Rahm, Johnson and DeChambeau all had wildly entertaining back nines Saturday.
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With about four holes left in (Viva) LIV Vegas, just about everyone was tied for the lead. Matthew Wolff and Peter Uihlein were at 10 under. So were Jon Rahm and Dustin Johnson. They were joined by Jason Kokrak and Talor Gooch. A six-way tie for the lead.
These things are more likely to happen when there are fewer holes in your tournament, but we were nevertheless in for quite the finish. The final nine holes kicked off a bizarre stretch of golf.
Bryson DeChambeau was among those leaders earlier Saturday, sitting at 11 under with nine holes to play when he blew a drive into the base of a pine tree. Unable to benefit much from taking an unplayable lie drop, DeChambeau crouched on the pine needles and extricated a pine cone with the patience of a surgeon. After successful removal, DeChambeau felt he had to go for it, trying to punch his ball forward through the waste area with a fairway wood.
Narrator: He topped it 10 yards. And worse than that, DeChambeau’s ball trickled up beneath the edge of a desert shrub. He had to straddle it and take a half-swing just to advance it up the hole.
The double bogey DeChambeau would make from there dropped him out of a tie for the lead. He would finish tied for ninth.
Our next fatal move came from Jon Rahm, LIV Golf’s most valuable man. Rahm was among those six leaders with just four holes left and had a wedge in hand for his third shot into a par-5 at Las Vegas Country Club. But seconds later his ball was exiting stage right. A true, blue shank. The LIV broadcasters didn’t want to admit it — no one ever wants to say that S-word — but LIV CEO Greg Norman had a mic in his hand and spoke up. “We can call it what it was,” Norman said. “It was a shank.”
Rahm needed par, at worst, on that par-5, one of the last scoring opportunities on a very difficult day, conditions-wise. He gathered himself across the fairway now, enough to hit a good wedge with his fourth shot, but blew the par putt past the hole and kissed his chances goodbye. He’d finish four back.
Next came Jason Kokrak, also among the many leaders at 10 under, and the first with a chance to get in the house and post a score. He stood over his ball on 18, needing to strike a mid-iron beneath a tree branch, but also carry it long enough to carry the water hazard and reach the green.
As had become customary on this day, Kokrak’s ball launched about one foot too high and caught a tuft of pine needles, killing its momentum, but importantly not eliminating all of its speed. Instead of stopping short of the water and offering Kokrak a chance to get up-and-down for par, Kokrak’s ball splashed, drowning his chances as well.
The only player who didn’t seem to eject down the stretch was our champion, Dustin Johnson. He made an easy birdie where Rahm bogeyed the 15th, then tossed a dart into the 17th green and poured in a 12-footer that he would later call “clutch” in order to take the outright lead.
After blowing his drive right of the 18th fairway, Johnson took a line-of-sight relief drop and hacked a 7-iron out of the rough that landed 15 feet left of the hole and didn’t move much more from there. Peter Uihlein was the clubhouse leader, one shot back of Johnson, and stayed warm on the practice range, but soon enough even he knew it was all over. Two putts and a classic, muted Johnson fist-pump for his third career win on the LIV circuit.