If the golfing week began with the surprise high-profile return of Tiger Woods, it ended in perhaps the most predictable fashion - victory for Jon Rahm. Nothing is ever a forgone conclusion in sports, but Jon Rahm winning golf tournaments is about as close as you may come to that notion at present.
Since his second-place finish at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in September last year, Rahm has competed in nine worldwide events. He’s won five and his worst finish - if you can even call it that - has been a tie for eighth place.
In his last 10 starts, Rahm has competed against a combined total of 1,025 different golfers. Just 19 have finished ahead of him in that time.
His win at the Genesis Invitational, at long last, secured the Spaniard’s return to No 1 in the world rankings. The official crowing feels somewhat futile at this stage – it has been evident to anyone with even the faintest interest in the sport that Rahm has been the best player for the last six months.
Perhaps even that statement doesn’t do justice to the levels of dominance the 28-year-old has exerted over golf in that period. It is hard to think of any athlete or team right now that commands supremacy over their respective sport that is in any way comparable to the vice-like grip Rahm has over golf’s elite.
Winning a golf tournament is not supposed to be easy. To fend off at least 132 other golfers across four days and 72 holes is a feat few professionals achieve over their careers. The variables are so high, the margin for error so low that, against a field of the world’s best, it is almost impossible to predict.
In the last 10 PGA Tour seasons, no player has won more than five times in a season. Scottie Scheffler, the PGA Tour’s player of the year last season, won four times. When placed in that context, Rahm’s three victories before February’s close feels frankly absurd.
Such dominance should not undersell the grit that each of Rahm’s victories have required. In that respect, Sunday was no different. Up against another of the season’s most in-form players and one of golf’s emerging stars, Max Homa, he was pushed all the way on Riviera’s back nine. A wayward drive on 10 and a rare three-putt on 12 saw the Spaniard briefly relent his tournament lead.
That didn’t last long. The air of inevitably that surrounds Rahm’s present run must act like a suffocating presence on his competitors. It crippled Collin Morikawa at the Tournament of Champions in January and it wore down Homa eventually here. The American’s bogey on 13 felt fatal – he gave Rahm an inch and the Spaniard took a mile. Or 45 feet, to be specific, for a spectacular birdie on the par-three 14th, before an inch-perfect tee shot on 16 gave him an unassailable two-stroke advantage down the closing holes.
Rahm, in his own words, is having the best season of his life. That probably undersells his current rich vein of form. It feels somewhat symbolic that Woods – the host at Riviera – was the person tasked with presenting him the trophy. Many golfers since Woods’ injuries and off-course dramas have seen periods of dominance that have set them apart from the field. But none have felt so Woods-esque as this current run from Rahm.
Give him four days and 72 holes and he’ll be up there. Two of his three wins this year have come in designated events featuring 23 of the 25 best players in the world. These are not triumphs against low-ranked fields but against line-ups more akin to that of a major championship.
Perhaps more frightening is the fact that his game was not at its most complete this past week. His driving was poor – there were chinks in the armour – but he still found a way.
The focus now for Rahm now will be the Majors. He failed to finish inside the top 10 in each of golf’s four headline events last year and for all his dominance in the regular season, he will be agitated with having only one major trophy – the 2021 US Open – in his cabinet.
The Masters is first up in just over six weeks and it may well be the next event after this past week at which golf fans get to watch Tiger Woods tee it up. Woods will steal many of the headlines but there can be no doubt who the most watchable man in golf is right now. Rahm is forging a path not dissimilar to the peak Tiger years and he’s showing no signs of slowing down.