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Jon Rahm wins at Riviera to return to No. 1 in golf

Jon Rahm with Tiger Woods who hosted the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. Rahm won the tournament at -17. Max Homa of Valencia, CA, finished second at -15. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Jon Rahm reacts to a birdie chip on the 1st hole of the final round of the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Jon Rahm greets his caddy after winning the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. Rahm finished the course at -17. Max Homa of Valencia, CA, finished second at -15. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Patrick Cantlay closes his eyes after almost getting this chip shot in the cup on the 13th hole at the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. Jon Rahm won the tournament at -17. Max Homa finished second at -15 and Cantlay placed third with -14. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Max Homa makes an adjustment to his caddies cap during the final round of the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Max Homa watches his fairway shot on the 2nd hole of the final round of the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Collin Morikawa chips on the 1st hole of the final round of the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Jon Rahm tries to coax his putt to make the break on the 5th hole of the final round of of the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Max Homa tees off on the 4th hole of the final round of the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Jon Rahm tees off on the 5th hole of the final round of the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Max Homa tosses his putter after missing a birdie putt on the 6th hole of the final round of the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Jon Rahm reacts to a birdie chip on the 1st hole of the final round of the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Max Homa tees off on the 4th hole of the final round of the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Keith Mitchell chips out the sand on the 4th hole of the final round of the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Max Homa lines up his putt on the 4th hole of the final round of the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Jon Rahm tries to coax his putt on the 4th hole of the final round of the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Jon Rahm hits from the fairway on the 4th hole of the final round of the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Patrick Cantlay lines up his putt on the first hole of the final round of the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Max Homa lines up his putt on the 7th hole of the final round of the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Jon Rahm raises the trophy at the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. Rahm finished the course at -17. Max Homa of Valencia, CA, finished second at -15. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Jon Rahm raises his putter after winning the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. Rahm finished the course at -17. Max Homa of Valencia, CA, finished second at -15. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Patrick Cantlay hits out of the sand on the 14th hole at the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. Jon Rahm won the tournament at -17. Max Homa finished second at -15 and Cantlay placed third with -14. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Max Homa tries the get his shot through the trees and the crowds on the fairway on the 18th hole at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. Jon Rahm won the tournament at -17. Max Homa of Valencia, CA, finished second at -15. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Max Homa drops to his knees after almost chipping the ball in the cup on the 18th hole at the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. Homa finished in second place at -15. Jon Rahm won the tournament at -17. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Jon Rahm raises his putter after winning the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. Rahm finished the course at -17. Max Homa of Valencia, CA, finished second at -15. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Max Homa drops to his knees after almost chipping the ball in the cup on the 18th hole at the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. Homa finished in second place at -15. Jon Rahm won the tournament at -17. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Jon Rahm embraces Max Homa after winning the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. Rahm finished the course at -17. Max Homa of Valencia, CA, finished second at -15. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Jon Rahm raises the trophy at the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. Rahm finished the course at -17. Max Homa of Valencia, CA, finished second at -15. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

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PACIFIC PALISADES — Sunday’s final round of the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club marked the third straight week that Jon Rahm found himself in the final group. But unlike the previous two events where Rahm came up a bit short, this time Rahm closed the deal.

Birdies on two of his final five holes helped Rahm survive a final day charge by hometown favorite Max Homa, earning Rahm his third victory of the season, making him once again the No. 1 ranked player in the world in the process.

Rahm’s final round 2-under 69 gave him a four-day total of 17-under 267, leaving him two shots ahead of Homa who shot 68 on Sunday to finish solo second in a PGA Tour event for the first time in his career. Former UCLA and Servite High standout Patrick Cantlay fired a 4-under 67 to finish third at 14 under.

“I am having the best season of my life and hopefully I can keep it going,” Rahm said. “I’ve never had three PGA Tour wins in a season and to do it this early on is incredible, and to win at this golf course. Talk about the history of Riviera as a golf course, the history of Tiger Woods as a player, those two combined in this tournament, it’s a pretty big deal. As a historian of the game, to be able to win a tournament hosted by Tiger (a tournament that neither Tiger or Jack Nicklaus have ever won) it’s pretty incredible.”

