Rahm routs Garcia in Spanish matchup
ABS-CBN Sports on Mar 25, 2017 09:31 AM
Sergio Garcia, of Spain, right, walks with compatriot and playing partner Jon Rahm on the third hole during round-robin play at the Dell Technologies Match Play golf tournament at Austin County Club, Friday, March 24, 2017, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
JIM VERTUNO, AP Sports Writer
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Spanish duel in the Texas rain turned into a rout.
Jon Rahm ran countryman Sergio Garcia out of the Dell Technologies Match Play with a 6-and-4 victory Friday in a pairing that put the young bull of Spanish golf against its elder statesman. No contest, not on this day.
The victory put Rahm at 3-0 in group play and moved him on to Saturday's quarterfinals against Charles Howell III.
Beating a childhood idol made for a sweet victory for the 22-year-old Rahm, but it also felt like a hit to the Spanish flag. Garcia, 37, failed to advance past the third round for the sixth consecutive year.
"I'd rather not play a fellow Spaniard. Obviously, representing Spain, we want as many Spaniards to make it as far as possible," Rahm said. "We knew we were going to have fun. And just the emotion, sentiment of being friends and being out here in the World Golf Championship, it really is something that (made us want) to beat each other a little more."
The match was set on Monday when the tournament draw put Garcia and Rahm in the same four-player group. The Friday pairing only raised the stakes, with a winner-take-all setup that sent the victor into the weekend and the loser home.
"He congratulated me and wished me the best of luck," Rahm said. "I know that he's bitter that he lost, but being a friend, he wanted to go as far as possible."
Their round began with a hug at the first tee box and they were joined by a gallery that shouted "Vamos!" at their good shots and carried several large cutouts of Garcia's smiling face. One young male fan wore the Spanish flag draped around his waist.
Rahm, perhaps a bit nervous, sent his first drive whizzing behind a spectator. He halved the hole when Garcia, in a generous mood early, let him pick up from just outside of 2 feet instead of forcing the putt for par. Rahm then won two of the next three as his game got sharper and as Garcia's problems started.
Garcia missed the green on No. 4 as his ball tumbled into a rocky ravine and he had to avoid smashing his club on a large stone. His big miss came on the par-3 No. 11 when the tucked his tee shot inside of Rahm, then had a short birdie attempt to win the hole shave the right side of the cup.
Garcia's round fell apart at the riverside tee box at No. 13. The golfers were already slogging through a soggy round when a brief shower pelted them as they left the No. 12 green. Garcia's driver slipped in his hands and the ball snap hooked into the tall grass to his left, barely making it a few feet off the ground.
"I still had a chance and the heavens just opened on me and I almost lost the club. First, I thought I missed the ball. Second, I thought the club was gone and somehow I held onto it with the left hand. It was pretty much unplayable. But anyway, the match was already in bad shape there," Garcia said.
Rahm finished it off when he nearly holed out from the fairway on No. 14.
Rahm was just 4 years old when Garcia turned professional in 1999 and earned the nickname "El Nino" with his boyish grin and his joyous runs up the fairway to watch big shots. Growing up in tiny Barrika, a town in the northern Basque country about 400 miles (645 km) from Garcia's hometown of Borriol in the Valencia region, Rahm watched highlights of Garcia's career and sometimes copied his fairway dashes.
"I've done it a few times. Not the same stage or pressure, but I've done it before," Rahm said.
Rahm's been on a rocket ride since turning pro out of Arizona State last year. It took him just four tournaments to earn his PGA tour card, and 12 events to earn his first victory in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. He came into the Match Play seeded No. 21 among the world's top golfers.
The victory at Torrey Pines, with a last-day charge of 30 on the back nine, put all his potential on display.
"The main thing is not winning, it's the way I won where I won," Rahm said. "It's not a place where rookies usually win for the first time."
Rahm said the match play tournament format suits him well as he pursues his second victory.
"I feel like all of us Spaniards really play good at match play because of our aggressive mindset," he said.