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Two hours before the leaders teed off on Sunday at Liberty National Golf Club, there was already proof that low scores were out there. The sun was shining brilliantly over the Statue of Liberty, less than a half-mile away in New York harbor, and the breeze was only gently moving the flags above the first tee. Kevin Tway had posted an early 65, and Brooks Koepka, the world’s top-ranked player, was 5 under through his first six holes.
That’s not what Adam Hayes was hoping to see. Tough conditions tend to favor the most talented golfers, while courses where birdies can be made in bunches can allow for more potential winners. Hayes, who caddies for Jon Rahm, knows that his man is one of the most talented players on the planet. If he had his way, the wind would have blown as it did on Saturday, the fairways would have been like the asphalt on the Garden State Parkway and the putting surfaces would have baked until they turned a crusty brownish green.
While the wind was not a major factor in the final round of the Northern Trust, the course provided plenty of challenges to the 84 golfers who played it, including Rahm, the long shots Harold Varner III and Abraham Ancer and the overnight leader, Patrick Reed.
In the end, it was Reed, whose last tournament win came at the 2018 Masters, who outlasted the competition. His 2-under 69 was good enough for a one-shot triumph over Ancer at the first event of the PGA Tour’s 2019 FedEx Cup playoffs.
“It’s amazing, just to be back and to feel like I’ve been playing some solid golf and finally having it pay off,” Reed said. “To come out as a victory, it’s been a while.”
The win moves Reed, 29, from 50th to second on the FedEx Cup point list and earned him $1,665,000.
Rahm, 24, started Sunday two shots behind Reed, but the Spaniard shot a bogey-free 33 to take a one-shot lead as the players headed to the back nine.
Through the first three rounds, Rahm was 7 under on holes 10 through 18, so he had reason to be confident that he could win his fourth PGA Tour event. While he made a bogey on the par-3 11th hole, he carded back-to-back birdies on 12 and 13 to grab a two-shot lead.
Then, on the 153-yard, par-3 14th hole, Rahm made a bogey after his tee shot forced him to putt through the fringe on the left side of the green.
After walking 50 feet to the 15th tee box, his temper, which is his Achilles’ heel, showed. When his tee shot failed to cut to the right and landed in a fairway bunker on the left, he was visibly angered. “You can’t be serious!” he implored, echoing John McEnroe’s infamous 1981 meltdown at Wimbledon.
He continued to mutter to himself and berate his bad luck walking in the fairway. After his third shot flew into deep rough behind the green, leading to a second straight bogey, there was more chatter.
Meanwhile, Reed, playing one hole behind Rahm, calmly stuffed his approach shot on the 14th hole to 8 feet and made his birdie putt. He pumped his fist, the crowd roared and the momentum shifted.
Suddenly it was Reed, who has played on the last three Ryder Cup teams and who is trying to earn a spot on his third straight Presidents Cup team, who held a one-shot lead with four holes to play.