DUBLIN, Ohio — Jon Rahm won the Memorial to join Seve Ballesteros as the only Spaniards to reach No. 1 in the world. It was a victory he wrapped up with a magical shot that would have made his idol proud.
Rahm built an 8-shot lead at the turn, only to see it reduced to three shots with three holes to play Sunday on a Muirfield Village course playing its toughest in 42 years.
In trouble behind the green on the par-3 16th, with Ryan Palmer facing a 12-foot birdie putt from the fringe, Rahm hit a flop shot from deep grass that came out perfectly. It landed on the fringe, ran toward the hole and dropped for birdie. The fiery Spaniard let out a ferocious fist pump.
Palmer took bogey on the 17th, and the coronation was on.
The only issue was the score. Replay of Rahm’s chip appeared to show that the ball moved ever so slightly when he placed his lob wedge behind it. PGA Tour officials reviewed it and gave him a 2-shot penalty. It didn’t affect the outcome.
Rahm was surprised when it was mentioned to him after he finished. He said he didn’t realize anything was wrong.
“It doesn’t take anything from the shot,” he said. “It’s not going to take anything away from today.”
Rahm closed with a 3-over 75 for a 3-shot victory over Palmer, the highest final round by a Memorial winner since Roger Maltbie shot 76 in the inaugural year in 1976.
The victory was the 10th of Rahm’s career and fourth on the PGA Tour. It moves him past Rory McIlroy in the world ranking with his win against the strongest field of the year. He is the 24th player to be No. 1. Ballesteros spent a total of 61 weeks at the top from 1986 to 1989.
It was the strongest test, too, with the rough not being cut and the greens allowed to bake out because they are being replaced. The fifth green was stripped as the leaders were on the back nine.
Only five players broke par, the fewest in a final round since the Memorial began in 1976. The average score of 75.932 was the highest for the final round since it was 75.972 in 1978.
Rahm looked to be playing a different course. He played bogey-free on the front nine, with birdies on the two par-5s. That put him eight shots clear on his way to No. 1.
Then he made bogey on the 10th. Not a problem.
He yanked his tee shot into a creek on the par-5 11th, and that was a bigger problem based on how hard he slammed the club into the ground in a pique of anger. He made double bogey. Palmer made birdie on the 12th, and Rahm made another bogey from the bunker on the 14th.
Just like that, the lead was three shots.
Only a week ago at Muirfield Village for the Workday Charity Open, Justin Thomas had a 3-shot lead with three holes to play and wound up losing in a playoff to Collin Morikawa.
Rahm wanted his tee shot on the 16th to stay dry, though the rough was not a great option, given how fast the greens were running. The chip was similar — but from a different angle — to Tiger Woods‘ chipping in from behind the 16th green when he won the Memorial for the fifth time in 2012.
Woods, in his first competition since Feb. 16 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, shot 76 and tied for 40th.
Matthew Fitzpatrick had a 68 for the low score of the final day to finish third.
The consolation prize went to Palmer (74) and Mackenzie Hughes (72), who earned spots in the U.S. Open in September at Winged Foot as the leading two players from the top 10 who were not already eligible.
Henrik Norlander could have taken the final spot with a par on the 18th, but he missed the fairway well to the right, couldn’t reach the green and made bogey. Norlander and Hughes tied at 3-under 285, but the spot went to Hughes because he had the better world ranking.
That ranking now starts with Rahm, who only five years ago was at the Memorial to receive the Jack Nicklaus Award as the nation’s best college player.
On Sunday, Nicklaus was there to greet him — with a fist bump — behind the 18th green. Nicklaus revealed earlier Sunday that he and his wife, Barbara, tested positive for the coronavirus in March, and they have since tested positive for antibodies. Nicklaus favors a handshake, though he said he would leave that up to the winner.
As for the shot behind the 16th? Nicklaus was impressed, and so was Rahm.
“I still can’t believe it. I’m not going to lie,” Rahm said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.