Jon Rahm, Cameron Smith retire to Kapalua on scoring record day

Jon Rahm sees only one possibility if he is to start the New Year with a win and that is to try to make as many holes as possible in Kapalua in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

And that from a guy who was tied for the lead on Saturday.

Then again, Rahm had just come off the course after exchanging superb shots and big putts with Cameron Smith over the past three hours, a dizzying display on a defenseless Plantation course that was gentle and windless.

“We had a fun battle today and I guess tomorrow will be more of the same,” Rahm said. “We’re going to need a lot of birdies to take the advantage and get the win.”

Rahm played his last 12 holes in a par-11 and tied the course record and personal best on the PGA Tour with a 61-under-12, and he needed everything to stand a chance against Smith.

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Jon Rahm of Spain plays his shot from the 11th tee during the third round of the Tournament of Champions golf event on Saturday January 8, 2022 at the Kapalua Plantation Course in Kapalua, Hawaii.
(AP Photo / Matt York)

The Aussie was equally brilliant with his wedges and putter, matching birdies on the last nine with Rahm until he failed to convert a 15-foot birdie putt at the end.

Smith, who played his last 12 holes in under 8, had to settle for a 64.

“Watching Jon was pretty intense down there on this back nine, one of the best golf courses I think I’ve ever seen – definitely one of the best putting,” said Smith. “So yes, one more day. I hope we can do the same tomorrow and see what happens.”

Rahm capped off his birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie finish with putts of just under 30 feet and 15 feet for his Under-61. This equaled the course record set hours earlier by Justin Thomas, who was one shot behind when he finished, nine shots at the end of the day.

The average score of 67.7 was the lowest in Kapalua since the Tournament of Champions moved to the west end of Maui in 1999. The previous record was 67.8 set the day before.

There is nothing to stop these guys other than themselves, and it wasn’t.

Rahm and Smith were 26 under 193, five strokes ahead of Daniel Berger, who had a third straight round of 66. It wasn’t good enough for this perfect week of warm weather, very little wind and scoring. extraordinarily low.

Ernie Els set the PGA Tour record for the lowest score at 31 in 2003 in Kapalua. It is very threatened.

“Really good golf from both of us,” said Smith, never one to be accused of exaggerating.

Smith had a three-stroke lead at the start of the third round, was three more strokes ahead on six holes, and then was 8 under par on his last 12 holes.

He still couldn’t keep his head to himself.

Rahm, the No. 1 player in the world and likely to retain the rankings, was at his best in his first competition since mid-October.

He closed the top nine with three consecutive birdies and started the last nine with two consecutive birdies. The only holes he had to settle for par were No. 12 (where he missed a birdie putt just under 12 feet away) and No. 13 (he left a 10 foot short putt).

His best shot was a second shot in the 15th par-5 to reach 4 feet for an eagle. It got him close at once, as Smith had to settle for a two-putt birdie. They tied with birdies the rest of the way, both within 30 feet of No.17, to the closing par 5.

Both arrived short, which is not unusual with a front pin and the grain coming severely away from them. Smith missed by just 15 feet, while Rahm holed his birdie putt from 8 feet.

“It was quite remarkable,” said Rahm. “We were coming and going. It was a lot of fun, hard to describe. Keep your foot down and try to make as many birdies as possible.”

As for the 36 other winners in the field? Not all of them left.

Patrick Cantlay was trying to stay with the leaders until his corner against a back pin on the 16th was hot and found the rough behind the green, leading to a bogey that felt much worse. He finished with a 66 and fell six strokes back, along with Matt Jones (62) and Sungjae Im (65).

Thomas had a 74 in the first round and had little reason to like his chances until he walked away playing his last seven holes at 7 under. It gave him a 61 and at least some hope, but not for very long.

All 38 were under par, Jason Kokrak bringing up the rear at 5 under 214.

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