Rahm not afraid to tackle long comeback odds

Jon Rahm hits from the bunker to the 9th green during his third round of the Tour Championship Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.  (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Jon Rahm hits from the bunker to the 9th green during his third round of the Tour Championship Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Jon Rahm understands it is possible for him to make up the six shots he needs to catch Dustin Johnson in the final round of the Tour Championship. He also understands that they sell Powerball tickets at the gas-and-go around the corner from East Lake.

“I’m going to need something really special,” he said. “And we’re going to need Dustin to throw us a bone and not have a good day. Because right now the six shots I have to make up … he’s going to have to have a bad day.”

Rahm shot a 66 on Sunday, an improvement of eight shots over his second round, and somehow fell two shots farther behind the leader. But the Spaniard can lean on history for a mental boost. A week ago, Rahm caught Johnson by shooting a final-round 64 and beat him by making a 66-foot birdie on the first extra hole at the BMW Championship.

ExplorePhotos: Round 3 of the Tour Championship in Atlanta

They may be pals, but the odds aren’t good that Johnson will be tossing any favors toward the field, particularly a T-bone in Rahm’s direction.

That leaves Rahm, who is an aggressive player by nature, with only one choice. He’ll put the pedal down like Ricky Bobby at Talladega. Rahm promises to hold back nothing.

“The one good thing I have going for me is we’re here to win, so (Monday) is a green light for everything,” he said. “Just got to be aggressive and hopefully pull the shots off and be able to make as many putts as possible.”

Ah, those putts. They refused to fall for much of the third round. Rahm’s body language mirrored his frustration, particularly after near misses at 12 and 16.

Then, finally, a birdie at No. 17. Rahm was able to look skyward and put his hands together as if praying and saying thanks to a higher power. On the 18th hole, he hit the approach to 10 feet and made the birdie putt.

“Those two shots were everything,” Rahm said. “I played this back nine so well today. From 11 on, I hit good shots, gave myself birdie chances on pretty much every hole, and they were all legitimate. They were all putts for the most part uphill, just good looks and I wasn’t able to make any of them.”

ExploreDustin Johnson going for Player of the Year at East Lake

The 66 also helped rinse the bad taste left by Saturday’s finish. That’s where Rahm made a double-bogey after finding the water at No. 15, bogeyed the 16th hole and failed to birdie the 18th, which is almost like giving a shot to the field. The 74 was the highest of his career at East Lake.

“Yesterday didn’t feel that bad,” Rahm said. “I just got a little tight on the course, a little hesitant, and didn’t really commit to a lot of shots, therefore I wasn’t hitting it close enough to the hole.”

There was no hangover on Sunday. He made the turn in 2 under and completed his round without a bogey. He’ll likely need to duplicate — or improve on — the 66 to have a chance.

“Hopefully, I can play as good as I did today,” he said. “Maybe be a little more aggressive in certain areas and hole the putts. I wasn’t too far off today from a really low round. Just a couple putts dropping in and you never know.”