Jon Rahm tied a course record Saturday at Kapalua’s Plantation Course that was barely two hours old. He has a chance Sunday to break a record that has remained intact for nearly two decades.
On a gettable Plantation layout that was historically far from fiery, the world’s top-ranked player fired a blistering 12-under 61 to not only tie Cameron Smith for the 54-hole lead at the year-opening Sentry Tournament of Champions but also equal the new course record achieved by Justin Thomas earlier in the round.
Now, both Rahm and Smith, who at 26 under are five shots clear of Daniel Berger in solo third, have their eyes set on Ernie Els’ 31-under total, a PGA Tour record for 72-hole score in relation to par, which Els set at this tournament way back in 2003.
“It’s this golf course, right?” Rahm said. “You get on the birdie train and things like today can happen.”
Rahm is competing this week for the first time since missing the cut at the Andalucia Masters in Spain in mid-October. Well-rested and recharged, the world No. 1 was ready to build off an unprecedented season – a U.S. Open victory (his first major) and 15 total top-10s between the PGA and European tours last season. Though, as Rahm contends, had it not been for COVID-19, which knocked him out of the Memorial while leading comfortably after 54 holes (and again prior to the Olympics), he would’ve had at least one more.
“I had such a consistent year and had one win,” Rahm said earlier this week, “but I could tell you right now, I would gladly take a bit more of inconsistency but have more than one win.”
He’s wasting no time. Paired in Saturday’s final twosome with Smith, Rahm began Moving Day three shots behind. While Smith stalled out of the gates with four straight pars, the Spaniard did little to gain ground, birdieing the par-3 second only to lose his tee shot at the par-4 fourth hole and scramble to make bogey from 9 feet. But final 14 holes were a different story, as Rahm played them in 12 under with 10 birdies and an eagle. He birdied all three of Kapalua’s par-3s on Saturday and carded 8-under 29 on the back side, a second nine highlighted by a 220-yard shot to 4 feet to set up eagle at the par-5 15th hole.
Rahm lost shots to the field off the tee (-0.537 strokes gained) but made up for it on the greens (3.53 strokes gained: putting). He sunk four birdie putts of 14 or longer during his torrid run, none longer than the 29-footer at the par-4 17th hole.
“I made that putt on 2, I made that putt on 4, and it gave me a lot of confidence and I kept going, made a couple of those putts that yesterday I left short,” Rahm said. “But a number of those birdie/eagles were very short putts, you know; it speaks to the ball-striking I had today.”
Watch out, Big Easy.
Full-field scores from the Sentry Tournament of Champions
The last time Els’ record was threatened was at the 2014 Humana Challenge, when Patrick Reed set a new 54-hole Tour mark at 27 under before shooting just 1 under in the final round in victory. Odds are that both Rahm and Smith score better than 1 under on Sunday in Hawaii, especially considering the tournament has broken records of its own the past two days.
Friday’s second-round scoring average of 5.18 shots under par was a new Tour low since at least 1983 (when records started), supplanting the 2021 TOC’s second-round average of 4.71 shots under par, until the field averaged 5.29 shots under par on Saturday.
There are currently 18 players at 15 under or better for the tournament. There have been 24 rounds of 66 or better through three rounds. Berger has fired three straight 66s … and trails by five.
Sure, the most likely scenario is Rahm and Smith trading birdie blows and racing past that 31-under mark in what essentially would be a two-man match. But neither co-leader is willing to rule out another challenger getting hot. Not with Kapalua yielding so much.
“There’s such a low score out there you never know what can happen,” Smith said. “I mean, it’s very gettable, there’s so many wedges, so I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s another 61 or 62 out there tomorrow.”
Added Rahm: “I’m guessing tomorrow’s going to be more of the same: We’re going to need a lot of birdies to get ahead and get the win.”