NASSAU, Bahamas — Jon Rahm cried in front of Tiger Woods.
Not on Sunday, when Woods handed him the trophy for his runaway win at the Hero World Challenge at Albany Golf Club. No. It was when Rahm bested Woods in their Ryder Cup singles match two months ago in France.
“That Sunday with Tiger is still the most emotionally, most important moment of my golf career,” Rahm said Sunday after winning for the third time this year and the sixth time in the past two years. “It means so much to play against Tiger. A couple months later, to win his event, it’s really special.”
The level of reverence Rahm, the strapping 24-year-old Spaniard, has for Woods is as real as his 20-under four-shot victory this week.
“I learned a lot from that guy,” Rahm said. “We owe him. Every golfer on the PGA Tour owes him a lot because everything we play for is because of him.”
Rahm, who began the day in a three-way tie for the lead with Tony Finau and Henrik Stenson, closed the tournament with a 7-under 65 to complete a four-shot win.
So Rahm ended his 2018 with three victories, just like he did in 2017, his first full year as a pro.
How can six wins in his first two years as a pro top one Ryder Cup singles win over Woods in what ended up being a European rout of the Americans?
“Let me tell you [about] the 12 hours from when I learned I was going to play Tiger,” Rahm said. “I was in the players’ room a little down because we had a 10-6 lead [entering the Sunday singles], but I hadn’t really contributed. Played good, but didn’t get points [and] kind of felt like I was letting the team down.
“I knew I was going to tee off fourth [in singles] and I see the sheet. I see, ‘Rory [McIlroy]-[Justin Thomas] Paul Casey-Brooks [Koepka]. [Justin Rose]-Webb Simpson.’ Then I see, ‘Jon Rahm-T.W.’ To me, the greatest golfer of all time — he just won at [the Tour Championship at] East Lake, he’s 0-3, I was 0-2 — I’m like, he really wants to win this for sure and I’m not playing my best. So that was my first train of thought.
“I went to bed that night, woke up, and all the way from the hotel to the golf course, I was talking to a mental coach [about] what I wanted to do and basically we ended up with a plan. [European captain] Thomas Bjorn said it best: ‘Tiger just does not make mistakes. He’s going to try to capitalize on your mistakes and he’s going to hole a ton of putts, so don’t be surprised.’
“So I kind of went with the mindset of I’m going to have to beat this guy at his own game. I’m going to have to play as flawless as I can and it’s what I set my mind to. I was really just trying to not make a single mistake.
“Then, on the last putt right before I hit it, somebody in Spanish yelled, ‘Do it for Seve!’ at the top of his lungs. Knowing how much Seve means to me, having the 5-footer to beat Tiger Woods, earning the first full point for the Europeans when it was looking kind of dark, there was a lot going on in my mind.
“When I hit it and it went in … I tried to stay as balanced as possible. [But] making the putt to beat Tiger Woods, my all-time hero, man, it was hard. When I turned around [from my celebration], I had to apologize because
I didn’t see he was coming to me and he came to me with a smile. He said, ‘Man, don’t even worry. You played great,’ and I started crying in front of Tiger. It was such an emotional moment.
“Because of that, I don’t think there’s anything I can do in the game anytime soon that’s going to mean more than that.”
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