Despite less than his ‘A game,’ Jon Rahm maintains two-stroke lead at Mexico Open


Jon Rahm must not have gotten the memo.

The World No. 2 entered Saturday’s third round of the Mexico Open at Vidanta with a two-stroke lead, but instead of crushing his competitors’ hopes on “Moving Day,” Rahm was stuck in neutral for much of the day.

“It is what it is,” he said, “can’t play four perfect days.”

The struggle was real, primarily on the greens. In fact, he lost his lead temporarily and had to rally with birdies at two of the three par 5s on the back nine to maintain a two-stroke lead over Cameron Champ and first-year PGA Tour member Kurt Kitayama heading into the final round.

Rahm posted 3-under 68 to improve to a 54-hole total of 15-under 198 at Vidanta Villarta Golf Club in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, as he seeks his first win since the 2021 U.S. Open and seventh career PGA Tour title.

While players behind him were going low, Rahm stayed put early on, opening with five straight pars and before he knew it his lead was gone.  Kitayama, who shot 66, was the first to tie him at 12 under. Champ made birdie at 6, his third of the day to make it a trio at the top. But Rahm put back-to-back circles on the scorecard at Nos. 6 and 7, where he drove the green at the short par-4, with a pair of 2-putt tap-in birdies.

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Rahm, 27, made his lone bogey of the day at the 10th hole when his tee shot splashed in the water.

When Champ chipped close at the par-5 12th for a tap-in birdie, he took sole possession of the lead. Another birdie at 14, his sixth of the day, and Champ was the first player to reach 15 under, but his clean card got messy and the lead vanished when he made back-to-back bogeys at Nos. 15 and 16 en route to posting 67. Champ, a three-time Tour winner, has recorded just one top 10 this season, at the Masters in his most recent start, and eight top-10 finishes in his career. When he’s playing well, his batting average at hoisting the trophy on Sunday is Hall of Fame worthy.

“He’s Reggie Jackson,” said Robert Damron on PGA Tour Radio. “He either goes 0-for-4 with three strikeouts or blasts three out of the park and he wins.”

Of the players in hot pursuit, Champ is likely the one Rahm will be most worried about.

“My game has felt good. I’m in great spirits in the head, in life. So tomorrow, I’m just going to keep doing what I’ve been doing,” Champ said. “This place, I love it here, it suits me well.”

Kitayama made his move on the front nine, shooting 5-under 30, which included an eagle at the seventh hole. But he, too, drove it in the water at 10 – for the second straight round – and hit an ugly tee shot way right at 17 – that gave a couple strokes back. Still, the two-time DP World Tour winner did enough to earn a spot in the final threesome on Sunday alongside Champ and Rahm.

“I think it’s a good learning experience to learn like what the best do so well and to be right there to learn,” Kitayama said. “Obviously I’m trying to win, but just kind of see what happens.”

Rahm’s inability to run away and hide on Saturday meant that he gave hope to others, including Nate Lashley, who signed for a bogey-free 64 and improved to 12 under and tied for fourth with Patrick Rodgers (66) and Davis Riley (67), who are both seeking their first Tour title.  Lashley said he expected to have to go low again to have a chance to track down Rahm.

“He keeps playing the way he does and it’s going to be probably hard to catch him,” Lashley said.

despite less than his a game jon rahm maintains two stroke lead at mexico open 1

Jon Rahm of Spain plays a shot on the 17th hole during the third round of the Mexico Open at Vidanta on April 30, 2022, in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco. (Photo by Orlando Ramirez/Getty Images)

Rahm’s putter, which had been much improved during the first two rounds, held him back on Saturday. He missed a 6-foot birdie putt at No. 12, but converted a short birdie at the par-5 14th to get within a stroke of Champ before he made consecutive bogeys. Rahm added a final birdie at the par-5 18th, sinking a 12-foot birdie putt, his longest made putt of the day.

“It was nice to see one roll in finally,” said Rahm, who said he never figured out the speed of the Paspalum-grass greens, which are slower than typical Tour events. (He still ranks 11th for the week in Strokes Gained: Putting.)

Rahm entered the week as the favorite in a weak field and remains the player to beat. He holds the 54-hole lead or co-lead for the seventh time in his career, but is only 1-for-6 to date converting to victory (2020 the Memorial Tournament presented by Workday). Although he allowed several players to remain in touch of his lead, Rahm’s “bad day” was a 68, and he expressed confidence that he was comfortable being the hunted rather than the hunter.

“It’s been a little bit of a while,” he said. “The crowd loves me so far, I can tell. You know, they want me to win, so hopefully, I can do it for them.”