Jon Rahm. GETTY IMAGES/AFP/Andy Lyons
Jon Rahm. GETTY IMAGES/AFP/Andy Lyons

Hong Kong — The new men’s world No 1 and two of his predecessors in the top spot feature in AFP Sport’s golf talking points for this week.

It would be a fair assumption that not many golfers have won a US PGA Tour event by three shots after carding 41 on the back nine in the final round. And certainly none have done it to rise to world No 1.

But that is exactly what Spain’s Jon Rahm did in brutal conditions at Jack Nicklaus’s Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village in Ohio, on Sunday. In the process he became the third- fastest player to reach the top ranking — four years and 27 days after turning pro.

Only two players have reached the summit quicker than the Basque country-raised Rahm, who becomes the second Spaniard after Seve Ballesteros in 1988 to get to No 1. Jordan Spieth managed it in two years and 245 days in 2015, a year in which he won three of his four Majors. But that was a slow crawl compared to Tiger Woods who turned pro in August 1996 and 290 days later, on June 16 1997, reached the pinnacle of the sport he would dominate.

One sobering thought for the 25-year-old Rahm is that he will need to remain at No 1 until September 2033 if he is to spend more time at the top than Woods, who has enjoyed a monumental 683 weeks — 13 years and 49 days — at the summit.

Brooks Koepka has won the US PGA Championship for the past two seasons but the chances of the big hitter notching an unprecedented hat-trick in August at the rescheduled event at San Francisco’s Harding Park do not look great. Koepka, then world No 1, limped out of his defence of the PGA Tour’s CJ Cup in South Korea after two rounds in October with left knee trouble and it is clear that all has not been well since.

He returned to action in June claiming the three-month coronavirus shutdown had allowed extensive rehab and that he was fully fit once more. But Koepka has managed just one top 10 since the restart, a seventh place at the RBC Heritage, and has slid to sixth in the world rankings. He tied for 62nd at the Memorial Tournament last weekend after an ugly Sunday 80 and then admitted an MRI scan on the troublesome knee showed, worryingly, “nothing has changed”.

No player has won the US PGA Championship three years in a row since it became a stroke-play event in 1958, a record that looks likely to remain intact. The great Walter Hagen won it four years in a row when it was a match play event from 1924-1927. The only other modern player to win it two years running is — no prizes for guessing — Tiger Woods. But he has done it twice: 1999-2000 and 2006-2007.

One player who will be missing from 2020’s delayed first Major is England’s former world No 1 Lee Westwood, who was in top form before the Covid-19 shutdown. The 47-year-old won the Abu Dhabi Championship in January and tied fourth at Honda Classic in the US on March 1.

Westwood will host the British Masters in Newcastle beginning on Wednesday, the first of six events dubbed the “UK Swing” on the revamped European Tour schedule. His commitments there mean he does not have time for a two-week period of isolation in the US before the US PGA Championship begins on August 6 in California.

It would have been Westwood’s 83rd Major, but the world No 34 says he will not mind missing it, or the US Open in September, if quarantine rules remain. “Right now I look at the situation and would I want to go?” Westwood told the Guardian newspaper in the UK. “I am slightly wary of it. What’s more important, your health or playing in a Major? I’ve missed Majors before.”

Several players and caddies have tested positive for the virus in the US since the PGA Tour restart, which is a concern for Westwood. “I like what the European Tour have done in giving things longer than the PGA Tour,” he said. “When I look across the Atlantic at what’s happening, I’m a little bit worried for them. They don’t seem to have got it under control.”

World rankings

1. Jon Rahm (ESP) 9.10 (+1), 2. Rory McIlroy (NIR) 8.48 (-1), 3. Justin Thomas (US) 7.51, 4. Dustin Johnson (US) 7.18, 5. Webb Simpson (US) 6.87, 6. Brooks Koepka (US) 6.43, 7. Bryson DeChambeau (US) 6.14, 8. Patrick Reed (US) 5.96, 9. Adam Scott (AUS) 5.75, 10. Patrick Cantlay (US) 5.67, 11. Xander Schauffele (US) 5.38, 12. Tommy Fleetwood (ENG) 5.03, 13. Collin Morikawa (US) 4.98, 14. Tiger Woods (US) 4.81, 15. Tyrrell Hatton (ENG) 4.76, 16. Justin Rose (ENG) 4.55, 17. Tony Finau (US) 4.44 (+2), 18. Marc Leishman (AUS) 4.37 (-1), 19. Gary Woodland (US) 4.31 (-1), 20. Matthew Fitzpatrick (ENG) 4.23 (+7) 

AFP