Early in the final round Rahm made one of his few bad swings of the week, sending his wedge shot over the third green and into the rough, leading to his first bogey of the day. Homa birdied the hole, cutting Rahm’s lead to a single stroke.

Rahm built his lead back to three when he stuck his approach shot on eighth hole within two-feet of the pin for an easy birdie and Homa made bogey.

Homa cut the lead to two with a birdie on nine and when Rahm bogeyed the par-4 tenth 10th and Homa birdied, the two players were tied with eight left to play. Over the next three holes both Rahm and Homa struggled to find the fairway off the tee. On 12, Rahm three-putted for bogey to give Homa the lead but the former Valencia resident returned the favor with a bogey of his own, leaving them tied heading to what turned out to be the pivotal par-3, 14th hole.

After putting his tee shot on the back edge of the green, Rahm sank a 27-foot birdie putt to retake the lead. Two holes, he flushed an 8-iron that came to rest a foot from the pin, a shot that essentially sealed the win for Rahm.

“My best swing of the week,” Rahm said of his shot on 16. “I’m proud of myself for resetting when things got difficult (early in the back nine). On that 13th tee, hitting a bad tee shot and just kind of resetting and knowing that if I were to somehow save par there and finish the last 5 under par, I was most likely going to be the champion. That putt on 14 was huge, a great par putt on 15 and that shot on 16 obviously.”

Playing in the same group with Rahm over the final 36 holes reinforced Homa’s belief that Rahm is not just one of the greatest players in the game today but perhaps one of the greatest the game has ever seen.

“I would say other than Tiger and I don’t even know, he’s the most consistent player I’ve seen,” Homa said. “He has zero weaknesses. He’s been this dude for a long time. I think he’s got the highest win percentage in the last several years, he’s got the highest top-10s by a mile. The guy’s incredible.”

Trailing by three shots going into the final round, Homa said he wanted to push Rahm and not allow him to back into the title.

“I wanted to make him beat me and I think I did that,” Homa said. “It was cool to see myself push him and not feel like I had 100 percent of my game. I played great everywhere but off the tee on that back nine, but it is what it is. I was going to have to put up a pretty remarkable score. I think it’s pretty amazing going against someone like Jon. You know he’s not going to fold.”

Tied for the lead with right holes to play Homa proceeded to hit just one of six fairways down the stretch and managed to only hit one of eight greens in regulation as well.

“My irons were so good, it was really just with my driver,” Homa said of his back nine struggles. “Everything felt so good, I just needed to give myself a couple more opportunities from the fairway to show that off. I felt like I was playing defense out of the rough, and when I get on the par 3 tees or when I was in the fairway, I felt like I’m going to knock down the flagstick. And I thought I did that. I feel really good about my game, it’s just hard when you’re battling him.”

The throng of fans following the final group were clearly rooting for Homa, who over the last few years has become one of the most popular players on the PGA Tour, especially here in his hometown of Los Angeles.

While Homa appreciated the strong support, he wished fans would have cheered equally loud for Rahm when he performed so well.

“I wish they’d be a bit nicer to Jon,” Homa said. “I like cheering, I’m not a huge fan of booing unless it’s at Waste Management. But it’s amazing the support I received this week.  When I won in ’21, nobody was here and it hurts me not to be able to do that with everyone here, my family and friends. This tournament just means a lot to me. It’s like an emotional release. The support I get here is so cool. I’m going to win it again and be able to do it in front of all these people.”

Rahm has now finished in the top 10 in his previous 10 consecutive starts and in five of those tournaments he finished in the top five, including three wins since the start of 2023. Since January. Rahm has won just over $9 million and in doing so became the fastest golfer to eclipse $40 million in career earnings, doing so in just 136 starts. Tiger Woods needed 146 to surpass that mark.

While he’s proud of all he has achieved over his career and in particular the last six months, Rahm said winning at Riviera is special.

“It’s always been a tournament I wanted to win,” Rahm said. “To be able to call yourself a champion out here, it’s at least in my mind a big deal. I guess when we’re out there competing, you know, coming down the stretch every tournament feels the same, right? It’s the same intensity, it’s just a really freaking difficult golf course out there, that’s what makes it even more intense.”

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