a fairway bunker on the 17th seemed unnerving, but the Spaniard hit his approach to 25ft and raucously celebrated after holing the birdie putt to join Oosthuizen as tournament leader.
After another trip into the sand on the par-five last, Rahm chipped onto the green and made another challenging 18ft putt to earn his victory.